The 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas was awarded Green Car of the Year® . The 2012 five finalists include the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, 2012 Mitsubishi i, 2012 Toyota Prius v, 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, and 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI. I have been impressed with my test drives of these cars. All will be available for dealer sales by January 2, 2012.
Last year the Chevrolet Volt was the winner. This year, no plug-in hybrids are finalists, only pure battery-electric. In previous years, turbo diesel cars have won such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and the Audi A3 TDI. Naturally, the classic Prius Liftback was a past winner. This year the larger crossover Prius v is competing for the top spot.
Any of these five could be the best for you depending on where you drive, your space requirements, and availability of local fueling and charging. One choice may be greener for you than another. If you are disturbed that 96 of our transportation fuel comes from petroleum, and most from countries that could shut-off supply, or from deep water drilling with oil spills, or from tar sands, then an electric car may get your vote. Many electric car drivers that I meet use their solar power to charge their electric cars. For them their green choice from the list would be the Ford Focus Electric or the smaller and less expensive Mitsubishi i. If all your electricity is from a coal power plant and you need the room of an SUV crossover, then the Prius v may be a better choice.
If you champion clean air then the Honda Civic Natural Gas may be your choice. Almost 13 million vehicles globally can be fueled with natural gas. If the fuel comes from bio-methane, then lifecycle emissions are quite small. If the natural gas comes from fracking and flames are coming out of your faucet, then you may make a different choice. This 4-door, 5-seat, sedan looks and drives like any other Honda Civic. The trunk has less because the natural gas tank is bigger than a gasoline tank. The Civic Natural Gas has an EPA rating of 28 mpg combined and 5.6 tons of CO2e annual emissions.
The Volkswagen Passat TDI is a roomy 4-door, 5-seat, midsized sedan. In city driving a good hybrid will save at the pump compared with this diesel. If you mainly driving on highways, however, you are likely to enjoy well over 40 mpg due to the wonders of the modern turbo diesel engine. The Volkswagen Passat TDI has an EPA rating of 34 mpg combined and 6.2 tons of CO2e annual emissions. Diesel and Hybrid Comparison.
My test drive of the new Toyota Prius v convinced me that you can get 42 MPG with comfort for 5 people and the flexibility to hold the cargo carried in most SUVs. The Prius v will shake-up the crossover SUV and wagon market when it goes on sale in January for only $3,000 more than the Prius Liftback. Toyota now offers four different cars in the Prius Family. EPA annual emissions are expected to be 4.7 tons CO2e. Prius v Crossover SUV test drive and review.
Ford Focus Electric is a beautiful new pure battery-electric 5-seat hatchback with a 100-mile range. Ford will soon announce prices, start taking reservations and give the Nissan LEAF head-on competition. My test drive of a prototype showed solid handling, smooth acceleration, and a quiet drive. DOE lifecycle emissions would calculate to 3.7 tons of CO2 with the 50% coal U.S. energy mix (DOE GREET 1.8), half that in a state like California and zero source-to-wheels emissions using renewable energy. Ford Focus Electric test drive and review.
Mitsubishi I is a fun-to-drive electric car that will save some city drivers a fortune by fitting into parking spaces that leave others heading to the parking garage. This 5-door hatchback comfortably seats 4. This pure battery-electric accelerated fine on the freeway. I even took it up a 16 percent grade that would bring some cars to a stand still. Customers are now out taking test drives in a number of cities and placing orders at up to $6,000 less than the Nissan LEAF. Mitsubishi I test drive and review. DOE lifecycle emissions would calculate to 3.7 tons of CO2 with the 50% coal U.S. energy mix (DOE GREET 1.8),half that in a state like California and zero source-to-wheels emissions using renewable energy.
These five candidates for 2012 Green Car of the Year®, ranging from a city car to a sedan to a roomy crossover demonstrate that we have exciting choices in meeting our needs in driving green and saving greenbacks at the pump.
By John Addison (8/19/11)
High-Speed Rail was Faster than Flight, Hotel to Hotel
It was an easy walk from our downtown Madrid hotel to the train station. In less than 3 hours on high-speed rail, we crossed the country to Barcelona. I looked out the window as we traveled at 185 miles per hour leaving the hot plains for the cooler Mediterranean. Traveling car free made the vacation relaxed, talking with locals easy, and neighborhoods a joy to walk.
The vacation was a welcome respite from the gridlocked expressways of America. Where I live in California, highways are being widened at a taxpayer burden of $200 million per mile. Locals in Atherton, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park, armed with signs that shout “Not In My Backyard”, are holding up the California High-Speed rail, at one-third that cost per mile. They claim that HSR is too noisy to run through cities. Tell that to all the people in Europe and Asia who are 50 years ahead of us, none wearing earplugs as these trains glide through the hearts of their cities.
California HSR would connect 25 major transit systems together, and pay for itself in avoided freeway and airport expansion. Diesel rail would be replaced with electric rail at the same time California’s energy mix is increasing from 20 to 33 percent renewable.
