What Clean Diesel Is & What It Is Not
As I write this, the public Volkswagen TDI debacle is just beginning. The federal Environmental Protection Agency and California’s Air Resources Board have presented their cases that Volkswagen AG (the parent of Volkswagen and Audi, among others) installed software that defeated the purpose of its emissions control equipment except when it was being tested for emissions. The ramifications remain to be seen, but certainly involve some kind of emissions updates to almost 500,000 2009-15 TDIs now on the road. It can be expected that a hefty fine will be levied against VW, which is the world’s largest automaker.
A badge of honor?
It also can be expected that the term “clean diesel” will be tarnished, since that is one that VW and other automakers have taken great pains to reinforce for the past several years. That is where Clean Fleet Report has its biggest concern. Volkswagen clean diesel may have become an oxymoron, but we do not believe that is a broad brush that should paint all diesels. Maybe even VW diesels. After all, with the software’s permission, the vehicles did meet the stringent emissions standards of the U.S., which were set so diesels would be available to drivers in all 50 states (California regulations had kept them out for several years). The problem, of course, is that they did not meet those standards in normal driving modes, instead emitting 10-40 times the regulated limit.
At Clean Fleet Report we believe diesels can be clean, both in the certifications submitted to the regulatory agencies and in their daily operation. We also believe that any compromises in performance or fuel economy due to meeting emissions regulations are something consumers will deal with. For those of us old enough to remember diesel’s (which was not clean diesel) first foray into the U.S. market in the 1980s, compromises were part of the bargain. Maybe too big of a part of the bargain. Of course, gasoline cars of the time were far from no-compromise vehicles as well. We’ve come a long way since then and have every right to expect cars and trucks that deliver on all fronts–fuel economy, performance and emissions. Not all technologies are going to be equal and all have a place. Electric vehicles, as wonderful as they are, are far from zero emission vehicles when their electricity comes from coal, to give one example. Fuel cell electric cars offer a great replacement for our expectations of a gasoline/diesel vehicle replacement, until it comes time to find a refueling station, to offer another. That doesn’t make them bad technologies.
We’ll have more to say once we have more information on both the research into what happened, what will be done to correct the vehicles’ software and what impact this might have on our earlier
Chevy Cruze Diesel
impressions. We will probably reserve judgement on any public pronouncements until our staff has a chance to drive the updated cars and calibrate our response. Suffice it to say, from my personal perspective, slightly less responsive performance and a slightly less fuel efficient vehicle will not change my overall impression of the value of a compression ignition engine. But my feelings of trust of Volkswagen may take longer to heal.
More to come.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy:
Clean Diesel vs. Hybrid: Which Is Best For You?
Road Test: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbodiesel
Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI
Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Clean Fleet Report staff have worked for in the past and retain close relations with Volkswagen and other companies and organizations in the diesel industry. The views expressed here are the personal ones of the author related to this issue.
VW Is Such A Tease!
Looks like it fits right in
Frequently we see photos of cars in Europe and wonder why we don’t get them in the United States. Sometimes these are car brands not even sold here such as Skoda, SEAT, Peugeot, Alfa Romeo and Renault. Then there are the cars sold in Europe that we don’t get here such the one Volkswagen just teased us here at Clean Fleet Report–a very cool 2014 Tiguan TDI Euro Spec.
The gasoline-powered Tiguan is currently sold in the USA with the 2.0L, 16 valve DOHC 4-cylinder intercooled, turbocharged engine puts out 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The engine runs on premium fuel and gets 21 mph city / 26 mph highway with a combined of 23 mpg. These numbers are with the 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic paddle shifters. Mileage numbers with the 6-speed manual transmission are 18/26/21. The gasoline version is widely recognized as being peppy, built solidly and fun to drive.
The 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Sport: A Sporty Compact Crossover
Let’s set the ground rules when driving a Euro Spec vehicle: at no point should we expect the exact version will hit our shores in the United States. With this disclaimer duly noted, let’s get onto how the Tiguan TDI should be imported and how much fun it was to drive.
