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This Benier cartoon appeared in the Daily Mirror in Sydney on 11 October 1977:

The little panel at the bottom right of the cartoon reads: "Recharge meters for electric cars could be in Sydney within five years, the Lord Mayor, Alderman Leo Port said yesterday." 34 years later, in 2011, it appears this may now become a reality.

20 OCTOBER 2011

From The Age's DriveLife columns:

Carbon tax: Hitting electric cars hard

October 21, 2011

Drive experts look at the electric car's future and why the carbon tax won't apply to petrol cars.

He says: Richard Blackburn

If you know a bit about the car industry and where it's supposed to be headed, you couldn't help but be struck by the irony surrounding the recent passage of the somewhat controversial carbon tax through the House of Representatives.

Here we have politicians popping corks about saving the environment and hitting the carbon emitters where it hurts and one of the biggest CO2 creators on the planet, the petrol-guzzling family car, has been left unscathed.

Worse still, it seems the only cars that will be affected by the carbon tax will be - wait for it - electric ones. The carbon tax targets the big emitters and some of the biggest are the electricity providers.

So while the rest of the world's governments do their darnedest to wean motorists off petrol, our government is going to penalise anyone who makes the switch to an electric vehicle.It seems our Industry Minister, Kim Carr, is the only politician on the planet who believes the future of alternative motoring is the six-cylinder family sedan.

So why is that bad news? Because it means we, as motorists, will be denied access to the very latest in automotive technology.

We're not going to be able to afford the ingenious new Chevrolet Volt when it becomes a Holden next year. No one will have enough cash to buy a Nissan Leaf or splash out on an electric BMW.

How is it that we queue like drug-addled rock groupies for some overpriced telecommunication device but we're happy to have last decade's technology when it comes to cars?

We might have relatively easy access to iPhone 4Ss, but the cars we're building in Australia are about as technologically advanced as a Nintendo 64.

In Denmark, government incentives and tax exclusions can add up to €20,588 ($28,000). France gives you about $7000 to go green, while the Poms fork out $9000 and let you park and drive in cities free.

Meanwhile, in the land Down Under, the government dismantles the Green Car Innovation Fund before it's done any good and refuses to include petrol in the carbon tax.And they expect us to believe that it's the Greens who are running the country.

She says: Lenny Ann Low

Why would anyone want to drive an electric car? Because they replace petrol-guzzling cars, because they are kinder to the planet and because they are the future of motoring as Earth’s oil supplies dwindle. Yes, yes, yes, no argument with that.

But I’d rather drive a gas-guzzler and pay a carbon offset fee than chance a lengthy road trip in an allelectric car. Not because the Nissan Leaf or the Chevrolet Volt doesn’t have the grunt to get places. Nissan says the Leaf has a top speed of more than 150km/h.

The concern is the plug-in cars’ driving range.

The Leaf is said to reach 160 kilometres before the car stops and everyone starts looking for a power outlet.

Some tests have shown it could reach more than 200 kilometres in the right conditions but not every holiday drive is downhill all the way, windfree and for a single occupant with no luggage.

We’re all used to checking the petrol gauge. And it will be no different keeping an eye on readouts that show the amount of electric energy available.

But just imagine if you forget.

The car stops in the middle of nowhere and the dilemma of finding a power source in a field of cows seems more concerning than calling the NRMA to bring some petrol.

Even if you do get to your holiday destination, what if it’s a small country town, an isolated camping site or even a city hotel? Where do you plug the thing in?

If you’re visiting AuntyMuriel’s place in suburbia, she may not have enough extension leads to run a power cord from the house to the driveway.

Then there’s the cost of buying an electric car. You have pretty much summarised the dearth of government incentives to buy one here.

But even if you’ve got the cash to buy one, a new anxiety creeps in. Pedestrians can’t hear them. Other car drivers can’t either.

Electric cars deserve applause for saving the world – but first we need to adjust our world to using them.

22 OCTOBER 2011

From the Saturday Age:

Charge a car in time it takes for a coffee

By Stephen Ottley
October 22, 2011

Nissan Leaf - recharging the electric car

Nissan ... recharging an electric car could take minutes, not hours, but the technology is still in its early stages.

ELECTRIC cars are a big step closer to mainstream acceptance thanks to two breakthroughs.

