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May 22

2016 Hyundai Sonata PHEV raises the bar among blended PHEVs

 

The Sonata PHEV uses batteries said to be 20 percent lighter, more energy dense than those used by competitors. The battery maker is the same as for the Volt, “LG Chemical,” as a Korean said Monday, though we have forever only heard it called “LG Chem.”

This vehicle also tackles the range anxiety issue two ways – one with an ICE, the other by using the ICE to return roughly 44 miles per hour more or less depending on road speed to the pack. That means quick charges when the gauge only reads “25″ miles range when full.

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When released this fall, Hyundai’s 2016 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid will set a new benchmark where it counts the most among in-class competitors – which does not include the Volt – with 25-percent more all-electric range.

The PHEV will also uniquely come with what is tantamount to having its own built-in quick charger – a function enabling the gas engine to replenish the battery on the road as much as five-times faster than with a 240-volt level 2 charger.

U.S. EPA fuel numbers are not in yet, but Hyundai estimates 24 miles range and this we exceeded by over four miles without difficulty on the road this week. Other information about our drive in Southern California is “embargoed” by Hyundai, but this data point we were granted permission to publish ahead of a media blackout on drive impressions in effect until next Tuesday.

Our all-electric suburban trip of 28.4 miles with HVAC on and up to 55 mph at brief points split the gap between the highest-rated blended PHEV, the 19-mile-rated Ford Fusion Energi, and the first-generation 38-mile extended-range Chevy Volt. In speaking with another publication’s driver, he got over 27 miles in mixed driving, so we don’t believe this was a fluke.

Competitors

The Sonata PHEV is targeted primarily against the Fusion Energi and 13-mile Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid. Other potential competitors are the 19-mile Ford C-Max Energi using the same powertrain as the Fusion Energi and the 6-11-mile or so Toyota Prius PHEV.

All these cars are mid-sized and not included as much of a direct competitor is the compact 2016 Chevy Volt which outdoes them all with 50 miles rated electric range, but its back seat is less roomy, and it’s really in its own category in qualified terms.

Unique Advantages for the Plug-in Hybrid

The Korean automaker’s first PHEV arrives tagging behind this year’s launch of the seventh-generation revision of its Sonata line along with a next-generation regular Sonata Hybrid upon which it is based.

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This was the first media event held at Hyundai’s new Leed-certified U.S. headquarters in Huntington Beach.

Pricing is not announced yet for two trim levels ranging from better- and better-yet, but Public Relations Manager Derek Joyce said in keeping with Hyundai practice, it would be competitively priced against the target market.

SEE ALSO: 2015 Ford Fusion Energi Review

The Fusion Energi starts just shy of $35,000 and the Accord PHEV is just below $40,000. As far as brand perception goes, Honda has the most laurels to rest upon for its legendary engines and reliability, Ford has moved upwards with powertrain architecture sharing patents with Toyota. Hyundai however is vying to move up too, and is doing so though more will remain to be seen when the Sonata PHEV is out and actually tested.

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How Hyundai does hybrids is a little different in a few respects. For one, both the regular hybrid and PHEV use a 2.0-liter gasoline direct injected engine mated to a six-speed automatic whereas the blended hybrid competitors use Atkinson cycle engines and an e-CVT.

Dimensions, creature comforts, styling and function are all competitive with sedans in this class, and we’ll have more on this in a subsequent article.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid Overview

The Sonata PHEV’s 9.8-kwh battery has nearly 47-percent more capacity than the 13-mile-range Accord PHEV’s 6.7-kwh unit. It’s also nearly 30-percent bigger than the 7.6-kwh unit in the Fusion/C-Max Energis which are rated 19 miles range.

Hyundai not surprisingly sources battery cells from Korea’s LG Chem which vary in some undetermined ways from the Volt’s LG Chem cells. Hyundai terms these “lithium-ion polymer” but really they are lithium-ion and the only “polymer” is the polymer housing. “Polymer” does not speak to the chemistry.

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While that detail may be a bit hidden, on the positive side, so is the battery itself. Hyundai now stashes the pack in the space normally occupied by a spare tire to free up trunk room.

The Sonata PHEV squeaks out 9.9 cubic feet compared to the Fusion Energi’s 8.2 and Accord PHEV’s 8.6, and the Sonata’s rear seats are 60/40 split fold-down.

In an interview with the general manager of Hyundai’s eco-friendly vehicle R&D center, Dr. Glenn Yong-Seok Kim, it was learned Hyundai uses just shy of 95 percent of the battery pack’s usable capacity. This would equate to a little less than 9.3 kwh though the exact number is a company secret, he said.

By contrast, General Motors in 2013 said its 16.5-kwh Volt battery had a much broader buffer, and its state of charge window used just 10.8-kwh from the Volt’s big T-pack which could never be squeezed into the spare tire well.

If this raises any concern however, Hyundai’s warranty exceeds all others and is “lifetime” on the high-voltage battery.

