Fuel Economy Center Stage at Los Angeles Auto Show

Fuel Economy Center Stage at Los Angeles Auto Show

Debut 4 Prii

The Los Angeles Auto Show’s media preview days’ included cars and SUVS with record fuel economy. All of the mainstream vehicle introductions – whether the vehicle was fueled by gasoline, diesel, a gasoline-electric hybrid system (that may or may not plug in) or electricity – focused on the improved fuel economy of the vehicle being introduced.

There’s a reason – or two. First, as the automakers are demonstrating, vehicle fuel economy is increasing across the board. Second, customers are buying more fuel-efficient vehicles. Even with declining gas prices, the latest numbers from the University of Michigan UMTRI study show that.  January through November of 2012 the sales-weighted fuel economy average of purchased vehicles has gone from 23.5 to 24.1 mpg. That’s only a 2.5% increase, but it follows on four years of measured increases. (The first month measured in Oct. 2007 showed a 20.1-mpg average.)

As if to underscore the point, the Environmental Protection Agency released the fuel economy ratings for 2013 cars and in the “best” category the worst combined fuel economy is 42 mpg for the Prius V mid-sized station wagon.

So back to LA. We saw the introduction of a couple models that may hit the top 20 best sellers for the year, including a plug-in version of the Honda Accord, a redesigned Honda Civic and the Ford Fusion being named Green Car of the Year. But the meat of the show hit models that, while not the best sellers in a lineup, were critical to the ongoing success of a brand. Those included the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Acura RLX, Ford Fiesta and Transit Connect Wagon, Kia Forte, Hyundai Santa Fe, Porsche Cayman, VW Beetle Convertible, Chevy Spark EV, three Fiat 500 variations and an AMG variant of the Mercedes-Benz GL, along with more exotic concept cars from several manufacturers. At least three companies – Audi, BMW and Mazda – talked more about diesel engines than new models, while Ford and Mitsubishi, among others, highlighted new technology available in their cars as much as new hardware.

If fuel economy was the frequent refrain, “class-leading” was the most popular adjective. That goal appears to be a moving target as each refreshed entry in a class seems to be poised to be the new “leader,” usually by an inconsequential one or two miles per gallon. I say inconsequential because as has been shown in the recent dust-up with Honda and Hyundai-Kia over their fuel economy claims, “your mileage may vary” has probably never carried more meaning than in current vehicles.

The plug-in vehicles that make up the EPA “best” received some new contenders, all with promises of sky-high fuel economy numbers, but the reality of the slow market acceptance of these new technologies also sank in. That’s part of a market shift that’s been going on for the past two decades. No longer are there several models selling a half million units per year. The market has become more fragmented and the consumers demands more diverse. On their side, automakers have generally learned the smart way to spin new models off of common platforms/architectures and make them appear and function in truly different ways. So the new RAV4 or Santa Fe may not sell 250,000 units, but it extends the reach and leverages the investment in the platform it’s built upon, which is shared with several car models.

Biggest Buzz of the LA Show

BMW i31. BMW i3 coupe concept. While this is not a production vehicle and not the first time BMW has shown a version of the i3, it was one of most important cars at the show because of its groundbreaking technology. BMW’s extensive use of carbon fiber points the way toward extensive weight reduction with no loss of structural integrity and at a price point much-reduced from previous technologies. Carbon fiber is one of the critical technologies needed for EV success, but it also will play a role in keeping the internal combustion engine around as it lightens up vehicles so they can use smaller engines.

2. Honda Civic. This car, while in the top five sellers in the country, was given a quick redo due to negative reviews when it was introduced last year. Honda upgraded the car’s interior and rushed the changes into production in record time. Even though the car’s sales are strong, Honda responded quickly to concerns about the model and with the changes should help it to continue as a strong contender in the compact class. As fuel economy continues to be an automaker and consumer focus, this size of vehicle becomes a key component to a brand’s success. In the same way the Cruze has led Chevrolet’s renaissance, a well-received Civic is a must-have for Honda to maintain its market position.

Chevy Spark EV3. Fiat 500e and Chevrolet Spark EV. I’ll throw these two together because they represent an important shift in the image of small electric vehicles. They still have relatively short range and have little distinguishing features compared to their internal engine-powered cousins, but these two models were presented as something EVs have not been up to this point–serious performance and cars with an image beyond merely green.  The torque numbers these small cars throw up and the Fiat approach that “this is an Italian car first and an electric car second” is significant. The sales numbers may not be destined to be too high, but at their lower price points these two could help rehabilitate the EV image for a whole new class of consumers.

