Friday, April 29, 2016

Tesla Model 3 Hatchback Design Proposed

Ever since the Tesla Model 3 was revealed on March 31, a small but vocal group of potential buyers have bemoaned the fact that the car is not a hatchback. It is, however, a striking sedan with a long, sloping, all glass roof. Sadly, that roofline leaves very little room for a proper trunk lid. The opening at the rear is quite small as well. That has led some to wonder if the car, handsome as it is, will have less cargo capacity than its peers — particularly, the Chevy Bolt.
Tesla Model 3 hatchback concept
Elon Musk has weighed in via Twitter on several occasions to calm any fears that people may have. He said first that a 7′ surfboard would fit inside. That moved some to reply that carrying surfboards around is not quite the craze it was in the 60’s when Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys created the surfer craze and Beach Blanket Bingo was popular at drive-in theaters. Later, Musk tweeted about why the Model 3 is designed the way it is.
@elonmusk Thx for  ! Why small trunk lid instead of big hatchback like S&X? I ride a bike not a surfboard :)
@CmaxVs Only way to get enough rear passenger headroom was to move the rear roof cross-car support beam. A bike will still fit no problem.

The folks at Top Speed have taken the opportunity to imagine what the Model 3 would look like as a hatchback. Based upon the number of favorable comments the proposal has gotten at Teslarati, there are lots of prospective customers who would prefer it if the car had a proper hatch.
The most critical factor for electric cars in the minds of customers is range. And range correlates strongly with weight and aerodynamic drag. No doubt, a hatchback would be less aerodynamically efficient than the gently tapered roofline seen in the current Model 3 concept. But the Model 3 places Tesla in a different market segment than its premium priced Model S sedan and Model X SUV occupy. There is a reason why every other automaker is rushing more and more SUV’s and crossovers to market. They are the hottest selling cars no matter what country you care to look at.
Sedans are the weakest selling cars today. In Europe, hatchbacks dominate in sales over sedans. If Tesla wants to make automobiles for the mass market, it has to make cars the masses want. Yes, it already has 400,000 reservations for the Model 3, so it is probably not too worried about selling all the cars it can build, at least initially. Tesla has said it plans to build several models using the basic architecture of the Model 3. One of those could be a hatchback version for those who want one.
Some think an SUV/crossover version is coming, possibly with a version of the falcon wing doors first introduced on the Model X. Elon has even casually mentioned he would like to do a pickup truck some day. Tesla has a huge advantage over its rivals in that the Model 3 is still 18 months away from the start of production. It has all that time to gather feedback and tweak the Model 3 design any way it deems necessary before then. Other companies have to build their cars first and then wait for the market to respond.
One criticism about the Top Speed concept is that it makes the car resemble a Mazda 3 hatchback. That is probably no coincidence, since Tesla’s lead designer once worked for Mazda. What about you? Do you think the Model 3 should be a hatchback? Share your thought with us in the comments section. Maybe your feedback will find its way to Elon’s desk.

Ford Planning Long Range Electric Car To Compete With Tesla And Chevrolet

Just a few days ago, we reported on how Ford Motor Company is content with electric cars that have only 100 miles of range.  Kevin Layden, Ford’s director of electrification programs and engineering, told the SAE World Convention in Detroit earlier this month his company has no plans to join the electric car range race. Perhaps he should have checked with the boss first.
Ford electric car
During a conference call with investors on Thursday, Mark Fields, Ford’s CEO, said his company positively, absolutely will build an electric car with at least 200 miles of range. “We want to make sure that we’re either among the leaders or in a leadership position,” he said. “When you look at some of the competitors and what they’ve announced, clearly, that’s something we’re developing for.”
Fields offered no specifics, however. Any claim that it is leading the field is ludicrous on its face. At best, Ford is more than a lap behind Chevrolet and about 2 laps behind Tesla. Fields may be trying to put a brave face on things, but the fact it that Ford is nothing more than a “me, too” company when it comes to electric cars.
Ford is planning to introduce an assortment of plug-in hybrid models in the near future, however. One of those may be called the Model E, a small car the company plans to build at a new factory in Mexico. According to reports, the Model E will be capable of being powered by multiple power trains depending on market demands. Hyundai is pursuing a similar strategy with its new Ioniq.
The problem Ford has is the same all legacy automakers have. They are making money hand over fist selling large SUV’s and trucks. The reason Fields was chatting with analysts yesterday was to share with them the good news. Ford had the highest first quarter net income in the company’s history, thanks to strong sales of its F series pickups and Explorer SUVs.
In an era of ridiculously low gas prices, consumers are voting with their wallets and buying the biggest, thirstiest vehicles they can find and in record numbers. How is Ford supposed to say “No, thank you,” to those customers and focus on small sedans that nobody wants? Tis a conundrum. For now, Ford and others can be expected to pay lip service to the idea of electric cars, but continue to build what sells. No responsible capitalist would do it any different.
If Ford is planning on being an electric car leader, it is keeping its plans well hidden and out of public view.
Source: Bloomberg  Photo credit: Ford