Battery Charge Mode

Among all plug-in hybrids in its class, as well as the Chevy Volt, the Sonata PHEV is unique in that it can use its 50-kilowatt motor generator to direct 360 volts of DC current straight to the battery bypassing the onboard 3.3-kw charger.

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The feature of charging on the fly is found for now only in European upscale PHEVs such as from Porsche and Volvo. For them it is for clientele who wish to comply with zero-emission zones, or for other similar motivations.

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Other makers, such as Chevrolet, have resisted this functionality saying it is a bad equation to burn gas to generate electricity and grid or renewable is far better. Others in the industry have said that Chevrolet’s decision also was made for the gen-one Volt because it got unacceptable emissions using the engine to recharge the battery, but the Hyundai is emissions complaint.

For Hyundai’s part, Dr. Kim said the motivation was to simply offer consumers the choice. A button press activates it, so it is up to them.

Whether using charge on the fly will prove economical or otherwise sit well with environmentally mindful drivers remains an open question, but it may.

The question still comes down to whether it is worth it to burn gasoline to generate electricity.

Because Hyundai bypasses the bottleneck to any PEV – the onboard charger – its solution is like having a high-power charger onboard, with much more current than a standard 30-amp, 240-volt level 2, and drivers will be inclined to use it. According to Product Planning Manager John Shon, 24 miles of range can be replenished in 30-40 minutes. At peak efficiency, ideally at highway speeds, the Hyundai may replenish at a rate equating to over 40 miles range and close to 50 miles range per hour using its gas engine. By contrast, a Nissan Leaf via level 3 may recharge up to 80 percent of its 84 miles range in half an hour, or about 64 miles range in half an hour.

range-compared

In turn, ordinary U.S. 120-volt household current charge times are under nine hours for the Sonata PHEV and under three hours for 240-volt level 2.

Hyundai says the onboard charger’s efficiency can reach 91.7 percent and Dr. Kim said he would get us fuel efficiency numbers for during battery recharge mode later to help gauge real-world energy usage to help estimate how wasteful or not is burning gas to charge the battery.

In the meantime we consulted Arizona-based retired aerospace engineer and GM-Volt and HybridCars.com tech writer George S. Bower to make an educated guess.

“Instead of driving the wheels mechanically with around 3 percent loss you are going to have to go through a generator and inverter into the battery, out of the battery and through a motor,” said Bower. “It’s the classic series set up. Typical efficiencies in this mode would be generator, inverter and motor at 95 percent each; so roughly you are looking at 15 percent loss versus 3-percent loss so it would be around 12 percent worse than just driving the wheels mechanically. So your mpg would go down by around 12 percent.”

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Hyundai’s EPA rating is not announced yet for the PHEV, but internal estimates are around 40 mpg combined. Highway mpg would be in the high 30s. Cutting this by 15 percent theoretically could mean 30-32 mpg while a driver is recharging the EV battery, maybe worse, maybe better.

This is not exactly gas-hog territory and could open up some very unique use scenarios. For example, one might contemplate an 80 mile drive by using 24 miles e-range to start, then switching to charge mode burning gas to replenish the battery in 30-40 minutes.

SEE ALSO: Which Electric Cars Charge The Fastest?

This would reduce fuel economy to be still above the average 25 mpg car sold in America, then the driver could switch back to EV mode for another 20-some emission-free miles at up to 75 mph.

Obviously this is less economical than using grid power and worse still than using carbon-free electricity, and we do not have enough data to tell you this is a good idea. But, it might be, and at very least, as Hyundai says citing driver choice, it could open up some opportunities no other PHEV in its class now enjoys.

Compliance Car Lite

The Sonata PHEV will initially be launched in Oregon and California – of course – the state Hyundai observed to be responsible for 50 percent of plug-in electrified vehicle sales.

By the fall, the automaker says 10 states will stock the car. These are California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

But, instead of locking out the rest of the country as other automakers have done with limited-market offerings, the Sonata PHEV will be available for special order in all other states.

In contrast, Ford’s Fusion Energi is available in 50 states, and at the other extreme Honda has the Accord Plug-in Hybrid sold only in New York and California.

surfboards

We inquired how Hyundai would evaluate opening up more markets for the on-paper very competitive plug-in and did not get a definitive answer.

The company in its presentation explicitly said it was introducing the car to “comply” with California ZEV rules in states where these are upheld coming close to calling its car what makes others bristle – a compliance car.

As it is, because it will technically be available in all states the pejorative term does not fully fit to the extent that it would for other vehicles. Or probably this is the case, says Plug in America’s Chief Science Officer, Tom Saxton.

“The question of whether it’s a compliance car will come down to what they do if there’s strong demand: produce to meet demand or call it sold out,” he said.

Meanwhile, as Hyundai otherwise points out, it stands to fare well against the direct competitors and it does set a new benchmark – at least until vehicles like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and whatever else next comes along.