Audi's Quartet of New Diesels4.  Audi and Mazda champion diesel. You could add BMW to the periphery of this new wave, along with Chevy and Mercedes. This is not simply dropping in diesel and noting how much more efficient it is than old port-injected gasoline engines. Both Audi and Mazda have state-of-the-art direct injection gasoline engines that offer some of the best fuel economy in their respective classes, but still feel there is a role for high-tech modern diesels. And, as Audi’s President Scot Keogh said at the show, this is the second generation of diesels with more expected to follow. The proliferation of diesels shows yet one more path that the auto industry is taking in its attempt to satisfy its customers desire for not just fuel economy, but functionality, hence the Audi diesel shows up in two SUVs as well as its full-size sedan.

5.  Ford Fusion as Green Car of the Year. For the first time, a model with one technology didn’t take home this trophy, which has been gaining prestige over the years. Previously, it’s been a battle between EVs, plug-ins, CNG, diesel, fuel cells and efficient gasoline cars. This year they gave the award to a Ford that would span several categories, coming in efficient gas, hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. It is a sign of things to come, where the consumer is going to be faced with much more complex choices in the showroom than at any time in the last century.

These five highlights of the LA Auto Show, the first major show of the season, may be sum of the direction of the automotive market. It ties things up nicely to say that new technology, rapid response to market changes, new images for alternative fuel/technology vehicles, ever-developing traditional technology and multi-faceted vehicles offering true consumer choice will be our future. And it is not happening way off in the future–these are all happening in the coming year. In that sense the LA Auto Show was a very timely window into what’s coming very soon.

Smart Electric Drive Only $17,500 after Federal Tax Credit

Smart Electric Drive Only $17,500 after Federal Tax Credit

Smart electric drive in car2go

This all-electric city car is priced so low that I had to ask 3 times to confirm. I heard it right. Spring 2013 you can order the smart fortwo electric drive (yes the car name is not capitalized) for $25,000 and be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. Your state may offer added incentives. $17,500!

This all-electric smart looks like the gasoline smart car. With clever Germany engineering, the all-electric is the same size inside and outside as its gasoline cousin.

For an extra $3,000 you can have fun driving the electric convertible smart fortwo electric cabriolet. You can continue to buy the gasoline smart car, but the low price of the electric and the savings of never going to a gas station make that a less attractive choice.

I was impressed with my test drive in 2011 of the smart fortwo electric drive in Car2Go car sharing. There are 300 of these all-electric cars used by thousands of San Diego members daily. The Smart that impressed me used the second-generation drive system. This new 2013 Smart Electric Drive has 50 percent more power to get you up the hills.

I was more impressed with my test drive of the new 2013 smart electric drive here at the LA Auto Show. With a bigger electric motor it has good acceleration. Merging on a freeway would be no problem. It cornered well and was fun to drive.

Only 8-feet 8-inches long, this small city car is popular in car sharing and with city drivers who can fit into street parking spaces, saving parking costs of $20, $30, or even $50 per day. The smart fortwo, as its name implies, is only a 2-seater with limited cargo.

The smart fortwo electric drive is a zero-emission visual statement that further defines the spirit of smart. Based on the iconic smart fortwo, and available in coupe and cabriolet body styles, the new generation smart fortwo electric drive has the smallest footprint of any car on U.S. roads and represents a key step in sustainable transportation.

The electric drive battery fits where the fuel tank usually goes, under floor between the front and rear wheels, while the electric motor replaces the conventional engine between the rear wheels. As a result, the electric drive looks just like a normal fortwo. The electric drive has the same outside footprint, the same interior room, the same cargo space and the same safety of any smart fortwo.

Daimler, owner of Mercedes, gets serious about Electric Cars

In the new generation of the smart fortwo electric drive, an EM-motive (joint venture between Bosch and Daimler) 55-kilowatt electric motor provides 35 kilowatts of continuous power that translates to 130 Nm of torque. The motor can generate peak power of 55 kilowatts for about two minutes. This power provides acceleration from zero to 60 mph in less than 12 seconds, and a top speed of more than 78 mph.

