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Apr 18

BMW to show its Concept X5 PHEV in New York


By Phillippe Crowe


BMW will showcase the BMW Concept X5 eDrive at the New York International Auto Show 2014, a concept it sees as the logical next step towards bringing a radical reduction in fuel consumption and emissions in the SUV segment.

The BMW Concept X5 eDrive integrates, as the name implies, a plug-in hybrid drive system. A conventional combustion engine works with the BMW eDrive technology to produce the brand’s hallmark sporty drive coupled with a significant reduction in fuel consumption, said BMW. As a result, the car is able to drive on electric power alone at speeds of up to 120 kph (75 mph) and for a distance of up to 30 kilometers (approx. 20 miles), while recording average fuel consumption figures of less than 3.8 l/100 kilometers (more than 74.3 mpg imp) in the EU test cycle.

BMW explained the concept study underwent a series of detailed refinements in preparation for its appearance at the New York International Auto Show and is equipped with a drive system comprising a 180 kilowatt (245 horsepower) four-cylinder gasoline engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology and a 70 kilowatt (95 horsepower) electric motor, also developed by the BMW Group.

The motor is supplied with power from a lithium-ion battery that can be charged from any domestic plug. To ensure a particularly high level of crash safety, the high-voltage battery developed for the BMW Concept X5 eDrive is housed underneath the luggage compartment, whose everyday usability remains virtually uncompromised, said BMW, thanks to the 40:20:40 split-folding rear backrest and an almost level loading floor.

Per the Bavarian company, in addition to the settings that can be activated using the characteristic BMW Driving Experience Control switch, three driving modes can be selected according to requirements and the situation at hand: intelligent hybrid drive with an optimal relationship between sportiness and efficiency (AUTO eDrive), pure electric and thus local emission-free driving (MAX eDrive) and SAVE Battery to maintain the current charge level.


Electrification of the powertrain is a key component of BMW EfficientDynamics technology, declared the company, and allows BMW to unlock potential for reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The BMW eDrive technology developed for this purpose comes in various versions, each precisely tailored to the particular vehicle concept. Both the BMW i3, the first all-electric production vehicle from the BMW Group, and the soon-to-be-launched BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car are powered by BMW eDrive technology.

BMW stated the Concept X5 eDrive now follows in the tire tracks of the BMW Concept Active Tourer unveiled in 2012 by demonstrating how model-specific BMW eDrive technology can be employed in plug-in hybrid models from the BMW core brand.

This concept is the first time that BMW eDrive technology has been hooked up with the BMW xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive system.

Regardless of the selected driving mode, the drive power generated by the electric motor, the combustion engine or the two units acting in unison is channeled to wherever it can be converted into forward propulsion most effectively. BMW added this allows the concept study to deliver all the qualities that SUVs are renowned for – superb traction and optimized handling stability in all weather and road conditions coupled with enhanced agility when taking corners at speed – in remarkably efficient fashion.

The BMW Concept X5 eDrive is able to complete the standard sprint from rest to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under 7.0 seconds, according to BMW.

The BMW Concept X5 eDrive is designed as a plug-in hybrid, allowing its high-voltage battery’s energy levels to be renewed from any domestic power socket, a special Wallbox that can handle higher currents, or at a public high-speed charging station.


BMW said the Wallbox Pro is designed for installation in the customer’s garage and offers complete ease of use as well as exceptionally short battery recharging times, thanks to a maximum charging rate of 7.4 kilowatts per hour. It is controlled by means of a high-resolution touchscreen including proximity sensor, while LED light strips provide an additional indication of the charge status. The built-in load management facility governs the charging current in accordance with the current draw on the household electricity supply. The Wallbox Pro even makes it possible to use home-generated electricity, such as that obtained from solar panels.


Apr 04

Tesla Versus The Auto Franchising System, Part 5, Car Sellers’ Interests


And for today’s post, we have a definition first to consider: “Intellectual Honesty.”

See opposite: “fan” (a.k.a “fanboy”)

There’s tons of stuff on the topic of intellectual honesty, but here’s Wikipedia:

Intellectual honesty

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Intellectual honesty is an applied method of problem solving in academia, characterized by an unbiased, honest attitude, which can be demonstrated in a number of different ways, including but not limited to:

  • One’s personal beliefs do not interfere with the pursuit of truth;
  • Relevant facts and information are not purposefully omitted even when such things may contradict one’s hypothesis;
  • Facts are presented in an unbiased manner, and not twisted to give misleading impressions or to support one view over another;
  • References, or earlier work, are acknowledged where possible, and plagiarism is avoided.

Harvard ethicist Louis M. Guenin describes the “kernel” of intellectual honesty to be “a virtuous disposition to eschew deception when given an incentive for deception.”[1]

Intentionally committed fallacies in debates and reasoning are sometimes called intellectual dishonesty.

And now, today’s story:



Beyond consumers, other stakeholders in Tesla’s challenge to state franchise laws are the car sellers – car dealers, automakers, and Tesla. This is the first of a second set of articles in this series examining what various interests stand to gain or lose. See also the Introduction, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.



Classified as a “fallacy of ambiguity,” a “straw man” is like a dummy stuffed with hay – it is easy to knock over.

