Monday, August 31, 2015

Scotland Launches New Electric-Car Incentive: Interest-Free Loans To Buy

Nissan Leaf in Scotland
Nissan Leaf in Scotland
Incentives to purchase zero-emission cars come in a wild variety of types, from California's rebates--essentially a four-figure check in the mail--to single-occupant access to carpool lanes. The U.S. government has a Federal income-tax credit of $2,500 to $7,500 for purchase of a plug-in car that varies with the car's battery pack size. Now Scotland has offered one that we've not seen before--though if you have, please let us know.

The country's Energy Saving Trust is offering its citizens interest-free loans to buy electric cars, as detailed by Click Green (via ChargedEVs). Funded by Transport Scotland as part of the "Switched On Scotland" policy roadmap, the loan can be for the entire purchase price of the vehicle, up to a maximum of £50,000 (about $77,0000) or £100,000 for businesses.
"Electric cars cost around 3p per mile to run, compared with around 15p per mile for the average petrol car, and incur no road tax," said Harry Mayers of the Energy Saving Trust.
Eigg, an island in Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. [Photo by Flickr user kevinzim]
Eigg, an island in Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. [Photo by Flickr user kevinzim]
"They also help to reduce local air and noise pollution, contributing towards a greener, healthier Scotland." A total of £2.5 million has been allocated to the program, but all applications for loans must be submitted by March 31, 2016. The interest-free loans are an additional incentive on top of the U.K.'s Plug-In Vehicle Grant of up to £5,000 (roughly $7,700) for a new passenger vehicle and up to £8,000 (about $12,300) for a van.

(The U.K. includes the countries of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.)
In addition to those incentives, the ChargePlace Scotland program offers full grant funding for installation of electric-car charging stations in private homes.

The country also offers free recharging at most of its public charging points.

Saft America receives $6.13M USABC award for lithium-ion 12V stop-start battery technology development

Saft America Inc. has received a competitively bid, $6.13-million award from the United States Advanced Battery Consortium LLC (USABC) in collaboration with the US Department of Energy (DOE) for 12-volt stop-start battery technology development. The contract includes a 50% cost-share by Saft.
The 30-month contract will focus on the development and delivery of lithium-ion 12-volt modules for vehicle stop-start battery applications consistent with USABC goals based on Saft’s advanced lithium-ion battery technologies along with battery management electronics.
12V start stop battery goals
Click to enlarge.
The new Saft contract follows research previously conducted with USABC for 12-volt stop-start battery technology development and an earlier contract to develop lithium-ion battery systems for hybrid electric vehicle applications.
USABC is a subsidiary of the United States Council for Automotive Research LLC (USCAR). Enabled by a cooperative agreement with the US DOE, USABC’s mission is to develop electrochemical energy storage technologies that support commercialization of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles. In support of its mission, USABC has developed mid- and long-term goals to guide its projects and measure its progress.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Acura's new boss wants sedans 'that people get excited about'

Jon Ikeda is barely a few weeks into his new role as general manager of Acura, but the designer-turned-executive already knows what’s atop his agenda at American Honda’s luxury marque.
Having 26 years to prepare for the role helps.
Sitting near a trio of shiny new NSX hybrid supercars on display this month during Monterey Car Week, Ikeda says it’s not Acura’s popular crossovers he has his eye on. It’s the sedans.
“We should make sedans that people get excited about, just like when they look at this NSX here,” Ikeda told Automotive News at The Quail, an annual show of high-end cars on the Monterey Peninsula. “That will be one of my first challenges with r&d, working with them to see what we could do to get that going.”
Ikeda started working for Honda in 1989, rising to become one of its top designers. In late July, Honda abruptly announced that Ikeda would be promoted to general manager of Acura, replacing Mike Accavitti, who had been with the company since 2011. The automaker gave no reason for the move.
The Acura TLX, shown, replaced the TSX and TL.

New role

As he’s settling into his new role, Ikeda declined to provide specifics on Acura’s plans for sedans. But he said he was taking seriously the brand’s revival of its 1980s-era slogan: “precision crafted performance.”
“Every step we take with any [product face-lift], anything that we come up with is going to be geared toward that,” Ikeda said, noting that improving the performance and quality of Acura’s cars was paramount.
With only three sedans to its name -- the compact ILX, midsize TLX and full-size RLX -- Acura has a glaring weakness relative to its German luxury competitors, which field more sedans and complement them with a complex matrix of variants, such as wagons, coupes, convertibles and high-performance models.
Acura also lacks a compelling flagship sedan to serve as a true luxury and technology showcase. Its only answer to the Mercedes S class and BMW 7 series is the RLX, which sold a paltry 3,413 units in 2014 and has slumped 38 percent this year through July.
“If you’re going to be a full-line luxury brand and compete with Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, you have to have a portfolio that covers all of the segments,” said Tom Libby, an analyst at IHS Automotive.
Ikeda: Performance, quality are keys.