The second generation smart-electric used a Tesla battery pack. Daimler owns about 5 percent of Tesla’s stock. In this new 2013 third-generation smart electric drive Daimler subsidiary Deutsche ACCUmotove provides a new 17.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-battery and electric motor with an efficiency of 110 watt hours per kilogram.

The all-new smart electric drive achieves 122 city MPGe, (miles per gallon gasoline equivalent). The EPA tested range for the electric drive is 76 miles in city driving, about the same as the Nissan LEAF and better than city car the Mitsubishi i. During coasting and braking, the electric motor acts as a generator, helping to slow the car and pumping up to 30 kilowatts back into the battery. Due to this regenerative braking, the smart fortwo electric drive is very efficient even in stop-and-go traffic.

Charge in 3.5 hours with intelligent charging

The smart fortwo electric drive can be charged from any normal household 110-volt wall socket with the provided standard cable or a 240-volt socket. From a 240-volt outlet, it only takes 3½ hours to charge the battery from 20 to 80 percent and about six hours to reach full charge from a depleted battery. Unlike the Mitsubishi I, Chevrolet Spark EV, and Nissan LEAF, 20-minute DC fast charge is not available.

The smart fortwo electric drive can communicate with the smart vehicle homepage through the power lines whenever the car is being charged. This real-time data provides useful information to owners about usage patterns, power draw and vehicle performance. The power line communication enables drivers to take advantage of lower utility night rates available in some areas, enable automatic billing and provide real-time information about the state of charge, interior temperature and system pre-conditioning.

There is an app for the smart fortwo electric drive that provides charge time remaining and expected completion time. When driving, the app’s map feature will highlight nearby charging connections and set favorite charging locations as well as estimating driving distance and tracking available battery range.

The interior is plainer than more expensive electric cars and the electronics are simple. On the dash, a power meter gauge and state-of-charge gauge replace the optional tachometer and clock. Like a gas gauge, the charge gauge shows the percentage of battery power remaining, with a red line below 20 percent.  Every vehicle also comes equipped an eco-meter which shows how efficiently the car is being driven. When the driver begins charging the car, the next driving time can be set like an alarm, so the car’s interior temperature will be pre-conditioned and fully charged for the next trip.

Small Car Safety

Many, with some justification, see small cars as unsafe. The smart fortwo has endured extensive crash testing and meets all U.S. motor vehicle safety standards. Its tridion safety cell is like the roll-cage in a race car.

To provide additional protection for the interior, the engine, High Voltage battery, and 12V battery are housed in impact-protected zones.

Wide steel bumpers connect to bolt-on crash boxes at the front and rear that can be replaced after a minor collision. In a rear collision, the motor is designed to slide under the passenger cell rather than into it. The smart fortwo electric drive coupes have eight standard air bags.  ESP® helps drivers maintain stability, especially on slippery roads, by helping to prevent over steering (fishtailing) or under steering.

electric car price competition

All-electric competition is getting hot with high gas prices. The average U.S. driver travels under 40 miles daily making an electric car a good match. Range is less of an issue than first imagined due to most early buyers being in 2-car households, charging at work, and thousands of public charge points. The smart fortwo electric drive has competition that seats four and five, but costs thousands more.

Mitsubishi I MiEV for about $4,000 more seats four people, has more cargo room, and has optional DC Fast Charge. Although a micro-compact, I found its room inside to be adequate.

Chevrolet Spark EV for less than $32,500 gives you a stylish microcompact 4-seater from the same engineering team as the Chevrolet Volt. Optional is the new SAE DC Combo Fast Charge.

Nissan LEAF for about $35,000 gives you a 5-seat compact hatchback that fits right in on the highway and city streets. I can lower the back seat and put 2 mountain bikes inside my LEAF and the DC Fast Charge has allowed me to extend range.

Smart fortwo electric drive at $17,500 after federal tax credit expands the market for all-electric cars. The smart fortwo electric drive is a fun driving car for households with 2 cars, city and university dwellers, and car sharing programs.

Electric Car is Primary Car for 89% of Nissan LEAF Drivers

Electric Car is Primary Car for 89% of Nissan LEAF Drivers

Nissan Leaf

By John Addison (9/10/12)

 

My wife and I are typical of the average U.S. household by owning two cars. We’re different in making one of them an electric car. For the past 18 months, our Nissan LEAF has been our primary car. The person driving the most miles for the day, yet stay under 60 miles, takes the car. The other is typically using transit, working at home, or using our hybrid car. Because we have two cars, electric range is rarely an issue. Only for long distance trips does our hybrid become the primary car.

