RED JOS

ELECTRIC VEHICLES

PART 4

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19 JANUARY 2012

Article from the Herald Sun:

BMW i3: spy shot

By Paul Gover
• 19 January 2012
BMW i3

Winter is the ideal time for secret testing in Europe, as BMW proves with its tiny battery-powered i3.

It's caught on a frozen lake in Scandinavia with bodywork that reflects the production plan for the car that will sit alongside the i8 coupe in BMW's new 'i' sub-brand.

Expect it here in 2014 at about $50,000

21 JANUARY 2012

Article in The Age newspaper:

The brightest spark: Prius v Volt v Leaf

By Barry Park
Tested: Holden's electric future
How does the Volt stack up against Nissan's all-electric Leaf and Toyota's long-running environmental hero, the Prius? Barry Park investigates.
Inside this review...
1. Comparison summary

We compare three solutions to a world with less oil.

A quiet revolution will take place in new-car showrooms this year, giving us even more choice in an already congested market.

It started last year with the introduction of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car and will gain momentum during 2012 with a host of other vehicles that rely on battery, rather than petrol, power.

Electric charge: Volt v Prius v Leaf

We pit the new kids on the block, the Holden Volt and Nissan Leaf against the old stalwart of environmentally friendly rides, the Toyota Prius.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Getting to this point has taken 15 years. In 1997, Toyota unveiled a quirky experimental petrol-electric vehicle called the Prius, which eventually went mainstream, prompting other car makers to consider similar technology and develop it even further.

After three generations and 3.4million sales of Prius cars, we are now at another fork in the road.

From this year, Australians will have a choice between hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric propulsion — plus a host of new technology to digest.

To illustrate the point, we have grouped the three headline acts. The Toyota Prius showcases existing hybrid technology. The Nissan Leaf blends small-car convenience with electric-only propulsion. The Holden Volt, meanwhile, turns the hybrid concept on its head. It uses a petrol motor to power a generator, which, in turn, powers a battery pack that powers an electric motor.

Still don't follow? Don't worry, it becomes clear eventually.

Our venue for this test is Holden's proving ground at Lang Lang, south-east of Melbourne.We were restricted to closed roads because the Volt cannot yet be legally driven on public streets by anyone other than staff of Holden and parent company General Motors. The car we are using is an early left-hand-drive prototype from the US. But the proving ground still gives us a worthwhile insight into how these vehicles perform relative to each other.

Inside the facility is a network of more than 44kilometres of roads of all types. It's the same terra firma every Holden since 1957 has been developed on, with large sections designed to mirror real-world conditions, from Melbourne tramlines to outback highways. Here's how the three technology types shape up.

Toyota Prius

Contrary to popular perception, the Prius does not plug in to a power point. Not yet.It has two motors under its sleek bonnet — a small petrol engine nestled next to an electric motor — and the hybrid system switches between the two as required.

The electric motor is primarily designed to move the vehicle from rest to about 40km/h (which, in petrol cars, uses the most energy) before the petrol motor takes over. The electric motor can also help with acceleration while on the move. The Prius recharges its relatively small battery pack when the car is coasting or driving downhill.

In ideal conditions, the Prius can travel about two kilometres on battery power alone — on the way to a real-world driving range of about 900km — if you're a miser.

It's a long-standing titleholder as Australia's most fuel-efficient petrol-engine car, officially sipping just 3.9litres per 100kilometres and emitting 89grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide.

A handful of diesel-engine small cars with manual transmissions consume slightly less fuel but they emit more noxious gases that are nastier for your health than unleaded petrol.

After having its price cut by $5000 last year to $34,990 (plus on-road and dealer costs), the Prius also has the cheapest starting price among this trio; although the model we tested was the $45,990 i-Tech (still undercutting its rivals here).

Since its inception, the Prius has been a practical five-seat hatchback. It provides plenty of interior space inside a slippery exterior package. The boot is the biggest among its peers (445litres versus 330litres for the Leaf and 300litres for the Volt).

The Prius i-Tech tested comes with heated leather seats, a sunroof equipped with a solar panel that runs a small fan to keep the cabin cool when the car is parked and radar cruise control that maintains a safe distance from the car in front. The leather seat trim is soft but the rest of the interior is dominated by hard plastics built around a floating centre console.

A too-small, square-bottomed steering wheel adjusts for height and reach.

A head-up speed and information display is reflected into the windscreen in the driver's line of sight but most of the information is shown in the digital instrument cluster in the centre of the dash.

The driver is able to call up details such as how much energy the petrol and electric motors are consuming, how much energy is being regenerated back into the battery pack and overall fuel economy.

Rear headroom is adequate, although tight for taller passengers, thanks to the sweeping roofline that runs down to the split-glass tailgate.

As with all the cars here, starting the Prius is as simple as pushing a button (like the Leaf, it's hidden away low and to the left of the steering wheel), although releasing the park brake is via an old-school foot-operated lever.

There's a joystick-like gearshift that works intuitively, with an extra ''B'' setting that feeds more power to the batteries when braking. The steering is light and easy but the ride is not as comfortable as it could be.

The relatively high tyre pressures, large-diameter alloy wheels and stiff tyre sidewalls mean the Prius does not soak up bumps and joins in the road as well as its rivals.

There's also more road roar than normal; the Prius had the noisiest interior of the three tested here.

At low speeds, the fully electric operation — helped by an ''EV'' button that locks the car into electric drive for as long as there is enough battery power — is smooth and quiet.

However, under harder acceleration, when the engine is called in to help, the continuously variable transmission, which holds revs in the sweet spot, can sound harsh and intrusive.

Hit the brakes with a decent shove — they are a bit slow to react under light pressure — and the Prius pulls up much like a normal car, making the regenerative system seamless.

With three passengers added to the mix, the Prius still performs well, although conversation with rear-seat passengers over the noise can take some effort.

Vital statistics
How much? From $45,990 plus on-road and dealer costs
Engine 1.8-litre 4-cyl (premium unleaded), electric motor
Power 73kW at 5200rpm
Torque 142Nm at 4000rpm
Transmission CVT, FWD
Fuel use and emissions 3.9L/100km and 89g/km CO2
Weight
1420kgEstimated range 1150km (45L tank)

Nissan Leaf

Nissan's Leaf pure electric vehicle is due in selected showrooms priced from $51,500 (plus costs) mid-year.

That's a lot of money for a small hatch, even one that will eliminate your fuel bill (it's even dearer than the $48,800 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the first mass-produced pure electric car on sale in Australia). But that's the price of emerging technology. Remember when flat-screen TVs cost more than $10,000?

''Pure electric'' means driving range is restricted by the power in your battery — and the way you drive. Rapid acceleration and airconditioning burn more energy.

There's no petrol engine to fall back on if you run out of power, leading to so-called ''range anxiety'', or the fear of running out of power. Nissan says the Leaf has a maximum driving range of 160kilometres but, in reality, it's closer to 100.

You also need to upgrade to a 15-amp socket (a $300 installation) to recharge the Leaf at home or work, which can take up to eight hours. In practice, Nissan estimates recharge times will be closer to half that, given most drivers will only need a top-up.

Unlike the i-MiEV (which was adapted to accommodate electric power), the Leaf was designed from the ground up to exist purely as an electric vehicle.

That explains the quirky styling, with prominent LED tail-lights and bulging headlights to help build a slippery profile.

About the same size as a Toyota Corolla hatch, the Leaf is more family-friendly than the tiny Mitsubishi i-MiEV and has similar occupant space to the Prius. (The Leaf and Prius seat five, the i-MiEV and Volt four.)

The interior decor is light and its presentation, despite hard-touch plastics, gives it a sense of being a premium car (although it was the one member of the trio without steering-reach adjustment and has manual seating adjustment).

Press the starter button, which looks like the ''on'' symbol for a laptop computer, and the split dash lights up with an overwhelming array of information.

A digital speedo sits above a second instrument pod that shows information about the status of the car, including that vital range indicator. It's especially important to us today, as Nissan forgot to put a recharging lead in the boot.

The oversight highlights the Leaf's biggest problem in the eyes of many: everyone is immediately anxious about how quickly the fully charged Leaf battery will run down, as we are moving the car in short, sharp, energy-sapping bursts as we set up for photography while frequently calling on the airconditioning to counter the day's 35-degree heat.

Conveniently, the Leaf has a small roof-mounted solar panel to trickle-charge the conventional 12-volt battery that powers all electrical components other than the electric motor.

Instead of a normal gearshift for the single-speed gearbox, the Leaf uses a computer mouse-like device that fits in the palm of the hand. It looks good but the guide showing how to operate the gear selector is easily obscured by your arm.