The test 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec we drove is powered by a European version of the engine currently available in the U.S. Jetta, Passat and Beetle models: a 2.0L, 16-valve direct injection, turbocharged 4-cylinder which is rated at around 30 City / 42 Highway in those passenger cars, with a combined average of 34 mpg, delivering 600+ miles on a tank of clean diesel. If this engine were in a U.S. version of the Tiguan a 42 mpg
Moving through bad weather in LA
highway rating would be the best in the Small Crossover class. (And we think this is feasible since the Passat TDI and gas Tiguan have identical curb weights.) The turbodiesel produces 174 hp but delivers 280 lb-ft of torque. In Europe our Tiguan comes standard with a 6-speed manual and has an option of a 6 or 7-speed automatic with Tiptronic. Our test Tiguan had the 7-speed (with paddle shifters) mated to the optional 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive.
The big question (other than if VW will bring a diesel Tiguan to the US market at all) is what engine will be in it? VW has developed a new World diesel engine for the 2015 Tiguan TDI. It will appear in the U.S. first in the 2015 Golf TDI, which hits US VW dealerships mid-year 2014, will have this new, World-standard engine.
The Driving Experience: On The Road
The 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic with Tiptronic has a Drive and Sport mode, with the ability to manually go through the gears with the paddle shifters while in either setting. The suspension is strut front and multi-link rear with an optional European feature–Adaptive Chassis Control, DCC. It has three settings–Normal, Comfort and Sport–that are selected by a button on the lower center stack near the gear shift lever.
I had the opportunity to drive the 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec in the heaviest rain storm Southern California has experienced in several years. Selecting the Sport setting on the transmission and suspension delivered an unexpected driving experience. The transmission shifts in Sport automatic were smooth and in the right place for the rpms and driving conditions. The steering in Sport DCC was tight and precise with little body roll and, even in driving rain, the small crossover felt secure and confident. This excellent driving experience in Sport DCC is the result of the dampers being firmed-up, the steering assistance reduced and the throttle response sharpened. The Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec easily handled better than many passenger cars and probably as good as some sports sedans.
The 280 lb-ft of torque is a blast when in the Sport DCC mode or using the paddle shifters where the rpms can be stretched. The engine really shines when kicking-in around 25 mph and staying on it to 70+ mph (freeway of course); the payback is a big grin!
A note about the other suspension and transmission setting options. The Tiguan TDI 4Motion is designed to deliver high fuel economy, so the Drive DCC mode resulted in some high gearing at low speeds. I felt it did not shift to keep the powerband where it was needed for city driving, therefore I opted for the Sport DSC mode which kept it in each gear just a bit longer and down shifted at the right place. Regarding the suspension settings: You can noticeably feel the difference between Normal, Comfort and Sport. Again, I opted to leave it in Sport which provided the best feel for the road with crisp handling but no loss of comfort.
The 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec came with Start/Stop technology, which is common in Europe but not on U.S. VW diesel models. It is set to turn-off the engine within 2 – 3 seconds of coming to a full stop and then kicking in again when your foot is released from the brake pedal. I like this feature and believe it will become more prevalent in the United States. But before it does, VW needs to tweak it just a bit for two reasons:
• When the engine starts back up it does so with a noticeable jerk and rumble. This may be acceptable in Europe but not to drivers in the United States as we like our cars smooth and quiet.
• When at a red traffic light with the engine off and your foot on the brake, when the light turns green the immediate action is to step on the accelerator pedal. With Start/Stop and the slight turbo lag (a common turbo reality) this results in a momentary acceleration delay. Again, maybe this is acceptable in Europe but it will not be in the USA. It is a minor issue and, once I drove the Tiguan TDI for many miles, I adjusted to it. My guess is this is something that VW will fine-tune when the Tiguan TDI comes to the USA.
As mentioned earlier, the Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec feels solid and confident on the road with responsive handling due to all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloy wheels and four-wheel vented power-assisted disc brakes and ABS. While not a sports car, the Tiguan lives up to VW’s claim of it having “Track & Style.”
Driving Experience: Interior
The interior appointments are where I can’t get too specific as the Tiguan TDI 4Motion model that comes to the United States will likely not be configured the same as the Euro Spec. While doing fact-checking with the Volkswagen media representative, I asked if the excellent two-toned cloth seats will be standard or an option for the US model. I was told this fabric would not make its way across the ocean, which is a shame as it gripped your body on tight turns and was very comfortable. Who knows, maybe it will.