“Last Mile” Solutions from Walking to Bicycle Sharing
My wife and I found it easy to zip around Madrid and Barcelona on their efficient metro subway and bus systems. Normally, however, we choose to walk miles daily so that we could experience the sights, restaurants, and people up close and personal.
For busy commuters, however, walking is popular when the distance is under a half-mile. Beyond that, a car is selected over transit, unless other “last mile” solutions are convenient.
For over 100,000 in Barcelona, their “last mile” solution is taking a bicycle down tree covered bike lanes that I enjoyed riding. May bike lanes were safely seperated from the car lanes, but others disappeared into hair raising intersections. Barcelona has 9,000 bicycles in Bicing, a bike sharing subscription program that costs 35 euros per year with added charges for keeping a bike more than 30 minutes. A member goes to one of 400 convenient on the street locations, holds their RFID smartcard near the display, sees which bike to take (e.g. Space 18), rides to their destination, and then secures their bike in the new location. Bicing offers its 100,000 members a smart app with location map and extensive information.
Bicycle sharing has millions of members in European cities. It is now taking foot in the U.S. in Washington DC, Twin Cities, Chicago, Denver, Tulsa, San Antonio, San Francisco, and other cities. Some include special programs for employers and universities to facilitate broad participation. In America, these commuters save a fortune in car costs, gasoline, and parking fees. As a plus, they get some healthy exercise.
Electric Car and PRT New Urban Mobility
Austin, Texas, has modeled the successful point-to-point (P2P) bicycle sharing with 300 shared Mercedes SmartCars. Someone can exit transit, drive the SmartCar three miles to work, park the car and walk away, paying pennies per minute. In the future, the SmartED electric car will be included in the Austin P2P car sharing.
Millions of visitors to the London Olympics next year will have the opportunity to use a different electric approach – personal rapid transit (PRT). They will get in a pod on an electric rail at Heathrow Airport, push the destination button as someone would in an elevator, and glide a few miles to their destination.
Looking to the future, automakers see new opportunities in urban mobility. Car makers observe the millions of us who use mobile devices with smart apps to best get through our busy days, at times in a car, at times walking, and at times using new technology.
I had the opportunity to test drive the General Motors EN-V urban mobility concept vehicle. The friendly little two-seat pod rests on a Segway drive system. It could easily be steered around the Standor University campus, where the event occurred. In the future, these new light electric vehicles could be navigated along mobility pathways separated from cars in a gridlocked city. The EN-V can also navigate autonomously, automatically stop for pedestrians, and cluster into compact convoys.
A few EN-Vs, or a few dozen, can form themselves into a convoy and route themselves to where they are needed. This would solve a problem that costs millions to manage for P2P car sharing and bicycle sharing. Vehicles must be moved after they cluster in popular destinations. Today some bike sharing members abandon programs after they cannot locate a shared bike when late to work, or get charged extra when every space in the bike rack is full. Personal PRT such as the EN-V could automate having the right vehicles in the right places at the right times.
Could such innovation happen in the USA? Yes. When I visited the vast Marine Corp Camp Pendleton, I saw 291 electric vehicles in use. The military is very interested in autonomous vehicles, especially those that free us from our dependency on oil.
A GM scientist told me that China has enormous potential. Cities the size of New York are being developed through out China. They will have good transit, which is connected by 20,000 miles of high-speed and express rail. China will also have unprecedented auto-congestion and need for last-mile solutions. China is not paralyzed with NIMBY or government gridlock. China could plan new forms of urban mobility in new cities and then quickly implement the plan.
In the U.S. many people that I interview who are under 30 and living in cities or university towns, tell me that a car is not something to own, it is a service to use along with rail, transit, walking, and bicycling. When needed, they use Zipcar or another car share service, they rideshare, they squeeze into a taxi when leaving a club on a Friday night. Millennials may take to new innovations in urban mobility as easily as they took to the internet, social networks and smart apps. At times, leaving the auto behind can lead to a pleasant car-free vacation or a carefree commute.
By John Addison (5/27/11)
A General Motors executive recently told a small group that GM is working on 32 electric car derivatives all based on Voltec, the Chevrolet Volt’s electric drive system. Voltec is GM’s architecture and roadmap for a number of exciting vehicles future vehicles with electric drive systems. This Voltec Propulsion System was formerly called the E-Flex architecture.
Voltec can accommodate an electric drive system that uses a small engine coupled with an electric generator, such as today’s Chevrolet Volt in America, and the similar Opel Ampera for Europe and Japan. If it made economic sense, the engine could be a diesel in Europe, or natural gas in Latin America. Engine and generator could be replaced with a fuel cell. GM could even produce a pure battery-electric like the Nissan Leaf.
Clean Fleet Report is betting on a Buick plug-in hybrid and a pure battery electric car to be announced in the coming months. The Buick will more likely be parallel hybrid configuration. We are also betting that many derivatives in research and development will never be commercialized. Some will depend on battery breakthroughs that deliver more energy from less space and vehicle weight. The Voltec Propulsion System could drive something bigger like an Equinox, or fit in something smaller like a Cruze.
