Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tesla Minibus Will Be Based On Model X

This week, Jason Torchinsky of Jalopnik suggested that Tesla could build a minibus similar to the original Volkswagen Kombi/Transporter on the Model X chassis. Today, Elon Musk tweeted that Torchinsky’s idea is very close to the mark.

Torchinski even penned an idea of what such a vehicle might look like. Notice that it features sliding minivan style doors instead of the X’s falcon wing doors. Would Elon ever admit defeat and allow one of his vehicles to feature boring old sliding doors? Not likely.
Tesla minibus concept
The minibus idea was contained in Musk’s Master Plan Part Deux released earlier this month, in which he said, “With the advent of autonomy, it will probably make sense to shrink the size of buses and transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager. Traffic congestion would improve due to increased passenger areal density by eliminating the center aisle and putting seats where there are currently entryways, and matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses. It would also take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don’t have a phone. Design accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.”
Musk has always shown a flair for the nostalgic in his own quirky, off center way. It’s why the volume controls on his vehicles go to 11, why he would love to build a Tesla submarine like the Lotus that once starred in a James Bond movie, and why the software for the center display in the Model S and Model X often contains “easter eggs” that amuse and surprise those who can find them.
Ever since the (first) Clinton administration, Volkswagen has been dithering and diddling with the idea of re-introducing a modern version of the original Transporter that defined the Woodstock Generation. Last January, it showed off its BUDD-e concept at the Consumer Electronics Show. But by the time it gets that vehicle to market, it may find the Tesla minibus already there and doing things that no one at Volkswagen ever imagined.
The only question now is not if Tesla will offer a minivan type vehicle but when. Since the idea seems to revolve around Musk’s fascination with autonomous driving technology, it could be several years before regulators approve such vehicles for the road. But if Tesla were to offer such a vehicle without fully autonomous capability, would if find any people willing to buy it? Oh, yeah. You betcha.
Source: Jalopnik.  Graphic credit: Jason Torchinsky

Ford Fusion Energi Is Bright Spot In Green Car Sales

Green car sales have been disappointing this year. President Obama suggested there could be more than one million cars with plugs on American roads by the end of this year. In fact, the actual figure will be less than half that amount. With historically low gas prices the norm, sales of larger vehicles are way up while efficiency and environmental concerns have taken a back seat.
Fusion Energi green car from Ford
We are not always kind to Ford Motor Company here at Gas2. It survives mostly on sales of monstrous pickup trucks with testosterone laden styling. When it comes to green car sales, it seems to be more of a follower than a leader. So it may surprise you to learn that the Ford Fusion sedan is its second best selling vehicle at a time when sales of traditional passenger cars have shrunk to their lowest levels in decades.
Two of the stars of the Fusion lineup are the Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid, and the Fusion Hybrid, which has no plug. Both are especially hot in the Los Angeles market, where they are favorites of millenials looking for relatively affordable transportation up to 5 passengers that is also environmentally friendly. Both cars are rated 41 mpg highway, 43 city, and 42 combined. The Fusion Energi with its 14 gallon fuel tank has a total range of 610 miles, even though electric only range is a mere 21 miles.
The Fusion Energi is now the second best selling plug-in hybrid in America. When combined with sales of it sibling, the C-Max Energi, the pair outsells the Chevy Volt. That may be due in part to the Volt’s rather snug interior dimensions compared to the those of the Fusion and C-Max. Wade Jackson, Ford Fusion marketing manager, said: “The spike in Fusion Hybrid and Energi sales is a testament to Ford’s advanced engineering team developing fuel-efficient and fun-to-drive electric vehicles offering customers the widest range of choice in the segment.”
In LA, Fusion sales are up nearly 40% compared to June 2015. During the same period, Fusion Hybrid sales are also up 35%. In fact, sales in southern California are so strong, there are few if any of the cars available on dealer lots elsewhere in the country. By comparison, the total midsize sedan segment is down nearly 5% in LA through May, according to IHS Automotive data.
If you are looking for an affordable green car with room for 5, the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi may be worth a test drive — if you can find one at a Ford dealer near you.
Source: Cleantechnica  Photo credit: Ford Motor Company