Long battery recharging has been the biggest hurdle for the car industry to overcome. But a technology being developed by Nissan and Japan's Kansai University could solve the problem.

It has reportedly created a charger that can replenish a car's batteries in 10 minutes, without any adverse affect on the batteries. Currently it can take up to eight hours to recharge an electric car.

Nissan, while not denying the technology's existence, has said it is still at least a decade away from being ready for production.

"Nissan is always working on various research and development activities," it said. "However, the technology reported is still in the very early stage of basic studies, thus there is nothing we can communicate at this moment."

At present so-called fast chargers require 30 minutes to restore batteries to just 80 per cent capacity and cost more than $30,000.

The industry has been struggling to come up with a solution to long charging times as electric cars fight to become a viable alternative to petrol cars.

Attempts to create battery swapping stations, where the huge battery packs are replaced by robots, has so far met limited interest by car manufacturers or consumers.

"We still see the primary source [of recharging] will be at home or at the office," said Nissan Australia spokesman Jeff Fisher.

Another hurdle cleared by the industry is an agreed standard of recharging plugs.

The move is seen as crucial to the implementation of public charging infrastructure. Volkswagen, General Motors, Ford, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have all agreed to work together on the universal system for plug outlets, voltage and cables.

Christmas greeting card from Swedish/Swiss electric/electronic firm circa 1980-1982:

12 DECEMBER 2011

Article from the Herald Sun:

Holden Commodore electric: first taste review

By Craig Duff
An electric version of the Holden Commdore is being built ... Photo Gallery
Craig Duff gets a quick taste of the electric Holden Commdore.

A car that could resurrect large family sedan sales and help safeguard Australian automotive jobs is being built in a tin shed in Melbourne. It's a Holden Commodore, but not as we know it.

That is evident as the car "beeps" as it reverses back to the laneway Carsguide will use as a "launch pad" for our first behind-the-wheel experience with a large, rear-wheel drive electric vehicle. Forward propulsion is silent ... tyre squeak on the painted floor and the hiss of the hydraulic power steering are the only sounds emanating from the car.

Outside, we're restrained to from-rest bursts up to 40km/h. That's more to do with the fact this car isn't registered than any worries over its driveability ... its stablemate is undergoing validation trials at the Anglesea proving ground on the same day.

Acceleration is steady, with a faint turbine whine as the Commodore picks up speed. Flicking the automatic transmission lever into Sport releases more charge from the batteries and the pace lifts noticeably.

It's not quite as quick as a regular combustion engined car but I suspect that has more to do with the way the car was programmed for Carsguide's visit and the developers' desire to keep it intact for further testing.

This Commodore has ditched the V6 engine for 300kg of lithium-ion battery cells. The battery pack is built in-house to fit in the engine bay and drivetrain tunnel, with the control electronics mounted where the fuel tank used to be.

There's still a gaping hole where the exhausts once exited, but EV Engineering - the non-profit company building the cars with the help of local auto component suppliers a $3.55 million government grant - plans to fit an aerodynamic undertray to cover the void.

The first generation car we're driving is powered by a 145kW/400Nm electric motor matched to a Borg-Warner electric single-ratio gearbox and differential.

EV Engineering's chief engineer Tim Olding says it is good for at least 140km/h and the seven "proof of concept" vehicles the company will by July will have a range of around 160km. They'll also be at least 40kg lighter than the first-gen cars.

The development has already led to the company filing several patents.

"We can buy a standard energy cell and then we have to adapt them to make it into a battery for us. So the first thing we have to do is attach a set of terminals to it. As a high-volume production cell they actually weld all the cells together. That's not a good idea for a small-scale battery because if something goes wrong we have to throw the entire battery away. So essentially, this (the terminal construction) is our technology we've had to develop. You lay a sheet of copper on the ground, lay a sheet of aluminium on top of it and then you put 50 grams of ammonium nitrate on that and explode it."

"Apparently the history is after the Battle of the Somme (World War I) they noticed bits of tanks were fused to other bits of tanks and initially couldn't work out what had happened. It's now used in armour plating ... when you want a ductile material and a hard material joined together, that's how you do it."

The resultant bond drives the impurities out and the dual-metal plate is then machined down into the square terminal posts that are screwed onto each cell and linked to create a 210-cell battery that weighs around 300kg.

Senior powertrain engineer Robert Dingli is just as convinced of the export potential of the software used to run the EV Comodore.