Thursday, April 28, 2016

EV Drivers Prefer SUVs New Study Shows

The world has gone mad for sport utility vehicles. Say what you will about fuel economy, safety, or saving the planet, what car buyers want more than anything (except perhaps a Ford F350 Super Duper Duty) is an SUV. For those like Tesla Motors and regulators like the California Air Resources Board who want to lead the world into a bright, fossil fuel free future, the SUV craze threatens to undo all their carefully laid plans.
Chevy Spark EV
A new study by finds only 27.5% of all hybrid and electric vehicle owners who traded in their cars in the first quarter of 2016 bought another hybrid or electric vehicle. That’s down from 38.5% in the first quarter of 2015. Wait. Don’t EV advocates say that those who drive an electric car will never want a car with an internal combustion engine again? What’s going on here?
What’s going on is that people prefer SUVs. Manufacturers can’t build enough of them. Sales of sedans are way down. Coupes and two seater sales are falling. Only SUV and truck sales are up. In fact, manufacturers are adding new shifts at their SUV and truck factories to keep up with demand. Saving the planet may be a worthy goal, but for now, large, multipurpose vehicles are what sell.
“The overwhelming popularity of SUVs trumps just about any other trend in today’s market,” says Director of Industry Analysis Jessica Caldwell. “SUV sales are up 22 percent in the last five years, and almost every other segment has suffered as a result. It’s especially true for hybrids and EVs, which generally don’t offer the size that today’s shoppers crave.”
“This trend is not an indictment of the quality of these cars — hybrid and electric vehicles tend to be equipped with some of the most sought-after technology on the market today,” Caldwell says “This is an economics trend, since today’s low cost of gas no longer makes it worth paying the price premium of hybrids and EVs.
“And there are so many fuel efficient vehicles on the market today that environmental concerns weigh less than they might have in years past. When you’re buying a vehicle that can get over 30 mpg, you can still say you’re doing your part to help the environment.”
Would it make a difference if there was a large selection of plug-in hybrid and electric SUVs to choose from? That’s an important question. Every manufacturer in the world is pushing as hard as it can to get such vehicles into production. But will anyone buy them once they go on sale? The message from the study is that people are not going to voluntarily shell out an extra $10,000 or more for a plug-in hybrid or electric SUV.
Is there a solution? Of course. Make the cost of fossil fuels equal their true cost to society. Eliminate the $5 trillion in direct and indirect subsidies the IMF says fossil fuel companies receive every year. But with 60% of Americans represented in Congress by people who are in the pocket of wealthy fossil fuel interests, such measures stand little chance of becoming law.
Is there anything that can be done? Yes. Move away from the coast and invest in real estate that is located on higher ground. Then you can watch as the seas swallow all those SUVs that have “acceptable” fuel economy.