Saturday, July 30, 2016

GAC Motor completes phase II factory, launches GA3S PHEV

China-based GAC Motor recently held the completion ceremony of the company’s new phase II factory in Guangzhou in June, and launched the new GS8 SUV and GA3S PHEV plug-in hybrid sedan.
Unveiled in November 2015, the GA3S PHEV is equipped with an efficient 1.5L Atkinson engine, advanced G-MC (GAC Mechatronic Coupling) system, liquid-cooled battery pack and e-machines.
The G-MC integrates the generator, traction motor, clutch, drivetrain and differential as a system. The 1.5-liter engine features a compression ratio of 13:1, with fuel consumption of 225 g/kWh only.
All electric range is 70 km (43.5 miles) NEDC. Combined cycle equivalent fuel consumption is less than 1.5 L/100 km (157 mpg US); electricity consumption is 13.6 kWh/100 km. 0-100 km/h acceleration takes 8.9 seconds; top speed is 180 km/h (112 mph).
The phase II factory, constructed in 15 months, will reach a daily production capacity of 740 vehicles by the end of August and is estimated to produce 150,000 vehicles every year. The completion of the phase II factory enables the company to achieve total annual production capacity of 650,000 vehicles.
GAC Motor says that it has been able to lower the production cost in the new factory significantly.
A new 90-meter-long engine assembly line can produce more than 200 models of engines, bringing the annual production to 700,000 engines.
Latest statistics from China Passenger Car Association showed that GAC Motor has sold a total of 159,000 cars in the first half year of 2016, achieving a 170% growth. In June, the company sold 26,100 vehicles in one month—a 143.6% year-on-year growth and highest among all Chinese automobile brands.
The company plans to achieve an annual production capacity of one million vehicles by 2020 upon establishing the global research and development network supported by GAC Automotive Engineering Institute, a global supply chain, cluster marketing and service model as well as founding the vehicle and powertrain platform, building the company’s core competitiveness strength in the international market.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV For America Delayed Once Again

One hardly knows what to feel about Mitsubishi, but pity and disgust are two emotions that seem appropriate. It was the first manufacturer in the world to offer a plug-in hybrid SUV — the Outlander PHEV. Sales have been strong in many markets around the world, particularly in Europe.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The company has promised the car is coming to the US and Canadian markets ever since 2013, but it is not here yet. After five postponements, it was supposed to be launched here in the fall of this year. Now comes word from the company that the introduction has been pushed back — again — until the summer of 2017.
SUV’s are the hottest segment of the new car market in North America, followed closely by light trucks. As of this moment, almost no one has a plug-in SUV for American and Canadian drivers. Audi likes to thinks its A3 Sportback e-tron is one, but it is really more of a wagon. The BMW X5 plug-in is on sale now and doing well in the marketplace. Last month, it nearly outsold the i3, which goes to show how much demand there is for a plug-in SUV.
Alex Fedorak, public relations manager for Mitsubishi in the US  confirmed the latest delay yesterday. “Following a thorough evaluation process, we have determined that, in order to meet a level of competitiveness that will exceed customer expectations in the United States, the launch of the Outlander PHEV will be delayed until the summer of 2017.”
That weasel worded corporate speak may mean that the company is waiting for the upcoming next generation Outlander or it could mean that the company is circling the drain and the Outlander that never was will never be. Mitsubishi is staggering after it was revealed earlier this year that it has been fudging the fuel economy figures for some of its cars for more than 30 years. Sales are plummeting and along with company profits.
Where once the Outlander PHEV was the best selling plug-in vehicle in England and Europe, it has now slipped into third position. In Japan, sales have gone over a cliff. It used to sell 1,000 Outlander PHEV’s a month in the home market, but since the fuel economy cheating scandal broke the trend has been drastically downward. Mitsubishi reported 250 sold in April, 174 in May, and 253 in June.
Mitsubishi may be one of the most poorly managed car companies on earth. It is perennially cast as a “me too” company whose products only mimic the offerings from other companies. It finally had a unique product for the American market, one that would allow it to lead instead of follow, but has consistently shot itself in the foot when it comes to bringing it stateside.
Nissan is looming as a possible savior for the company. If so, it’s likely the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV will never make it to America at all, at least not as a Mitsubishi. Its plug-in technology could be quietly slipped into a Nissan product instead. Don’t get your hopes up for the Outlander PHEV. If past history has any predictive power, it is never going to make it to customers in the US or Canada.
Source: Hybrid Cars