 

Mar 11

Road test: 2015 Kia Soul EV

 

Here’s another Soul review.

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By Larry E. Hall

Come on, you have to admit that those hip-hop dancing hamsters in their baggy clothes that pitched the Kia Soul soon after it went on sale in 2010 were cute. For the introduction of an all-new 2014 Soul, the little guys slimmed down and buffed up at the gym for the commercial’s sound track. Hey, let’s face it, these guys are hip.

And the all-new 2014 Kia Soul that the hamsters were pitching? Like those cute creatures, the urban hatchback also underwent a transformation: A new stiffer chassis, a little longer and wider with suspension upgrades that added a bit more fun to the driving experience.

All this boiled down to a great platform to electrify.

As for the hamsters, a new fully charged ad campaign has them continuing their hijinks as young bespectacled “auto-scientists” conducting an experiment. The result: a totally electric Kia Soul EV plus, one very alluring hamster girl.

Juicin’ The Soul

Check off the Kia Soul as one more choice in a growing list of small battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). Arriving late last fall, the 2015 Soul EV inserts an electric drive system as a replacement for the gasoline powertrain found in the 2014 Soul.

Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.

Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.

Like most car manufacturers who have added electric cars to their lineups, with the exception of the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, Kia used an existing model to electrify. Unlike the others, however, Kia didn’t just shoehorn an electric powertrain in the Soul without first thinking about it — the automaker planned for an all-electric version when development began on the second-generation Soul.

This forethought placed the thin battery pack beneath the front and rear seats for optimal weight distribution and a minimal loss of cargo space. To address the additional battery weight of around 600 pounds, five cross beams are used for support.

The drive system features an 81-kilowatt liquid-cooled AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor that generates 109 horsepower and a respectable 210 pounds-feet of torque. The output is comparable with leading small electric competitors, except the Chevrolet Spark, which produces a lusty 327 pounds feet.

Power from the motor is directed to the front wheels through a single-speed constant-ratio gear reduction unit. Kia says zero to 60 mph happens in less than 12 seconds and top speed is 90 mph.

Battery size is a major factor in electric driving range. Here, the Soul EV has an edge over the pack of small electrics, where 21 to 24-kilowatt hour battery packs are the norm. Kia opted for a 360-volt lithium-ion polymer battery pack that is rated at 27-kilowatt hours.

Replacing the standard Soul’s gasoline engine, the EV’s drive system features an 81-kilowatt electric motor that sends 109 horsepower to the front wheels via a single speed transmission.

Replacing the standard Soul’s gasoline engine, the EV’s drive system features an 81-kilowatt electric motor that sends 109 horsepower to the front wheels via a single speed transmission.

The Soul EV is good for 93 miles on the EPA cycle. For EV drivers, that effectively offers an additional 10 or 12 miles of driving range compared to Nissan’s Leaf or the Ford Focus Electric.

In fact that EPA 93 mile estimated driving range is tops in the EV world except for the more-than-the-twice expensive Tesla Model S. The MPGe estimate is 120 city/92 highway and 105 combined.

Kia’s lithium-ion polymer battery technology is different from the standard lithium-ion cells in most other EVs, and affords better heat management. Rather than using a liquid-based battery temperature management system to maintain optimum battery performance, particularly in cold weather, the Soul EV uses a battery heating system, which warms up the battery during charging.

Standard is a level 3 quick charge port that will give an 80 percent battery fill in just 24 minutes.

Standard is a level 3 quick charge port that will give an 80 percent battery fill in just 24 minutes.

To optimize battery life, Kia engineers added a heat pump to reduce load on the climate control system.

Standard is a 6.6-killowatt onboard charger and a CHAdeMO DC fast charge port. Recharging time for a fully depleted battery using a 120-volt electrical outlet is 24 hours. The time is cut to less than five hours via a 240-volt outlet, and on-the-go charging from a Level 3 public fast charger will give an 80 percent fill in just 24 minutes.

“Driver Only” button cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.

“Driver Only” button cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.

Like several other electric cars, the Soul EV has two drive modes: Drive and Brake. Selecting Brake dials up regenerative braking to capture more of the vehicle’s kinetic energy as electricity. This not only slows the Soul quite rapidly without using the brake pedal, it can add three or four miles of driving range between recharges.

Using climate controls, either heating or cooling, can reduce driving range by as much as 10 miles. To mitigate that, the Soul EV has a novel individual ventilation feature. Activated by a “Driver Only” button, it cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.

And finally, to squeeze a smidgen more efficiency and miles of range from the drivetrain, there’s an Eco button on the center console. It adjusts certain operations on the EV system, such as sensitivity to throttle input. Think of it as a built-in hypermiler.

Idiosyncratic Design

When Kia restyled the Soul for 2014, they wisely didn’t stray too far from the original. Even though all of the sheetmetal was new, it continued with the same boxy bulldog look with the same abrupt windshield pillar and the slightly canted-back roofline.

