In the Middle in Size, But Low in Range
In 2003, a small startup in Silicon Valley called Tesla Motors announced to the world that it would build an electric car with more than 200 miles of range. Five years later, they proved it could be done with the right resources and the right people (and a body produced by Lotus).
The Clarity EV is expected to have the same profile as its fuel cell cousin
Eight years after that, Chevrolet proved that 200 miles of electric range was possible, at haft the Tesla’s $70,000 (or higher) price tag.
Over the past 10 years, both of these manufacturers showed us that long-range battery technology is no longer relegated to science fiction and visions of the future; that both luxury and economy cars could be environmentally friendly and usable every day.
So why then, you might ask, did Honda recently announce that its new Clarity EV would have an electric range of only 80 miles; one of the lowest all-electric ranges on the market.
That figure puts the Clarity EV well behind the almost all of its competitors, and directly conflicts with the manufacturer’s reputation for innovation.
Price Big Factor
According to Honda, one major factor for the low range was price. When asked about this decision, Vice President of Environmental Business Development at American Honda Motor, Steve Center, had a very clear answer.
“A pillar of the Honda brand is affordability, and if Honda came out with some obscenely priced long-range electric car, what does that do for the brand?” Center told Automotive News. “Most of our customers would not be able to acquire it.”
Price was not the only consideration, however, and Honda is confident that its new Clarity EV will follow its current Clarity Fuel Cell in filling a market gap currently uninhabited by any other brand. Honda will also field a plug-in hybrid variant of the Clarity.
The Market Metrics
Chevrolet’s Bolt is affordable and long-range, but small. Tesla’s Model S and X are large and long-range, but costly. The Tesla Model 3 will be less costly and long-range, but also small. And the second-generation Nissan Leaf is expected to be small and inexpensive, but still modest in range (though substantially longer than the Clarity).
A midsize interior should distinguish the Clarity EV
With these considerations, and a target category in mind, Honda didn’t really leave itself any leeway to fit a longer range battery; which would be heavier, costlier and take the Clarity EV into a different segment. So their goal is to be a midsize, inexpensive, but short-range electric car.
Prices for the Clarity EV are expected to start at around $35,000 (before tax credits or incentives), which would indeed make it somewhat cheaper than most of its competitors. Whether or not the limited range will prove to be detrimental to the sales of the Clarity EV remains to be seen.
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School Buses Are Now Green As Well As Yellow
For as long as schools have employed school buses, people have been sitting behind them breathing diesel exhaust fumes and hating their local school district. Some studies have found those fumes even affected kids inside the buses. The risk has been reduced with newer diesel engines, but two North American companies have begun the process to make an even bigger change.
Recently, the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Blue Bird, an American bus manufacturer, $4.4 million to develop an electric school bus with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. V2G allows the bus to supply energy back into the electric grid when not shuttling students to and from school.
The magic bus is electric!
This new technology will allow school districts to save money while simultaneously creating a cleaner and healthier environment for their students. Through matching funds and funding from other groups, Blue Bird has obtained a total of almost $9 million and will build a demonstration fleet of eight buses in California by 2019.
Also jumping into the market is Canadian company Lion Bus, who unveiled their eLion electric school bus in Palo Alto recently. The eLion was developed in partnership with the government of Québec (where Lion Bus is based) and the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). Adomani, a California company that provides zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles to school and other fleets, signed on to become the exclusive supplier of eLion school buses in the Western U.S. (Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington),
The eLion bus claims its TM4 electric motor provides equal power to the traditional diesel equivalent, and delivers ranges of 50, 75 and 100 miles, depending on the battery configuration.
Lion Bus plans to manufacture the eLion in California as it ramps up production.
Both companies seem to be reacting to a widespread desire for cleaner and more efficient transportation. As health concerns continue to rise, the era of the diesel school bus could be coming to an end.
GM Offers a Diesel a VW Owner Can Love
As most of you have probably heard, Volkswagen recently came under international fire when it was discovered that they had knowingly programmed their diesel vehicles to pass emissions tests, but then default to a more-polluting mode for regular driving. Because of this, Volkswagen TDI vehicles are off the market in the U.S. Some may be updated, but most are likely to be scrapped and VW is ambivalent at best about returning to the market with a diesel product.
An interior aiming for European style & American tech
So what do you buy if you are in the market for a compact diesel sedan? Unexpectedly, the answer comes not from Europe or Japan, but from right here in America.
First available in 2014, the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel has been on the market for about three years. The revised 2017 model will be offered with a new engine as well as two body styles: sedan and hatchback (later this year as a 2018 model).
The new 1.6-liter turbodiesel engine, developed by GM’s Opel subsidiary in Europe, produces 137 horsepower and 240 pounds-feet of torque. The Cruze Diesel will be available with either a six-speed manual transmission or a nine-speed automatic transmission.
A new badge for fuel efficiency
Cruze Hits the Magic 50 MPG
Fuel economy is the main party piece of any diesel vehicle, and Chevrolet has upped fuel economy from the previous generation. With the six-speed manual, the Cruze Diesel has an EPA-estimated 52 mpg highway/30 mpg city/37 mpg combined; while the nine-speed automatic transmission has an EPA-estimated 47 mpg highway/31 mpg city/37 mpg combined. Range for the new Cruze Diesel is also up from the previous model at 702 miles.
Also new for 2017 is GM’s recent announcement on biodiesel capability for their diesel vehicles.