Volkswagen T-Prime Concept SUV Breaks Cover In Beijing

Volkswagen may be getting burned at the stake these days because of its diesel cheating program, but at least it understands the global auto market and is designing new cars that people want most. A quick look at international sales figures shows that SUVs and crossovers represent the hottest market segments and that’s exactly the customers VW’s latest offerings cater to.
Volkswagen T-Prime concept
Take the T-Prime concept, for example. Unveiled at the Beijing auto show this week, it is an SUV that slots in above the Touareg in Volkswagen’s model lineup. Squint a little and the T-Prime bears more than a passing resemblance to Audi’s upcoming Q6 e-tron SUV.
Not only is the T-Prime stylish in a bulked up sort of way, it features a proper all wheel drive powertrain. Up front, a 2 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine is mated to an 8 speed transmission. An electric motor is integrated into the new transmission. Total output is given at 375 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 takes 6 seconds and the car has a top speed of 139 miles per hour, according to the company. The T-Prime has an MPGe rating of 87 miles per gallon. Its 14.1 kWh battery has 31 miles of electric only range and can be fully recharged in 8 hours using a 220 volt Level 2 charger.
The interior of the new car thoroughly up to date. All the normal buttons and switches have been replaced with a 15″ touchscreen set just to the right of a 12″ digital instrument cluster. Operation is by touch, gesture, or voice command. The layout is said to offer a preview of systems that will go into production as early as next year. There are a pair of 10.1″ touchscreens for rear seat passengers as well as a 9.6″ display between the front seats that allows people in back to adjust the climate controls settings to their liking.
Volkswagen hints at a smaller crossover SUV that will slot in below the Tiguan. There is also a rumor of a stretched Tiguan coming with seating for 7. Clearly, Volkswagen intends to have a product to fit the needs of every SUV or crossover buyer.
Volkswagen T-Prime SUV interior
Source: AutoBlog. Photo credits: Volkswagen

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tesla Model S 90D Rated 302 Mile Range By EPA

The Tesla Model S 90D is the first electric car with more than 300 miles of range. The latest official figures from the EPA show the car has 302 miles of range on the highway. Yes, that is under ideal conditions travelling at steady speed on level ground with the climate control system off, but as the fossil fuel crowd has been saying for decades, “Your mileage may vary. See dealer for details. The EPA numbers are for a car equipped with the standard 19” wheels and tires.
Tesla Model S range
Unlike the city driving tests, the EPA highway protocol assumes the Model S will accelerate up to speed and maintain a fairly high speed, with only minor variations, throughout the entire test. The dual motor configuration of the Model S is a big benefit under those conditions. Tesla has devised sophisticated algorithms that individually control the torque provided by each of the individual electric motors.
The Model S with the 90 kWh battery is only available with dual motors. In the standard car, both motors are rated at 193 horsepower. The mighty performance model, the P90D, has a rear motor rated at 375 horsepower. Even though both motors in the standard car have the same horsepower rating, they have different gearing. That’s where the sophisticated control software comes into play. It can select the optimum output from each motor individually based on power needs at any given moment. It samples conditions and makes adjustments 100 times a second.
Rumors continue to swirl about a 100 kWh battery waiting in the wings. Elon Musk has often said he expects battery performance to increase at the rate of about 5 t0 8 percent a year. If that is true, a Tesla with 350 miles of range may be available in the next few years. Coupled with its high power Supercharger network, Tesla is working hard to make range anxiety nothing more than a distant memory.
Source: Teslarati  Photo credit: Tesla Motors

True Zero to be brand for hydrogen fueling stations from First Element Fuel

The startup company First Element Fuel has just completed a network of 15 hydrogen fueling stations in California—and it's got a new brand it'll use to promote them, too.
The fuel provided by First Element stations will be marketed under the Tue Zero brand name.

The stations are clustered in specific areas of California, including Silicon Valley, the greater Los Angeles Area, and Harris Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley.