Release the electric parking brake and the Leaf instantly feels extremely responsive to the throttle. But is it too much power?

The front wheels struggle to get the power down evenly and tug at the steering wheel as they follow the contour of the road.

In a straight-line drag from a standstill to 100km/h, the Leaf leaves the opposition in its wake by almost three car lengths.

Unfortunately, the Leaf's ability to handle the lumps and bumps of the road does not match its above-average acceleration. While it corners well, showing slightly less body roll than the Prius, the front end reacts poorly to sharp bumps, while the rear floats nervously over the bigger ones.

The steering is almost too soft and the vague brake pedal snatches suddenly when the regenerative braking system kicks in.

Inside, however, the Leaf's interior is the quietest on test, so much so you can hear the motor whine as the car accelerates.

Adding passengers blunts the Leaf's performance, sapping much of the straight-line speed we experience while driving solo. At least the ride settles down slightly when there are four on board.

While the interior is relatively roomy, cargo space is restricted. The rear seats split-fold to open up the shallow boot space but a large tunnel between the wheel wells means there's no flat space for boxes and larger items.

At the end of our testing, the Leaf still has an indicated 60kilometres of range left. Our range anxiety, then, is unfounded.

Vital statistics
How much? From $51,500 plus on-road and dealer costs (on sale in July)
Engine Electric motor
Power 80kW at 2730rpm
Torque 280Nm from idle
Transmission Single-speed reduction gearbox, FWD
Weight 1525kg
Recharging time About 7hours normal charge, 30minutes rapid recharge
Estimated range 160km

Holden Volt

Please excuse the black tape covering the Chevrolet badge on the steering wheel that sits on the left-hand-side of the car. Clearly, this is not really a Holden Volt.

The first right-hand-drive version of General Motors' extended-range electric car — which the industry has dubbed a plug-in hybrid — is a while away.

We tested a rebadged Chevrolet Volt that, apart from the steering wheel being on the wrong side for this country, is close to what we'll see in Holden showrooms at the end of the year.

Holden is yet to announce prices publicly but it has told dealers the Volt will cost $59,990 (plus costs) — triple the price of similar-size petrol-powered cars.

Holden argues the Volt is two cars in one: an electric car most of the time and a petrol car if you need to travel long distances.

As with the Prius, the Volt has a petrol and an electric motor under the bonnet. That's where the similarities end.

The Volt's front wheels are driven by an electric motor powered by a T-shaped battery pack that sits in the centre of the car. The battery is charged by an on-board generator, which is powered by a conventional four-cylinder petrol engine.

It sounds confusing — and GM has been ridiculed for using petrol to ultimately power an electric motor — but it is a genius arrangement that won't leave you stranded.

Holden says the Volt can drive about 64kilometres on battery power alone and another 400kilometres when the petrol motor is used. The car can be recharged from empty in four hours via a regular household socket but recommends upgrading to the costlier 15-amp point for regular use.

On the road, the petrol motor kicks in under hard acceleration to make sure the battery stays charged.

In North America, tracking data has shown about two-thirds of Volt owners never use petrol, which indicates GM might have the formula right.

The downside is this safety net — and all this technology — make the Volt heavy. Two motors and a massive battery pack push the Volt's weight to 1715kilograms — that's heavier than a Commodore. In comparison, the Leaf weighs 1525 kilograms and the Prius is a relatively lithe 1420 kilograms.

Still, as our sprint to 100km/h shows, it's faster away from the traffic lights than the Prius. It handles quite well, too, although with some tyre squeal even at moderate speeds.

The steering has decent feel and the Volt exhibits the least amount of body roll among this trio.

However, like its counterparts, sharp bumps can upset the Volt. On some occasions it sounds as if the front suspension has run out of travel.

At least GM appears to have brake feel sorted, with the Volt transmitting a more conventional pedal than the other cars here. There's only a slight shudder as the electric motor switches into generator mode and leeches energy that helps recharge the battery pack.

When accelerating hard, the petrol motor sounds much like a stuck-on throttle as it holds revs at optimal recharging speeds. The Volt has more road roar and suspension murmur than the Leaf but is quieter than the Prius.

Inside, dark plastics are offset with light-coloured and chrome highlights. A flowing, white centre console sweeps down from the dash and cascades to a lidded storage bin splitting the rear seats.

There's no centre rear seat — the Volt is a four-seater — however, all four pews are clad in well-bolstered leather.

Its equipment level closely follows the Prius, although the Volt adds an electronic park brake.

The console is a work of art for its simplicity. There are two dials and no buttons, only touch-sensitive areas that work all the controls.

While it looks the part, attempting to make adjustments while on the move is a disconcerting, slightly distracting look-stab-and-hope affair.

As with the Leaf, a confusingly diverse array of information is shown in front of the driver. A sliding orb to the right shows if the Volt is using or producing electricity, while you are also presented with information including speed, the state of the batteries, fuel use, range and what is happening with the engine.

If that is not enough, even more detailed information is available on the larger, central-mounted LED screen, which doubles as a sat-nav unit.

The big blue start button is easy to spot and the electric park brake is handy but the large, chunky gearshift lever is a little out of place. There are no markings to see what direction you're about to launch in unless you double-check the small ''PRNDL'' lettering in the instrument cluster.

Rear-seat passengers have clones of the front seats, which means they are equally well-bolstered and comfortable.

However, the Volt's roof sweeps sharply downwards at the rear, severely eating into headroom, and the long rear window exposes heads and necks Australia's harsh sun.Unlike with the Leaf, adding passengers doesn't seem to blunt the Volt's performance, with crisp acceleration from a standing start.

So GM has indeed reinvented the electric car. Now it needs to make it more affordable.

Vital statistics
How much? Estimated from $59,990 plus on-road and dealer costs (on sale late this year)
Engine Electric motor, 1.4L 4-cyl petrol engine working as a generator (premium unleaded)
Power 111kW at 4800rpm
Torque 273Nm from idle
Transmission Single-speed reduction gearbox, FWD
Fuel use and emissions Estimated 1.2L/100km and 27g/km CO2
Weight 1715kg
Recharging time About 6hours to 8hours normal charge, 30minutes rapid rechargeEstimated range 500km (60km full electric, 35L tank)
The verdict

This technology is not about to replace everyday cars just yet. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars will continue to be niche vehicles for at least the next decade.They are intended to further develop fuel-saving technology and, in the meantime, appease the conscience of cashed-up buyers.

The Prius's ace is its affordability, dependability and relative simplicity, although it would benefit from greater petrol-free driving range.

The Leaf is further proof electric cars can have spirited performance, if you're prepared to make the leap of faith between recharging points (and live with the Leaf's ho-hum dynamics).The Volt plug-in hybrid addresses the range-anxiety issue but its encroaching roofline may limit its everyday versatility.

No car here, then, is perfect. But they are a worthwhile insight into what we can expect in future.

The conventional car has had 120 or so years to evolve. Imagine where we'll be in another 120.
With Joshua Dowling
But wait, there's more

More electric cars are just around the corner, including the Renault Fluence ZE (inset), which can swap a depleted battery in the same time it takes to refuel a car with petrol. Several Australian distributors are looking to import cheap Chinese electric cars and Melbourne-based EV Engineering hopes to have battery-powered Holden Commodores on our roads this year.

False starters

One of the more interesting things our back-to-back comparison revealed was the different ways each car let the driver know it is ready to go.

All three cars have start buttons and even the default position of the Prius is full electric mode, which it can travel in at low speeds for a couple of kilometres.

When you press the start button, though, the only thing that indicates thePrius is ready to roll, other than the dash lighting up with a small ''ready'', is asingle generic ''beep'' that is shared with other car functions such as the reversing indicator.

Quite a few times I caught myself doing a double-take to make sure I had started the car after the beep was lost in the other background noise.

The Leaf's starting sequence has a strong Japanese influence. Press the button and, as the dash lights up, there's a swirl of music, much like a video game, that swells up from the dash to indicate all is good.

And then there's the Volt. It, too, uses a computer-game audio cue once the start button is pressed but it sounds more like a Duke Nukem power-up, a sort of rising ''bwooop''. Press the button again to switch the car off and you get the reverse of that sound as the Volt powers down.

28 JANUARY 2012

Article in The Age newspaper:

Hybrid heroes on the nose

By Matt Campbell

Only 822 units of the Toyota Prius were sold in Australia this year.

Aussie buyers continue to shun high-tech fuel misers.

Politicians may be calling for Australian brands to build electric cars but sales figures suggest if they build them, no one will come.

