Chinese-backed Start-up Unveils Crossover EVs; Touts Technology
Silicon Valley witnessed yet another automotive coming out party last week as SF Motors unveiled an upscale crossover electric vehicle and showed off some of the company’s technology. While the car itself may be a bit of a me-too (high-power, connected, autonomous-capable in a conventional SUV coupe-like shape), the back story of the technology this well-funded formerly stealth start-up has developed tells a much more interesting story.
The story underneath
The most intriguing part of the SF Motors is the vertically integrated nature of the company. It showed off a modular home-grown electric motor (in nominal 100, 200 and 400 kW trim), proprietary battery cells and packs, gearboxes and controllers. It also announced an intent, perhaps with a little hubris, to not only put its components in its own cars, but sell them to other automakers.
SF Motors is affiliated with Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, one of many privately held car companies in China. Chongqing Sokon provides financial backing and a plant in China capable of producing 150,000 cars annually. Currently the company produces a variety of models in China.
T0 bolster the company’s move into electric vehicles, SF Motors has set up its headquarters in Santa Clara, California, in Silicon Valley. The company has R&D centers in China, the U.S., Germany and Japan. It acquired the old AM General plant in Indiana as a U.S. production site. The nominal annual production capacity of that plant is 50,000 vehicles. It plans to launch its cars in the U.S. market first and then migrate to China and other markets.
The First Car
SF Motors showed off two of its expected three models to press and investors last week—the SF5 midsize crossover that it plans to have on the market in 2019 and the full-size SF7 crossover that will follow. Details were sketchy on the cars, which follow the styling trend being set by the BMW X4 and X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE SUV coupes.
The SF5 midsize crossover will be SF Motors’ first vehicle
The cars looked good as concept cars usually do (well, maybe Faraday Future’s FF91 is the exception that proves the rule). SF Motors plans to start taking orders for the SF5 later this year. Media reports put its price at about $60,000 while the SF7 may hit $95,000. Of course, getting the 1000-horsepower version that will do 0-60 in under three seconds could be a little more. And that kind of performance may keep you under the 300-mile range the company said the cars will be capable of.
The specs released last week by Dr. Yifan Tang, SF Motors’ CTO, were that the motors would deliver 5.5 kW and 10 Newton-meters of torque per kilogram of weight, which would put it in the top end of electric motors for that metric, Tang said the battery packs would delivery 280 kWh per kilogram.
Of course, it’s not just about automobiles in Silicon Valley so SF Motors also laid down some markers for its technology. By 2020 they will be introducing “protective autonomy with connectivity,” according to Tang. The company reported it is already testing systems with computer vision, deep neural networks and Lidar.
SF Motors showed its AV tech on a Lincoln
SF Motors will also be building on existing relationships with suppliers, including Bosch, Dürr, Siemens, Samsung SDI, Infineon Technologies, LGC and AFT. The company has also purchased Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard’s battery start-up, and made Eberhard chief innovation officer of SF Motors.
In its technology display, the company also showed off its 21700 cells for a solid state cylindrical battery. The company also intends to get into the battery recycling business, creating energy storage products that would allow second use in homes and offices for batteries no longer functional for automotive use.
SF Motors is making its own battery cells
It’s an ambitious plan, but SF Motors believes it is well on its way toward becoming a producer of high-end and affordable electric cars and potentially an industry supplier. As is the case with other recent EV introductions, such as Lucid Motors and Faraday Future, the proof will be not only delivering the first or the 100,000th car to paying customers, but doing so at a profit. That’s something first-mover Tesla is still struggling with after 10 years. We’ll be keeping an eye on their progress.
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A Nip and Tuck Face Lift Is Added To EV Boost & Tech
Ford apparently had ants in its pants earlier this week. The 2019 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid midsize sedan will make its public debut at next week’s New York Auto Show, but the Detroit automaker just couldn’t wait—the company revealed details about the car on Wednesday, a week before the New York show’s media days. Here’s what we know.