Classic European Class
The interior has a fit and finish that are German tight with just the right amount of black brushed aluminum trim on the dashboard, center console, doors and steering wheel. I would
Europeans ride in style
assume the U.S. Tiguan TDI 4Motion will come in the R-Line, which will have a very high-end luxury look and feel. The Tiguan TDI 4Motion was quiet on even the bumpiest of roads and was very enjoyable to drive.
There is a good mix of soft and hard plastics with no unnecessary fake woods or plastic chrome pieces. The heated front seats were very comfortable, including a power driver’s seat that was height adjustable and a telescoping steering column. The 60/40 rear seat (with folding arm rest with cup holders) is comfortable for three adults with ample foot room. A cool feature are the airliner-style flip-up trays mounted on the back of the front driver and passenger seats. Along with a 12V and European-style 110V plug (expect this to be the U.S. plug), the back seat is good for long trips in comfort and convenience.
The sound system was good but this version will most likely not be offered in the United States. Specific to this car since it was European Spec, the voice activation included a German language option, a German radio band with no operating Bluetooth or Navigation. Fun and quirky to say the least was the Owner’s Manual, which was printed in German.
If you are interested in learning about the U.S. Tiguan models currently at your local dealer, more information can be found here:
Driving Experience: Exterior
Tiguan TDI 4Motion has clean, Germanic lines with no unnecessary cladding or body panels. The front headlights had the helpful feature of the side markers lighting when turning corners. The headlights would dim automatically when approaching oncoming cars. There were roof rack rails designed to support cross members, rear wiper, dual chrome exhaust tips and the distinctive “2.0 TDI 4Motion” badge.
There is no way to estimate the price of the 2015 Tiguan TDI 4Motion, especially since VW will not commit to it even being on sale in the United States. However, U.S. spec 2014 Tiguans range in price from $23,305 to $32,995 so it is anyone’s guess where a 2015 Tiguan TDI 4Motion would fall. In Europe the TDI models start about $1,000 more than the gas versions, but the variety of engines available over there make comparisons difficult. In the U.S. VW has been pricing its diesel models at about $4 to $5,000 more than the cheapest gas model, but they are not always comparably equipped so apple-to-apple comparisons are difficult.
Observations: 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec
Let’s start with what a kick it is that Volkswagen allowed Clean Fleet Report to drive the 2014 Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec. Was it a bit of a tease? Yes. Did it accomplish what they were seeking to do: get journalist input on this crossover and our opinions on how it would fit as a U.S. model? Definitely!
The small crossover market is very competitive with a wide array of brands and models from which to choose. Volkswagen knows that if they bring the 2015 Tiguan TDI 4Motion to the United States that its sales need to
Flying Lufthansa style
warrant this decision.
In 2013, 24 percent of Volkswagen’s USA overall sales were clean diesel models. Adding the 2015 Tiguan TDI 4Motion to their line-up (the 2013 Tiguan was fourth in VW sales behind Jetta, Passat and Beetle) Volkswagen would have the fuel economy leader, best handling and highest performance entry in the small crossover category.
I told the VW rep as much and suggested they would have a winner on their hands.
We’ll see, of course, but I am sure they have heard this from other journalists; we’ll have to wait to see what kind of influence we have at Volkswagen HQ in Germany and the United States.
Words and Photos by John Faulkner
Posted April 17, 2014
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Test Drive: 2013/14 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 with Start-Stop
Still leading the hybrid way
Electric Cars, Plug-in Hybrids, Diesels Lead the New Year Charge.
When sales are down, the excuses flow. We’ve been hearing them for three months as January-March automotive sales are almost flat compared to last year in defiance of what appears to be ongoing economic recovery. It’s the terrible weather, some say. Rising prices, others add. Some alternatives to conventional gasoline-powered cars don’t have to make any excuses; their sales are humming along quite nicely, thank you.
While overall sales languished a mere 1.3 percent above the first quarter of 2013, high-mileage electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and clean diesels continued a torrid pace similar to what they were experiencing during most of last year. The only laggard in this group was gas-electric hybrids, which dropped almost 16 percent compared to last year, based heavily on declining sales of several Prius models. Check out the gains:
- Plug-in hybrids were up 36.8 percent compared to January-March 2013
- Diesels were up 19 percent
- Pure battery electrics were up 13.4 percent
The year has also started with some juggling of the Top 10 compared to the previous year’s rankings. The Prius remains the top dog by a long shot, the only true mainstream vehicle among these alternatives, but Ford’s Fusion Hybrid is now a solid No. 2 and the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S (both pure electrics) appear to have moved permanently into the Top 10 along with the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.