First Element also expects to open four more stations by the end of the year.
The fueling installations are being funded largely through grants from the California Energy Commission, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), and the Bay Area AQMD.
First Element also gets some support from carmakers looking to expand the infrastructure that supports current and future hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
True Zero hydrogen fueling station
True Zero hydrogen fueling station

In 2014 it received a $7.3 million loan from Toyota, and a $13.8 million loan from Honda.
Toyota already sells its Mirai fuel-cell car through eight California dealers, while Honda is expected to launch its Clarity Fuel Cell in the state toward the end of this year.
First Element says the True Zero brand represents its goal of zero well-to-wheels carbon emissions from fuel-cell cars and their hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

The company is constantly pushing suppliers to lower the carbon footprint of fuel production and transportation, First Element co-founder Shane Stephens told Green Car Reports in a phone interview.
State law already requires stations funded through the California Energy Commission to dispense hydrogen that is at least 33 percent renewable.
One of First Element's suppliers is producing hydrogen using biomethane to meet that requirement, Stephens said.
True Zero hydrogen fueling station
True Zero hydrogen fueling station

He also noted that most hydrogen fuel is delivered relatively close to production sites in the Los Angeles area, so emissions from truck transport represent a low part of its overall carbon footprint.
Many early California hydrogen stations have experienced reliability issues, something First Element acknowledges.

"As with any new technology, we continue to work through glitches surrounding the launch of a product that is cutting edge," First Element CEO Joel Ewanick said in a statement.
The 15 True Zero stations comprise the first part of a network of 100 stations California has committed to funding through 2020.
True Zero hydrogen fueling station
True Zero hydrogen fueling station
That should provide coverage for the relatively small numbers of fuel-cell cars that Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota plan to put on the road over the next few years.
California is currently the center of the North American fuel-cell universe.
There is relatively less activity relating to fueling infrastructure in other states, and so far no carmaker has committed to selling fuel-cell vehicles outside California.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Nanowires Dramatically Increase Lithium Ion Battery Life

Battery life is of critical concern to car makers and energy storage companies. All of today’s lithium ion batteries degrade over time. The more times they are charged and discharged, the shorter their lifespan. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) say they have discovered how to increase the tensile strength of nanowires. That breakthrough could be used to make lithium ion batteries that last virtually forever. Here’s the story.
Nanowire battery
UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai holds a nanowire device. Credit: Steve Zylius/UCI
Researchers have tried using nanowires in batteries for years because the filaments, which are thousands of times thinner than a human hair, are highly conductive and have a large surface area for the storage and transfer of electrons. The problem is that nanowires are also extremely fragile. They don’t hold up well to repeated discharging and recharging, known as “cycling.” For example, in a typical lithium-ion battery, they expand and grow brittle, which leads to cracking.
The researchers, led by doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai, found a way to make nanowires less brittle. They coated a gold nanowire in a manganese dioxide shell and encased it in an electrolyte made of a Plexiglas-like gel called propylene carbonate. Capacitors made with uncoated nanowires have a useful life of between 2000 and 8000 cycles. Those with the coating are able to function through 200,000 cycles.
Reginald Penner, chairman of UCI’s chemistry department, says, “Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it. She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity. That was crazy because these things typically die in dramatic fashion after 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000 cycles at most.”
The researchers believe the gel plasticizes the metal oxide in the battery and gives it flexibility, preventing cracking. Thai, the study’s leader, cycled the nanowire-enhanced electrode up to 200,000 times over three months without detecting any loss of capacity or power and without fracturing any nanowires. “All nanowire capacitors can be extended from 2000 to 8000 cycles to more than 100,000 cycles, simply by replacing a liquid electrolyte with a… gel electrolyte,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
“The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option,” Thai said in a statement. “This research proves that a nanowire-based battery electrode can have a long lifetime and that we can make these kinds of batteries a reality.” If the research can be translated into viable commercial products, the result could be commercial batteries that last a lifetime in computers, smartphones, appliances, cars and spacecraft.
Source: Computerworld

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Faraday Future Prototypes Coming By The End Of This Year