Nearly 20 Percent More Electric Only Driving Range
The 2019 Ford Fusion Energi doesn’t receive any mehcanical updates, but the plug-in hybrid gets a battery capacity boost that gives it a longer electric-only driving range of a projected EPA rating of 25 miles. That’s up from the 21 miles of electric driving of the outgoing 2018 model, or a nearly 20 percent improvement. That’s not a huge boost, but it’s enough to get the Fusion Energi up to the same 25-mile range rating as the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime, the best-selling plug-in hybrid in the U.S. so far this year.
EV Boost and grill tweak for 2019
How did Ford engineers accomplish that while maintaining the same size of the existing battery pack? Specifically, they came up with a new chemistry for the 84 individual lithium-ion cells that’s slightly more energy dense. The capacity of the air-cooled battery pack has risen from 7.6 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to 9.0 kWh.
Ford said data generated from existing plug-in hybrid owners shows the 2019 Fusion Energi should have sufficient range for up to 80 percent of owners’ daily commutes, with the support of both home and workplace charging, assuming the vehicle is fully charged daily at home and at work. Even without workplace charging, the automaker estimates approximately 48 percent of plug-in hybrid customers could potentially get to and from their jobs on electric power alone.
Ford did not yet have a projection for the 2019 Fusion Energi’s combined gasoline and electric range; this year’s figure is 610 miles. Regardless of that EPA rating, the plug-in 2019 Fusion Energi still qualifies for a $4,600 federal income-tax credit for buyers.
A Horde Of New Safety Tech
The 2019 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, along with the hybrid and gasoline models, will be Ford’s first model to get its Co-Pilot 360 Protect safety systems, just announced a week earlier at the Ford Uncovered sneak peek. Standard on all Fusion models, Co-Pilot 360 Protect includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot information system, lane keeping system, a rear backup camera and auto high-beam lighting.
New safety tech puts Fusion Energi in front of other Fords
Beyond the standard Ford Co-Pilot 360 Protect is a more advanced bundle of optional driver-assist technologies called Co-Pilot 360 Assist. It adds adaptive cruise control with stop and go, which automatically accelerates and brakes to a full stop when traffic halts, while maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. It also includes voice-activated navigation, along with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link. Fusion SE trims and above get SYNC 3 with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, in addition to an embedded 4G LTE modem with WiFi hotspot support for up to 10 devices.
A Mild Refresh
The Fusion Energi has always been a Clean Fleet Report favorite when it comes to styling. For 2019, the Fusion Energi receives a new chrome mesh grille, while other models keep five horizontal bars. There’s also a new lower front and rear fascia, and a new LED taillamp design with a distinctive new horizontal chrome garnish across most of the rear deck, just above the lamps. There are no significant changes to the interior.
We’ll have more details and pricing information on the 2019 For Fusion Energi closer to its launch in late summer.
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Ford Moves to Electrify Its Lineup; Stays with Trucks
Ford gathered the media this week to say what virtually every other automaker has already explicitly stated—cars and trucks are getting electrified. The subtext was: Ford is not going to be left behind, but the company is also not going to step away from its cash cow pickups and SUVs.
Clean Fleet Rerport was there. Ford led with its trucks and followed with its SUVs, then brought hybrids and electric vehicles into the discussion as the clean up.
The F-150 is the king of the hill at Ford
The Ford F-150 is the king at Ford. It’s been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 37 years; the best-selling pickup for years beyond that. In its presentation, Ford boasted that the company brought in $41 billion on that model alone. If the F-150 were a stand alone company, it would have more revenue than Nike or Coca-Cola. Ford has dropped EcoBoost engines into the F-150 and intensified the use of aluminum throughout the truck, dropping weight and increasing fuel efficiency.
Up next for the pickup is a 3.0-liter diesel engine that comes later this year, followed by a hybrid powertrain in 2020. The goal as always is to increase efficiency while maintaining capability for customers.
In addition, Ford will reintroduce the compact Ranger next year.
After Trucks Come SUVs
Number two at Ford are SUVs. Ford’s Explorer broke the category open in the 1990s and they haven’t let up since. The compact Escape and the current Explorer carry the bulk of Ford’s SUV sales right now, but the just-introduced subcompact EcoSport will be part of an eight-vehicle lineup by 2020. Five of those SUVs will have hybrid powertrains.