Friday, July 29, 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV to ship to dealers before end of year

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
General Motors has always had an aggressive schedule for launching its 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, the industry's first mass-priced electric car with 200 miles or more of range. It was revealed as a concept just 18 months ago at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, with a production version unveiled at this year's Detroit show. Now, the company has promised that Bolt EVs will start arriving at Chevy dealerships between October and December of this year. The timing was confirmed by Alan Batey, GM's president for North America, who spoke to reporters on Wednesday, according to a report in The Detroit News. What remains unclear is where the earliest Bolt EVs will go after they reach Chevrolet dealers. Some reports have suggested that drivers for the Lyft ride-sharing service—in which GM has invested—will be offered the majority of early Bolts, with notable numbers of deliveries to retail buyers not planned until next spring.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

GM has repeatedly declined to specify its retail strategy, delivery schedule, or marketing plans for the Bolt EV, even as advocates and owners have questioned its ability to explain and market the advantages of plug-in electric cars, including the Bolt EV. An ad last year for the second-generation 2016 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid highlighted drawbacks of all-electric cars, inciting range anxiety with the specter of a driver running out of battery range before reaching a final destination. Observers suggested this was an unusual move from a company that planned to launch an all-electric car within two years. According to the paper, "Batey said Chevy is working on different ways to launch the car and interact with customers, but he said it was too early to disclose those ideas." The Bolt EV will be built at the GM plant in Orion Township, Michigan, that now assembles the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic sedan and hatchback. While it was expected to share some underpinnings with that car, GM's engineers said that in the end, the Bolt EV has an almost entirely unique under-structure due to the differences in crash-test performance in such a small car when the engine and transmission are removed.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV pre-production vehicles at Orion Township Assembly Plant, March 2016
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV pre-production vehicles at Orion Township Assembly Plant, March 2016

The company released photos and video in March showing pre-production Bolt EVs coming down the line. Prototypes are frequently seen on the roads of the greater Detroit area.
Meanwhile, the industry remains skeptical about the date on which the first Tesla Model 3 electric cars begin rolling out of that company's assembly plant in Fremont, California.
If GM can launch the Bolt EV on time, in appropriate volumes, and the car doesn't suffer any rollout problems, it may underscore the advantage of being an experienced "legacy maker" in a highly complex and brutally costly industry. A second generation of the Nissan Leaf, which remains by far the world's best-selling electric car, is expected to launch for 2018 as a major competitor to the Bolt. GM has said that it will offer the 2017 Bolt EV for sale at Chevrolet dealers in all 50 states. It's likely, however, to deliver the first cars to California and perhaps other states that have adopted the Golden State's more stringent emission rules.