Distinguishing Acuras

Achieving that kind of full coverage isn’t within Ikeda’s power yet. For now, his task is to distinguish Acura’s offerings from bread-and-butter Hondas and its luxury competitors. For that, Ikeda plans to use Acura’s ace in the hole, the NSX — now delayed until early 2016 — and leverage the considerable technology under its skin for Acura’s mainstream sedans.
The NSX uses a trio of electric motors and a twin-turbocharged V-6 engine to generate more than 550 hp.
“There are going to be things that we hope that we can draw from [the NSX], whether it’s some of the styling cues, and obviously I hope some of the technology trickles down into what we are working on now so people can understand what is our DNA,” Ikeda said. 
It’s hardly a stretch for a brand such as Acura to pursue a performance-based identity. While rivals such as BMW, Lexus and Audi may make more noise about their cars’ performance characteristics, Acura’s parent company, Honda, has a long heritage as an industry leader in spirited powertrains.
“Historically [Honda] has been way out front in terms of powertrain technology,” Libby said, “so if they take advantage of that they can create some kind of unique position.”
Acura boss Jon Ikeda plans to use the technology under the NSX supercar’s hood for the brand’s mainstream sedans.

Momentum grows

Acura’s sedans also have momentum; the brand is one of the few automakers to buck the industrywide trend of slipping sedan sales in 2015. Through July, sales of Acura’s sedans are up 36 percent from a year earlier.
This is largely due to a redesign of the ILX that turned the dowdy has-been into a compelling entry-level luxury sedan, and the arrival of the TLX, which replaced the TSX and TL when it went on sale about year ago.
Overall, Acura sales are up 13 percent through July this year, and running ahead of Cadillac. But the automaker’s volume still lags far behind Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Bolstering its sedan lineup should help narrow the gap. Despite the recent surge in crossover sales and the strength of Acura’s RDX and MDX crossovers, cars still account for the bulk of the luxury market.
Libby said, “It’s not like the sedan is a fringe body type that’s just going to go away.” 

Source: Automotive News

BMW i3 REx Electric Car: 'Coding' Unlocks Features Owners Want (And May Void Warranty)

2015 BMW i3 REx  -  Driven, Portland OR, April 2015
2015 BMW i3 REx - Driven, Portland OR, April 2015

The BMW i3 REx model is an unusual beast, the sole example to date of a car built specifically to comply with California regulations that define it as a zero-emission electric car even though it has a range-extending engine. That's because its gasoline range (EPA-rated at 78 miles) is more or less equivalent to its battery range (EPA-rated at 72 miles). How does BMW manage that? By restricting drivers' ability to fill its tiny gas tank to a minimal 1.9 gallons (7.2 liters).

That restriction in turn frustrates eager i3 REx drivers who want to use their cars on trips without having to stop every hour or so to add $5 or less of gasoline on long road trips.
While some i3 REx drivers swear they can do a quick fillup in less than two minutes, meaning it has minimal impact on travel time, the European version of the i3 REx has a larger tank capacity: 9.0 liters, or 2.4 gallons--enough for about 20 extra miles. The European i3 REx also has a mode that allows users to conserve battery energy if they know high levels of power will be required in near-term future driving: on hills, for example.
2015 BMW i3 REx - Driven, Portland OR, April 2015
2015 BMW i3 REx - Driven, Portland OR, April 2015

So what's a BMW i3 REx owner to do? At least some are choosing to follow instructions posted online and in BMW forums to "code" their cars--which is to say, modify the car's software to provide these functions. That, not surprisingly, is highly frowned upon by BMW, for a very rational reason. Software updates could go awry, creating safety hazards from modified electronic control systems that operate every aspect of the car.

Nonetheless, at least a few intrepid i3 REx owners have enthusiastically taken to coding their cars.
A partial list of functions that can be added or modified with those updates includes:
  • Allowing fuel tank to accept full capacity of 2.4 gallons
  • Adding suppressed European "hold battery charge" function
  • Enabling suppressed AM radio
  • Suppressing U.S.-mandated seat-belt warning tone
  • Permitting video to be run from USB storage device
  • Changing startup image (one owner found "a cool Alpina" emblem hidden in the car's software)
2014 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car owned by Tom Moloughney -
2014 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car owned by Tom Moloughney -

As we understand it, the software that enables these functions is already present in U.S.-market BMW i3 vehicles. But it's suppressed in many cases, due to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations--or BMW North America's perception of consumer preferences. Green Car Reports had asked the U.S. arm of BMW why it had no AM radio--especially useful for local traffic reports and news headlines.