More specifically, a “straw man” fallacy is when someone misrepresents an opponent’s argument making it appear weak or flawed, then overcomes it with a seemingly reasonable argument, and this is what Tesla allegedly perpetrates against car dealers.

Presently Tesla has roused great sympathies for a number of reasons, but underlying its appeal is an often-repeated argument it even used in New Jersey court this week.

However, two attorneys and others familiar with franchise laws have said Tesla paints an inaccurate picture of pitfalls it would face if forced to rely on franchised dealers. Tesla, it’s said, fabricates worse-case assumptions and omits critical information to represent it’s doing what it has to in order to survive.

On the contrary, say those who’ve personally confronted Tesla with alternatives, Tesla could under franchise law stack the deck to leverage capital, enabling it to grow faster.

What is Tesla’s core argument? Tesla CEO Elon Musk repeated it in a March 14 blog post decrying alleged wrongdoings against it in New Jersey, and linked to an earlier post from October 2012.

“Existing franchise dealers have a fundamental conflict of interest between selling gasoline cars, which constitute the vast majority of their business, and selling the new technology of electric cars,” said Musk. “It is impossible for them to explain the advantages of going electric without simultaneously undermining their traditional business. This would leave the electric car without a fair opportunity to make its case to an unfamiliar public.”


Musk has been forthcoming enough to admit he’s been told he’s making it harder on himself.

“In many respects, it would be easier to pursue the traditional franchise dealership model, as we could save a lot of money on construction and gain widespread distribution overnight,” wrote Musk. “Many smart people have argued over the years that we should do this, just like every other manufacturer in the United States, so why have I insisted that we take a unique path?”

But this is as far as he goes in his October 2012 post, before weaving the narrative back to the “conflict of interest” argument and other alleged threats posed by franchise laws.

“Moreover, it is much harder to sell a new technology car from a new company when people are so used to the old,” wrote Musk Mar. 14. “Inevitably, they revert to selling what’s easy and it is game over for the new company.”

This does sound like a dire situation. And it could be “impossible” for franchised dealers to properly represent Tesla’s electric cars if this were actually the situation with which it was faced. But it isn’t.

A Road Not Taken?

According to those defending franchise laws, Tesla is not being asked to commit corporate suicide as it has said. Actually Tesla may have much more to gain than lose under the system, they contend, and therefore its core argument is a fallacious rebuttal and false plea to a demand never made.

Even in New Jersey, where Tesla has just filed an appeal against motor vehicle commission regulations, “it has options” to at least closely emulate its model of choice.

This would include no-haggle pricing, non-commissioned sales associates, and a Tesla-only store with zero competition from gas-powered cars, said New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers President, James Appleton.


And in Texas, which grosses $60 billion in annual sales, franchise laws would let Tesla match everything it wants, but instead it chooses to operate only two non-sales galleries rather than participate under franchise law.

This is the view of Texas Automobile President, Bill Wolters who personally proposed a solution to Musk.

Under Texas franchise law – where Musk very publicly fought and lost trying to change laws last year – Tesla could replicate its existing no-pressure sales retail store, and remote service center model down to a “T” for Texas.

The National Automobile Dealers Association says Wolters’ plan would work for most, if not all other states where Tesla now faces restrictions.

“If Tesla adopted the franchised dealer model throughout the country, their opportunity for sales success would be greatly enhanced,” wrote Wolters in a position paper repeating things he said to Musk, and last fall in Baltimore to Tesla’s Legislative Affairs Director, James Chen.

“Franchised dealers follow strict factory guidelines for dealership operations,” said Wolters.

In Tesla’s case, said Wolters, it could require:
1. A mall showroom
2. Non-commissioned technical advisors rather than salespeople
3. One price for the vehicle with no negotiation
4. Off-site service facilities that operate at next to zero profit

What’s The Catch?

“The only change would be to have an investor handpicked by Tesla who would have the opportunity to eventually own the outlet and who would be required to follow the Tesla sales agreement,” Wolters continued.


“By having an investor stand the cost of the retail outlet, Tesla could have many more stores in as many markets as they wanted to reach,” he wrote. “The sales and service opportunities for Americans would multiply along with the number of EVs on the road and as increased infrastructure for recharging those vehicles that would follow.”

In Baltimore, Wolters presented Chen with a list of elite dealers who’d said they would jump through hoops and hurdles if needed to develop a Tesla-only store where no other new or used gas-powered cars would need be on site to “undermine” the product.

According to Ted Stockton, an economist for the Fontana Group, and automotive consulting firm in Tucson, Arizona, it’s likely these investors could be asked to sign a contract that gives Tesla plenty of leverage and control.

“The contracts are extremely one-sided; they’re contracts of adhesion, and Tesla may have the juice right now to put out aggressive take-it-or-leave-it contracts,” said Stockton. “They probably do, and yes, I think Bill’s point is good.”


Wolters said this contract could stipulate franchised Tesla stores could not send prospects to any other competitive dealer owned by another or themselves.

Or they could be obligated to own only the Tesla store(s) and service centers, so electric technology would be exclusively represented by non-commissioned sales people.

What’s more, Wolters said, this could ultimately save Tesla millions on a growing network as Musk essentially conceded without explanation.

Each Tesla franchise would save Tesla Motors from having to pay rent, payroll, insurances, and utilities. It could stock as little or as much inventory as required, and be on the hook for local, state, and federal taxes, any future advertising if desired, and all other liabilities and expenses incurred by local retailers.