The 2015 Soul EV’s exterior has few deviations from its 2014 gasoline-powered donor vehicle, and most of those are aimed at improved aerodynamics — the boxy shape needs all the help it can get to reduce drag. However, there is a dramatic change up front. The small horizontal grille is replaced with a sliding door for the charging ports.

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“Eco Electric” fender badges replace the “Soul” fender garnish found on the standard car, and the EV has its own specific 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped with specially engineered Super Low Rolling Resistance (SLRR) tires. The tires give up some grip but offer 10 percent less resistance than standard low rolling resistance tires, helping to improve range.

Exclusive to the EV are four different two-tone color choices, an inspiration from the 2012 Track’ster concept vehicle.

In other words, the Soul EV is the hippest looking electric five-seat transporter in town.

Green Inside, Too

With the 2014 Soul makeover, inside is where Kia stepped up. The cheap, basic look was cast aside, replaced with styling that is sportier and feels more premium with soft-touch materials in all the right places.

For the EV, the automaker reduced its petroleum footprint by using eco-friendly materials. About 53 pounds of bio-base plastics derived from cellulose and sugar cane are used in door panels, headliner, seat trim, roof pillars and carpeting.

Soul EV‘s dash layout is clean and simple with all controls within easy reach of the driver.

Soul EV‘s dash layout is clean and simple with all controls within easy reach of the driver.

The cabin is roomy for the class and is a comfortable place to hang out like the hamsters do. Backside is 24.2 cubic of cargo space behind the rear seat. Since the battery pack doesn’t intrude into the cabin, the 60/40 spilt seats can be folded nearly flat to offer 61.3 cubes.

Sitting high with an excellent view of the road ahead, the driver can easily grab information from a pair of crystal clear gauges that use Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology.

The driver can quickly and easily see a very accurate driving range and battery displayed by the right instrument panel gauge, as well as the drive system’s operation in a centered LCD display.

The driver can quickly and easily see a very accurate driving range and battery displayed by the right instrument panel gauge, as well as the drive system’s operation in a centered LCD display.

The right gauge has a combination analog and digital speedometer. The left displays an extremely accurate driving range, as well as battery level and an eco-driving guide. A centered LCD displays trip information or audio sources.

Additional EV drivetrain information can be found on the 8-inch center touchscreen that features the navigation and Kia’s UVO infotainment systems. UVO can do everything from showing maximum driving range on top of a map to displaying how much juice is used when headlights, windshield wipers and turn signals are operating.

:  Rear seat comfort is pleasing with a surprising amount of legroom for a compact hatchback wagon.

: Rear seat comfort is pleasing with a surprising amount of legroom for a compact hatchback wagon.

From UVO smartphone apps you can check current charge status, remotely start or stop charging and see the car’s location. Other apps connect with favorites such as Pandora, iHeart Radio and Yelp.

Kia offers two versions of its electric car: the base Soul EV and the Soul EV+ (Plus), both very well equipped.

The base model has an MSRP of $33,700, plus $850 destination charges, not including any federal or state incentives. Standard features include a rearview camera; heated outside mirrors; tilt-telescoping steering column; heated steering wheel and front seats; power windows; navigation and infotainment system; Bluetooth connectivity; and a six-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary jacks.

Our Soul EV+ test driver had a sticker price of $35,700 plus, the $850 destination charge. It threw in leather seating; heated and vented front seats; heated rear seats; power-folding exterior mirrors; fog lights; and park-assist for the front and rear.

Chargin’ Down The Road

“Range anxiety” is a term now firmly imbedded into the electric car lexicon. The 2015 Soul EV eases that anxiety, and we found that 100 miles was easily the norm. After learning to use the B mode effectively, we tallied 110 miles on day four with the wagon, ending the day with the dashboard indicating 4 miles of range remaining.

The only time the EV failed to live up to its claimed rating was during a couple of hours of play time. That consisted of several zero-to-60 test runs as well as determining what kind of cajones, if any, the little electric-box-on-wheels had on one of my favorite backcountry roads with lots of twisties.

Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.

Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.

As it turned out, the Soul EV was more fun to drive than I anticipated. The battery pack’s mass was offset by its placement under the floor, and the low center of gravity gave a planted feel through corners with scant body lean. Combine that with engineering changes to the suspension and additional torsion rigidity, and other small EVs seem uninteresting and detached. That said, the steering is not tuned for sportiness, but the key words are, it’s fun to drive.

Electric motors deliver all their torque instantly, so the Soul had an always-eager feel around town with the single-speed transmission aiding in direct linear velocity.

Don’t be put off by its leisurely 0-60 mph spec of around 11 seconds. The Soul EV might take a couple of extra seconds to get to full highway speed from a complete standstill, but all-out sprints like that are rare. When already traveling at 50 or 60 miles per hour, immediate power is readily available to push the wagon to its top speed of 90 mph.