“With biodiesel production and retail distribution expanding, and so many proven benefits, we believe more fleets will embrace the technology as part of their sustainability plans,” says John Schwegman, director of commercial product and medium duty for GM Fleet. “If our diesel customers fueled exclusively with [biodiesel], we estimate that consumption of petroleum-based fuels could be reduced by hundreds of millions gallons annually.”
Pricing for the 2017 Cruze Diesel will start at $24,670 with a manual transmission, when it goes on sale this spring.
The diesel Cruze will come in sedan and hatchback
Despite diesel vehicle sales being down in the U.S. in 2016, largely due to Volkswagen’s exit from the market, Chevrolet decided to jump in and fill the gap with its all new Cruze Diesel. The company has also launched diesel versions of its Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers as well as the compact Colorado pickup.
Some Say – See You in Court
Despite this, the launch of the 2017 Cruze Diesel could be tainted by the announcement of a lawsuit brought against Chevrolet recently.
According to Hagens Berman, the law firm behind the case against Chevrolet, “U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington, overseeing the GM “Clean Diesel” litigation, upheld claims brought by owners of GM-branded Chevy Cruze diesel vehicles related to GM’s use of a defeat device to evade emissions regulations.”
Whether or not Chevrolet used cheat devices similar to those used by Volkswagen is still very much in question, as this lawsuit, unlike the one brought against Volkswagen, has only nine plaintiffs. It is also important to note that the claims of emissions cheating only apply to the previous generation Cruze Diesel, and not to the new 2017 model. Finally, we’d add that unlike VW, which admitted it had installed “defeat devices” in its TDI models, General Motors is contesting these claims. We’ll have to wait and see how both the market and the courts sort this out.
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As Chevrolet Adds the Bolt, It Drops the Spark
Since it first went on sale in mid-2013, the Chevrolet Spark EV has always been a bit of a rare car. Now, with the announcement that Chevrolet will end production of the Spark EV in August, it looks like the little subcompact EV is going the way of the Dodo.
Leaving the scene
The Spark EV was revealed in June of 2013 and first went on sale in 2014, exclusively in California and Oregon. In 2015, Chevrolet began sales in Maryland as well, but the Spark EV never really gained any traction. According to Inside EVs, only 7,348 units were sold in the U.S from when it first went on sale to the end of 2016.
Despite its poor sales numbers, on paper the Spark EV is actually a good little car. With an EPA estimated 128 mpge city and 109 mpge highway, an estimated range of 82 miles and 327 lbs-ft of torque, the Spark EV seems like a perfect city run-around. Clean Fleet Report liked it when we tested the 2014 edition.
The Range Change
So why is the Spark EV going out of production? Probably the biggest factor is the new Chevrolet Bolt EV.
As the incoming generation of EVs mostly have ranges which exceed 200 miles, cars like the Spark EV are becoming somewhat old fashioned. Because of this, and dismal sales numbers, Chevrolet decided to pull the plug on the Spark in favor of its new big brother.
It was fun while it lasted
What is important to remember, however, is that the Spark EV proved to the world that Chevrolet could make a legitimate, fully electric vehicle, and paved the way for improved technology.
In a way, the Spark EV is much like Tesla’s first roadster. Both were small, not very practical, but both helped their respective manufactures develop truly innovative technology.
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Road Test: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV
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Your Personal Ride To the Future
More than 200 years since local public transportation appeared in European and American cities, its basic idea looks and functions pretty much the same as when it started. In most cities, trains and buses are still the primary forms of public transportation.
The French company Navya thinks they have an answer that looks different—and the answer is named Arma. Recently brought to the streets of Las Vegas, the small oval-shaped shuttle has a human attendant, but no steering wheel or brake pedal.
Using GPS, electronic curb sensors and additional technology, the Arma doesn’t need lane lines to make its way along busy Fremont Street between Las Vegas Boulevard and Eighth Street — right in the thick of regular traffic.
Not Speedy, But Neither Is Anyone Else
This French bus drives itself
Arma holds 12 passengers, and can reach a top speed of 27 mph. However, it will only “speed” up to 12 mph during a two-week test period, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
The vehicle has a range of about 90 miles for each electric charge and takes about five to eight hours to recharge.
Since first testing the Arma in France in late 2015, Navya vehicles have transported more than 100,000 people, and the fleet has grown to 30 and is in use in seven countries around the world, including the United States.
The U.S. Option
Navya is not the only company pioneering the future of public transportation. American company, Local Motors, showcased its self-driving bus, Olli, on the streets of Washington, DC in June of 2016.
Similar to Arma, Olli is a small, oval-shaped, fully electric and autonomous shuttle. Unlike Arma, however, the only attendant you will find in Olli is its integrated IBM Watson cloud-based cognitive computing system.
Well, hello, Olli
Watson’s main function is to analyze and learn from high volumes of transportation data produced by more than 30 sensors embedded throughout the vehicle. Olli’s main party piece, however, is the integration of Watson into the user experience.
Much like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, Watson can understand and respond to passengers’ questions as they enter the vehicle, including questions about destinations (“Olli, can you take me downtown?”) or specific vehicle functions (“How does this feature work?” or even “Are we there yet?”).
After its successful first launch in early 2016, Local Motors plans to bring Olli to more cities around the U.S. in the near future. One unique feature of Olli is that it is designed to be produced locally with the majority of the vehicle created via 3D printing.
As start-ups and tech companies race to find the future of transportation, it sometimes seems as though innovation is pushed simply for the sake of innovation.
Are self-driving shuttles like Arma and Olli the future of public transportation, or are they simply a stepping stone to the next big thing? Only time will tell.