Some electric car owners only have one car. They are owned by a single person, or in households, often urban, where one car meets the needs of two or more people. In cities and university towns, these EV drivers also have a range of other vehicles in nearby car sharing parking spaces.

Most early adopters of electric cars are in California, just as they were in first adopting hybrid cars. Data on the driving behavior of some 1,400 Nissan LEAF drivers, and 60 other EV drivers, is now available from the Center of Sustainable Energy of California (CCSE).  Here are the results of their extensive survey:

  • 89% of owners use their plug-in vehicle (PEV) as their primary car
  • They drive an average of 800 electric-fueled miles per month.
  • Many LEAF owners pay the equivalent of $0.90 to $1.90 per gallon of gasoline to power their electric vehicles.
  • 12,000 electric cars in California save 350,000 gallons of petroleum every month.
  • About 67% of vehicle charging takes place in off-peak hours (8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.).
  • 39% of the state’s PEV owners have home solar energy systems, another 17 % plan to add solar, helping charge their electric cars.
  • 71% of PEV owners report having access to either public or workplace charging or both.

California utilities own large natural gas and nuclear power plants that are most cost effective to run 24/7. There are no coal power plants in California. The nighttime charging of electric cars actually helps utilities balance their load. Utilities have had to add some $8,000 transformers in neighborhoods with electric cars. So far, plug-in vehicles have been helped utilities be more efficient.

California 1400 LEAF DriversThese 1,419 drivers represent a significant sampling of California’s current 12,000 electric car drivers and of the nation’s almost 40,000 electric car drivers. The survey targeted those who had owned their EVs for at least six months. I was one who completed the survey. The results are quite useful, but skewed by the sampling. 96 percent of the survey is Nissan LEAF owners, 95 percent owned a second vehicle, and 71 percent are male.

They vast majority charged their car in their owned garage, with 97% living in homes with garages. My wife and I are in the small minority of electric car owners who live in multi-tenant buildings, where utility and city inspector approvals can be challenging, and expensive utility commercial rates can apply. Since most city dwellers live in multi-tenant buildings, this will be a major challenge in electric car adoption.

As advertised by Nissan, our LEAF, in real world driving, has delivered a range of 100 miles when driving below 40 miles per hour, but only 60 miles range on freeways. I have taken it up to 80 miles on freeways by charging at the destination, or charging while spending an hour or two at lunch, dinner, or working at Starbucks.

Range Anxiety is Real but Overrated

Most of these California early adopters were dissatisfied with the public charging infrastructure. As a member of both the ChargePoint and Blink Networks, I have found it easy to find charging stations using Google Maps, the apps from my two networks, and with my LEAF’s navigation system.  With one exception, the public ChargePoint stations have worked great in a dozen locations. Generally, the Blink stations were “on the blink” when I arrived.

In the five largest California utilities, PEV owners pay about $0.09 – $0.15 per kWh to charge their PEVs at home during off peak hours (at night) and about $0.17 – $0.34 to charge their PEVs on peak (during the day). In California, 90 percent of public charging has been free. The majority surveyed would pay 2.5 to 3 times their home charging rate for “critical need” public charging.

To accelerate electric car adoption and charging infrastructure adoption, the California State Assembly and Senate have passed three bills currently pending Governor Brown’s signature.  AB 2405 allows single-occupant, clean and zero emission vehicles with a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker free access to carpool lanes that are converted to toll roads.  AB 2502 allows car dealers to include the cost of accelerated electric vehicle charging stations and installation within electric vehicle purchase financing.  AB 2853 requires the state to develop a plan for equipping state owned parking lots and park and ride lots with electric vehicle chargers and alternative fuel infrastructure. On September 13, CALSTART will be hosting an event to promote these bills.

Electric-car range is a big concern for most electric car shoppers. After 18 months, I learned that may range anxiety was considerably overblown. Several factors make range less of an issue:

  • Owning a second car.
  • Driving a plug-in hybrid.
  • Electric car chargers at work.
  • Network of public charging (over 2,000 public chargers in California).
  • Living near transit or car sharing.