While car companies around the world are making fuel efficiency a priority, Australians continue to shun hybrid and electric cars in preference for larger soft-roaders and cars with more powerful engines. Even some of the best-selling small cars in Australia - including many Mazda3s - aren't that fuel-efficient.

Despite a wave of publicity, the stratospheric prices of electric cars (the cheapest is the modest Mitsubishi i-MiEV city hatchback, selling from $48,800 plus costs) continue to scare off all but publicity-hungry companies and governments.

According to figures supplied by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, only 49 electric cars were sold last year in a market that topped 1 million for the fourth time. That represents market share of 0.005 per cent.

Despite more new models, sales of hybrid cars dropped 9.9 per cent last year. For the year, hybrids made up just 0.87 per cent of all car sales, a slip from 0.94 per cent in 2010.The drop mirrors a worldwide slide in hybrid car sales, partly due to production cuts affecting the world's biggest-selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius, after last year's Japanese earthquake.

Sales of the Prius in Australia fell by 49 per cent in 2011, with just 822 vehicles sold. Combining Prius with the locally built Hybrid Camry, Toyota Australia sold 6026 petrol-electric vehicles in 2011 - well short of its prediction it would sell more than 10,000 hybrids.

Toyota Australia spokesman Mike Breen says the brand has higher expectations of the next Hybrid Camry due in March but admits buyers need to learn that just because it's a hybrid car does not mean it's a niche vehicle.

''We've really got to get hybrid [cars] to a point where it's just a normal car,'' Breen says.''I think it's still a matter of educating the public on what hybrid technology really means for them.

''I think you'll see that turn around in the next couple of years overall.''

Industry experts say unfounded concerns about battery life linger, despite hybrids being on sale here for more than 10 years.

Several new hybrid models are due to arrive soon: Toyota's Yaris-size Prius C city car will arrive in March and should become Australia's cheapest hybrid (from about $25,000), while a wagon-style seven-seater known as the Prius V should arrive mid-year, boasting a bigger boot and two extra seats.

Mercedes-Benz is expected to bring a hybrid version of the E-Class to Australia, possibly next year, while BMW will launch the petrol-electric 5-Series ActiveHybrid this year.

3 FEBRUARY 2012

Article from The Age newspaper:

Leading the charge around Nurburgring

Steve Colquhoun
Leading the charge around Nurburgring

Metropolia Electric RaceAbout, known as the E-RA.

Think about electric cars and visions of the toy-like Mitsubishi i-MiEV spring to mind, or perhaps the city-focused Chevrolet/Holden Volt or Nissan Leaf hatchbacks that will hit Australian roads this year.

The Metropolia Electric RaceAbout is different. A genuine sports car more in the mould of the electric-powered Tesla Roadster, it has lapped the fearsome 21-kilometre-long Nordschleife circuit at the Nurburgring in less than nine minutes to set a record for road-legal electric-powered cars.

The E-RA, as it is known, was driven by German racing driver Ralf Kelleners and crossed the finishing line in 8 minutes, 42.72 seconds. It hit 238km/h during the record lap and averaged 142km/h while consuming 25.6kWh of electricity.

The prototype is the brainchild of Finnish engineering students from the Helsinki-based Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. Twenty-five students and two faculty members built the car from a clean sheet, with assistance from students at Lahti University's renowned Institute of Design.

Its body is made from lightweight carbon-fibre composite fitted to a high-strength steel subframe. It is designed to compensate for the weight of its lithium-titanate battery pack, which comprises 550 kilograms of the car's 1700-kilogram kerb weight.

Four motors - one at each of the wheels - can produce imposing peaks of up to 330kW of power and 3200Nm of torque, and continuous power of 200kW and 1000Nm. During Kelleners' lap the car averaged 160kW with no sign of overheating problems in the motors or battery pack.

Its designers say the E-RA can travel up to 200 kilometres from a single charge and can be recharged in about 10 minutes.

It also competed last year in the e-miglia Rally from Munich to St Moritz, which takes into account both speed and energy use. The Finnish team finished ninth out of 31 electric cars after being slugged with a 40-minute penalty when they exceeded a stage control time by getting stuck in a traffic jam.

However, the E-RA won the Battery Electric Rally in Berlin at last year's Challenge Bibendum event and took home a trophy for the best design and vehicle concept for prototypes from non-manufacturers.

3 FEBRUARY 2012

Article from The Age newspaper:

Quick spin: Mitsubishi i-MiEV

By Stephen Ottley
Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

From $48,800 plus on-road and dealer costs. Electric motor, 49kW, 180Nm, one-speed auto.

What does it say about me?

That you want to save the world (at least in your mind) and you don't care how much it costs.

Or you must have the latest technology and you don't care how much it costs.

What doesn't it say about me?

That you expect a lot of car for a lot of money. And that you need to use your car a lot.

Who else is buying it?

Not that many people, actually. Mitsubishi sold 30 last year and it seems most have gone to governments or businesses that can afford to spend almost $50,000 on a tiny city car.

What colours does it come in?

There are six regular colours from which to choose but most owners seem to prefer covering them with their company logos.

If it were a movie star, who would it be?

R2-D2. Small and plucky but will be superseded by something better looking and more practical.

Why would I buy it?

Because you want the only pure electric car from a big manufacturer currently on sale in Australia. And because it's pure electric, you'll never have to stop at a service station again; unless you want to buy overpriced chocolate bars.

Will it let me down?

It's hard to say. It's still early days, so no one really knows how it will perform after a few years in Australian conditions.

Does it cost too much?

Heck yeah! It is a tiny city car, light on equipment and likely to be replaced by something better and cheaper in the not-too-distant future. Or, to put it this way, here is a list of cars that are cheaper: Audi A3 2.0 TDI; BMW 118d; Lexus CT 200h; Mini Countryman D ALL4; Volvo S40 T5 R-Design; Mazda MX-5; Volkswagen Scirocco R; Toyota Camry Hybrid and Holden Calais.

Will I get a deal?

Nope. Mitsubishi is only getting enough cars to fulfil solid orders.

Is it safe?

The electric powertrain is relatively safe but the same can't be said of the rest of the car. Being such a small car, you don't feel safe amid the flock of heavy-duty soft-roaders on the road. ANCAP highlighted deficiencies in driver protection in both the frontal offset and side-impact tests. It scored four stars.

Will it get me noticed?

Yeah, the futuristic (if a little Noddy car) looks and silent running make it stand out from the rest of the traffic.

Any gadgets I can brag about?

You mean aside from the electric powertrain? In a word, no. It's light on in the luxury department, with only a Bluetooth-equipped stereo to drown out the whirring motor.

Will I get carjacked in it?

No, it's very unlikely a thief is looking for one of these.

How's the cabin ambience?

Basic. The seats are flat and the trim feels plain. There are no steering wheel-mounted buttons (or even adjustment), no fancy dash or even a reversing camera (it is the only Mitsubishi passenger car that lacks one).

What's the stereo like?

It has a colour touchscreen but it's hardly state of the art. At least it doesn't have to compete with a noisy engine.

Does it go?

It actually has surprisingly good pick-up. There may be no noise but speed builds rapidly enough to keep up with the traffic. Compared with some petrol-powered city cars, it feels stronger off the mark.

Does it like corners?

It changes direction well enough but you do notice the weight of the batteries, which makes it feel a little less agile than a traditional city car. You also need to adapt to the regenerative braking system. As soon as you take your foot off the accelerator, the car slows dramatically, rather than coasting. It's not a radical change but you do need to get used to it.

What about service stations?

You'll need to put one in your garage, or at least a 15-amp power point. Charging from empty will take seven hours, so that needs to be factored into your daily life.

Would you buy one?

If I was the type of person who runs out and buys the latest technology as soon as it hits the shops I would. But I don't like the idea of buying a $10,000 plasma TV and seeing a better one six months later for less than half the price. With the Nissan Leaf and, to a lesser degree, the hybrid Holden Volt arriving this year, the i-MiEV is already looking outdated.

The spin

"This is the first time in Australia's history that environmentally aware citizens will be able to purchase their very own zero drive-time emission, mass-produced fully electric vehicle."

The translation

If you really love the planet, you'll spend a huge amount of money on a tiny car.

23 MARCH 2012

Article from The Age newspaper's Drive supplement:

Electric shock: Living with an electric car

March 23, 2012

Mitsubishi's i-MiEV is one very expensive electric city car...

Despite the stress, the little i-MiEV has sparked Steve Colquhoun's interest in battery-powered cars.

Driving an electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV to work this week may well have spared the lives of a couple of trees somewhere on this blue-green planet, but if you chopped me down instead, you'd probably find some extra rings that weren't there the day before.