Nation-Wide Possibilities

Most if not all of the 32 or more states with some form of laws against factory ownership could instead welcome Tesla with open arms, said Wolters. His premise was further validated by James A. Moors, Senior Counsel and Director, Franchising and State Law, for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

“The basic point is that Tesla could write its own franchise agreement stipulating the way vehicles are marketed, serviced and sold. It could also hand pick the retailers or investors. I don’t think this is in dispute,” said Moors. ”I can’t tell you that there might not be a state law out there that might be applicable, but Tesla can clearly design a selling arrangement like the one Bill describes.”


Bruce Gould, executive director of the Motor Vehicle Dealer Board in Virginia – where Tesla is now restricted with one gallery in Tyson’s Corner – said Wolters’ plan sounds feasible in that state.

As we reported in the last installment, Moors added his voice to those who cite Tesla saying the factory direct push is only temporary anyway.

“I believe Tesla spokespersons have been quoted as saying they might move to the franchise system when they reach a certain volume,” said Moors.

Truly Desperate Or Playing A Game?

Wolters contends by sharing the load Tesla could expand its number of dealers as it anticipates higher production volumes and Gen 3, but Tesla never mentions these possibilities, and routinely acts like it is backed into a corner by the powers that be.

“The evidence is clear: when has an American startup auto company ever succeeded by selling through auto dealers? The last successful American car company was Chrysler, which was founded almost a century ago, and even they went bankrupt a few years ago, along with General Motors,” wrote Musk, March 14. “Since the founding of Chrysler, there have been dozens of failures, Tucker and DeLorean being simply the most well-known. In recent years, electric car startups, such as Fisker, Coda, and many others, attempted to use auto dealers and all failed.”

NJ CAR President James Appleton observed Fisker and Coda, if not also other startups, failed for reasons beyond dealers relied upon.

“Saying Fisker and Coda failed because of franchised dealers is like saying, ‘Because people wore heavy coats, the temperature went down to 32 degrees,” Appleton said. “It confuses cause with effect.”

Appleton said Tesla could avoid pitfalls and is in a position to play within the system instead of fighting against it.

Tesla has published related objections:

“We strongly believe it is vital to introduce our own vehicles to the market because electric cars are still a relatively new technology,” said Tesla. “This model is not just a matter of selling more cars and providing optimum consumer choice for Americans, but it is also about educating consumers about the benefits of going electric, which is central to our mission to accelerate the shift to sustainable transportation, a new paradigm in automotive technology.”


Mike Charapp, an attorney in Tyson’s Corner Virginia said Tesla’s “new technology” argument is “a red herring,” and salespeople will sell anything with wheels on it, if put in the right environment.

Wolters reiterated Tesla’s environment of choice could be done legally now, and instead of fighting battles all over the country, it would get the help of dealer associations that would be relieved to end the contention, and work to help Tesla succeed.

“Yeah, I mean he has no argument, that’s what I went to tell him, said Wolters. “I said ‘have it your way,’ eliminate the competition, just bring in an investor who has the opportunity for a 100-percent buyout in a period of time and they would have to comply with your sales agreement or you could terminate them just as any manufacturer can do today if the dealer does not comply.’

“We can overcome every one of his arguments. Our franchise law is extremely friendly to a company that wants to do exactly what he does. But he doesn’t care. He just wants it to be his way, whether it’s the better way or not.”

Consumers who’ve seen mixed success by Chevrolet dealers with a love-it-or-not-so-much attitude toward the Volt can readily grasp the “conflict of interest” and related objections Tesla makes.

Many customer accounts tell of disinterested or misinformed salespeople who may steer would-be Volt buyers to the Cruze or another car easier to sell. Nissan, which is having more success of late, also does not compensate its dealers extra to sell the Leaf.

Sometimes major brand dealers may have a designated plug-in car salesperson willing to talk about things like charging, and walk people through with more hand holding.

Certainly Tesla would be handicapped under such conditions, but those are not the conditions it would need to work under, not even in New Jersey, said Appleton.

New Jersey Is Iffy

Presently, New Jersey has provision to suspend rules against factory direct ownership for two years if a minority investor is brought in with intent to ultimately take over.

The state did throw a wrench into Tesla’s ideal by mandating a minimum of 1,000 square feet with adjoined service but Appleton said they are talking compromise these days.


“NJ CAR is committed to working with members of the legislature who are seriously exploring options that would allow a startup electric carmaker, like Tesla, a reasonable period of time to ramp up operations before they conform their operations to the franchise business model,” said Appleton.

Questions remain in New Jersey because the idea of a mall store may still be a problem at this point, but when told of Wolters’ plan, he said a number of ways to work around existing rules could be found.

‘Free’ and Low-Cost Service?

Tesla’s business model also includes unusual qualifiers regarding service, and this is another “conflict of interest,” according to Musk.

“An even bigger conflict of interest with auto dealers is that they make most of their profit from service, but electric cars require much less service than gasoline cars,” said Musk. “Going a step further, I have made it a principle within Tesla that we should never attempt to make servicing a profit center. It does not seem right to me that companies try to make a profit off customers when their product breaks.“

Electric cars may need less service in theory, but the Model S is highly engineered and a standard automobile aside from the powertrain. Further, no one has seen a high-mileage 8-year-old Model S, or the condition of its battery pack and other standard automotive components.