"AM is not offered due to negative performance influences of the electromagnetic interference of the electric drivetrain," responded BMW product and technical communications spokesperson Rebecca K. Kiehne. "While it could be offered, BMW's performance standards are very high and we don't offer a product that meets less than those high standards."
2014 BMW i3 REx vs Chevrolet Volt comparison [photos: David Noland, Tom Moloughney]
2014 BMW i3 REx vs Chevrolet Volt comparison [photos: David Noland, Tom Moloughney]
Clearly at least a few owners aren't satisfied with that explanation. The main reason for a coding an i3 REx, though, based on numerous forum posts, is the reduced fuel capacity and the lack of a mode that lets owners conserve battery charge. Called "Hold Mode," that capability was added to the first-generation Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car in 2013. It remains in the second-generation 2016 Volt that will go on sale in California next month.

One caveat to i3 owners who are considering "coding" their cars: Any changes may be wiped out whenever an official software update is installed by a service technician at the BMW dealer Whether the service techs will notice the prior updates is debatable; most owners seem to feel they don't. But be aware that messing with a car's functional software provides a carmaker ample grounds to deny warranty coverage for any condition it deems related to those modifications.

Source: Green Car Reports

Friday, August 28, 2015

Automakers Put Billions Into “Connectivity” Tech No One Cares About

Okay, “no one” is a little strong, but the point is the same: automakers are investing billions of dollars into “connectivity” tech that people aren’t using. I can’t say I’m surprised. Aside from the Tesla Model S, I typically haven’t been impressed with the “connectivity” features I’ve found in cars — from Mercedes to BMW to Audi. And it’s stuff I just don’t see myself using. I’d rather pop onto my iPad Mini at a red light or in the parking lot than mess with that stuff.
connected carThe recent J.D. Power 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience (DrIVE) Report took a look at owner use of such features in the first 90 days of ownership, and it found a lot of “never used” responses. “The report finds that at least 20 percent of new-vehicle owners have never used 16 of the 33 technology features measured. The five features owners most commonly report that they ‘never use’ are in-vehicle concierge (43%); mobile routers (38%); automatic parking systems (35%); head-up display (33%); and built-in apps (32%),” a press release about the report noted.
“There are 14 technology features that 20 percent or more of owners do not want in their next vehicle, including Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, in-vehicle concierge services and in-vehicle voice texting. Among Gen Y, the number of features unwanted by at least 20 percent of owners increases to 23, specifically technologies related to entertainment and connectivity systems.”
While the report and press release emphasize how little people care about these features, or evendon’t want them, I think it’s worth pointing out that the majority of new owners do indeed use these. How much they use them? I’m not so sure. I’d typically poke around and try things one or two times, but then probably ignore most of them. The bottom line is, a much more robust and familiar tablet or smartphone is a better option for most of us.
A J.D. Power exec echoes that (well, technically, she said it first): “In many cases, owners simply prefer to use their smartphone or tablet because it meets their needs; they’re familiar with the device and it’s accurate,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power. But she also highlights that this isn’t just a “meh” issue — it’s a huge waste of money and opportunity. “In-vehicle connectivity technology that’s not used results in millions of dollars of lost value for both consumers and the manufacturers.”
Seriously. Improve my car. Make it more comfy. Give me more space. Give me a bigger battery (assuming it’s electric, of course). Make it safer. Do something better than pour money into “infotainment” I couldn’t care less about.
Useful in-vehicle tech for me: autopark, autosteer, automatic lane change, blind-spot warning, active cruise controlTetris… hmm, I’m not sure what else.
Anyhow, for less rambling from me and more info from the actual report, check out the press release.
Image via Shutterstock