Musk And Straubel Talk Model 3 Ramp And Solar Power

A press conference in the lobby of the Gigafactory featuring Elon Musk and JB Staubel delved deeply into how Tesla will manage the ramp up to production of the Model 3. It then transitioned to one of Elon’s favorite topics — solar power. Here’s what the pair had to say.
Tesla Model 3
On The Model 3
Musk: “I believe we are on track to meet the half million by 2018. The hardest thing to predict is really the ramp. The ramp looks like an S curve and grows exponentially. Initially the ramp looks really tiny and as you eliminate bottle necks you climb the ramp and you level off. Its always difficult for us to forecast the exact shape of the S curve for the production ramp.
“It’s much easier for us to forecast when things are going to be steady state. So we’ve been pretty good about forecasting 2018, whereas 2017 is much more in the air because we’ll be working through a complex production ramp.”
Straubel: “One of the points is the schedule and ramp up plan for the Gigafactory. With the pull up of the Model 3, and the volume goal to meet a half million cars by 2018, we also have had to pull up the Gigafactory schedule to supply the cells and battery packs for the Model 3.
“What that means is for the earlier schedule for the Gigafactory, we’ve had to pull that ahead by two years. By 2018 we have to be at 35 gigawatt hours of production to support those Model 3s. You can see the evidence of that around the factory. And Panasonic has done their part to absolutely stay in sync with that as we’ve accelerated the schedule for Model 3.”
On The Size Of The Gigafactory
Musk: “What you’re seeing is only 14% of the size of the factory overall. It’s quite huge. One of the things we discovered as we got more into the Gigafactory design and optimizing what it could do, we thought we could probably achieve about three times the output that was originally planned.
“So we originally expected to make about 35 gigawatt hours at the cell level and about 50 gigawatt hours at the module or pack level. Now we are expecting to do about 150 gigawatt hours in the same volumetric space as the original design. We can expect to see 10,000 [workers], compared to the 5,000 or 6,000 previous estimate. Maybe in three to four years.
“Things are on track to be able to meet the Model 3 plan next year. We’re really excited about what’s happening here.”
Powerwall and Powerpack business
Musk: “Stationary storage will be as big as the car business long term. The growth rate will probably be several times what it is for the car business. We roughly assume that it’ll be probably a third of our output. But the growth rate is faster, so then grow to probably match what it is for cars.
Solar Power And The Utility Grids
Many traditional utility companies are not at all happy about individuals and companies making and sharing their own solar power. They have been protected monopolies for more than a century and would like things to stay that way.  NV Energy in Nevada is owned by Warren Buffett. It has formed a cozy relationship with with the Nevada PUC, which has promulgated new rules that penalize those with rooftop solar systems in the state. As a result, SolarCity has recently shut down operations in Nevada, putting 500 people out of work. At the press conference, Musk made several remarks about the solar power industry and traditional power generation. He was careful to acknowledge that alternative energy can cause strains for traditional utilities and grid operators.
Musk: “Solar power production actually helps the grid to a certain point. Only past a certain point does it create issues with the grid. A utility can handle up to 20% of production from solar and that helps the grid because it produces electricity when needed. Solar power peaks in the middle of the day and that’s also when air conditioning is running and businesses are operating, so power production matches usage.
“But once you exceed the 20% level, then it does become more difficult for utilities to power balance the grid. So I think it makes sense for net metering to be there up through the point where it helps the cost structure of the grid. That’s the logical thing. The utilities in some cases have tried to obfuscate that its actually helpful, and have tried to lower that number of 20% to like 3%.
Tesla And Grid Services
Musk: “I think we’ll get into grid services eventually. The goal of Tesla is to accelerate sustainable energy, so we’re going to take a step back and think about what’s most likely to achieve that goal.
Source and photo credit: Fortune

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Gigafactory Is Really, Really Big!