And according to Stockton, Tesla’s no profit service model is what economists would term a bundling of products and services.


That is, Tesla’s optional service plan is an insurance policy over and above the warranty. In either case, the price of the car has enough profit built in to cover the service.

Stockton said this indicates Tesla believes its customers want peace of mind in knowing all will be taken care of, even if Tesla does aim to charge as little as possible, if at all.

But these conditions are also no problem, said Wolters.

“Under Texas law they can have off site service in any configuration or no service facility at all with fly in technicians,” said Wolters and pricing could be according to Tesla’s contract, “Whatever suits their business strategy or model. As long as they have an investor.”

Tesla has also avoided being a full service dealer and the sticky proposition of taking in, fixing up, and re-selling trade-ins. If that’s the way Tesla wants it, Wolters said this objection could be dealt with too.

“Tesla’s sales agreement [with its franchisee/dealer] could also require that trade-ins be wholesaled or sent to another location for retail,” Wolters said, “So they wouldn’t compete with the sale of a new Tesla.”

So What Is This Really About?

Tesla says it’s about survival, but car dealers, who make their living sizing people up, and others close to the issues, are not buying it.

Wolters observed TSLA stock has bloated Tesla’s market capitalization to half of General Motors and Tesla has not needed to advertise by keeping controversy in the news about a “technology” many do not grasp.

He said the public is lapping it up like a kitten drinking warm milk – or in cases, like a mob ready for blood against already perceived foes.

In a long November 2012 feature in Esquire titled “Triumph of his will,” writer Tom Junod outlines Elon Musk’s career with the lead-out sentence: “For his entire life, Elon Musk has bent people to his insatiable will.”

Is there method to Tesla’s purported madness? Tesla in other ways is actually costing itself money, but Wolters also thinks Musk wants full control, and does not want to share profits, an assessment several others have made as well.

Stockton added Tesla is now enjoying a seller’s market with a waiting list of grateful early adopters and no meaningful competition.

It’s like having the first HD flat screen TV a few years ahead of everyone else, and Tesla is positioned to scoop profits in an economic theater writ large of its own masterful creation.

When Musk was pursuing a legislative change in Texas, Wolters said he flew to Tesla’s Palo Alto offices and sought to plea with Musk.


What else could be behind Musk’s stance?

“It is total ego. When I sat across the table from him, it was just, it was just awful because I went with my hat in my hand,” said Wolters with a tone of dismay and amazement. “I offered him our support. I said you know, you are like Thomas Edison, I mean it’s amazing what you have done here; this is such a unique enterprise that you have created and it’s great for America, it’s great for the industry.’ He just glared at me.”

To this, we interjected, “He didn’t believe you. He thought you were just flattering him.”

“Well, I wasn’t I truly admire what he has done, but we will never give in to something that is bad for the industry and is bad for our state,” Wolters said. “And all across America if he adopted the franchise dealer system he would have a much greater opportunity for growth and success.”

We will have more on what the car sellers stand to gain or lose in our next installment.

This article is based on info and interviews provided by Tesla proponents and opponents and also those with no direct stake. Tesla did not reply to repeated requests for an interview or commentary. It’s dedicated to Noel TS Park.





Feb 07

Spark EV and Volt top KBB’s plug-in-car 5-year cost-to-own awards


This week Kelly Blue Book named the Spark EV as “Best Plug-In Vehicle” in this year’s 5-Year Cost to Own Awards and the Volt finished second

These Spark EV’s estimated 5-year cost to own as of Feb. 13, 2013 is $26,421 and the Volt’s 5-year cost is estimated at $33,462.

Also, the regular gas Spark rated number one as Best Subcompact, and a half-dozen other GM products did well too (see list below).


Of the Spark EV, KBB wrote:

Proving that being ultra-green also can be ultra-fun — and still deliver outstanding long-term value — the Chevrolet Spark EV charged off with our 5-Year Cost to Own honors in the Best Electric/Plug-in category. Currently available in California and Oregon, the most eco-friendly member of Chevy’s smallest vehicle line packs a big-time personality into its mini-scaled package and rounds things out with an impressive selection of standards and an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating.



Of the Volt, KBB wrote:

Chevrolet’s Volt for 2014 is more than a hybrid and more than a pure electric. Actually, it’s a bit of both. Unlike most hybrids, the Volt can run at freeway speeds on pure electric, but only for limited range of about 30-40 miles. When the battery pack is depleted, a small gasoline engine kicks on to run a generator that powers the electric motor while simultaneously recharging the battery pack. With the gasoline engine running, the Volt’s estimated range is increased to 380 miles and its fuel economy estimated around 40 mpg. Unlike many electric and hybrid offerings the Volt’s styling isn’t awkward or geeky, and its interior is one of the coolest we’ve seen in or out of a hybrid.


Third place was the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid and the Nissan Leaf was not mentioned.

The Spark EV is a limited-market car for now, says GM, and while other markets are being evaluated, GM has made no announcements to proliferate beyond.

The Volt is rated highly by KBB too, even if it is only a niche vehicle to its maker.

One would think these two Bowtie-brand plug-in cars have more potential than some might perceive they’ve been given credit for.