Whether traveling on the Interstate or in town, this is a very quiet vehicle with minimal electric motor whine compared to other EVs. Also appreciated, when bumps or potholes were encountered, we weren’t bothered too much.

Compliance Vehicle?

When the Soul EV arrived, Kia said it would only be available in California, Oregon, Maryland, New Jersey and New York — all states that follow California’s zero emission mandate for automakers — and would expand sales to other states later on. That indicates this is a compliance electric vehicle.

Initially, it was only on sale in California and Oregon. Since then, the automaker quietly added Washington State in February — one dealer — and hasn’t commented about additional availability.

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It may not be your cup of tea, but the Soul EV has an unmistakable quirky charm, which by its self will attract perspective EV buyers. Add the 93 mile (or more) driving range, spacious interior and the fun-to-drive factor, and it is a contentious competitor to all the other small top-selling electric cars: Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen’s E-Golf. Perhaps even BMW’s i-3.

In my opinion, the Soul EV, for the reasons above, is by far the best small electric car I have driven. If Kia ever decides to expand nationwide, it has the potential to cut into the Leaf’s market dominance.

Yes, the Soul EV’s base price is close to the Leaf’s top-end model, but it does have a boatload of standard features. And, for those who prefer leasing, the preference of most EV buyers, Kia’s best deal is $249 a month for 36 months compared to the Nissan’s $199 per month (California).

But wait, the Kia Soul EV has something the Nissan Leaf and all the others just can’t offer — fun lovin’, cool, hip hamster spokesmen.

 

Dec 31

(Holden) Volt does well compared to four other very different electrified vehicles

 

In an Australian comparison of five electrified cars the Holden Volt came out relatively well, and to think this is on the eve (of New Years) and possibly more importantly, the Volt reveal.

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OK, the 2016 Volt reveal is Jan. 12 but it’s practically upon us, and in any case for fun CarAdvice.com brought together the BMW i8, Mitsu Outlander PHEV, Nissan Leaf, Volt and the least sophisticated of them all, said the review, a Toyota Prius.

Apparently they could not get a Tesla though deliveries did begin this month.

Of all the contenders to the Volt, the comparisons were drawn most closely between it and the Outlander. The Outlander offers all-wheel drive, larger cargo space, but smaller battery, and less AER.

In Australian numbers, Volt range is 87 km (54 miles), and Mitsu is 52 km (32 miles). Battery size for the Volt they was 16.5 (so were they using a 2014?), and Outlander has 12 kwh.

Price is $47,490 for the Outlander – appropriately named for where this comparo took place – and the Holden Volt is $59,990.

With federal tax credit factored in … Oh never mind, There is no federal tax credit …

The Volt was basically given the nod though it costs more.

“Unless you really need SUV space and a fifth seat, it’s clear the Holden Volt is the better option than the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV,” said the written review.

If you didn’t notice, cars cost more in Australia.

The i8 is $300,000, Prius is $33,990 and Leaf is $39,990.

We’d call this a comparison between rather dissimilar cars, but the common denominator is they all use electricity.

The i8 ran out of range real soon, but it appeared to be the model of choice for the reviewers not counting fuel economy, and factoring mainly fun.

Conclusion?

All our electrified cars here have their flaws but they are the proof of how car manufacturers continue to work on automotive solutions that reduce our dependency on oil. If government’s such as Australia’s could be similarly progressive and offer greater incentives and better recharging infrastructures, electric vehicles may actually have a chance

CarAdvice.com

 

Dec 02

Ghosn says Nissan has battery chemistry that could make for affordably priced 250-mile EVs

 

Back story – Yesterday I got an e-mail from Bertel Schmitt who’s now running a startup publication with Edward Niedermeyer. Bertel spends time in China and Japan. He was up late watching Nissan’s chief on a Japanese program and got an exclusive. Which he shared with me.

Here it is. What this could mean for the Volt, assuming it proves true is of course unknown. FYI, Leaf is rated on the ultra liberal JC08 cycle at 228 km (141 miles) (yeah right!) – and originally had been 200 km (124 miles). The main point is if they have the chemistry, upsizing to a true 200-250-plus mile BEV of Leaf proportions will be less cost and bulk than what Tesla has now.

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Following an unintentional disclosure by CEO Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has confirmed it will “very soon take the issue of range off of the table.”

The company is otherwise still being vague, not ready to show what it has, but Ghosn suggested a near-ready battery to enable affordable electric cars good for as many 250 miles (400 km) depending on configuration, and how it’s tested.

The implication is furthermore that the new chemistry has more power per volume so increasing range to beyond Tesla proportions would just be a function of making a battery pack a bit bigger in volume, but it would presumably still be smaller than a Model S pack.

Whether the Nissan Leaf will get the battery, as is believed, or it and other Renault and Nissan vehicles will get it, as would be likely, is not being disclosed.