Californians are now buying and leasing over 1,000 electric cars monthly from Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota, Ford, Tesla, and a number of automakers. Now that electric cars are available nationally, about 3,000 electric cars are added monthly in the United States. The CCSE survey shows the potential of electric cars to lower monthly cost of operating a car, range being a small issue in two-car households, benefits to electric utilities, oil dependency and energy security.

Ford Fusion Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid for Best Sedan MPG

Ford Fusion Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid for Best Sedan MPG

Ford Fusion Hybrid best MPGBy John Addison (1/16/12)

The new Ford Fusion gives car owners unprecedented choice in powertrains and fuel economy. The Ford Fusion can be offered with an efficient EcoBoost engine or as a hybrid with better mileage than any midsized sedan or as a plug-in hybrid that allows many trips to use zero gasoline.

Classic styling, smooth driving, and excellent fuel economy come together in this new five-passenger midsized sedan. Market research revealed that 2 out of 3 U.S. shoppers, before buying, consider a midsized sedan, SUV, or liftback. One out of three buy a midsized sedan, according to Ford. The stakes are high. Safety and reliability perceptions are always a factor.

Ford saw Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sales decline starting when oil prices went over $100 per barrel, accelerate during the Great Recession, and take another hit during Japan’s earthquake and Thailand mudslide disasters. A shift from sedans to liftbacks and SUVs, both with more cargo flexibility, has been another factor. Fuel economy and car lifetime operating costs are important to many buyers.

The new Fusion Hybrid offers a breakthrough 47 miles per gallon (mpg) city and 44-mpg highway. The overall 46-mpg is 4 mpg better than the new Toyota Camry Hybrid. The Fusion has a plug-in hybrid option, the Camry currently does not, but Clean Fleet Report predicts that one will be announced this year. Long term, Ford threatens to leapfrog Toyota’s hybrid leadership with a broad offering of pure battery-electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and hybrids. Unlike Toyota, all 2013 Ford hybrids will use lithium batteries while Toyota primarily stays with nickel metal hydride batteries.

Ford is now in a race with the Renault-Nissan Alliance to be first to sell 100,000 cars in one year with lithium batteries and electric motors. Either or both will achieve this in 2013. In the process they are driving down the cost of lithium batteries, electric motors, and advanced power electronics, making hybrid and electric cars more affordable.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid

Arriving this fall, Fusion Energi is anticipated to deliver more than 100 MPGe, a mile per gallon equivalency metric for electrified vehicles. This is 8 MPGe more than the Chevrolet Volt and 13 MPGe more than the projected efficiency of the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid model. Many Volt owners tell me that in real world driving their first 40 miles are electric mode before the gasoline engine engages.

The Fusion Energi is expected to deliver 20 to 30 miles in electric mode, provided the driver stays below 62 miles per hour. The average American drives 4 trips daily with 40-miles per total. City streets and stop-go freeway are much of that driving. The Energi will support Level One and Level Two charging. Go fast, or use most of the lithium battery storage and the Energi drives like a hybrid with its electric motor and 2 liter, 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine working together. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT) helps fuel economy.

We will learn more about electric range, motor and battery specs as Ford starts sales in Fall 2012. Sales will start shortly after sales of the Ford Focus Electric and the Ford C-Max Plug-in Hybrid crossover. Ford is expected to make battery packs but use different cell chemistry for pure-electrics, plug-in hybrids and hybrids. Compact Power, a subsidiary of LG Chem, will supply the lithium-ion tri-metal cells and packs for the 2013 Ford Focus Electric.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford Fusion Hybrid interiorThe Fusion Hybrid – 2010 North American Car of the Year – continues to innovate with new lithium-ion batteries that save 50 percent battery weight, 30 percent size, and generate more power than previous nickel-metal hydride batteries, while raising maximum speed under electric-only power from 47 mph to 62 mph before the engine engages allowing much greater speed. Even with a smaller battery-pack, however, the Hybrid and Energi only offer 12 cubic-feet of trunk space. The non-hybrid fusion is over 15 and the back seat can be lowered for much more cargo.

Fusion Hybrid also features an all-new 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, significantly downsized from the previous 2.5-liter unit while maintaining performance standards. This innovative powertrain is anticipated to deliver best-in-class fuel economy of 47 mpg in city driving and 44 mpg on the highway.

Fusion Hybrid fuel economy stands to outperform the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid by 4 mpg city and 5 mpg highway and the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid by 12 mpg and 4 mpg, respectively. The Fusion Hybrid is one of the top 10 hybrid cars.