How about you? Do you think the Spark EV could sell in places beyond California and Oregon, or are there good business reasons why that is not being done at the moment?

And the Volt is still reaping awards three years into it – for having a great cost to own, no less – not that we’ve not (coincidentally) observed that too recently.

Here is the full list of all category winners:


Best Subcompact Car: 2014 Chevrolet Spark

Best Compact Car: 2014 Toyota Corolla

Best Mid-Size Car: 2014 Honda Accord

Best Full-Size Car: 2014 Chevrolet Impala

Best Sporty Compact Car: 2014 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Best Sports Car: 2014 Ford Mustang V6

Best High Performance Car: 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS/ZL1

Best Entry-Level Luxury Car: 2014 Buick Verano

Best Luxury Car: 2014 Audi A5

Best High-End Luxury Car: 2014 Lexus LS

Best Hybrid/Alternative Energy Car: 2014 Toyota Prius c

Best Plug-In Vehicle: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

Best Compact SUV/Crossover: 2014 Jeep Patriot

Best Mid-Size SUV/Crossover: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander

Best Full-Size SUV/Crossover: 2014 Ford Explorer

Best Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover: 2014 Buick Encore

Best Luxury Mid-Size SUV/Crossover: 2014 Lincoln MKX

Best Luxury Full-Size SUV/Crossover: 2014 Buick Enclave

Best Hybrid SUV/Crossover: 2014 Lexus RX 450h

Best Mid-Size Pickup Truck: 2014 Toyota Tacoma

Best Full-Size Pickup Truck: 2014 GMC Sierra 1500

Best Minivan/Van: 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Passenger


Jan 03

C-Max Solar Energi Concept to bow at CES next week


Yesterday I got an e-mailed press release from Ford, and soon realized this might even be interesting enough for GM-Volt. Ford says just this solar array that can recharge the 7.6-kwh pack in the C-Max three-hours quicker than level 1 has broad implications for U.S. transportation.

It follows VIA’s SolTRUX which is of course only usable for pickups and maybe big SUVs.

It seems solar power may have much more potential than Fisker ever demonstrated, or Nissan presently does with its Leaf’s tiny hatch wing option …


Next week at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford will be showing an innovative solar roof array that it says can fully recharge a C-Max energi plug-in hybrid in four hours.

The 1.5 square-meter array made by SunPower uses latest-tech solar cells combined with a special Fresnel lens to direct sunlight to the photovoltaic cells while boosting the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight, says Ford.

SunPower’s adaptation of the lenses came by way of Georgia Institute of Technology which Ford says it turned to for a way to amplify the sunlight in order to make a solar-powered hybrid feasible for daily use.


Fresnel lenses were originally designed for use with lighthouses. They act like a magnifying lens, but also redirect and maximize light intensity on the photovoltaic cells as the sun moves east to west – and as the car moves around in any normal orientation on the streets.

Ford says the adaptation of the Fresnel lens in low-cost acrylic form draws enough power from the sun through the concentrator each day to equal a four-hour battery charge at 8 kilowatts.

Normal recharge times for the car’s fully depleted 7.6-kilowatt-hour battery are estimated at 7 hours at 120 volts, and around 3 hours at 240 volts.

Ford estimates that by recharging instead with renewable power, the Solar Energi Concept will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by four metric tons compared to a typical usage pattern with the conventional C-Max energi.

The company says also that if every light-duty vehicle in America were to adopt this technology, it would reduce yearly greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 1 billion metric tons.

“Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy,” said Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure. “As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future.”

The company notes also that its data suggests the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle.

“This could be especially important in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable or expensive to use,” says the company.

Unknown is under what conditions was the array able to recharge so fast. Ford says it’s not expensive, but can this be green lighted? How it would fare in snowblet regions is another unknown. And, if you are left asking tech questions, Ford was unwilling to answer them when asked.

Here is Ford’s press release.

Expect more details at the CES January 7-10.


Dec 20

Tesla Model S Review


Finally got to drive the car everyone has been talking about.

They asked me not to disable the traction control. I obliged.

You might call this the cold-weather test, and maybe I can do another one come spring time.


Now approaching a year-and-a-half since Tesla’s first Model S rolled off its Fremont, California assembly line, the luxury performance sedan has impacted not just the alternative-energy market, but the entire automotive world.

Industry watchers are waiting to see whether the electric car maker can continue as a singular and odds-beating American success story in a time of off-shoring and uncertainty to combat menaces like global warming, energy insecurity and what traditionalists too often decry as boring cars.

Opposite of mundane, the Model S is intended as a no-excuses affront to higher-end petrol cars and flies in the face of compliance cars tepidly offered by conservative automakers.

Actually, the Model S is more like three models in one – a 60-kwh version, an 85 and P85+ – and priced (before subsidies) from the low 70s to low 130s. While it essentially looks like just one more sleek-looking car, a closer examination shows it is groundbreaking.

Tesla’s radicalism in disguise is centered around a rear-wheel-drive gas-free powertrain on an aluminum “skateboard” chassis. Efficiency, range and speed potential varies, but even the 208-mile range of most basic model doubles that of the next-best-available electric car, and Tesla has a point to prove: That the time of the EV is now.



Presently the federal government is investigating two fires believed caused by heavy metal debris rupturing the quarter-inch aluminum cladding under the approximately 9-foot-by 5-foot battery under the floor.