Faraday Future says it has had test mules on the road for over a year, testing every facet of its cars from powertrains to suspensions. Electrical architecture and control systems as well as the battery itself have also been put through their paces. Reportedly, the test mules have operated successfully in some of the world’s harshest environments. Test mules are often heavily disguised and bear no outward resemblance to a production ready car.
Faraday Future concept
“Some people call a mule a ‘hacked-up car,'” Matt Lubbers, Faraday’s brakes and chassis control engineer said. “They may not look like a production vehicle, but they certainly run like one.” He praises Faraday’s strategy of testing multiple technologies in one mule. “They’re all here. This car is FF to its core.”
Faraday Future held a virtual groundbreaking ceremony for its new billion dollar factory in North Las Vegas recently. Afterwards, Nick Sampson, senior vice president for research and development, told Business Insider, “We’re testing both mechanical and software systems, and before the end of this year, we’ll have full prototypes that represent our production cars.” Lubbers tells The Verge that Faraday Future’s management style, which features a “lack of red tape” and “effortless communication and workflow,” is speeding the development process faster than would be possible for other companies.
Very little is known about the car or cars Faraday Future intends to bring to market. The company has been granted one US patent and says it has 99 more pending. The company released the teaser photo you see above last week, which may or may not bear any relationship to an actual car. It also posted a short video on YouTube that makes it pretty clear its cars will be electric.
In China last week, LeEco — which is backed by the same person behind Faraday Future — did unveil an actual 4 door concept car. Known as LeSEE, it will go on display at the Beijing auto show on Monday. One would assume that two companies backed by the same person would build similar cars, but we won’t know more about for some time. When the LeSEE is scheduled for production in unclear, but it seems unlikely the US factory will be ready to start production for 2 to 3 years, no matter how streamlined the company’s management style may be.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tesla Model X Owners Report A Raft Of Problems

Tesla finally has production of the Model X SUV going at full speed. After months of delays waiting for parts suppliers to get up to speed, the company is making about 750 Model X cars a week. But now that they are getting more plentiful on the road, reports of significant technical issues are starting to pile up.
Tesla Model X
One owner moaned to the Wall Street Journal that those lovely falcon wing doors wouldn’t open when she tried to drop her kids off at school. “It’s a bummer,” she said. “You spent all this money . . . and the doors won’t open.” She is one of the lucky ones. At least her car is still driveable.
Byron Deeter tells Fortune his Model X is home in the driveway while he drives his Jeep Grand Cherokee to work. The electrically activated door on the driver’s side won’t latch. “I could manually close it, but the car couldn’t sense that the door was shut, so the electric control wouldn’t latch,” says Deeter. “Yesterday, I literally drove to a meeting holding the door closed.”
My @TeslaMotors X is freaking out too! Driver door & passenger windows won't close & emergency brake goes off when backing up.

He reset his car’s computer but the problem quickly reoccurred. Except now the electronic emergency brake engages every few feet while backing up. Oh, and the driver’s window won’t close. When he called his local Tesla service center, he was told they were fully booked until the third week in May.
Consumer Reports posted on Tuesday that it is hearing from many Model X customers who are experiencing all sorts of annoying glitches with their cars. On Wednesday, Tesla sent this e-mail to CR: “We are committed to making the world’s most reliable cars. While we have seen some issues with early Model X builds, the issues are not widespread, and we are working closely with each owner to respond quickly and proactively to address any problems. We will continue to do so until each customer is fully satisfied. This commitment is one of the reasons why 98 percent of our customers say they will buy another Tesla as their next car.”
Elon Musk has gotten involved. He responded to a tweet from a disgruntled customer that Tesla has now added a second layer of quality control inspectors on the assembly line.
@elonmusk Can you please do something about this? Deserve a better answer as an early adopter/ faithful 
@RealDarthBL We have amplified pre-delivery inspection to provide a stronger second layer of QA. Several parts being replaced as a result.

Musk assures people that many of the issues have now been fixed and that the cars coming off the line now have upgrades that will address many of the issues people have been having with their cars. A few weeks ago, Tesla discovered that the hinge and latch mechanism on the third row seats could fail, allowing the seat back to fly forward in a collision. The company says the hardware has now been redesigned and the changes incorporated into all newly manufactured cars.
While Tesla has established an enviable record of responding to customer complaints in a timely and user friendly way, a perception is growing that its early customers are really beta testers for products that are not quite ready for prime time. That raises concerns about Tesla’s headlong rush toward autonomous driving technology. As Byron Deeter told Fortune,  “This is a huge reminder that 99% complete software isn’t sufficient when it comes to moving people.”