What may be an interesting sidelight to the overall positive news is the decline in total hybrid sales despite a record total of 44 models on the market. The big drop among Toyota models, which continue to dominate the segment, appears to be the culprit in the slip. The 22 diesels, nine battery electric cars and seven plug-in hybrids on the market pushed the total 82 alternatives to gasoline vehicles. And of course those gasoline vehicles have been getting more efficient, too, adding to the competition.
Another sidelight to note is the exceptions to falling year-to-year sales among the Top 10. The Volkswagen Passat TDI, Sonata Hybrid, Nissan Leaf and Lexus CT 200h had increased sales compared to last year while the other six fell.
Top 10 Sales January-March 2014
On top of the group – always – is the Toyota Prius, the only model on the chart with a reasonable chance of breaking 100,000 units in sales for the year. Even dropping more than 25 percent from last year’s sales total the Prius still captures just under a quarter of the total hybrid market. Most of the rest of the Top 10 are regulars, but represent the diversity that characterizes the 21st century automotive market – hybrids, diesels, battery electrics and plug-in hybrids all have representatives. In the chart below we’ve listed the sales for the first quarter of 2014 with the 2013 numbers in parentheses.
1. Toyota Prius – 25,578 – (34,981) The Prius is unchallenged as the leader among all of the alternatives, a mainstream car that ranks up with the best selling standard cars. Its share of hybrid sales is dropping as are its sales numbers as the car comes up on a model changeover in a year or so.
2. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 9,606 – (10,266) Ford’s flagship hybrid is having a good year though not quite as good as last year at this time. What is significant is that it’s solidly outselling its main rival, The Toyota Camry
Fusion moves up in sales in 2014
3. Toyota Prius c – 8,833 – (9,865) The “baby” Prius continues to attract entry-level hybrid seekers and had a strong first quarter, with its sales dropping less than some of the other Prius variants.
4. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 8,782 – (12,434) The Camry’s hybrid version has slipped among hybrids this year, but its sales are still strong enough to keep it high on this list.
5. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 8,151 – (9,604) The clean diesel standard-bearer continues to slot itself right alongside hybrid competitors, even with a drop in sales compared to last year. Along with the Passat TDI, they account for more than have of all diesel sales at this point.
VW Passat TDI had a record month
6. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 7,769 – (7,240) The Jetta’s “big brother” has put a push on its sales in 2014, surpassing sales records for the TDI version set last year. In March the Passat TDI outsold the Jetta TDI.
7. Toyota Prius V – 6,001 – (8,525) The Prius “wagon” is having a tough year so far, dropping even more in sales than the Prius, but still maintaining a good position in the overall sales chart.
8. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – 5.677 – (4,256) Call it the stealth hybrid. Hyundai’s hybrid models flies under the radar somewhat, but has had a great first quarter maintaining a position it moved into last year. With the Kia Optima Hybrid using the same technology the combined sales from the Korean manufacturer have moved past the Toyota Camry Hybrid level, though slightly below the Ford Fusion.
9. Nissan Leaf – 5,184 – (3,539) Nissan’s pure electric car continues to benefit from strong word-of-mouth and a price drop earlier in the year from a shift of most production to the U.S. It has been setting sales records and appears to have established itself as a viable model.
10. Tesla Model S – 4,000 – (4,750) Tesla’s pure electric has estimated sales numbers (they release the official ones when they report their quarterly earnings so we only get a glimpse of the real numbers intermittently). Production continues at a high level, but the shift of sales to Europe and soon Asia (as well as a potential saturation of the U.S. market) is affecting U.S. sales (which is all we report). It does have the “honor” of being the most expensive car in this list by a good margin.
10. Lexus CT 200h Hybrid – 4,000 – (3,245) A redesign of Lexus’ small hybrid appears to have revived its sales and bumps it into the Top 10 for this quarter.
Bubbling below the Top 10 (or 11 in this case) are several models that help boost hybrid sales. The sales numbers are close enough to those in the Top 10 that these models are likely to move up later in the year. The Ford C-Max Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid have now been joined by the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. This group doesn’t rack up big numbers, but add to the strength of the whole segment.