The grand opening party for the Gigafactory, 20 miles west of Reno, is scheduled for tomorrow, July 29. But that is when the pomp and circumstance will take place. The more important stuff has already happened. Tuesday night, CEO Elon Musk, CTO JB Straubel, and Panasonic executive vice president Yoshihiko Yamada held a wide ranging press conference in which they laid out their vision and goals for the world’s largest battery factory.
The building we see today is only 14% of the size the Gigafactory will be when completed in a few years. By the way, Musk says it will take about 12 Gigafactories to make enough batteries to meet all the world’s power needs. That’s why this one is known as Gigafactory 1. Here are some of the highlights of that press conference.
Press conference at Gigafactory
On the Gigafactory
Musk: “The factory itself is considered to be a product. The factory is the machine that builds the machine. It actually deserves more attention from creative and problem solving engineers than the product it makes. What we’re seeing, if we take a creative engineer and apply them to designing the machine that makes the machine, they can make 5 times as much headway per hour, than if they work on the product itself.”
Musk added, “It may sound a little strange and sentimental but I find it to be quite romantic. The final shape will be a diamond, aligned on true north, I like that. It seems incredibly romantic. By the way there’s 10,000 wild horses in the area. They just hang out. We have construction ponds for water, so its quite cool to see the horses drink from the construction ponds.”
Yamada: “Three years ago I thought this gigantic Gigafactory idea was crazy. Because then the production of the factory would exceed production of the industry. I thought it was a crazy idea. But I was crazy, and I was wrong after seeing extreme success of the announcement of the Model 3 and the strong demand.”
The 2170 Battery Format
Straubel: “We’ve spent a lot of time on this actually. It’s kind of interesting. There are a bunch of trade offs. There are some things that get better when you make the cell size bigger, and some things that get worse. 18650 was sort of an accident of history. That was what was standardized for early products. So we revisited all of those trade offs and came to this size, which is quite a bit bigger. If you have them next to each other, the actual volume of materials inside is substantially more. And overall it’s about cost optimization.”
Musk: “It really comes from the first principles of physics and economics. That’s the way we try to analyze everything. To say like if no cell existed in the world, what size should it be? What is the size that would achieve the product characteristics we’re looking for, but would be fundamentally optimal? 18650 is not optimal.”
Paying For The Gigafactory
“One part of that is working with strategic partners like Panasonic. We are seeing very good participation from our supplier for the capital costs of the Model 3 ramp. So we are going to fund it by Model S and Model X revenue, with money we have right now, with potentially a modest capital raise, but not a significant one. In a nutshell, there may be a capital raise, but it’s not going to be a huge one.”
Panasonic’s Relationship With Tesla
Yamada: “I want to explain to you the relationship with Tesla and Panasonic. I used to be in charge of components five or six years ago. At that time our relationship with Tesla was one of supplier and customer. A conventional business relationship.
“But since we started discussion on the Gigafactory that’s completely changed. One example, is production capacity is now two or three times more. Why? Because Tesla and manufacturing people worked together. We are discussing these details. This type of relationship is quite new for business. We are not the simple buyer and supplier relationship.”
Source and photo credit: Fortune

Porsche To Add 1,400 To Payroll To Produce Mission E

The Porsche MissionE four door sports car is due to roll off the assembly line in 2019. That’s not very far away in the world of making automobiles, where 5 year lead times are the norm. In order to get the new car into production, Porsche says it will add 1,400 employees to the its payroll. Porsche originally expected to add about 1,000 new jobs for the Mission E at its factory in Zuffenhausen. It is investing about $1 billion to bring the new zero emissions sports car to market.
Porsche Mission-E
The Mission E represents a totally new direction for Porsche, which is known for high performance cars with internal combustion engines. The company’s labor boss Uwe Hueck told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday. “You either take part in the digital change or you lose.” The change in focus also applies to parent company Volkswagen and luxury automaker Audi. Hueck declined to specify production targets for the Mission E, but said Porsche needs to sell at least 10,000 of any given model each year in order to make a profit.
Porsche gets more than 140,000 job applications each year and it regularly tops most surveys as a good place to work. But attracting the best engineering talent available is a struggle in a day and age when so many new automakers, suppliers and IT companies are competing for the best and the brightest talent. “I’m not denying that the battle for talent is tough,” human resources chief Andreas Haffner says.
Porsche says the 1,400 new jobs include 900 production staff, 300 salaried workers and 200 engineers. It also plans to boost the number of apprenticeships by half to 220, part of an industry-wide recruitment push as automakers compete with the likes of Google and Apple for digital car technology.
So far, German electronics giant Robert Bosch is expected to supply the batteries for the Mission E, but parent company Volkswagen is conducting its own battery research and it considering building its own battery manufacturing facilities in Germany and in Thailand.
Source: Reuters  Photo credit: Porsche