According to Bertel Schmitt of the Daily Kanban, who spoke with contacts at the company, Nissan appears slightly worried it could put a chill on present EV sales.

But, they won’t deny the story now that the boss let the cat out of the bag.

An online transcript of the interview is not available, reports the Daily Kanban.

An online transcript of the interview is not available, reports the Daily Kanban.

The revelation came on a late-night airing of Tokyo Business News Channel where Ghosn was pressed by the host on what Nissan is going to do.

Host: Is Nissan working on new batteries?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Host: Can you tell us more?

Ghosn: “No.”

Host: Will the range double?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Host: That means more than 400 kilometers?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Ghosn’s one-word oblique answers could be interpreted a few different ways, but the implication and context suggest Nissan is putting the finishing touches on a commercially ready battery that could make the big-heavy, expensive pack in a Model S look old-tech.

Given that “400 km” is considered “double” range indicates the Japanese interview is contemplating cars as tested under Japanese government rules which tend to be optimistic next to U.S. EPA numbers. Nissan’s Leaf certainly does not now have a 124-mile range in the U.S., but given high energy density, ability to compete with “petrol” cars’ range is being considered.

Ghosn’s answers also dovetail with a report in May, where Nissan’s Andy Palmer said Nissan has high energy density “game changing technology” to push Leaf to at least 186 miles to combat fuel cell vehicles selling on just this issue – short range for the buck with present EVs.

SEE ALSO: ‘Game Changing’ Batteries To Enable Up To 186-Mile Range Nissan Leaf and New Infiniti EV

To gauge Ghosn’s comment, Schmitt followed up with Jeff Kuhlman, Nissan’s head spokesman, who added to the notion that this new battery chemistry is not some far-off science project.

“[w]e continue our R&D efforts because we believe that we can do more with battery electric, and very soon take the issue of range off of the table,” said Kuhlman. “In other words, cars with a comparable range to today’s petrol vehicles.”

Today’s “petrol vehicles” actually have more than 200-250 miles range but Kuhlman did not elaborate.

As it is, for those who say present range is too short – such as Toyota and car shoppers sitting on the sidelines – this objection may be answered not so long from now.

Even Toyota has quietly suggested EV range may soon be solved, and an unidentified Japanese engineer told the Daily Kanban “Commercial applications could be no more than one model cycle away.” Despite all its talk over fuel cells, Toyota is working on improving EV batteries, as we also have reported.

Actually many automakers are working on the next best thing – though most say a breakthrough is not on the near horizon – and in addition to the objection of sub-100 mile range for average priced EVs today, is also recharge times.

Tesla and others have been working on recharging faster than today’s Supercharger and DC fast chargers which replenish 80- percent charge in under 20-30 minutes. Different chemistries which can recharge faster have also shown promise.

So where does that leave Nissan? While Ghosn is not known to exaggerate in the extreme, and two officials suggest it’s just a matter of time, Nissan has yet to truly and unequivocally reveal its hand.

Daily Kanban

 

Jul 11

America’s Least Expensive Vehicles To Fuel

 

Depending on how you slice it – as in, in EV mode – the Volt could be on this list, but as you’ll see, other choices were made for good reason.

Hope everyone has a good weekend.

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Are you tired of spending significant dollars at the fuel pump and interested in ways to save on your next car?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – which actually suggested this topic to us – the cheapest cars to “fuel” don’t take liquid fuel at all, but rather, are all-electric.

How cheap is cheap? A 23-mpg combined 2014 Chrysler 300 with 3.6-liter V6 is one car representing an average efficiency rating and costs $2,400 per year to fill up – or, $1,900 more than one of a few $500-per-year electric cars on our list.

The EPA’s annual fuel cost estimates assume: average fuel/electricity prices and 15,000 miles driven comprised of 55 percent city and 45 percent highway driving. Under each car’s rating, the EPA has a “personalize” link to estimate your actual costs.

EVs are rated by miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) and most get over 100 MPGe.

But can’t you do just as well with a high-mpg car or hybrid? Not necessarily. The Toyota Prius gets 50 mpg but its gasoline still costs $1,100 per year, more than double the best EVs’ annual energy costs.

Even at double the 12-cents per kilowatt-hour the EPA figures, a Nissan Leaf’s annual electricity bill on 24 cents per kwh juice would just equal the Prius at $1,100 annually.

SEE ALSO: Should You Buy an Electric Car?

Of course an EV involves acquiring a home charger, and accepting range limitations, but there’s a growing contingent of people who’ve jumped in and say the EV waters are fine – some having purchased, and others leasing to avoid long-term commitment.

Unfortunately however, some of the cars on our list are what are called “compliance cars” to meet California mandates. Only four cars are sold in all 50 states, some are sold in several states from east-to-west, and others are quite limited indeed.

SEE ALSO: Is Electricity a Clean Energy Source?