Tesla preemptively issued one of its over-the-air software updates to limit cars’ ability to lower their ride height, but the jury is out, with some saying concerns are overblown and others say the Model S should be recalled for a physical update.

Meanwhile, Tesla has been expanding distribution in Canada, Europe, Asia including China, playing it cool as always, and enjoying otherwise still-continuing praise and so many awards that the company trophy shelves must be buckling under the weight.



Tesla’s relatively simple electric propulsion includes a heated and liquid-cooled battery, motor, drive inverter, and single-speed gear box.

Company CEO Elon Musk says the intent is to “accelerate the advent of electric cars,” and – taking its mission all-too seriously – the car itself accelerates through a quarter mile as briefly as 12.6 seconds – or as briskly as 14.2 seconds for the 60-kwh copy.


Steepest performance comes via the steepest-priced P85+ with high-performance drive inverter and current turned up for 416 horsepower (310 kw) from 5,000-8,600 rpm, and 443 pounds-feet of torque (600 Nm) from 0-5,100 rpm.

The mid-level 85-kwh version serves 362 horsepower (270 kwh) from 6,000-9,500 rpm, and 325 pounds-feet (440 Nm) from 0-5,800 rpm.

Lastly, the 60-kwh version delivers 302 horsepower (225 kw) from 5,000-8,000 rpm and 317 pounds-feet (430 Nm) from 0-5,000 rpm.

Tesla electronically limits top speed to 130 mph for the P85+, and 125 and 120 respectively. Zero-to-60 varies respectively from 4.2 seconds, 5.4 seconds, and 5.9 seconds.

Bear in mind also, big batteries stand to influence mass more significantly than a few gallons of gas. The 85-kwh models are listed at 4,647 pounds, but with options, have been known to push 4,750 pounds. The 60-kwh version weighs around 180-pounds less than a given same-content 85-kwh model.

Proprietary plug port hidden behind marker light.

Charging is via a hidden proprietary connection as maverick Tesla has shunned standards shared by other EV makers, but does sell adapters.

The standard on-board charger is 10 kw and optional 20-kw Twin Chargers can increase input to 80 amps. That amount of juice gives a fighting chance of replenishing on par with a 24-kwh Nissan Leaf that has only a 6.6-kw charger and may accept up to 30 amps.

Tesla’s public Superchargers are another option, and increase the current dump for recharging in under 30 minutes.

Design Statement


The Model S is a head turner, but even its designer Franz von Holzhausen has acknowledged it is not so avante garde as to send competitors packing.

Tesla’s rear clip is actually a near knock-off from the Jaguar XF, but the overall outline is unique and works. It offers a Prius-like cd of 0.24, and novelties like a glass panoramic roof, optional moonroof with the largest opening in the industry, and flush door handles help set it apart.

The rear hatch space can be equipped with rear-facing seats.

Model S also maximizes interior space, seating five, with optional rear-facing seats for two more from the sub-5-foot crowd (such as children).

Accommodations are open and more airy than say, a Porsche Plug-In S E-Hybrid, if not also Spartan with nary a cubby to detract from a minimalist interior tastefully decorated with exotic woods, leather, metal, fabrics, alcantara and nothing cheap, or poorly assembled.

With the wireless key present, the car automatically turns on when you tap the brake pedal. It has no on/off button.
With the wireless key present, the car automatically turns on when you tap the brake pedal. It has no on/off button.

Rear legroom is decent, but rear headroom is less than would be wanted by someone taller than 5-foot-10.

The center jewel is the 17-inch, Internet-capable, Gorilla-glass covered touchscreen that eliminates buttons and controls for just about every function.

To save space ourselves, we’ll drop in Tesla’s glowing, dramatic, but essentially accurate video explanation of the touchscreen’s functions.

The Model S also aced its crash tests, possibly scoring higher than any other car in its class, though Tesla was mildly scolded for claiming 5.4 stars out of 5.

It’s true there is no such thing as 5.4 stars, but it’s also true the burley roof structure of the mostly aluminum car broke the crushing machine in federal tests, and so far its actual safety record appears good with over 21,000 units on the road.

Driving Model S


Rolling along in the hushed EV, it soon becomes apparent this is a car that could become very easy to live with.

The one we sampled sells for $123,770 – a healthy premium over the $71,070 60-kwh base, $81,070 for the 85, and $94,570 for the P85+ we tested.

It handles any driving duties with aplomb, from tooling along in slow traffic to highway stretches, to back-road burning. It’s even practical with gads of storage space in the rear hatch and front “frunk.”


It’s not the absolute quickest thing on wheels but more than somewhat respectable with front/rear weight balance of 48/52 percent and the bulk is carried impossibly low compared to a petrol car.

As its rounded lines do a good job concealing its essentially full-sized 196-inch length, and extra-wide 77.3-inch girth, so does its low-slung weight conceal that there is really quite a lot of it to manage – about 600 pounds more than a 4,167-pound Audi A7, a similarly sized, stellar example of the conventional carmaker’s art.


The Model S has traction control but can allow a little bit of slippage when deliberately attempting power oversteer, and audible brake intervention stops the would-be drift mid-corner, even at speeds between 25 and 50-plus mph.