Few experiences have done more to spike my blood pressure or turn my hair grey - sorry, greyer - than taking an electric car home for the first time.

I live 75 kilometres from my office. That sounds like a doddle for a car with an official range of 160 kilometres, although anecdotal real-world evidence suggests 120 kilometres is closer to the mark. Even so, I slide the Mitsubishi's old-fashioned fixed key - not even a folding jobbie, disappointingly - into my pocket without a second thought.

Click for more photos Electric Shock - The i-MiEV in actionThe i-MiEV in action.

Disconnecting the i-MiEV's special power plug from the 15-amp plug we've had specially fitted in our office garage for just this day, I throw the plug and cable in the boot. I'm pretty sure I'll need to use it at home, to make sure I can do the return trip.

As I slide behind the wheel for the first time and turn the key, there's a loud beep, then silence, with an illuminated ''ready'' lamp the only clue I'm good to go.

Before slotting the automatic gear lever into ''drive'', I cycle through the rudimentary trip computer to find a page showing the car's estimated range.

At full charge it appears I've got a total of 133 kilometres at my disposal. It's not the 160 I'd hoped for, but a quick calculation indicates I've still got an almost 60-kilometre buffer up my sleeve to make it home. Easy-peasy.

The first couple of kilometres of my trip pass uneventfully, as I savour the sounds of silence from beneath the bonnet and settle into the car's unique rhythm. With a single-speed gearbox, it's a bit like driving a golf cart, although as soon as you step off the accelerator the i-MiEV immediately washes off speed rather than coasting, as most cars do.

Nosing onto the freeway and gently accelerating up to 100km/h, I glance at the range indicator. Uh-oh. It's not so much dropping as plummeting, shedding a kilometre from the range indicator for every 600 metres I travel.

It's at this point - with 70 kilometres still to travel and the range indicator ticking down at this alarming, inexorable pace - that I realise I may have bitten off more than the diminutive i-MiEV can chew.

Pulse suddenly racing, I snap the radio off and double-check that the airconditioning is shut down. I curse a couple of energy-sapping quick takeoffs I'd done a few minutes previously, committed in a parallel universe of ignorant bliss.

In the space of moments I transform into a hypermiler - those people who go to utterly ridiculous lengths to squeeze the absolute maximum range from a car's fuel tank, stripping down to their underwear to reduce weight and never using more than about 10 per cent of the engine's power.

It's a consuming occupation, feathering the accelerator pedal and intently watching a power-use gauge mounted in the dashboard in a desperate bid to keep the needle to the left of centre where it teeters over a smug green ''eco'' indicator - well away from the energy-sapping ''power'' indication on the far right.

However, take your foot off the accelerator or press the brake and the needle veers left into a blue ''charge'' section. And, joy of joys, the battery-range indicator pauses for a moment and then actually adds a kilometre. Yes, adds! This is uncharted territory; I've never before driven a car where the fuel needle goes any way but down.

It's in that brief moment that a light bulb switches on somewhere in the dark recesses of my skull. For the first time it's clear to me - in a practical sense, rather than a theoretical one - that electric cars actually make sense. Although not strictly in the way I'm intending to use this one.

By now we've cleared the city fringe congestion and its now-welcome braking opportunities, and there's nothing but unfettered freeway for another 50 kilometres. The range indicator has dived into double figures and battery life is once again melting away like an ice-cream left in the sun.

With no cruise control fitted to the i-MiEV, I'm super-vigilant for the rest of the trip, modulating my throttle with care and maintaining the most constant speed I can on the long, straight, flat, boring road home that I typically curse but today is my best friend.

Painfully aware of a stout headwind that's buffeting the tiny car, costing more of my precious electricity, I even try drafting a few trucks, allowing them to punch a hole in the air for me to follow.

To do it properly, though, I need to get in too close behind them for comfort or safety. I'd still rather run out of juice than end up smeared across the back of one of these behemoths.After what seems like a tension-packed eternity my home town finally comes into view and - oh, joy - there's still 31 kilometres on the indicator. I pray it's accurate and that the 10 kilometres of stop-start traffic I still have to negotiate will play to the i-MiEV's regenerative strengths. It does.

I finally pull into my driveway with an indicated 27 kilometres of range left, relieved and exhilarated in equal measures.

Using a 15-amp adaptor lead supplied by my friendly sparky, I pull out the i-MiEV's hefty charge lead and plug in, sanguine in the knowledge that 133 kilometres of range will comfortably get me to work the next day.

Except that's not exactly how it turns out.

In the morning the lights on the charge lead show the i-MiEV has taken its full measure of lightning juice, yet the range indicator shows I now have just 110 kilometres to get to the next plug, in the work garage. For reasons unclear, the little Mitsu has taken a short fill.

Today, of all days.

My schoolboy maths is copping another workout. I started with 133 kilometres the day before and ended with 27 kilometres, making 106 kilometres the magic number and four kilometres my theoretical buffer. But this morning I also have two children to drop off at school before I can hit the highway. Hello high blood pressure, my old friend.

As I negotiate school traffic in a hilly part of town, the range falls to 104 kilometres, so I drop the transmission from ''drive'' into ''braking'' mode, which ratchets up energy regeneration in stop-start traffic and hilly going in return for dulled responsiveness.

The change is immediate - my range quickly rebounds to 110 kilometres, then winds all the way up to 117 kilometres in 80km/h stop-start conditions before the i-MiEV hits the highway proper.

That light in the back of my brain is on again and this time it's a shining beacon. I finally understand what this car is capable of and I like it.

The rest of the drive is tense but bearable because it's quickly apparent that a tailwind means I'm getting about 700 metres to 800 metres each indicated kilometre of range, rather than yesterday's 600 metres.

I drive into the work garage with 44 kilometres still showing on the range indicator. It's a good result for my 75-kilometre journey, given I started with 110 kilometres on the clock. It's worth noting, though, that both trips were completed without aircon, radio, headlights or any other battery-draining mod cons. A hot day, or a cold night, would be a far sterner test.Range anxiety, as both I and my doctor can now attest, is a very real beast. The flip side, though, is a tangible feel-good factor and engrossing involvement that could easily become addictive.

I passed about 10 petrol stations during my i-MiEV experience and the first few - in my anxiety-addled mind - gave me pause to consider that they could no longer help me. I was on my own out there until I could reach the next electric plug.

Several more, though, were an opportunity to mentally thumb my nose at the fossil-fuel reliance with which we've all grown up.

The i-MiEV, while fascinating and illuminating, is far from the perfect car. It's extremely expensive ($48,800 plus on-road costs) for a tiny four-seat hatchback with rudimentary dynamics and the comfort and equipment levels of cars half its price.

But it's the first of many fuel-free cars that will hit the market here and consequently deserves kudos as a trailblazer.

Clearly the i-MiEV and other similarly conceived electric cars aren't designed to travel inter-city distances, but the fact that this one did - with the caveat of severe restrictions on driving style and comfort - points to a bright future as the technology develops and range limitations (and anxieties) are gradually lifted.

6 APRIL 2012

THis article is from Care2 by email:

Norway Leads The Way on Electric Cars (Video)

By Paul Canning
April 6, 2012

Despite gaining its wealth from oil, Norway has staked its future elsewhere. In alternative transport, it’s now the world center for electric cars. Per capita, it has the most in the world, with 4,000 now running around its capital, Oslo.

In small cars, electric models now outsell all others, but new models are appearing for sale in every car type, including sports cars.

The cars get free parking, can use bus lanes and avoid congestion charges, so these incentives are driving ownership. As is, as one new owner told AFP, that although they are more expensive to buy they are much less expensive to run.

A typical range is 150 miles and that costs around $2.90 in Norway for an overnight charge.Because battery life suffers in Norway’s winter, they’re developing a national network of charging stands where a “fill up” takes about 20 minutes.

Norway has a carbon dioxide emissions reduction target of 30 percent by 2020.

“The electric car is a very important tool for that, knowing that 40 percent of our emissions come from the transport sector and 60 percent of those come from road transport,” Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa told AFP.

Other governments are throwing their weight behind encouraging electric car use as well. British Colombia in Canada just announced it will build 120 electric-car charging stations.As of April 2011, 15 European Union member states provide economic incentives for the purchase of new electrically chargeable vehicles, which consist of tax reductions and exemptions, as well as of bonus payments for buyers of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles and some alternative fuel vehicles.

The U.S. offers a federal income tax credit up to US $7,500, and 26 states have additional incentives. The incentives were first put in place by former President Bush. President George H. W. Bush just this past week bought a Chevy Volt for his son Neil. Unfortunately, 2012 Republicans continue to demonize the technology.