For those who “get it” now, EVs are also gratifyingly zero emissions vehicles, and even factoring in “dirty coal” as the energy source, they wind up being cleaner in most cases. And, no soldier or civilian has ever been killed over the right to electricity extraction from the Middle East, nor do we need to transport electricity by tanker across the sea. Nope, we make it here, in the U.S., and the grid is getting cleaner year by year.

EVs also qualify for up to a $7,500 federal tax credit and state credits where applicable.

So, without further ado, here’s the list ranked by annual energy cost or MPGe in descending order:

10. Toyota RAV4 EV – $800 Annually; MPGe – 78 city / 74 highway / 76 combined

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A quintessential compliance car, with the lowest EPA rating, the $49,800 RAV4 is however the only electric SUV on the market until Tesla rolls out its Model X next year to the applause of EV fans everywhere.

Actually the RAV4 EV was jointly built under a partnership with Tesla as a follow-up to Toyota’s first RAV4 EV. Its powertrain is essentially by Tesla and has been called the cheapest way to get into a Tesla, albeit with Toyota body.

Certainly it’s less than the $79,900 85-kwh Tesla Model S which actually belongs in this #10 spot, but we’ll mention it along with number nine.

The electric RAV4 is available for sale or lease through select dealers in California’s regions of Los Angeles / Orange County, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento.

And it’s due to be canceled after 2,600 units are sold as Toyota focuses on fuel cell vehicles which it has said are the more viable technology at the moment.

9. 60-kwh Tesla Model S – $650 Annually; MPGe – 94 city /97 highway / 95 combined

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Tesla’s Model S with the 60-kwh battery ranks ninth and actually the 85-kwh Model S ranks tenth but we put the RAV4 EV in for perspective, and are mentioning both S Models anyway.

The 85-kwh version costs $700 annually to “fuel” according to the EPA, and MPGe is 88 city / 90 highway / 89 combined.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Model S Review

Nor does Tesla’s sedan need an introduction, having taken so many prizes, acknowledgements and awards they would have given it a Superbowl trophy if they could have figured a way to justify that.

Tesla, as you know, is exerting the EV agenda nationwide, and globally. Its 60-kwh cars however cost $69,000 to start when most consumers would rather pay less, but they’ll have to wait for its promised smaller sedan in the next couple of years or so.

The Model S delivers 208 miles range in 60-kwh form, or 265 miles in 85 kwh form.

8. Ford Focus Electric $600 Annually; MPGe – 110 city / 99 highway / 105 combined

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An electrified version of the Focus hatchback, the electric version is available in close to half the country.

Ford also recently chopped the price by $4,000 to $35,200 a fair sum above a base $28,800 Nissan Leaf, but the modestly rated Ford does give liquid cooling to preserve its battery, and is worth a look if sold in your market.

7. smart fortwo electric drive coupe/cabriolet, $600 Annually; MPGe – 122 city / 93 highway / 107 combined

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Owned by Mercedes-Benz, smart’s updated fortwo electric in both coupe and cabriolet form are evenly matched and available in selected markets across the country.

As electrified versions of the diminutive city car, prices start at
$12,490 for the coupe and $15,490 for the convertible with lease deals available, meaning while you may not be getting a lot of car, you’re not paying so much for it either.

6. Mitsubishi i-MiEV $550 Annually; MPGe – 126 city / 99 highway / 112 combined

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The venerable Mitsu i-MiEV – pronounced “I-MEEV” – originated in 2009 as an electrified version of a Japanese “kei” tiny city car.

Badged under a few name plates, it has sold in the tens of thousands globally, and was better equipped for 2014 while its price was cut to $22,995, or a $6,130 price reduction from the previous generation.

DC quick charging is available for those who can use that to extend the EPA-rated range of 62 miles.

Hats off to Mitsubishi for making this vehicle 50-state available.

5. Nissan Leaf – $550 Annually; MPGe – 126 city / 101 highway / 114 combined

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Also 50-state available, and the market leader is Nissan’s Leaf.

Launched in 2010 as a purpose-built EV, Nissan has also made it the global top seller, starting in the U.S. at $28,980, and low-priced lease deals have been offered.

Range is 84 miles, and DC quick charging is an option for recharging to 80 percent in under 30 minutes. Level 2 (240-volt) charging can take 4-7 hours depending on which on-board charger you get.

An overview is here and a full 2013 review with video is here.

4. Fiat 500e $500 Annually; MPGe – 122 city / 108 highway / 116 combined

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Another “compliance car,” this one is an efficient little EV, but available in California only.

MSRP starts at $31,800 and a lease deal is available startiungf at $199 a month for 36 month with $999 due at signing.

We’re making it fourth place as it has slightly less MPGe than the next few cars, but it’s actually tied in the loosely rounded off to “$500″ figure.

3. Honda Fit EV $500 Annually, 132 city / 105 highway / 119 combined

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Honda says it does not think the term “compliance car” is fair, as it takes the burden from its lease customers, includes a charger, and has engineered a first class EV conversion.