Thursday, August 27, 2015

500th Tesla Supercharger Installed

It’s crazy to think about. Fewer than 3 years ago, there were no Superchargers. Today, Tesla opened Supercharger #500 — in Moers, Germany. Incidentally, it is the same day that Consumer Reports revealed the Tesla P85D had broken its rating system, achieving 103 out of 100 points.
The Supercharger network, something Tesla either didn’t think was that critical or pretended wasn’t that critical before it existed, is without a doubt one of Tesla’s huge competitive advantages. Not only is it “free,” but it’s also much more reliable, faster, and more usefully spread out and integrated than any other charging networks on the planet. It makes a US cross-country drive, a drive up and down the East Coast or West Coast, a drive from one corner of Europe to another, and plenty of other long drives easy and convenient… for Tesla owners/lessees.
It is shocking, on the one hand, that Tesla has built out the network now in place in under 3 years, but, to many of us, it is more shocking that no other automakers have mentioned doing anything comparable or (even more logically) partnering with Tesla on the Supercharger network.
While other automakers sit on their butts, though, Tesla is not pausing to see if they ever intend to catch up. Tesla has been building about one Supercharger a week lately, and even in the following broad maps, you can see how much better the US and Europe Supercharger networks are expecting to get in the coming year or so:
Tesla Superchargers USA Today
Tesla Supercharger USA 2016
Tesla Superchargers Europe
Tesla Superchargers Europe 2016
Kudos to Tesla. Amazing work. One reason why I’m a Tesla shareholder and enthusiast.

Honda CR-Z refresh coming this fall

Despite moving just 1,562 of them through July 2015 with sales down 33.7 percent, the Honda CR-Z issomehow still kicking in the US lineupHonda isn't ready to give up and is even announcing a refresh for the hybrid hatchback in hopes of giving the little car a jolt. Before you get too excited, the powertrain remains unaltered for the update with the same 1.5-liter four-cylinder and IMA hybrid system making 130 horsepower.

The refresh arrives in Japan in October, and according to Automotive News, the improvements arrive in the US in November. The styling sees the biggest change of the revisions. Up front, the lower air dam now slices through the grille and leads right to the foglights. A similar addition is found on the rear, as well. The brake discs grow to 15-inches, an inch larger than before. Japan gets LED headlights too, but they reportedly aren't coming here to keep prices down.

To match the revised exterior, there are tech tweaks inside. An upgraded infotainment system that adds both noise cancelation and an engine sound amplifier to make those 130 ponies at least sound sporty. Another tiny change is the switch to an an electric parking brake and the addition of a center armrest.

Rumors suggest Honda is considering whether to dump the hybrid in favor of a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the next-gen CR-Z. However, chief engineer Terukazu Torikai disagrees. When asked about the possibility of a non-electrified model, he told Automotive News, "There are no plans for that whatsoever."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid: May Availability In Early Markets

Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid quick drive (European model)
Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid quick drive (European model)

The Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid has been on sale in Japan and Europe for quite some time now, but its U.S. launch has been delayed repeatedly.
The model has actually undergone a thorough mid-cycle refresh during the time it has taken Mitsubishi to schedule the plug-in hybrid for U.S. distribution.

Now a report confirms that the Outlander Plug-In Hybrid likely won't appear in showrooms before a spate of plug-in SUVs from luxury carmakers.

Mitsubishi will begin selling the selling the Outlander Plug-In Hybrid here next May, according to industry trade journal Automotive News (subscription required).
When it does, the plug-in SUV will likely feature similar styling to the rest of the Outlander lineup, first seen at the 2015 New York Auto Show back in April.
The refreshed non-hybrid Outlander is a 2016 model; the plug-in hybrid may be a 2017 model.
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

No major changes to the powertrain are expected, meaning the Outlander will continue to use a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, with two electric motors and a 12-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.
One motor can be clutched to the gasoline engine to help drive the front wheels, while the second drives the rear wheels.

The current Outlander Plug-In Hybrid is rated at 32.5 miles of electric-only range, albeit on the notoriously optimistic European testing cycle.
Mitsubishi is expected to make some changes to the powertrain's control system, potentially yielding a slight increase in actual range by the time the Outlander Plug-In Hybrid arrives in the U.S.
By the time it does, the Outlander will be sharing the roads with at least small numbers of several plug-in hybrid utility vehicles from more upscale brands, including versions of the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Volvo XC90, and possibly the Audi Q7 as well.
2015 Mitsubishi Outlander (left) and 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander (right)
2015 Mitsubishi Outlander (left) and 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander (right)
Mitsubishi is also rumored to be working on more plug-in hybrids.
The company has shown multiple versions of its XR-PHEV concept, which is thought to foretell a plug-in hybrid version of the next Outlander Sport.

Mitsubishi also showed the Concept GC-PHEV at auto shows earlier this year, hinting at a possible new version of the discontinued Montero SUV.
If it ever becomes available in the U.S. again, that could also feature a plug-in hybrid powertrain.