Watch AFP report on electric cars in Oslo:


11 MAY 2012

Smart ForTwo Electric Drive:

review
By Paul Gover
From Carsguide
You wouldn't want to be on the receiving end if someone in a Toyota LandCruiser made a mistake.

Paul Gover road tests and reviews the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive in Germany

The car fairies come to visit me this week as I sleep in Stuttgart, not far from the birthplace of the automobile more than 125 years ago. While I am catching some shut-eye, they wave fairy dust over the Smart ForTwo I have parked in the hotel garage. Or so it seems.

• Related Coverage• Smart Fortwo electric car may miss Australia• Smart Fortwo orange popette• smart fortwo: review• Nissan Micra ST: review• Holden Barina Spark: review•

As I jump back into the tiny Smart, preparing to battle the commuter traffic on a run to Daimler central just outside of town, I glance down at the fuel gauge and I'm stunned for a just second to see it is magically back on the full mark.

I don't recall a petrol station. But then I do remember this is not just an ordinary Smart, and I had better disconnect its electrical umbilical cord before selecting Drive.

VALUE

This car is a Smart ForTwo Electric Drive and it's part of an evaluation fleet of more than 1000 cars racking up kilometres and experience across Europe. The first of the fleet hit the road in London in 2007 and have been followed by cars in a range of big cities as far apart as The Netherlands and home base in Germany.

The plug-in Smart is now in its second generation - with a third to come later this year - and Daimler says production has topped 2000 cars for destinations in 18 countries. The first real-world electric car from the Daimler family is promised for Australia, but the final details - on-sale date and the crucial price - are still unknown.

"It's under evaluation. We're looking to bring a small number in initially, to trial them in our driving conditions," says David McCarthy, speaking for Mercedes-Benz.

"The big stumbling point is the price at this point. It's probably going to be pretty close to $30,000. It will be at least a 50 per cent premium on the petrol car."

But what is known is that, unless owners have a solar array on the roof, the vast majority of these Smarts will be running on coal-fired electricity and that's not so smart. Still, Benz is pushing ahead with a potential plan that would make it the third all-electric car in Australia, after the tiny and tinny Mitsubishi iMiEV and the impressive Nissan Leaf.

"Hopefully in the next month or so we'll have a decision. We've got a bit of interest but we deliberately haven't talked about it until we've driven the car in local conditions," says McCarthy.

TECHNOLOGY

The ForTwo is an ideal subject for electrification. In fact, when the tiny city car was born in the 1980s - as the Swatchmobile, an idea from Swatch boss Nicolas Hayek - it was originally intended to be a plug-in battery car.

Things changed and by the time it hit the road in 1998 it had gone petrol, and today's ForTwo is still motivated by a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine in the tail that produces 52 kiloWatts with claimed economy of 4.7 litres/100km.

The switch to the latest ED package puts a lithium-ion power pack, sourced from Tesla, into the car together with an electric motor good for 20kW in constant running, and 30 at peak. The maximum speed is 100km/h, acceleration takes 6.5 seconds to 60km/h and the range is a claimed 100 kilometres.

But when ED3 arrives this year, a new battery and other changes will mean 35kW - and a petrol-rivalling 50 at pen - a top speed of 120km/h, 0-60km/h in five seconds and a range better than 135 kilometres.

DESIGN

The design of the SmartTwo is much as it's always been - short, stumpy and very different. That difference has not worked well in Australia, where parking is not as precious as it is in Paris or London or Rome. But some people like the idea of a two-seater city runabout and the Smart delivers with a look that is unique.

The Smart ED - for Electric Drive - has alloy wheels and is nicely fitted out in the cabin, with two dash-top gauges - they stick up like crab's eyes - to measure battery life and current power use. The plug-in cable is nicely integrated into the bottom half of the rear hatch, which splits with a glass upper for easy access, and the plug-in point is tucked into what would normally be the filler for the fuel tank.

SAFETY

The latest Smart is a four-star car in Europe, but that's not the ED. So it's hard to know exactly how it will go, despite Daimler promises that it will be as good as the regular car.

It comes with ESP and ABS, as you'd expect, and safety has always been a priority - with massive changes to everything from the suspension to the weight balance even before the first car was sold. But it's still a tiny car and you wouldn't want to be on the receiving end if someone in a Toyota LandCruiser made a mistake.

DRIVING

I have driven a bunch of electric cars and the Smart ED is one of the nicest, and most relevant as a green city runner. It's never going to rival a Falcon at the lights, or have the carrying power of a Commodore, but it answers the needs of a lot of people who are now even looking at scooters for inner-city chores and trips.

The Smart feels way, way more solid than the iMiEV, while the price will easily undercut the Leaf. But, there are a bunch of buts.

Any Smart car makes a lot of sense in Europe, where roads are crowed and parking is tight, and the electric car is even smarter because it is zero emission when running. But even the worse of Sydney and Melbourne traffic is no match for Paris at peak time.

The Smart ED is also slow. Very slow. It gets away ok, and is fine up to about 50km/h, but then it battles to add pace and tops out at a GPS-measured 101km/h.

I have not driven a car so tardy as my original 1959 Volkswagen Beetle, which means you have to be thinking all the time about maintaining momentum and keeping out of the way of quicker traffic. The Smart is alright on a highway, but hills are a challenge and you really need to keep an eye on the mirrors.

Stil, it's a fun car. And a very green car. It's also feels more substantial than I remember from earlier ForTwo runs, rides well and has good brakes and handling for the size and pace of the car.

The electric systems are totally inconspicuous and cause almost zero fuss - although the plug-in cable could get dirty if you don't have an enclosed garage or charging spot. My German car comes without onboard satnav, which should be standard to help with locating charge points.

And that's the only remaining question. It's extremely easy to plug the Smart ED into a regular socket, and an overnight charge is no drama, but there are still doubts about range.The car easily lasts for 80 kilometres in Germany despite lots of full-throttle work, with the dial still showing half a charge on the 16 kiloWatt-hour battery, and the fairy visit means it's ready for more than another 80 the following morning. It's tough to know until I get a Smart ED home, but it's a car I like and - even at $32,000 - it could be a good thing for Australia.

VERDICT

A great way to get around in Europe with potential for solid support down under.

At a glance
Score: 7/10
Smart Electric Drive
Price: estimated $32-35,000
Engine: AC permanent magnet synchronous electric
Transmission: single speed, RWD
Body: two-door coupe
Body: 2.69m (L); 1.55m (w); 1.45 (h)
Weight: 975kg

17 MAY 2012

Article in The Age:

Volt! Who goes there? It's a current Holden, and you just charge it

Steve Colquhoun

Greg Combet at yesterday’s launch of the Holden Volt. Photo: John Woudstra

IN THE 2006 US film Who Killed the Electric Car?, oil companies and car makers were named as the guilty parties in California's ill-fated attempt in the 1990s to foster zero-emission vehicles.

The federal Industry, Innovation, Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Minister, Greg Combet, is adamant that the government will not star in a local remake.

Holden, Nissan and Renault will all launch cars this year that can drive solely on power derived from the electricity grid. Holden yesterday announced it would pair with a charging station supplier, ChargePoint, to supply the infrastructure it needs to launch its first electric car, the Volt, later this year.

It unveiled its first public charging station outside its Port Melbourne headquarters, which will use certified ''green'' power supplied by Origin Energy.

Mr Combet said that at current prices it would cost about $2.50 to fully charge the Volt for its maximum all-electric range of 80 kilometres. It has a total range of 600 kilometres with power generated by a petrol-powered engine, and that cost would not change significantly under new electricity pricing.

''It's still a bit cheaper than a visit to the petrol station,'' he said. ''It's a modest rise in electricity prices, although I understand people's concerns about that, but the important thing is that we begin to change our energy generation system towards a greater contribution by renewable energy.

''This is a car that can operate on 100 per cent renewable energy. ''You can charge your car here and drive it using renewable energy, and the carbon price assists in all that.''

ChargePoint's chief executive, James Brown, predicted that the electric vehicles arriving this year would signal ''a paradigm shift'' in attitudes to cars.

The company has 15 publicly accessible charging stations established in Victoria, while other companies are also gearing up for recharging networks for the arrival this year of such models as the Volt, Nissan Leaf and Renault Fluence ZE.

''Refuelling your car will become synonymous with parking your car,'' he said.

''There will be no need for that discreet journey to the petrol station.

''All of a sudden people are starting to see the need for these and realise it's not just a charging station, it's a point customer of interest, it's a point of reducing your costs.''