However, this is a limited-market lease-only EV – although it was made available to the East Coast – and its tenure is due to end soon.

SEE ALSO: Lease Price Slashed By One-Third For New And Existing Honda Fit EV Customers

Honda introduced the Fit EV with an announced volume of 1,100 units over two model year and the 2014 model year will end early this fall, marking the end of production of the Fit EV.

Its EPA rating is the same $500 as others, but is here ranked by combined MPGe.

It was nice while it lasted. Like Toyota, Honda is refocusing on fuel cell electric vehicles and in the next year or two ought to have a follow-up to its FCX Clarity.

2. Chevrolet Spark EV $500 Annually; MPGe – 128 city / 109 highway / 119 combined

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The Spark EV is also rounded to $500 annual energy cost but its MPGe is incrementally better, and the EPA says it costs 84 cents per mile, a tad less than 87 cents per mile for the previous two estimated at $500 per year.

General Motors’ subcompact is a “compliance car” sold only in California and Oregon – but as of July 2014 we have noted rumors of central U.S. and East Coast dealers telling their customers it’s coming.

SEE ALSO: Spark EV Test Drive Review

GM flatly denies its nice little electric version of its subcompact Spark is due anywhere else, but you never know what news may come later.

Base MSRP is $27,495, it can come with optional DC quick charging, and interesting is the over-sized motor capable of a (traction controlled, so no burnouts possible) 400 pounds-feet to the front wheels.

1. BMW i3 – $500 Annually; MPGe – 138 city / 111 highway / 124 combined

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America’s most efficient car is 50-state available, and it comes from Germany.

It is available as a pure EV – which gets the higher EPA rating – and with a small range extending engine, rated at $650 annual fuel cost, and 117 MPGe combined.

For some reason people have made comparisons with the i3 to Tesla’s Model S but the two could not be any less alike.

Unless one counts that both brands are electric and targeting upscale shoppers, the innovative city car from BMW tops the efficiency chart, whereas Tesla’s larger, heavier, more powerful and longer running cars are at the end of the line.

That did not stop Tesla’s designer from panning BMW’s electric city car as being to automobiles what “Ikea” is to furniture.

BMW’s pure electric version starts in the low 40s, with range of 81 miles. The purpose built EV is lightweight due in part to advanced materials including carbon fiber reinforced plastic.

More info on BMW’s new sustainable i series can be found here.

 

Jun 12

VIA launches eREV shuttle van at Edison Electric Institute Annual Conference

 

This Monday I talked with VIA’s David West who sent info over for the following story.

Essentially, the eREV maker is up and running. They’d not launch this or another vehicle without having their order pipeline sufficiently full of reservations.

Won’t share off the record info, but imagine other possibilities VIA could maybe also come up with …

Also, note they are using “opportunity charging.” Here the driver hops out and plugs in a J1772 to let a 24-kwh battery do 100-plus daily miles. I asked if they’d thought of wireless charging as they “right size” the battery and use the eREV as a BEV, keeping the extender off. Wound up introducing VIA and Momentum Dynamics. Generally West agreed this is the direction VIA is going, so we shall see whether the two companies do business.

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Perhaps you’ve seen VIA Motors’ extended-range electric pickups and vans that are pending launch, and Monday the company announced it’s debuting a shuttle version of its van.

In an interview Monday, VIA’s Chief Marketing Officer David West said the Utah-based startup will announce the production van specially configured for airport/hotel duty at the ongoing Edison Electric Institute Annual Conference in Las Vegas Monday.

Featured speakers at the event include Warren Buffett and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Gates.

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Standard GM bench seats are removed by VIA Motors, and replaced with these.

 

West said VIA is already providing free to-and-from trips for industry executives in its vans between the McCarran Airport and the convention, and these are much like shuttle vans used in January at the Sundance Film Festival.

Inside the vehicle are upgraded seats more suitable for the duty, and the vans can be equipped with other amenities as needed.

All-Electric, 100 Miles/Day

These vans, by the way, are demonstrating the ideal usage scenario VIA envisions which is all-electric. How does a 24-kwh VIA van drive over 100 miles a day, round the clock on pure electricity?

The buzzword is “opportunity charging.”

VIA has contracted with Clipper Creek which provides a strategically located 240-volt, 14.4-kilowatt, 60-amp level 2 charger that replenishes the shuttle buses in between trips.

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This would normally be down time, waiting for the next load of passengers, with AC running in the 110-degree heat, and a big fuel waster for a conventional V8 vehicle.

In VIA’s case, the van stays in the e-zone, running AC and accessories from the battery while it’s recharging between runs.

While not naming specific customers, West said VIA has orders booked for its hotel/airport shuttle. The configuration is in line with the standard entry price of $79,000.

West noted California and five other states have incentives starting at $10,500 on the state level plus $7,500 on the federal level. Certain areas of California can go to as high as $18,000 in state incentives.

 
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