MobilEye And Tesla Will Part Company Soon

During an earnings call with analysts and investors this week, MobilEye chief technical officer Amnon Shashua announced that his company is severing its business relationship with Tesla Motors. The MobilEye EyeQ3 is a critical component in Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous software suite that allows cars to accelerate, brake and steer on their own within certain parameters.
MobilEye software
Shashua did say MobilEye would continue to work with Tesla to improve how EyeQ3 performs in the Model S and Model X. “EyeQ3 shipments will continue for the near future, and maybe for the longer future,” Shashua said. The problems the two companies are having seems to be related to the fatal accident that killed Joshua Brown on a Florida highway on May 7.
The National Transportation Safety Board issued a statement yesterday saying its preliminary findings indicate that Autopilot was enabled at the time of the accident and that Brown’s car was travelling 74 miles per hour when it ran into a cargo trailer that was crossing the highway. Some people are incredulous that the system did not identify a 48′ long trailer directly in its path.
As part of his remarks, Shashua said his company believes achieving true autonomy means going “beyond typical supplier relationships.” He refused to respond directly to questions put to him about whether the accident in Florida was the cause of the rupture between the two companies. “We simply decided where we wanted to put our resources for the future of autonomous driving… and we decided what we decided.” He also said that Tesla’s business is “not material” to MobilEye’s bottom line, nor is it a significant percentage of the company’s overall revenue.
Interestingly enough, at a press conference at the new Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada yesterday, Elon Musk also refused to be drawn into a discussion about MobilEye. As reported by Fortune, he stated, “Certainly we’re going to do full autonomy of our cars. They’ll go their path and we’ll go ours. Us parting ways was somewhat inevitable. So there was nothing surprising from our standpoint.”
Tesla’s business may not be “material” now, but when and if the company is successful at selling “millions of cars,” as Musk insists it will do soon, MobilEye may have cause to regret the rupture in its business relationship with Tesla.
There are rumors that Tesla may make its own self driving hardware components and develop its own autonomous software in-house, something it prefers to do rather than relying on outside suppliers who may or may not be able to meet Tesla’s ambitious production targets.
Source: TechCrunch   Photo credit: Teslarati

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Senior Executive Placed In Charge Of Apple Car Program

Last week, Apple announced that  Steve Zadesky, the man who reportedly was in charge of the super secret Apple car project, has left the company “for personal reasons.” That is usually corporate code for saying someone has been fired without coming right out and saying so. In his place, Apple has turned to one of its oldest and most trusted veterans, Bob Mansfield.

Apple Car concept
Mansfield has been involved at the highest levels with such vital Apple products as the MacBook Air laptop computer, the iMac desktop computer, and the iPad tablet. According to the Wall Street Journal, he joined Apple in 1999 and was one of its top executives under Steve Jobs. Subsequently, he served as an adviser to the company. In 2013, Apple said Mansfield would remain at Apple to work on special projects and report directly to CEO Tim Cook. One of those projects — the Apple Watch — was introduced last year.
Until recently, Mansfield was largely absent from the company except for occasional visits. However earlier this month employees at Apple noticed that the company directory had changed to show all the senior managers on the Apple car project — code named Project Titan — were now reporting to Mansfield.
Apple insiders say the company has hired many people with automobile manufacturing experience. There are reports of clashes between the car building people and the traditional Apple employees who specialize more in software than hardware. Technology news site The Information reported last week that Apple had pushed back the target date for Project Titan to 2021, although it isn’t clear whether this is a target that Mr. Mansfield has approved.
Within the company, Mansfield has a reputation as a data driven decision maker who enjoys complex projects. However, one person familiar with his work cautioned that his involvement isn’t necessarily a sign that the car project is ready to move forward. Mansfield also has killed projects in the past.
The mystery around an Apple car deepens. Is it going to build a car or not? Will it be autonomous or not? Will it settle for getting is Apple Car Play systems installed as original equipment by existing manufacturers? Will it build a car itself or farm out production to an independent like Steyer?
Those are the questions that Bob Mansfield has apparently been asked to provide definitive answers to for Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tesla Gigafactory Expansion Going Seven Days A Week