15 JUNE 2012

How Saab Went From Filing For Bankruptcy To Producing Only Electric Cars

by Climate Progress
• June 15, 2012
Written by Max Frankel

Saab, the Swedish automaker left for dead after being jettisoned by General Motors in 2010, has been purchased by National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS). The company plans to turn Saab into an electrical vehicle maker.

NEVS is owned by Kai Johan Jiang a Chinese entrepreneur educated in Sweden, and Sun Investments, a Japanese company. The plan, according to NEVS is to “meld Swedish car design and manufacturing know-how with Japanese electric vehicle technology to promote premium electric vehicles in China.”

The goal, according to comments made Wednesday at the announcement of the purchase, is to design an electric vehicle for sale in China based on the existing Saab 9-3 small sedan platform using Japanese-made batteries. The car would go on sale in late 2013 or early 2014. Meanwhile, a team of roughly 200 designers — far fewer than the 3,000 employees Saab employed until recently — would be working in Trollhatan, Sweden, site of the Saab factory, on an entirely new vehicle.

Some analysts have questioned the acquisition, particularly the use of the 9-3 as the model for the first electric car:

“Because of the challenges of battery capacity, most electric cars were small and designed for city driving, while the Saab 9-3 was a midsize car, something that could leave it with a short driving range in its usual environment.”

But the shift for Saab is an illustration of the broad changes that car companies are being forced to make.

The road to becoming a Swedish-designed, Japanese-outfitted, Chinese-distributed electric car manufacturer has been a long one for Saab. The company was started during World War II as an airplane manufacturer, with the the automobile division branching out after the war. Over the next few decades, Saab developed a steady and devoted following, particularly for its 900 and 9000 lines. In 1989, after a disappointing roll out of the 9000, General Motors purchased a 50% stake in the company. In, 2000, GM purchased the other 50%, thus making Saab a wholly owned subsidiary.

In late 2011, Saab filed for bankruptcy. Although there were rumors about possible interested buyers, it seemed like the end for Saab. In it way it was. After the recent acquisition by NEVS, Saab will never be the traditional car manufacturer it once was — and it may never even come to the United States again.

However, this possible loss for die-hard Saab enthusiasts is a big gain for environmental advocates. With Saab now only supporting electric vehicles, its brand could help boost prospects for the technology.

Though the market for EVs in China is still small, NEVS hopes the addition of state-of-the-art Japanese electronics and battery technology — in addition to the power of Saab’s brand — will help give the project wheels.

This post was originally published by Climate Progress with permission.

13 JULY 2012

Posted in Carsguide 13 July 2012:

BMW ActiveE: first drive review

By Paul Gover
• 10 July 2012

The electric car is not dead and, in fact, it's accelerating rapidly towards a driveway near you.

Electric cars are nothing in Australia.

Less than a handful are in showrooms, and not much more than a handful have been sold, although that's going to change.

Eventually it will change fast as governments force the pace of plug-in development in a push for greener motoring, a switch that is already happening in Europe and gathering momentum in the USA.

Some forecasters predict electric cars will account for 10 per cent of global sales in 2020 and others are even more aggressive, with Tesla Motors chief Elon Musk predicting a 50 per cent share as he pushes for acceptance of his new Model S luxury electric limousine.

But Europe is still the focus of electric car development and no-one is pushing harder than BMW, which is even creating an electric sub-brand - BMW i - to house its plug-in and range-extender electric models in coming years.

The first of the sparky newcomers, the i3, is just around the corner and testing is currently focussed on a fleet of 900 very special BMW 1-Series cars that carry the power pack that will be transplanted next year into the back of the i3.

I am driving the ActiveE in an Australian exclusive, searching for answers around BMW HQ in Munich but also keen to see if electric cars - following my drive time with the Nissan Leaf and, more recently, the Smart ED - really can be a workable and enjoyable future.

VALUE

How do you put a price on the future? You cannot actually buy an ActiveE but, if you could, it would probably have a showroom sticker somewhere around $250,000.

Why? Because the basics of the car are a BMW 1 Series coupe and, in Australia, that means at least $47,400. By the time the engineers and assembly line workers have done their regular jobs, and then the boffins have completed the switch to sparks, the price has soared into the labratory-on-wheels range where cost is not a major worry.

"It would be expensive still, clearly, because it's prototype development," admits Ian Robertson, who heads worldwide sales and marketing for BMW Group.

But the ActiveE morphs into the i3 next year and, even though Carsguide would much prefer a pricetag in the affordable $35,000 range, it's likely to be around $60,000.

That's still a lot for a car you cannot drive from Sydney to Melbourne, but it shapes up pretty well against the Mitsubishi iMiEV at $48,800, the Nissan Leaf at $51,500 and the upcoming Holden Volt at $59,990 - particularly with the regular strengths that come with a BMW badge.

TECHNOLOGY

The ActiveE is developed from BMW Group's original electric testbed, the MiniE - the most impressive electric car I drove until the Leaf - and builds on that package. For a start, there is a back seat . . .

The ActiveE is a totally battery-powered electric car that is powered by a permanent-magnet, hybrid synchronous motor rated at 125 kiloWatts and 250 Newton-metres. The battery has a 32 kiloWatt-hour capacity and weighs 450 kilograms, complete with liquid cooling.

BMW says the ActiveE will zap to 100km/h in 9.0 seconds with a top speed of 145km/h, performance that's way better than the Smart ED electric runabout I drove in Stuttgart last month and compared to my first car, a 1959 Volkswagen Beetle.

The range is 145 kilometres, something I don't get to seriously test but which seems realistic. BMW says the car's new power pack weighs less than 100 kilos, which is good news for the i3. The ActiveE has a total weight of 1800kg but BMW is aiming for about 1200 for the showroom i3, which will retain the company's traditional rear-wheel drive.

The ActiveE package includes a bunch of other tricky stuff, from a 'coast' mode that allows you to save energy when you lift off the accelerator at highway speeds, very impressive regenerative braking - it's so powerful that it trips the brake lights because of the deceleration at city speeds - and even stability and traction control adapted for the electric world.

DESIGN

The ActiveE almost look like every other 1 Series coupe. The big giveaway is not the special graphics package on the sides but the 'power' bulge in the bonnet. Traditionally, this sort of thing is used to help ram air into a combustion engine, or clear space for giant fuel injection inlets, but in the ActiveE the bigger bonnet - like the one on BMW's X6 hybrid - is to clear the complex engine control system where the engine once lived.

Inside, it's all 1-Series. The only visible change is a dashboard readout of battery life and instant energy use - and regenerative recovery. "The ActiveE has proven that you don't have to have the compromises that most of the vehicles have out there at the moment. It has a proper back seat and a boot," says Robertson.

SAFETY

It's impossible to rate the safety of the ActiveE, because none has been publicly crash tested. But it has the airbags, stability controls and ABS brakes of the regular 1 Series coupe, although stability is not as good with 1800kg to stop and heft around obstacles.

The real safety test will come with the arrival of the i3 next year, and BMW is - not surprisingly - promising a five-star NCAP result.

DRIVING

I could easily live with a BMW ActiveE. It's not as rorty or responsive as an M3, or as luxurious as a 7 Series, but it really gets the job done and is a genuine BMW with an electric twist. As I hit the stop-start commuter snarl on the road into Munich I'm surprised at how well the ActiveE copes. Actually, it's easier to handle than an internal combustion car, as there is no clutch to worry about, no driveline shunt or grumble, and a relaxing absence of noise.

The ActiveE easily keeps pace with stop-start city traffic, jumps to 80km/h, and easily holds a 140km/h cruise on a section of unrestricted autobahn. No-one picks it as an electric car and I have to keep reminding myself that I'm driving on battery power alone.

There are some giveaways, such as the incredibly low noise levels. There is a buzzing whir from the driveline - it must be like tinnitus - but mostly there is the sound of near-silence until the wind noise builds up around 100km/h. There is also the regenerative braking. Basically, unless you're at highway speeds - when the car goes into the impressive, energy saving 'coast' mode - the ActiveE harvests energy from braking to recharge the battery.

Except you don't actually have to apply the brakes. It's all done with electronics and, after about an hour of driving, I find I can roll easily to a predictable traffic-light stop without braking at all.

I drive more than 140 kilometres over a day-and-a-half in all sorts of conditions and I find I really, really like the ActiveE. Alright, the 1800kg works heavily against it in corners - where it misses the usual BMW fun factor - but otherwise it's great to drive and a wonderful pointer to the i3.

But. There are two big buts. The first is the inevitable 'range anxiety', as I'm never really sure how far I can run without access to a battery top-up. BMW plans to answer this one with a Volt-style range-extender combustion engine to top-up the battery, although it's not clear yet if this will be in the i3 or only the larger and sportier i8 that follows.