"We're written the code from scratch and I expect the proof of concept cars to be more "driveable" than an internal combustion Commodore," he says. "In terms of integrating the various functions on car we don't have the complexity regular engines have to contend with. The ABS and stability control systems in a conventional car have to deal with air-fuel mixtures, transmission shifts and a whole host of other parameters. We don't, and this will be a better driver's car for that."

The pair of electric Commodores already built by EV Engineering aren't the first Commodores to pack a motor.

Holden and the CSIRO built a petrol-electric ECOmmodore concept based on the VT model that was used at the Sydney Olympics Torch Relay in 2000. It was powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine sourced from the Vectra, along with a 50kW electric motor, backed up lead-acid batteries and super-capacitors. Holden announced at the time there were no plans for production ... but it obviously gave someone ideas.

12 DECEMBER 2011

Newspaper article 12 DECEMBER 2011:

Also see Antony Loewenstein's article on Israel, Palestine and Better Place

Plugging into the electric-car era

By Henrietta Cook
December 12, 2011
Better Place plans recharging sites around the country.

AS ELECTRIC cars trickle on to Australian roads, companies that operate recharge facilities are gearing up for big business.

Electric car infrastructure company Better Place is valued at $2.25 billion and plans to create the world's largest electric car network in Australia.

''By the end of 2013 we are looking at hundreds of battery-switch stations across Australia and tens of thousands of locations where people can recharge,'' Better Place Australia head of strategy Ben Keneally said.

The company's ambitious scheme begins with plug-in points and battery swapping stations to operate in Canberra next year.

The next stage is the eastern seaboard, with similar infrastructure in the pipeline for Melbourne.

''We are in discussion with many property owners about where we will place the battery-swapping stations. It will start with a few dozen in Melbourne but will expand over time. We have to have enough so that they are in the locations people want to go as the cars become more commonplace,'' Mr Keneally said.

''Range anxiety'' - a fear of electric cars running out of charge on a journey, is a key barrier to mass adoption of electric cars, he said.

''For most people, plugging in at night is all you need to do; that will give you 100 to 200 kilometres of range. For those occasions when you are driving further, you need a way of quickly recharging and continuing.''

Battery-swapping stations provide the ideal solution. Motorists swipe a membership card, pass through boom gates and park on an automatic track similar to a car wash. A metal arm reaches beneath the car, removes the 280 kilogram battery and replaces it with a recharged one. The process takes about four minutes.

The company recently secured $200 million in funding from investors and partners including General Electric and global banking group UBS. In the next few months it will launch a commercial electric car network in Israel and Denmark.

Mr Keneally said Australia was an ideal location for an electric car network because petrol was expensive.

''Petrol is the single most hated purchase in people's lives. Because we live in suburbs, are very car dependent and drive larger cars than people in Europe, our average petrol bills are quite high.''

He said access to off-street parking also made Australia suitable for an electric car network.Better Place has been in talks with local, state and federal governments about regulatory issues involved in rolling out the network. ''There are a lot of laws and regulations we never anticipated,'' Mr Keneally said.

The company, which will use 100 per cent green energy, also must negotiate with councils that own kerbsides.

17 DECEMBER 2011

Article from the Saturday Age:

Electro magnetism

By Barry Park
December 17, 2011

Holden reveals more details about what life will be like with its Volt electric car.

They used to build diesel-electric locomotives at General Motors, you know. It didn't last very long but the beautiful, streamlined forms that criss-crossed the US set the foundation for the technology that, decades later, would help to bring the company's car-making division back from the brink of extinction.

Jump to modern-day Sydney and the era of the locomotive is slowly coming back to life. Australian Technology Park, the place where we'll get our first hands-on experience of the Chevrolet Volt electric car on local soil, resides in the century-old remnants of the historic Eveleigh Railway Yard.

The Volt, due to wear a Holden badge when it arrives in Australia late next year, is just like those locomotives GM used to build. Lift the bonnet and see a petrol engine beside an electric motor that drives the Volt's front wheels.

When I first get to see them, our Volts are asleep at their power points. All three cars are connected by a short umbilical cord to a portable power conditioning unit that turns the 240 volts coming out of the wall socket into at least 60kilometres of all-electric range.