We got to sample it on clean and dry as well as wet and snowy roads, and unlike some perfect weather tests, found its launch control does allow tire chirping in a straight line on cold roads during full-powered 0-to-whatever runs.

Our car was equipped with Pirelli winter performance radials on 19-inch wheels, and temperatures were in the mid 20s.


These offer good grip – this car is too powerful for compromised low rolling resistance compounds – but are not as gummy as fully warmed 21-inch Michelin Primacy normal weather tires.

The snow also made us think Model S could stand for “Snow Car,” and it’s a hoot assuming you know what you’re doing. Traction control offers a heavy hand and 0-60 times about match a Kenworth’s as the EV’s roughly 4,925 pounds with driver would have it slithering all over if more than a few ponies were let loose from its herd.

Cornering in snow is also do-able, and it does admirably as a rear-wheel-drive large heavy car – AWD would be an improvement. Hit a slick of ice though, and wham, you slide sideways alarmingly quick and don’t we wish studded snow tires were legal in Pennsylvania?

It’s manageable though and the low-placed weight is exceptionally well controlled under negligible traction just like it is with Velcro grip in its natural sunny habitats.

Components are suspended on soft-rubber mounts.

Over bumps, the optional air suspension soaks irregularities quite well. Noise, vibration and harshness are nothing to write home about – components including the A/C compressor, power steering, etc. are rubber mounted. The 5-inch-thick under-floor battery also insulates road noises.

Jamming the brakes – on dry pavement – scrubs speed at an astonishing rate, and the car has been measured at 60-0 in 110 feet. Slippery roads require more footage, and here is where weight is a penalty.

Under hard acceleration, the sound is an appropriate electrical whine. Standing on the accelerator becomes addictive, but beware, as your drivers’ license could easily become forfeit.


In discrete tests however, speed develops alarmingly and stealthily – the opposite visceral impression to a mildly muffled BMW M car or Porsche equipped with garishly loud sport exhaust to satisfy expectations of a different kind of profiler.


Too quietly, you watch the digital speedo zinging past 20-30-40-50-60 … about as quickly as you read these figures.

Of course, this is the high-zoot model we’re talking about. The midline 85-kwh version loses 1.2 seconds to 60 mph and the 60-kwh version loses 1.7 seconds to 60.

Compared to a Porsche Plug-In S E-Hybrid, some specs are remarkably similar, but the Model S is a different animal altogether.

Porsche's first PHEV is pending launch next month.

Elon Musk would likely scoff at the comparison, as he calls hybrids “amphibians,” but the Porsche does hold its own.

It weighs a claimed 4,613 pounds compared to over 4,700 for the P85+, and has the exact same 416 horsepower and very similar 435 pounds-feet torque.

The Porsche’s 5.2 seconds to 60 is a full second slower however, undoubtedly because its twin turbos must spool up, whereas the Tesla serves 100-percent torque from a standstill.

Cornering prowess is a bit closer. With tire specs nearly the same as the Tesla, the Porsche does well with grippy 245-mm-wide front and 275-mm-wide tires rear and optional 19 or 20-inch diameters balanced on a Stuttgart-tuned suspension.

Naturally, the Porsche’s weight rides higher, and the cockpit is decidedly less open, and entirely more busy with a sea of buttons compared to the Model S.


Truth be told, Model S has no direct competitors, only loose comparisons can be made. Reviewers have even attempted to compare it to a Chevy Volt because both plug in. The Volt is great for what it is, but not nearly as road-capable, and costs $35,000 before subsidies, so how do we justify that comparison again?

No, the Model S is in a class of one. The $99,000-plus Porsche is priced and powered closely, and is pretty fun also, if you don’t mind it drinking premium gas like a V8 when on the boil.

Then again, the Model S can go from tame kitty cat to thirsty tiger too. Sure it will match EPA ratings from 88-97 MPGe when driven like a Prius, and this month Model S Signature owner David Metcalf and his son, Adam, saw a record 423.5 miles on a single charge in sunny Florida.


Or, at closer to the opposite extreme, without having pre-warmed the battery in 22 degree F weather, testing quickness, and taking zero care, we sapped 87 miles indicated range inside of 35 miles of actual driving.

But undoubtedly this is a great car. Could it be made better? Sure. A rear wiper would help as would an “off” switch for the car that automatically turns “on” when the key is present, and brake pedal touched. And we could only imagine how much more amazing it would be if it was 600-plus pounds lighter as are other similarly sized upper crust cars, but we don’t see how this could be given a 1,200-pound battery.

Worth Going For?


Priced as it is, the Model S is not only about saving emissions, fuel, and being tremendously cost effective. It’s actually about high-tech art, scintillation, fetching style, bragging rights, uniqueness, high-quality design and build that Tesla summarizes into one word: “experience.”

Tesla actually offers a purchase option with elements of a lease that guarantees resale value within a 36-39 month window should you wish to exit ownership in exchange for value equal to or greater than a Mercedes S-Class.


That plus free Supercharger public charging access, helps mitigate risk for the new car company that only has one model, and otherwise has high-risk/high-reward written all over it, as Wall Street contrarians continually observe.

Bottom line is the Model S competes head-to-head not so much with the “green cars” of the world, but higher-end gas and diesel cars, and it’s astonishing this is a start-up’s first bespoke design.