The other is the source of the power. Munich is relatively green, with lots of wind generators about, but in Australia there is no such thing as 'zero emission' cars if they're plugging into a coal-fired grid. So there are still questions and doubts, but the ActiveE is a ripper car and has me really excited to jump into the production i3 in 2013.

VERDICT

AL Gore and his friends got it wrong. The electric car is not dead and, in fact, it's accelerating rapidly towards a driveway near you.

BMW ActiveE
Score: 8/10
Price: Not for sale
Body: BMW 1 Series coupe
Engine: hybrid synchronous motor, 125kW/250Nm
Battery: 32kWh
Range: 160km
Performance: 0-100km/h, 9.0s; top speed 145km/h
Consumption: 0.12kWh/km

RIVALS
Nissan Leaf - compare this car
Price: from $51,500
Engine: 4-stroke electric
Transmission: single-speed CVT, front-wheel drive
Weight: 1795kg
Smart ED - compare this car
Price: estimated $32-35,000
Engine: AC permanent magnet synchronous electric
Transmission: single speed, RWD
Weight: 975kg
Holden Volt - compare this car
Price: from $59,990
Engine: electric motor 111kW/370Nm + 1.4-litre petrol engine
Transmission: automatic – electronic ratio select
Weight: 1715 kg

12 JULY 2012

Article kindly forwarded from RACV:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Electric Cars due a Revamp as Governments Push for Lower Carbon Emissions

LONDON, UK (GlobalData), 12 July 2012 - Governments across the globe are encouraging the use of electric vehicles to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and their impact on the environment, says a new report by energy experts GlobalData.

The new report* states that growing environmental concerns and the urge to reduce dependency on fossil fuels has called for changes in existing energy generation technologies, and particularly in the transportation sector.

According to the International Transport Forum, 98% of the transportation sector is dependent on fossil fuels for its energy, and the sector represents a major source of GHG, contributing about 23% of global CO2 emissions.

Currently, significant effort is being made by policy makers, governments and automakers across the globe to promote EV adoption among consumers. Incentives are provided by governments to customers willing to purchase EVs in many countries, and the market has a wide range of models suitable for commuting around cities. EVs are available at reasonable prices, and research shows that electric vehicles are more economical over their lifetimes than conventional vehicles which run on Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) technology. Increasing consumer awareness, the positive impact of EVs on the climate, and policies and incentives put forward by governments are all driving EV adoption.

However, the electric vehicles currently available operate on batteries that have limited power density and energy density, which restricts their use. Due to the limitations of current battery technology and the lack of widespread charging infrastructure, electric vehicles are largely used for commuting within city limits, but aren’t used for long journeys - a fear of running out of charge is holding EV drivers back.

To overcome this problem, manufacturers are developing new EVs which can travel longer distances on a single charge. Some manufacturers have developed a system to switch to gasoline to power the vehicle when the charge in the battery gets depleted, while Toyota is installing solar panels on the roof of a hybrid EV to power the vehicle with renewable energy when the battery is exhausted. Other manufacturers are developing new EV models which will charge more quickly. These efforts to manufacture extended range EVs are likely to increase the vehicles’ acceptance levels among consumers.

Upcoming improved battery systems with high power density, energy density and enhanced energy efficiency will also reduce anxiety among EV drivers. Approximately 97% of the HEVs available on the road are currently using NiMH batteries as their source of energy, but these are likely to be replaced by advanced Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technologies. The range offered by electric vehicles with NiMH batteries is 200km per charge, whereas advanced battery technologies such as Li-ion batteries offer 300-500km per charge. The forthcoming extended range EV models, which are likely to use enhanced battery technologies or other supporting technologies, will therefore improve the outlook for EV vehicles. Alternatively, EV charging infrastructure manufacturer Better Place plans to offer a network of battery switch stations, which facilitate the swapping of depleted EV batteries with fully charged batteries, enabling EV drivers to recharge their vehicle immediately.

-ENDS-
-NOTES TO EDITORS-
*Technological Developments Reducing Range Anxiety for Electric Vehicles

This report provides an analysis on how technology developments in electric vehicle industry are helping owners of electric vehicles to reduce their range anxiety, namely the fear of running out of battery power.

This report was built using data and information sourced from proprietary databases, primary and secondary research, and in-house analysis conducted by GlobalData’s team of industry experts.

JULY 2012

Article from ROYALAUTO

Motoring: Low-emission vehicles
Renault Fluence Z.E. leads an EV infrastructure revolution.

THE EV TAKES CHARGE

From being merely a footnote to the re-evolution of motoring, electric cars are writing their own chapter, with four likely to be on sale in Australia by year’s end. Report: Ged Bulmer

If any one part of the economy stands to be most affected by any decline in the availability of oil, it’s the automotive industry. So the issue is being tackled by every car maker on every continent. Their approaches differ, but under the broad umbrella of low-emission vehicles – LEVs – a representative sample of their progress has been displayed to the industry and other stakeholders in Australia.

A selection of some of the alternatives available, or soon-to-be-available, were on show at the recent LEV Automotive Partnerships Forum and Drive Day at Mel­bourne’s Sandown International Race­way – just up the road from the headquarters of RACV, a key member of the partnership.

Among the impressive line-up of 28 hybrids and fuel-efficient petrol and diesels, were five electric vehicles or EVs.

Of the five, Mitsubishi i-MiEV is on sale, and three more are due in showrooms over the next six months, including Holden Volt, Nissan LEAF and Renault Fluence Z.E. The fifth was a locally developed electric Commodore vehicle not available to the public. Of course, EV ownership raises many questions for consumers, precisely what the day’s Q&A sessions sought to address.

Infrastructure, for instance. The means to refuel conventional cars is on every second main road intersection, so how will electric begin to match it? That’s a challenge that EV infrastructure specialist Better Place is aiming to meet.

“We’ll provide whatever charging an electric vehicle requires, whether it be slow charge, quick charge or battery switch,” Anthony Joseph, head of sales at Better Place, told the forum.

“We make it convenient to adopt electric vehicles … we provide the charging infrastructure and services that include green energy and metering for green energy. In addition, we’re providing batteries for battery-swappable cars. The Renault Fluence is the first commercially available battery-switchable car, and it benefits from a five-minute battery swap which gives it that range extension.”

Another car with battery-swap technology is the electric Commodore developed by EV Engineering. Ian McCleave, the company’s CEO, said it was building seven ‘proof-of-concept’ vehicles to gauge the car’s viability.

It has a range of about 160km and takes roughly six hours to charge via mains power. Its battery-switch technology allows an expended battery to be swapped for a charged one in about five minutes, easing concerns owners might have about running out of power.

Holden’s more immediate offering in the EV space is the Volt, which goes on sale “late this year”. Described on the day by Holden as “arguably one of the most technologically advanced cars in the world today”, Volt differs from EVs which rely exclusively on battery power. It supplements the 80km pure electric range of its lithium-ion battery and electric drive unit, with a 1.4L petrol engine that extends its range to more than 600km.

Volt differs from a hybrid in that the petrol engine never drives the wheels; it only ever charges the battery.

Nissan LEAF and Renault Fluence Z.E. take different approaches to the challenge of electrification. LEAF is the world’s first, built-from-the-ground-up EV, while Fluence is an electrified version of an existing car.

Renault sales director Mark Palavestra said the French company had invested four billion Euros in EVs and has “a firm commitment that we can see 1.5 million EVs sold in the global market by 2015”.

Fluence Z.E. arrives later this year promising sub-$40k pricing. That’s because it will effectively be sold without a battery, one of the most expensive parts of any EV. Instead, Fluence owners will lease the car’s switchable battery from Better Place. The benefits of this are clear once you realise this allows owners to upgrade the battery at no penalty whenever new battery technology arrives.

The other advantage of battery swap technology is range extension, with Better Place planning a phased roll-out of change stations across the country.

Mitsubishi is already in the EV market, having launched i-MiEV here in late 2009. The four-seater was at first available only to fleet and government users, but in the past year it’s been on sale to the public for $48,800. And it’s just been joined in that space by LEAF, which is $51,500.

Of course, the initial supply of these vehicles is limited, but that still leaves a fair chunk of the LEV stable open to conventional established models. And that includes the expanding range of hybrids. Toyota, the recognised leader, has sold four million hybrids, but Honda has been in the game just as long and has a range of offerings including Civic, Insight and CR-Z. As the early models in their hybrid fleet start to age, both companies should therefore be ready to make a call on the unanswered question of battery longevity and replacement cost.

“The (Civic) battery has a design life of 15 years and we warrant it for eight years/ unlimited kilometres,” Honda’s Lindsay Smalley told the forum, adding that “if you do need to buy a new battery in the future, they cost about $2000 and one hour’s fitting time”.