When that electric range reaches its limit, the petrol engine comes to life and powers a generator, which feeds electricity to the batteries that supply charge to the electric motor.

That extends the distance the Volt can travel to about 500kilometres.

There's no low electric hum or blinking lights on the lightweight, portable plug-in power conditioners, which are prototypes of what Holden will likely sell once the Volt arrives late next year.

Why sell the chargers? Well, Holden expects up to half of Volt owners will leave one permanently plugged into the garage rather than fumble under the bonnet for the portable recharging kit each time they nose the car in.

According to Holden's director of energy and environment, Richard Marshall, if you're going to use the petrol engine all the time, the Volt is probably not for you.

''What people buy will depend on what they need,'' Marshall says. ''If you're getting into the Volt and driving it, and you're recharging it [using the petrol motor] most of the time, then the Volt is probably not the car you should have,'' he says.

The Volt has been designed for commuters whose daily drive is within the car's 60- to 80-kilometre all-electric range.

Plugged in during the day in the US, where the Volt is already on sale, a short recharge can add an extra 20 kilometres or so of range to cover a diversion on the trip home. A full four-hour recharge on off-peak power will cost about $2.50, or less than a cup of coffee. In a year, an average suburban commuter will tip less power into the car than it takes to run a typical household fridge.

One of the problems for Holden, though, is making sure Australian electricity suppliers are up to the task of helping Volt owners manage their power use, lest any problem come back to haunt the car maker.

''Problems [with recharging] tend to be blamed on the car rather than the electricity service providers,'' Marshall says.

US Volt owners are able to go online using either their smartphone or a computer to check the status of the Volt's batteries. Australian owners won't have such connectedness until Holden restores its defunct Holden Assist remote-access service.

However, Marshall points out they will be able to connect a phone to the Volt using Bluetooth, the short-range wireless networking function common in most cars.

Australian-delivery Volts will get what is called a ''mountain mode''. Developed for the US and different from the autobahn setting the same-but-different Opel Ampera will have when it goes on sale in Europe, the hill-climb mode won't let the batteries fall below 35per cent of charge, calling on the engine more often.

At lower speeds, too, switching the car to mountain mode will force it to stick to full electric operation at speeds of less than 80km/h. Otherwise, though, we get almost exactly the same car as the US version. Apart from the badges, the only other change Holden will need to make is to the Chevrolet bowtie on the central LCD screen when the car is switched on.Holden is still a few months away from snaring its first right-hand-drive version of the Volt. Even when it does, it will be a rebadged ring-in, sourced from the first batch of Opel Ampera vehicles heading into right-hand-drive European markets.

In the meantime, there's a nervous energy at Holden. We've heard references to how the Volt will be a breakthrough product for the brand, how it will change the way we think about the car maker, particularly in terms of technology, and how it will change the way we drive forever.

They're big asks for a small car that will cost about twice as much as similarly sized cars that use a conventional petrol engine. Reckoned to be $60,000-plus, that price would buy a lot of fuel for a petrol- or diesel-engined small car such as the Cruze.

It won't be a big seller, either. Various estimates put sales about 50 cars a month and Holden general manager Mike Devereux says the company is not in the business of selling cars at a loss, adding the Volt will sit in showrooms without any cost-cutting government incentives if it needs to.

However, GM and Holden appear to be getting serious about electric cars, even if Holden thinks hybrid vehicles aren't a good fit for the Australian market. There were several references to the recently unveiled Chevrolet Spark battery electric car concept.

With the conventionally engined Spark already on sale in Australia rebadged as the Holden Barina-Spark, it's a logical contender for local showrooms — if the Spark EV makes it into production.

In the meantime, Holden believes the Volt's range-extending electric-vehicle system is right for us. So right, in fact, that Marshall can't help but use one more standout example of how different the Volt is from more conventional electric vehicles.

A Volt attended last month's Energy Breakthrough, which is a showcase of highly efficient transport solutions at Maryborough in central Victoria, about two hours north-west of Melbourne.

''We drove the Volt the whole way there and the whole way back,'' Marshall says.''The [Nissan] Leaf and [Mitsubishi] i-MiEV [electric vehicles] were also there but they turned up and went home on the back of a truck.''

Swim against the current

If the Holden Volt fails to spark any interest, maybe one of these electric cars, due next year, will appeal.