You won’t see the same Volt’s electric motor and battery-pack in a Chevrolet Tahoe or Silverado; the vehicles are too heavy. But we already see 40-foot electric buses and series hybrids. GM Vice President Research and Development in an interview with AutoCar last year stated, “With battery technology as it currently stands, extended-range vehicles that are larger than the Volt — luxury saloons, trucks and SUVs — aren’t really possible; they would simply be too heavy to be efficient. For those types of cars, fuel cells and biofuels are the future. Ironically enough, the E-REV powertrain won’t really package in a much smaller car than the Volt, either. So expect them all to be between four and five meters long.”
Future Batteries Could Deliver 30 to 50 Percent More
New battery technology, however, is promising more energy with less weight and vehicle size. To advance its lithium batteries, GM Ventures invested $7 million in Newark, Calif.-based Envia Systems to provide GM’s battery engineering team with access to advanced lithium-ion cathode technology that delivers higher cell energy density and lower cost. In a separate agreement, GM has secured the right to use Envia’s advanced cathode material for future GM electrically driven vehicles. If successful, Envia could produce 30% to 50% better storage per weight. GM Envia Report.
When I interviewed GM executives last year, they planned to sell 8,000 to 10,000 Volts in 2011. Exciting Volt test drives and soaring gas prices have caused a surge of demand from your neighbor down the street, rental car companies, and giant global fleets such as General Electric.
For a platform appropriate for larger trucks and SUVs, GM has invested in Bright Automotive. For a future of personal vehicles for urban mobility, GM is experimenting with the EN-V built on a Segway platform. For now, look for the action in C and B platform vehicles.
The Volt is an electric vehicle that offers a total driving range of 379 miles, based on EPA estimates. For the first 35 miles, the Volt can drive gas- and tailpipe-free using a full charge of electricity stored in its 16-kWh lithium-ion battery. When the Volt’s battery runs low, a gas-powered engine/generator seamlessly operates to extend the driving range another 344 miles on a full change.
60,000 Chevrolet Volts for 2012
General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, home of the Chevrolet Volt, will close for four weeks beginning in June for planned upgrades to prepare for a significant increase in the rate of Volt production, along with assembly of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan.
Already in tight supply, the number of Volts available for delivery to retail customers will be further restricted over the next three months before production resumes and the Volt and the Opel Ampera begin being exported to Europe and China.
“The Volt will be available to customers nationwide by the end of 2011,” said Cristi Landy, director of Chevrolet Volt Marketing. The 2011 Volt was launched in California, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C. But Volt orders have poured in from 48 states. The Volt will be available nationwide and in Europe, China and Canada by the end of this year.
As a result of the plant upgrades, planned Volt and Ampera production capacity this year will increase to 16,000 units, including exports and a fleet of several hundred demonstration units sent to U.S. dealers. In 2012, global production capacity is expected to be 60,000 vehicles with an estimated 45,000 to be delivered in the United States.
“Drivers do not have to compromise,” observes Byron Shaw, General Motors, Managing Director, Advanced Technology. He has already driven his Volt across the U.S. twice. He sited driving 80 miles round trip from San Francisco to Stanford University as an example. In his Volt, he drives down the freeway without range anxiety. Should the battery deplete, the gasoline engine engages. For the same trip in my Nissan LEAF, I only used the freeway for half the trip, driving 65 in the right lane to save electrons. I drove the other half on city streets where range is much better. Not only did I avoid running the AC, for the most part, I kept the fan off. Plug-in hybrid convenience versus pure-electric gasoline free.
For extending range, I look for a charging station. In the future, I will also look for DC Fast Charging stations where I can get up to another 80 miles in 20 minutes. The Volt does not have a fast charge option and does not need one. Another 300 miles of range is available at the nearest gas station. To reach a broad market, GM will ultimately offer a variety of plug-in hybrids and electric cars to meet various customer needs. GM’s future is increasingly electric.
Toyota will start volume manufacturing of the Plug-in Prius in 2012 according to Reuters. 2012 manufacturing of 20,000 to 30,000 Toyota Prius PHEV are expected. Toyota has not yet finalized 2012 pricing. Full featured models may be priced from $40,000 to $50,000 and be competitive with the Chevy Volt in the U.S., Ford’s PHEV offerings, and the Mitsubishi EV in Japan. The added lithium batteries in the plug-in version of the Prius will make it priced much higher than the hybrid Prius.
Toyota is currently leasing 500 plug-in Priuses in Japan and the United States in fleet demonstrations. Not waiting for a commercial plug-in from Toyota, several hundred have converted their Prius to a plug-in using kits such as the A123 Hymotion.
Reuters reports that the Toyota’s plug-ins will be able to run 20-30 km (12.4-18.6 miles) on lithium-ion batteries produced by its joint venture with Panasonic EV Energy Co.
In 2012, Toyota will also start selling the less expensive 2-door FT-EV, a pure battery electric vehicle. In the U.S. in 2012 Toyota will face intense EV competition with Nissan, Ford, and dozens of innovative younger companies such as Tesla.