2012 Fusion Achieves 32 MPG and Optional AWD

Fusion brings the broadest selection of fuel-efficient powertrains in the midsize car segment. It offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid alternatives, a pair of EcoBoost™ four-cylinder engines, a normally aspirated four-cylinder engine, an automatic start stop system to shut off the engine at stationary idle, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (AWD) applications, and a choice between automatic and manually shifted six-speed transmissions.

The 1.6-liter EcoBoost outperforms many larger 6-cylinder engines with non-hybrid fuel efficiency of 26 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, 32 mpg combined. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine – paired with a paddle-shifted six-speed SelectShift Automatic™ transmission, available 19-inch wheels and tires, and all-wheel drive with the ability to send additional torque to the rear – is the Fusion performance option.

Safety Technology and Telematics

The all-new Fusion offers an unprecedented portfolio of driver assistance and convenience technologies based on sensors, cameras and radar that enable the car to see and respond. Fusion can help drivers maintain proper lane position, adjust vehicle speed to changing traffic conditions, identify suitable parking spaces and help park, even aiding drivers backing out of parking space where visibility is obstructed. Specific technologies include:

  •     Lane Keeping System: 3 elements to help a driver maintain proper lane position. Using a small, forward-facing camera behind the inside rearview mirror, the system “looks” down the road, monitoring lane lines to determine that the car is on course. The system will alert a driver if drowsiness or erratic lane-keeping is detected. The second element warns a driver with a steering wheel vibration if the Fusion drifts too close to lane markings. Finally, lane keeping aid will actually apply pressure on the steering to help bring the car back into proper lane position.
  •     Adaptive cruise control: Using forward-looking radar, this system “looks” down the road when activated, slowing the Fusion when slower traffic is detected ahead. Adaptive cruise control enables collision warning with brake support to help slow the car if the potential of a crash is detected.
  •     Active park assist: Employing sensors, this technology can identify a suitable parallel parking space, calculate the trajectory and steer the car to properly position it within the spot. All a driver need do is operate accelerator and brake pedals.
  •     Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®) with cross-traffic alert: Sensors in both Fusion rear quarter-panels are able to detect traffic in a driver’s blind spot, providing both audible and visual warnings if traffic – unseen by the driver – is detected. BLIS technology enables cross-traffic alert, warning the driver of oncoming traffic when backing out of a parking space with obstructed views.

Fusion is designed with customer safety in mind. Engineers increased its body strength by 10 percent, using more high-strength steels such as boron, and added dual first-row knee airbags and adaptive front airbags that vent and tether to conform to a specific occupant’s size, position and seatbelt usage.

The Fusion safety team targeted top-of-the-line ratings in each public domain safety benchmark, including National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ratings, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick and top ratings in world markets where the car will be sold.

The new Fusion offers the latest iteration of Ford’s SYNC® communications and entertainment system, which enables voice-activated communication through a driver’s mobile phone and interaction with the car’s audio system. Fusion also offers the latest version of MyFord Touch®, allowing a driver to interact with vehicle systems through voice control, touch screen, or conventional button.

Both SYNC and MyFord Touch – powered by SYNC – help reduce the potential for driver distraction through voice-controlled functionality, allowing drivers to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

Lincoln MKZ Concept with New Hybrid and AWD Options

The improved hybrid drive system is likely to improve mileage in a future Lincoln MKZ. On display at the Auto Show is the new Lincoln MZK Concept that can use multiple powertrain options including hybrid drive with FWD or AWD.

The Lincoln MKZ Concept’s four-seat interior is open, warm and inviting. “The front graphic is repeated in the dramatic sweep of the instrument panel, helping tie the interior to the exterior. These flowing forms create a comfortable and functional interior that particularly appeals to the younger, more diverse customers we are targeting,” said Wolff.

Innovative interior features include push-button transmission gear selection, an open, tiered center console and liquid crystal instrumentation. The reconfigurable 10.1-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD positioned ahead of the driver operates with the latest version of MyLincoln Touch™ as does the nearly flush-mounted center 8-inch LCD touch screen.

Responsibly harvested poplar wood, aluminum in bright and satin finishes as well as leather help create a sculptural, luxurious and comfortable interior space. Champagne-colored leather seats with dark taupe accents feature a champagne perforation pattern, so-called because the perforations on the seat backs conjure the image of champagne bubbles rising from the bottom of a glass.