Photos from manufacturers
Posted April 14, 2014 (compiled with Hybridcars.com & Automotive News information as reported by manufacturers)
Other similar stories you might like:
The Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy–Finally
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The Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars of 2013
You say hybrid-we say Prius
Actually January through November, but we know the way this end.
We know the year isn’t over yet, but we also know the only thing that will change between now and Dec. 31 on the sales charts are the actual numbers. We’ve got a very good sense of which are the Top 10 best-selling High-MPG cars of 2013, so we’re not afraid to let you know early (in case it fits into your holiday shopping plans).
The year 2013 is almost over and the auto industry is moving toward the best sales year in half a decade. High mileage electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and clean diesels are drafting along with the positive sales year and going beyond, with each segment besting the overall market as new models enter and draw attention. The expectation is for aggressive selling to continue through the rest of the year, but it’s a good time to regroup and declare the Top 10 winners for the year.
If you’ve been following our coverage throughout the year, you’ll recognize the players – the Prius liftback dominates the 42 hybrid models now on the market; VW’s Jetta and Passat takes the lion’s share of diesel sales (although now joined by 20 other models) and the plug-in segment (now totaling 15 models) splits fairly evenly between the pure electric Nissan Leaf and the extended range Chevy Volt. Then Tesla and Toyota carve up most of the rest of this segment, which has shown the most dynamic growth this year.
These three segments of high-MPG models (augmented by a few natural gas Honda Civics) are pacing the market and all three are adding new models, which portends continued growth. That said, the penetration of the by hybrids, plug-ins and diesels still totals less than five percent of the overall market.
Sales in 2014 Expected to Keep Rolling
Auto analysts predict the positive sales trends will continue into 2014 as the economy improves and all indications are that these high-MPG models will also keep ahead of the rest of the market. The Top 10 vehicles in sales are relatively consistent while a couple models on the margins of the sales numbers shuffle places among the top 14 or 15.
On top of the group – always – is the Toyota Prius. With a several year head start on most of the other cars on sales, it’s sales are typically triple those in the next tier. In the second tier are the models breaking into the mainstream, selling well enough to assure their continued existence in the market, but well below the Prius level. At this level the VW diesels – Jetta and Passat – are joined by the midsize Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion hybrids as well as two Prius variants, the c and V and the Ford C-Max hybrid. The electric Leaf and Volt are bubbling significantly below the second tier group and are joined by a group of hybrids along with the Tesla Model S.
Details on sales for the first 11 months of the year as well as the month of November (parenthetically) follow. It’s shaping up to be a solid year for these high-MPG cars.
1. Toyota Prius – 135,291 – (9,801) The Prius is unchallenged as the leader among all of the alternatives, a mainstream car that ranks up with the best selling standard cars. It captures almost a third of all hybrid sales even though it is well into its product cycle (it was introduced in 2009) and probably will need to kick up its game as its 50 MPG rating doesn’t make it stand out when compared with the mileage plug-in hybrids are delivering.
2. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 41,722 – (2,998) The Camry’s hybrid version is a solid second best among hybrids for the year though in November it dropped below the Prius c in sales.
A Hybrid with real-world acceleration
3. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 41,089 – (2,936) The clean diesel standard-bearer is pushing toward the top of the second tier, virtually neck-and-neck with the Camry Hybrid in sales. It accounts for fully one-fourth of diesel sales at this point.
4. Toyota Prius c – 39,169 – (3,001) The “baby” Prius continues to attract entry-level hybrid seekers and had a strong November, second only to the Prius liftback. This smallest, least expensive hybrid in the Toyota lineup helped Toyota to a 1-2-3 podium finish among hybrid sales, Ford is mounting a challenge.
5. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 34,502 – (2,769) The flagship of hybrid fuel economy at Ford is leading a challenge by that automaker to Toyota’s dominance of the hybrid segment, although its approach to fuel economy includes also plug-in versions of the Fusion and C-Max, an all-electric Focus and its conventional EcoBoost engines.
6. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 32,754 – (2,432) The Jetta’s “big brother” has steadily maintained its sales trajectory during the year, setting sales records for the TDI version of the midsize model. The two VWs (and the company’s three other TDI models) give the company a dominating position in the diesel market similar to Toyota’s with hybrids with more than 70 percent of the diesel market.