Ford sees a big future for SUVs
Probably acknowledging the juggernaut that is cross-town rival Jeep, the new SUVs will not only have the environmental credentials from their hybrid powertrains, but will also stress off-road capability and performance (borrowing from the F-150 Raptor phenom).
As it showed with its move to aluminum in the F-150, Ford is not afraid to throw its volume products into radical change. That’s the rationale it presented to media this week. While not the full-shift of a Volvo committing to electrify all of its product line in a few years, Ford did say it would hybridize its high-volume models—the F-150, Mustang, Explorer, Escape and Bronco.
Ford promises that its next-generation hybrids will not be as space-intrusive as the current ones (check out storage in the Fusion and C-Max) and, at least as important for the customer, less expensive. The reduced packaging and cost are behind Ford’s expanded embrace of the technology.
Battery Electrics Too
With its only battery electric (BEV) offering the compact Focus, Ford has not made any inroads into either the market or public consciousness. At the last Detroit Auto Show, Ford teased its next BEV. The implication in the grainy video was it combined the performance of a Mustang with spaciousness of a crossover, but all under electric power.
Ford’s pledge is to take hybridization mainstream–Mustang/F-150/Explorer
The 2020 model will be the first of six BEVs Ford will put on the market during 2020-22.
Ford also renewed its commitment to the commercial vehicle segment (where it commands a 38 percent market share), though without any nod to increased efficiency (other than the new diesel engine in the Transit Connect).
In addition, Ford said it was bundling its driver-assist technologies in a package branded as Ford Co-Pilot360. It’s also moving to implement over-the-air- updates to software, something that Tesla has done for years.
Maybe one of most significant announcements Ford made is that its goal is to accelerate the new product cycle for the company. It’s current showroom product averages 5.7 years in age. By 2020 it says that age will drop to 3.3 years. The reliance on trucks and SUVs, which tend to have longer product cycles, may have lulled Ford into this type of product cycle. The good news, if as they cite, 50 percent of vehicles by 2020 could be SUVs, the customer expectation is they will respond like most passenger cars, which get a two-year refresh and full redo every four years.
The bottom line is Ford has stepped up to the bar and said it intends to complete with advanced technology and electrification, hedging only that they will continue to offer what they see as the vehicles most want—trucks and SUVs.
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Images of Polestar 1/Showroom Released Ahead of Geneva Motor Show
Its new owners are taking the Volvo car brand to places it has never been before. The best evidence will be shown to the European public for the first time this week at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. The Polestar 1 will be the flagship of this new sub-brand focused on electric performance.
First car for the Volvo electric performance sub-brand will be the Polestar 1
Order books for the Polestar 1, a plug-in hybrid GT, will open shortly, while production is slated to start mid-2019. According to Volvo, interest has been strong in the 600 horsepower (hp) coupe that will offer 93 miles of all-electric range. Two electric motors producing 218 hp drive the rear wheels while a 2.0-liter gas engine powers the front. That range can be expected to drop if you put the 738 pounds-feet of torque to work.
The Polestar 1 is also one of the first vehicles being sold on a subscription model. Buyers will pay an all-inclusive monthly fee covering vehicle use, insurance and including a pick-up and delivery service for maintenance, a number of car rental days and access to a range of concierge and on-demand services.
A Minimalist Cube
Prior to the show Polestar also showed drawings of its new minimalist cube retail stores and its headquarters, which is being built on Volvo grounds in Sweden. Polestar started as the performance brand for gas-powered Volvo tuner cars, essentially the Swedish version of AMG. It now is a separate brand with its own engineering and R&D departments, but still will benefit from the scale of larger parent Volvo.
The Polestar 1’s interior follows recent Volvo styling trends
The brand’s retail stores, called Polestar Space, will open in mid-2019 in the U.S., China, Germany, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. Other country locations will be added later. Polestar 2 and Polestar 3 models, both full electrics, are planned to follow next year as well. Polestar 2 is described as a midsize battery electric vehicle designed to compete with the Tesla Model 3; Polestar 3 will be an all-electric SUV.