Hamdi Hussein from Toyota said the Prius range has an eight-year/160,000km battery warranty, and a changeover price of “about $3000”.

Mr Hussein said a number of Priuses have done 500,000km without requiring a battery change­over, including a Tasmanian car that has done more than 950,000km on its first battery, and a taxi in Queensland that had done 1.1 million. That’s exceptional durability by any standard and bodes well for the future uptake of EVs and hybrids.

RACV's Simon Mikedis tries an EV recharging unit at Sandown, and Forum participants take a look into the future.

LEV forum

The LEV forum and drive day was an initiative of the Low Emission Vehicles Automotive Partnership, which involves RACV and the non-profit organisation Future Climate Australia. It is supported by many major vehicles companies and promotes the use of ‘greener’, more economical vehicles. The LEV website has a comprehensive buyers’ guide, see www.greenwheels.com.au.

Article as printed in RoyalAuto July 2012 (www.royalauto.com.au), author Greg Bulmer.
by GlobalData’s team of industry experts.

23 NOVEMBER 2012

Article from Herald Sun:

Sparks fly at Holden with Barina

by: Joshua Dowling
The Holden Barina Spark is exciting for the electric car market. Picture: Supplied

MEET the cheapest mass-produced electric car on the road today - the US version of the Holden Barina Spark.

When it goes on sale next year, it's expected to cost less than $30,000.

But with the US government's $7500 incentive for electric vehicles and the Californian government's $3500 rebate, the price will probably dip under $20,000. That's the equivalent of Toyota Corolla money here.

The Spark EV's nose is covered in chequered camouflage because we had a sneak-preview drive before its unveiling at next week's Los Angeles motor show.

But if you imagine the shiny grille treatment of the Holden Volt grafted on to the front of this hatchback, you'll have a pretty good mental picture of how it will look.

This is General Motors' first all-electric car since the ill-fated EV1 was axed in 1999 - the company accused in a 2006 documentary of killing the electric car has reinvented it.

The Spark EV might have cutesy looks but it is the fastest electric hatch on the road.

Engineers have also given it sports suspension and wider tyres - a major departure from the skinny rubber previously used on eco cars.

It will be built in South Korea and sold in North America at first but Australia is on the distribution "wish list". "With the Volt, we've introduced the notion of electric Holdens (to the Australian public). We're well positioned to take advantage of other GM global EV projects should the right level of market demand become apparent," Holden director of external communications, Craig Cheetham said.

-- VALUE

Electric cars still don't make economic sense but the Spark EV puts the technology within reach of mass-market buyers for the first time.

The petrol Holden Barina Spark starts at $13,990 so it would take decades to recoup the $15,000 or so price difference in fuel savings from the $30,000 fully electric model.

But that's still a much lower price premium compared to other electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which each cost about $50,000, or about $30,000 more than similarly sized petrol cars.

The cost of electric cars is not expected to take another large reduction for five years, when the industry anticipated the next development in battery technology.

TECHNOLOGY

The Spark EV has an electric motor under the bonnet and a 255kg lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seats, straddled over the rear wheels. Both are elegant installations.

The technologies are borrowed from the Holden Volt plug-in hybrid but are different in design and capacity.

The Spark EV's electric motor has about 100kW of power and a phenomenal 542Nm of torque - just 8Nm less than the V8 in the Holden Special Vehicles GTS sports sedan. And all this in a car that weighs 1346kg, or 500kg less than the HSV.

By comparison, the bigger and heavier Volt has a 111kW and 500Nm electric motor, which makes the Spark EV quicker from 0-100km/h (less than eight seconds).

Press the power button to start the car and the computer does 1400 diagnostics checks in the time it takes the instruments to light up.

Recharging time is eight hours from empty but a fast charger can bring the battery pack to 80 per cent full in 20 minutes. General Motors won't reveal driving range until next week (it says the battery has a capacity of "at least 20kWh").

If it had a 24kWh battery pack, a driving range of 160km would be possible. Most motorists drive fewer than 80km to and from work daily.

-- DESIGN

Below the shiny Volt-like grille and hidden behind the bumper are "shutters" that close at high speeds to improve airflow around the car and open at low speeds to improve cooling.

The underbody is almost completely flat to allow it to better slip through the air. Even the rear spoiler and side moulds have subtle curves to make a clean break with the air and reduce turbulence.

The interior is largely unchanged from the regular Spark but the instrument cluster is replaced by the digital display from the Volt. It looks small (the Spark competes in the city-car segment) and has seat belts for five but it can fit four adults in relative comfort.

-- SAFETY
It is yet to be independently tested but there's no reason to suggest the Spark EV would not get the same four-star ANCAP safety rating as the petrol-powered model. Six airbags are standard.

Last year, a Volt battery pack caught fire weeks after a US government crash test because it was not drained properly.

But before and since that incident, the Volt battery packs have been tested in severe impacts mounted in cars as well as stand-alone in laboratory conditions and none have caught fire on impact.

Emergency services are also trained to deal with electric car battery packs after a crash.

Following Cyclone Sandy in New York, 16 electric sedans made by Fisker caught fire after one became submerged in salt floodwaters for hours - then wind carried flames to 15 others parked alongside on the shipping dock.

But the company says it was the Fisker's 12V battery that caused the initial spark, not the lithium-ion battery pack, when it fed power into the circuit.

But a Fisker car's lithium-ion battery pack did catch fire earlier in the year after the supplier installed faulty cells.

-- DRIVING

Here's the big surprise. The Spark EV is awesome to drive.

It shouldn't be a surprise, though. This little car has more torque than a Commodore V8 and - just to reiterate - nearly matches the 550Nm of the almighty HSV GTS sports sedan.

General Motors has tweaked the gearing of the electric motor slightly to make peak power arrive at 65km/h - the speed at which most other electric cars tend to taper off - on the way to a top-speed in excess of the speed limit.

The EV also steers well and handles bumps much better than the regular petrol-powered Spark.

Engineers gave the Spark EV a wider "footprint", by pushing the wheels further out to the corners of the car.

And then they fitted wider rubber (15 x 6-inch up front and 15 x 6.5-inch at the rear).

You read that right.

The rear has wider rubber than the front (just like HSV performance cars do) to handle the weight of the big battery pack in the rear floor.

Now, if only Holden could make the regular Spark handle like this.

-- VERDICT

Less than a month after the world's biggest car makers all but wrote off electric cars - at the Paris motor show Toyota, GM and Volkswagen declared their preference for plug-in hybrids - the Spark EV breathes new hope into the potential for fun, affordable petrol-free driving.

---
-- Holden Barina Spark EV
- Three and a half stars
- PRICE
From $30,000 (estimate)
- WARRANTY
3 years/100,000km
- BATTERY WARRANTY
8 years/160,000km
- SAFETY 6 airbags
- ENGINE Electric motor (100kW/542Nm)
- TRANSMISSION
Single-ratio electric drive motor, max 4800rpm
- THIRST 0L/100km
- RANGE 160km (estimated)
- DIMENSIONS 3.6m (L), 1.6m (W), 1.5m (H)
- WEIGHT 1346kg
-- * OTHERS TO CONSIDER *
$59,990+
- Holden Volt
- Three and a half stars
ENGINE 1.4-litre 4-cyl, 63kW. Powers 55kW generator to recharge onboard battery pack
MAXIMUM RANGE 600km (88km on battery)
-- The electric car that keeps on going - thanks to a back-up petrol engine
-- $51,500+
- Nissan Leaf
- Three and a half stars
ENGINE 80kW/280Nm electric motor, lithium-ion battery pack
MAXIMUM RANGE 160km
-- Easily the most complete electric car on the road today
-- $48,800+
- Mitsubishi i-MiEV
- Two stars
ENGINE 49kW/180Nm electric motor, lithium-ion battery pack
MAXIMUM RANGE 160km
-- The first electric car on sale in Australia is showing its age
Electric Vehicles Part 1
Electric Vehicles Part 2
Electric Vehicles Part 3
Electric Vehicles Part 5

DVD: "Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)

Available in Australia



LINKS

Australian Electric Vehicle Association


Blade Electric Vehicles


Ceres Community Environment Park - Electric Vehicle Conversions Project


Contact me at: red-jos_at_red-jos_net

Red Jos: HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISM

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Mannie's blogs may be accessed by clicking on to the following links:

MannieBlog (from 1 August 2003 to 31 December 2005)

Activist Kicks Backs - Blognow archive re-housed - 2005-2009

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This page was created on 4 JULY 2012 and updated on 15 OCTOBER 2016

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