7. Toyota Prius V – 32,879 – (2,227) The Prius “wagon” is having a good year, adding to Toyota dominance of the hybrid market, where Toyota and Lexus models take almost 65 percent of total sales.
Ford C-Max Hybrid
8. Ford C-Max Hybrid – 26,858 – (1,457) Ford’s hybrid “wagon,” along with the Prius V, demonstrates that there is a clear demand for more versatility along with good fuel economy, although C-Max sales have been slipping during the last few months of the year.
9. Chevrolet Volt – 20,702 – (1,920) The Volt is selling on par with last year as a price drop on 2013 models boosted sales and 2014 models carried on with lower prices.
10. Nissan Leaf – 20,081 – (2,003) Nissan’s pure electric car has been benefiting from strong word-of-mouth and a price drop earlier in the year. It’s heading for its best sales year and looks like it will stay in the Top 10.
11. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – 19,640 – (1,866) Hyundai’s hybrid models flies under the radar somewhat, but had a great November where it finished sixth among hybrids. With the Kia Optima Hybrid using the same technology the combined sales from the Korean manufacturer are almost at the Toyota Camry Hybrid level.
12. Tesla Model S – 16,950 – (1,400) Tesla’s pure electric has estimated sales numbers (they release the official ones when they report their quarterly earnings so we only get a glimpse of the real numbers intermittently. Production has been steadily increasing during the year as the company fills its orders for its expensive, but exquisite sedan and begins ramping up exports, which is already starting to affect U.S. sales (which is all we report). It does have the “honor” of being the most expensive car in this list by a good margin.
Bubbling below the Top 10 (or 12 in this case) are several models that help boost hybrid sales. The Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid, Chevy Malibu Hybrid, Kia Optima
Toyota has added hybrid models to the lineup like the Avalon Hybrid and Lexus CT 200h Hybrid don’t rack up big numbers, but they add to the strength of the segment – and cumulatively accounted for more than 50,000 additional hybrid sales.
This segment shows a great amount of strength as new models continue to be introduced. There were eight brand-new hybrid models in 2013 (and several more that were barely launched in 2012); six new plug-ins entered the market and the diesel segment added eight new models. The word is the new models are going to keep coming, which should keep the high-MPG car segment invigorated.
Photos from manufacturers
Posted Dec. 14, 2013 (compiled with Hybridcars.com & Automotive News information as reported by manufacturers)
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The Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy–Finally
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VW’s glimpse of the future
What’s Coming in Cars; Some Is Already Here
The fifth annual “Future Cars, Future Technology” event put on by the Western Automotive Journalists’ association on Oct. 17, offered several glimpses of the future. You could drive a prototype electric Volkswagen Golf, due to go on sale next year, or hear an executive from the California Air Resources Board predict that future pickup trucks would be powered by fuel cells. Or you could hear that according to Stanford’s Dr. Sven Beiker we don’t really know what distraction is so figuring out how to deal with it is going to be more complicated than simply banning texting.
The symposium, sponsored by Club Auto Sport, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Kia, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen, started with a hands-on view of the divergent paths that the auto world is currently taking. In the parking lot available for driving evaluations were five different approaches to the automotive future:
- Pure electric cars, which were represented by the prototype e-Golf, Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e and Ford Focus Electric.
- Plug-in hybrids represented by the Ford C-Max Energi.
- Hybrids were represented by the Kia Optima Hybrid and VW Jetta Hybrid.
The Kia Optima Hybrid attracted a crowd
- Diesels representing by a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, VW Passat TDI and a second Passat TDI running on Solazyme’s SolaDiesel renewable diesel. The latter showcases a biofuel path that would replace petroleum diesel or gasoline with a bio-based fuel that would present a greener carbon footprint as well as reduced emissions.
- Advanced technology gasoline vehicles were represented by the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander, which, in addition to offering more than 30 mpg in a seven-passenger SUV, has adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision mitigation. The latter technology will alert the driver of an impending crash and apply the brakes if the driver fails to.
- Missing from the collection of cars and trucks was a fuel cell vehicle. Although that technology path was not present, Toyota and other manufacturers have said they would have vehicles on sales by 2015.