So, if you can spare the money, arrange a test drive at one of Tesla’s comparatively few retail stores – where the company is able to fully and legally operate, Texas being a notable exception – and see for yourself.


As Musk has said, the Model S is here to pave the way for more down-market cars to follow in the next several years.

For now, there is nothing else like it, and Tesla has amassed fans ready to zealously defend it, as the upside outweighs any minor perceived drawbacks by a large margin, and the company promises so much yet to come.


Nov 06

Not called a ‘moonshot’ yet, Toyota prepares production FCV for blast off


The problem with plug-in electric cars is li-ion batteries are expensive, range per dollar is too short, and recharging takes a long time.

This view is not ours – as hopefully you would guess – but the “Father of the Prius” said as much, and Toyota has since reiterated this as a corporate alt-energy policy that shall embrace fuel cell vehicles as part of its long-term strategy.


One joke critics often repeat about challenging-yet-promising hydrogen fuel cell cars is, “They are five years away. And in five years from now, they will still be five years away …”

But Toyota isn’t smiling when it says get ready for the launch of its first production fuel cell vehicle “around 2015” and due for its world premier as the FCV Concept this month in Tokyo.


The company’s top alternative vehicle engineer actually prepped journalists this summer that the car would be shown Nov. 20 to Dec. 1 at the Tokyo Motor Show, and its North American Debut will be Jan. 2014 in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronic Show.

Some Details


The FCV Concept will be a four-person sedan positioned first for Japan’s home market, with intent to make it available globally.

Toyota says it has developed in-house a lightweight and compact FC stack and two 70 MPa high-pressure hydrogen tanks riding low in the specially designed body.

Power output density for the FC Stack is 3 kilowatts per liter which more than doubles the FC stack in a prototype we’ve driven called the Toyota FCHV-adv.


The new car’s output will be no less than 134 horsepower (100 kilowatts) plus it will be equipped with a “high efficiency boost converter” also developed by Toyota.

The number of fuel cells required has been reduced by increasing the voltage, says Toyota, which in turns means a smaller powertrain and reduced cost.

The system of course can be refueled via conventional liquid refueling in minutes instead of needing to be charged for hours like a plug-in car.

Its range is estimated at over 310 miles (500 kilometers).

Toyota is also thinking smart grid with this application, and says the fully fueled vehicle can deliver 10 kilowatt-hours, enough to supply the daily needs of an average Japanese home for more than a week.

Design-wise, Toyota has laden the new-tech car with as much symbolism as it can, and we’ll let you read its description in its own words:


The vehicle’s exterior design evokes two key characteristics of a fuel cell vehicle: the transformation of air into water as the system produces electricity, and the powerful acceleration enabled by the electric drive motor. The bold front view features pronounced air intakes, while the sleek side view conveys the air-to-water transformation with its flowing-liquid door profile and wave-motif fuel cap. The theme carries to the rear view, which conveys a catamaran’s stern and the flow of water behind.


Dimensions for the car are, length: 16 feet (4,870mm); width: 5.9 feet (1,810mm); height: 5 feet (1,535mm); wheelbase: 9.1 feet (2,780mm).

Price: To be determined!

Toyota in previous statements has said it will set set modest ramp-up goals for the technology through the rest of this decade.

It does intend to push forward fuel cell technology, and has adamantly declared plug-in battery electric cars are too costly, limited range, take too long to recharge.

Its alternative energy transportation strategy consists of maxing out its full hybrid line, building on its plug-in hybrid tech, and for electric cars, it is jumping ahead to fuel cells.

FCHV-adv prototype.
FCHV-adv prototype.

In driving its now-outdated FCHV-adv retrofitted SUV around a large proving grounds in suburban Michigan this summer, we found the acceleration acceptable, and power was enough to burn rubber in slow corners.

Old/new tech.
Old/new tech.

Drivability was within limits of “normal,” and of course it was a quiet vehicle being purely electric.

Now Toyota says this production-pending sedan is much better.

We’ll look forward to more news soon.


P.S. – Never mind what everybody’s favorite billionaire and EVangelist Elon Musk said about FCVs being, er, bovine manure.

He and the first GM-Volt reader who posts that fuel cells take more energy and cost more than they are worth shall be answered as follows:

You have bad data!

Actually, this is not our opinion either, but that of Steve Ellis, the guy behind Honda’s FCV and CNG cars who we spoke with in Washington at the EDTA conference this year.

His statement, “He has bad advice” was directed in an NPR interview talking about then Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and was widely re-broadcast on Morning Edition.

Have you noticed how the energy department has begun to look more favorably on fuel cell tech since that indirect confrontation in April 2011?


I cannot attest for the science of it, but the short story FCV proponents say is something like a Virginia Slims ad (remember those?)

“You’ve come a long way baby!”

I also heard murmuring about (subsidized and protected) gasoline being a net energy loser too, but that does not stop the petrol addicts from paying their pusher every week, now does it?

A view from of the future.


No doubt Toyota and Honda can give me clearer data than this glib speak, and I’ll ask them.

Do you have any questions you want me to ask as to how the FCV pushers propose to make this enterprise fly?

And how about GM? Wasn’t it at the forefront of FCVs before the Volt became a gleam in Bob Lutz’s eye?

GM will almost certainly say nothing of substance if asked, but what do you think? Does it have FCV plans too?

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