When Josh McDonald, owner of Nevada Tailwheel, flew over the Tesla Gigafactory last week to take photos of the preparations going on for the gala unveiling party scheduled for July 29, his pictures showed more than just the enormous party tent going up outside.
Tesla Gigafactory
At both ends of the existing building, footings and pylons for new sections were also in evidence. They are shown outlined in red in the photo above. The existing structure is 4 stories high and contains almost 2 million square feet of manufacturing space. But that is less than one sixth as large as the Gigafactory will be when it is fully compete 3 to 5 years from now.
The pace of construction is increasing, with workers in two shifts now on site 7 days a week. Why the rush? “We have to be ready with cell and pack production well ahead of vehicle production,” said JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer and co-founder, during a walk-through of the factory. “We’re accelerating our construction plans and accelerating our planned ramp up of cell production.”
For its part, Panasonic, which is Tesla’s major partner in the project, is racing to keep up with Elon Musk, who announced last month that he is moving the production date for the Model 3 forward a full 12 months and the time when he wants to be selling 500,000 cars a year by two years. “We are running around like crazy hiring people.” says a Panasonic spokesperson.
One of the expected benefits of the Gigafactory is a dramatic decrease in the cost of batteries. “If you look at where batteries are being made, it’s almost all in Asia,” Mr. Straubel said. “That was one of the big opportunities we have here, is to close the logistics loop from where cells are made and materials are made and move it closer to where our vehicles are made.”
Sam Jaffe, a principal with Cairn Energy Research Advisors, is not so sure. “What they won’t be able to do from a battery manufacturing perspective is make the cells as cheaply as they hoped. A lot of the price reductions from the gigafactory model come from the supply chain re-creation that they will be doing in North America. That won’t be ready by 2018.”
One of the expected benefits for those attending the grand opening party for the Gigafactory is a chance to see and drive actual prototypes of the Model 3 on a test track Tesla has laid out near nearby. It is anticipated the Model 3 will offer a higher level of autonomous driving than is currently available in any car from any other manufacturer.
Source: Wall Street Journal   Photo credit: Josh McDonald

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Tesla Contemplates The American Pickup Truck

In his latest Master Plan, Elon Musk says Tesla will expand its offerings to cover segments of the market not currently addressed. That includes long haul, heavy duty tractors to replace the diesel powered beasts of burden that move most of the world’s consumer goods today. It also includes adding a pickup truck to the lineup of vehicles Tesla sells.
Tesla pickup truck
Everything at Tesla starts with a name. What would its electric pickup be called? The obvious choice — Model T — has long since been taken. Model PU? Nah, not a good marketing move. Maybe Model P would do the trick. The heavy duty truck is already referred to a the Tesla Semi, so perhaps some new nomenclature is about to enter the Tesla lexicon.
Tesla’s first problem will be cracking the American pickup truck market, which is dominated by offerings from the Big Three — Ford, Chevy, and Dodge. Toyota and Nissan have been trying to get a seat at the table for decades without much success. Truck people just like their Rams, Silverados and F-150s. If Tesla is going to play this game, it will need to offer customers what they want — a big, beefy truck that can go off road once in a while and haul the family camper up to the mountains on vacation.
That’s asking a lot from an electric vehicle. Having the battery pack hanging down low to the ground makes it vulnerable to rocks and other hazards once the pavement ends. Getting the Airstream through Rabbit Ears Pass will take a battery about the size of Rhode Island — unless Tesla has something up its sleeve when it comes to new battery technology. The Model X SUV struggles to reach 200 miles of range while towing stuff. What happens when the towing demand ratchets up to the 10,000 lbs serious truck owners expect?
And who are truck owners, anyway? Writing at Teslarati, commercial driver and passionate truck owner Aaron Turpen says in the heartland, a truck is something many people rely on to earn a living — farmers, ranchers, construction workers, and the like. They can put 30,000 to 50,000 hard miles on their vehicles every year and expect tough, dependable trucks that can take on whatever task is necessary.
Turpen also sees a problem with Tesla’s direct to customers sales model. One of the biggest markets for pickups is Texas, a state that so far staunchly refuses to allow Tesla to do business within its borders. Model S owners may be content (if a little grumpy) about having to drive to Oklahoma to get their cars, but truck buyers may be less inclined to do so.
Are all these factors problems for Tesla or precisely the kind of challenges Elon Musk thrives on? The Master Plan suggests more details about the Semi and the pickup truck may be forthcoming in a year or so (In Elon time, that means before the end of the decade). For the doubters, keep in mind that the Model S has only been on the market for a little over 4 years. In that time, it has risen to the top of the sales charts for luxury cars in almost every major market in the world, including Germany, where Mercedes, BMW, and Audi have ruled the autobahns for generations.
If you are a truck executive at any of the Big Three auto companies, you might be inclined to sit back, light up a cigar, and watch the sales totals climb. But that could be a mistake. Musk loves disrupting conventional thinking. If he is building a pickup truck, it will be a “compelling vehicle,” a phrase he is fond of. The industry should be planning ahead now. Once people start trading in the Super Duper Duties for Tesla Trucks, it will be too late to do anything but play catch up.
Source: Teslarati   Image credit: Top Speed