 

Ford Motor has taken customer choice to a new level by reinventing the popular midsized sedan with powertrain options including efficient EcoBoost engine or 46 mpg hybrid drive system or plug-in hybrid drive system. The Lincoln MKZ adds to customer choice with a premium sedan. With customer choice Ford also maximizes utilization of the same manufacturing line with most parts common to all versions. With its growing offering of electrified vehicles and volume manufacturing, Ford is lowering the cost of lithium battery packs, electric motors, and electric powertrains.

Chevrolet Spark EV 100% Electric Car Competes with Nissan Leaf

Chevrolet Spark EV 100% Electric Car Competes with Nissan Leaf

 

By John Addison (updated 10/29/11; original 10/12/11)

 

 

 

 

The 2013 Spark EV is Chevrolet’s new 100% battery-electric car. It is GM’s fourth electric car model that includes the Chevrolet Volt, the Opel Ampera, and the Cadillac ELR. GM needs a pure-electric offering; Nissan LEAF is dominating the early adopter market.

Reuters reports that Nissan LEAF’s sales through September were about 27,500 — seven times higher than the Volt. Electric utility PG&E confirms that ratio reporting 1,200 LEAFs and only 250 Volts delivered in its service area – 10,000 electric cars for SF Region in 2012. GM is expanding electric car production from 10,000 this year to 65,000 in 2012 as it plays catch-up with Nissan and prepares for market share battle with Ford, Toyota, Honda, and others.

Now GM fights back with the Spark EV. A gasoline powered Spark is currently offered in some foreign markets and will be sold next year in the U.S. as a 5-door, 4-seat, subcompact hatchback. Small cars are now popular in American cities as drivers fight for expensive parking spaces. In 2012, the Mitsubishi i will lead the battle for electric city cars with a starting price of $29,195.

By the time that Chevrolet can start dealer deliveries of the 2013 Spark EV, it will face tough competition from at least 10 electric cars in the U.S. selling for under $40,000.  The field will include other impressive electric cars such as the Nissan LEAF, which I own, the Mitsubishi I, the Ford Focus Electric, the Honda Fit Electric, the Scion IQ EV and others. Chevrolet only plans on limited sales in California and other select U.S. and global markets in 2013. GM has yet to announce useable battery size, range, fast charge capability or lack thereof and vehicle price. Electric car ranges of 80 to 100 miles are common.

Both the Chevrolet Spark EV and the Chevrolet Volt will be successful. Many people prefer the plug-in hybrid range of the Volt; others want a zero gasoline pure electric like the Spark and will count on the 25,000-plus public charging stations that will be available when the Spark EV is delivered. I have interviewed dozens of Volt drivers from music stars like Jackson Brown to regular commuters. They uniformly love their cars performance, reliability, and electric range.

Lithium Battery Competition – A123 Wins this Time

The Chevy Spark is a major win for the nanophosphate lithium-ion battery pack supplier A123, an American innovator that has lost most automotive design-wins to giants like Korea’s LG Chem and Samsung and Japan’s Panasonic and NEC. (Disclosure: author holds modest stock ownership in A123.)

As electric and hybrid car competition intensifies, Nissan, GM, Toyota, and Ford are in a race to sell the most vehicles with lithium batteries. I have driven cars from each of these automakers that use lithium batteries. The cars performed beautifully and delivered great fuel economy.

By the end of 2012, Nissan will have delivered 100,000 LEAFs. Renault is trying to match that number in Europe and Israel. Both automakers use AESC lithium-nickel-manganese polymer batteries. AESC is a joint venture between NEC and Nissan.

Ford may be the first carmaker to sell 100,000 cars annually that includes lithium batteries. When I lasted interviewed Nancy Gioia, Director Ford Global Electrification, she said that Ford has a 2020 goal of 10 to 25 percent of its vehicle sales including lithium batteries. Her best guess is that 70% would be hybrids, 20 to 25% plug-in hybrids, and 5 to 10% battery-electric. Everything from technology innovation to oil prices will affect the future mix.

Toyota Motor Corp is bringing to market three vehicles with lithium batteries – the Prius PHV, the RAV4 EV, and the Scion IQ EV.

Frost and Sullivan forecasts that the lithium transportation market will expand from $1.2 billion in 2011 to $14 billion in 2016.  Automotive Lithium Battery Competition Report