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Better Fuel Economy, But Trade-Offs
Anyone who is currently looking for replacement tires for their vehicle has probably noticed the increased interest in ensuring that tires are environmentally friendly and fuel efficient. If this applies to you, then you may well have heard mention of low rolling resistance tires. They are not a new phenomenon, having been around since the 1990s, but they are a talking point at the moment.
Low rolling resistance tires have become a critical part of modern automotive efficiency
So, if you are shopping for tires in the Sunshine Coast region, is it a good idea to have low rolling resistance tires fitted to your vehicle? If your car came from the factory with this type of tire fitted, then you should simply opt for the same make and model of tire. The question is not quite so straightforward if you want to change to low rolling resistance tires. There are many different tires on the market. While this type of tire might help to improve fuel efficiency, it may not perform as well in other areas.
What is rolling resistance?
In order to better understand the role of low rolling resistance tires, it helps to know what rolling resistance is. In basic terms, it’s the amount of force needed to ensure that the wheels of your vehicle roll at a certain speed. As a car wheel turns, so the tire changes shape when it comes into contact with the surface of the road. It takes a lot of energy to return the tire to its normal shape. The obvious answer to this problem is to inflate the tire further, so that the shape does not change as much. The problem with this is that doing so reduces the efficiency of steering and braking.
How to decrease rolling resistance
The manufacturers of low rolling resistance tires have designed different methods to reduce rolling resistance. These methods include:
Virtually every manufacturer starts you off with low rolling resistance tires
- The addition of silica to the rubber used in tires.
- Reducing the depth of tire tread blocks.
- Using stiffer tire sidewalls.
The problem is that it’s often difficult to tell what gains you are making by having these tires fitted to your vehicle, and what performance issues may be present.
Can you save money by using low rolling resistance tires?
This is obviously an important question to ask, before you have these tires fitted to your car. In the early days of low rolling resistance tires, you would often pay a premium to purchase them. Now, this is no longer the case. Simply having this type of tire fitted may not attract any additional cost, depending on the make of tire you choose and the materials it’s made from.
It’s true that the tread on these tires often does not last as long as the tread on conventional tires, so they may need to be replaced on a more regular basis. However, given the rising cost of fuel, you can often still save money overall, given the increase in fuel efficiency.
It seems that low rolling resistance tires are well worth considering, but always do plenty of research before you buy, to ensure you get the tires that are best suited to your vehicle and the way in which you use it.
Lexus Also Announces the New RX 450hL Sticker
Lexus has decided to make its hybrid SUVs more affordable. Prices for the popular NX and RX hybrid versions are now much closer to the prices of the non-hybrid models.
The Lexus RX 450hL arrives in a couple months–at less of a premium
How much closer? The NX hybrid is now only $950 more than the gas-only model; it carried a $3,035 premium last year. The gap between the larger RX hybrid and non-hybrid has been slashed from $5,280 last year to only $1,025 for 2018.
How did they do it? Hybrid models used to come not only with the additional electric motor and battery pack, but also contained more standard equipment than the gas-only models. For example, the 2017 RX 450h featured navigation, a 12-speaker audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and leather-trimmed seats. Now, the distinguishing factor is just the hybrid platform itself.
This change benefits customers and the company. Lower prices make it easier for people to get into a hybrid, which should increase sales numbers. This, in turn, adds to the hybrid mix in the product, which helps Toyota meet more stringent CAFE fuel efficiency requirements. In addition, higher volumes should help Toyota reduce the cost of hybrid components and batteries.
New 2019 RX 450hL Hybrid is Coming this Spring
The new RX 450hL three-row hybrid, which arrives in April, will start at $51,615, including delivery, Lexus announced. The all-wheel-drive crossover puts out 308 combined horsepower from its 3.5-liter V6 combined with two electric motors. The price is only $3,000 more than the gasoline-only RX 350L, which is front-wheel drive.
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