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Good News, Bad News For EV Sales In First Half Of 2016

The numbers are in for EV sales in the US through the first half of 2016. Tesla leads the pack by a wide margin, especially if sales of the Model S and Model X are lumped together. Combined they accounted for about 19,000 new sales. The Chevy Volt, which costs less than half as much, was in second place at just under 10,000 sold. The Ford Fusion Energi made a strong showing, finishing in third place, just barely ahead of the Model X.
EV Sales first half of 2016
Sales of the Nissan LEAF continue to be dismal. We have some LEAF owners among our regular readers here at Gas2 and they report they are reasonably happy with their cars. But the industry has moved on while the LEAF has changed since it went on sale in 2010. It is desperately in need of greater range and styling refresh. What might have been trendy at one time now is simply dated.
BMW has two cars in the top 10 list, but that is a testament to how poorly some other cars with plugs sell. Sales of the i3 fell to just over 2,800 units. The BMW X5 PHEV is not far behind and it only went on sale this year. BMW must be deeply disappointed that all the creative energy it put into the i3 has largely gone to waste, except as it gets used to enhance the capabilities of more traditional models. The 3 series, 7 Series and X5 all have plug-in options available.
Soon, every car in the BMW line-up will offer plug-in capability, including the cars in the MINI sub-brand. The i3 also pioneered advances in carbon fiber technology. That so called lightweighting is now trickling down to other BMW models like the 7 Series sedan.
Why are cars that cost so much like the Tesla Model S and Model X outselling far less expensive cars? There is no clear answer to that question, but Tesla’s Supercharger network has to be a big part of the answer. Then there is the “cool” factor involved with driving a Tesla.
The lesson is that people will buy electric cars, but only if they are “compelling” vehicles, in the words of Elon Musk. With 400,00 reservations for the Model 3 in hand before production even begins, people clearly find the offerings from Tesla to be compelling, despite their relatively high initial cost.
Source and image credit: Inside EVs

Friday, July 22, 2016

U.S. to offer $4.5 billion for electric-car charging stations via DoE loan guarantees

2017 BMW i3
2017 BMW i3

The Obama Administration said yesterday that it will invest up to $4.5 billion to build electric-car charging stations in a major push to create comprehensive charging infrastructure in the U.S.
Officials hope this will lead to the construction of enough new charging stations to quell "range anxiety" and enhance the appeal of electric cars for consumers.
The program will use Department of Energy (DoE) loan guarantees, and promote partnerships between Federal, state, and local governments and automakers.

Among the goals of the program are a national network of DC fast-charging stations, and the creation of a coalition among 50 carmakers, utilities, and charging-network operators that will work together to ramp up charging infrastructure.
State and local governments will also be encouraged to buy electric cars for their fleets.
The DOE believes increased charging infrastructure will pave the way for widespread electric-car adoption.
Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]
Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

The Sierra Club praised the initiative, calling it a step toward "breaking BigOil's monopoly on American transit."
While buyers consistently cite the lack of charging infrastructure as a major obstacle to purchase of electric cars, longer battery ranges probably would do the most toward boosting electric car numbers, Karl Brauer, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Brauer noted that charging an electric car still takes significantly longer than filling up at a gas station.
Most DC fast-charging stations can charge an electric-car battery pack to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes to an hour, while 240-volt Level 2 AC stations require several hours for a full recharge.
2016 Nissan Leaf
2016 Nissan Leaf

The more convenient option would be to simply stop less, Brauer argued.
That will be a more realistic option for a larger portion of drivers in the coming years, as more-affordable 200-mile electric cars arrive in showrooms.

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV boasts a range of 200 miles or more, and a base prices of less than $40,000 before Federal, state, and local incentives.
The upcoming second-generation Nissan Leaf is also expected to have a 200-mile range, and will likely be priced close to the current model.
Similar specs apply to the Tesla Model 3, as well as anticipated models over the next two or three years from BMW, Volkswagen, and other makers.