Automotive Electronics/Smartphones & Cars
The technology suite found in the Mitsubishi in the ride-and-drive provided a good segue to the first panel of program, which featured Dr. Beiker and Ford Silicon Valley Lab leader T.J. Giuli discussing new electronic systems in automobiles and whether they are making vehicles safer or less safe by introducing new sources of distraction.
The two agreed that the path forward with electronics was not clear, which consumers expecting more connectivity and technology in cars and automakers challenged to keep up because of the short product cycle for electronics compared to automobiles. “How do we keep up?” Giuli mused. But he added that new features such as AppLink promise to bring smartphone applications seamlessly in the car. Beiker suggested that maybe it was a matter of car companies needing to “explain to consumers what they need” because the market pull at the present was stronger than the technology push.
The vision of an autonomous, self-driving car, while technically feasible now, is still at least a decade away from practical use, according to the panelists.
Zero/Near-zero Emission Cars
Later, discussion turned to powertrains and fuels of the future with Dr. Alberto Ayala, deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board (CARB); Dave Barthmuss, group manager, environment, energy & policy communications for General Motors; and Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The three were challenged to give a view of where the automotive world is headed and what we might be driving as cars move toward the 2025 goal of 54.5 mpg.
Dr. Ayala said “we know the path” we have to take in California to reach state emissions goals; it involves decarbonizing energy and fuels and boosting efficiency in vehicles. “We need to get to zero/near-zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs), which means battery electrics and fuel cells.” The challenge now is to incentivize the market and generate consumer interest in the cars that will help the state reach its goals, he added.
Future Cars Panel
In CARB’s view by 2040 every new car sold has to be a zero emission vehicle and by 2050 the state expects 90 percent of the cars on the road to be ZEVs. The other challenge is to get drivers to reduce the number of miles they drive.
Hwang said the auto industry faces an “innovate or die” situation. High oil prices have radically reshaped the world of the automobile in his view and he sees auto companies changing and adapting to this new world. According to Hwang’s assessment, the industry is making good progress toward the 54.5 mpg goals. He cited a University of Michigan study that found industry fuel economy at an all-time high last year at 29.8 mpg. He also noted that California expects to have 30,000 electric cars registered by the end of 2013, which is about 50 percent higher than had been predicted.
Barthmuss noted that with the introduction of the Cadillac ELR early next year GM will have three electric vehicles on the market – it will join the similar Chevy Volt extended-range EV and the Chevy Spark EV. “We’ve bet the farm on electrification,” he said, noting this is “not a moonshot.” In addition to its electric moves, GM is pursuing a “no silver bullet” approach, introducing stop-start on its high-volume Malibu model this year, adding a bi-fuel gas-CNG Impala model and bumping up fuel economy on vehicles from its full-size pickups to the Corvette (which now gets 29 mpg on the highway).
But he also offered a cautionary note on fuel cells. During his company’s recent Project Driveway that put 100 fuel cell-powered Equinox SUVs in consumer hands, they were limited to two zip codes for distribution of the vehicles because of a lack of infrastructure. Along with limited infrastructure issues, Barthmuss also said his optimism for the future is tempered by the challenge of driving the market in the direction of efficiency.
In questions about the potential trade-offs between focusing on reducing both criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, Ayala admitted that “we want to have our cake and eat it too,” but he held out that the CARB standards (and the federal ones as well) are performance-based so they don’t favor any specific technology and will allow for potential new technology in the future.
Challenged on how large, work-oriented vehicles like full-size pickup trucks (which represent some of the best-selling vehicles in the country) could become zero emission vehicles, Ayala speculated that adding fuel cell technology could be one path industry could take to reach the ZEV goal. He also noted that the lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles was being addressed by the state through recent legislation that guaranteed funding for enough stations to support the initial introduction of the vehicles.
To sum up the day-long program and paraphrase the philosopher Heraclitus, the only thing constant about the future will be change. The 100-plus year-old auto industry is heading into uncharted territory as it grapples with change inside and out of the vehicle. Electronic technology promises to radically alter the interaction of the driver and vehicle, even as the propulsion technology and fuel shifts to new ground and, in some cases, necessitating new lifestyles. One thing is clear, “Future Cars, Future Technology” will be an ever-changing topic for years to come.
For more on these subjects, please check out:
California helps Drivers Plug In
Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segment’s Future
Top 10 Markets for Electric Cars