Mitsubishi iMiEV

The only electric car on sale — and with a whopping price tag that just slips under $50,000 — the tiny i-MiEV makes quite a few compromises in the name of emissions-free motoring. Think tight interior space, wooden brakes, limited electric range and quirky (read: outdated) looks.

Nissan Leaf

Due mid-next year, the Leaf is expected to gain styling and software tweaks we're yet to see.

It uses a more conventional hatch styling and has a similar 160-kilometre range to the Mitsu but drives more like a normal car than its rival.

Renault Fluence ZE

A dowdy, cookie-cutter sedan, the Fluence ZE will sell in Australia late next year and include a battery system that can swap a depleted one for a fresh unit in as much time as it takes a conventional car to fill with petrol. You won't own the battery, which means it should be cheaper to buy.

Burn, baby, burn

Just because you don't have to use the petrol engine doesn't mean you don't have to put any fuel in the tank.

Because GM thinks Volt owners will do their best to avoid visiting the petrol pump — US comedian and talk show host Jay Leno has driven more than 16,000km in his Volt without refuelling once — the car maker has done its best to find the balance between not using the stuff and managing the car's needs.

That means the petrol engine will automatically switch on for 10 minutes every 42 days — but only while you are driving at speeds below 80km/h — so that the engine's internals stay lubricated. Once a year, too, it will automatically run the tank dry, forcing owners to put fresh premium unleaded in the specially sealed, pressurised system.

Jump the queue

The arrival of the first Holden Volt in Australia next year appears to be building up the same frenzy as the arrival of a new Rolls-Royce model or the latest Lamborghini supercar — people desperatiely want to be the first to own it.

Holden chief executive Mike Devereux says he has already received ''several emails'' from potential buyers wanting to put their name at the head of the queue and receive the first official Volt on sale.

''We've already had people say 'I'd love to get one', and certainly there's going to be people who want to put a deposit down to be the first retail owner of a Volt,'' Devereux says.''That kind of stuff happened in the US [when the Chevrolet Volt was launched], and we'll have to work out how to handle that. It's a nice kind of problem to have.''

14 JANUARY 2012

Article in The Age newspaper:

Aussie Volt delivers sticker shock

By Joshua Dowling
The Holden Volt will likely be priced at $66,000 drive-away.

Holden fuel miser's price tag is likely to make sparks fly.

The Holden Volt plug-in hybrid electric car may be as cheap as a cup of coffee to run but it will cost more than $60,000 to buy - three times the price of the small sedan on which it is based.

Holden is yet to announce the price publicly but has told its dealer network the vehicle will have a recommended retail price of $59,990 before on-road and dealer costs, which will likely to equate to a total of $66,000 drive-away when it goes on sale late this year.

The Volt is about the same size as a Holden Cruze sedan, the starting price of which is currently advertised at $21,990 drive-away.

The Volt can drive up to 64 kilometres on battery power alone before the petrol motor takes over for a total driving range in excess of 400 kilometres.

As most drivers commute less than 64 kilometres a day, Holden estimates the Volt will take less than four hours to recharge from empty, using about $2.50 worth of electricity.

Holden has also told dealers only 100 of the US-made cars will be imported this year and no more than 500 will be available in 2013. It says it will only import as many Volts as ordered by customers: ''If demand is 300, we will only bring in 300,'' one dealer says. ''If demand is higher than 500, we will bring in no more than 500.''

By comparison, Toyota Australia last year sold 5400 Camry and 800 Prius hybrids.A US study has shown more than two-thirds of Volts in North America run purely on electricity.

General Motors had to develop technology that automatically runs the petrol engine for a few minutes each month to keep it maintained.

Furthermore, if a Volt customer does not consume a tank of fuel after 12 months, the on-board computer will run the petrol motor until the tank is empty to get rid of the stale fuel.US talk-show host and car fanatic Jay Leno reportedly still has the original tank of petrol his Volt came with - despite having travelled more than 16,000 kilometres.

The consumer data was taken from more than 8 million kilometres of customer driving in North America over the first six months of last year.

The Volt is unlike the Toyota Prius, which can travel a maximum of about two kilometres without petrol in ideal conditions and which, to date, cannot be topped up via a power point.

General Motors is in the middle of a recall campaign for the Volt in North America to strengthen the area around the T-shaped, lithium-ion battery pack (mounted in the ''spine'' of the car).

Last June a Volt caught fire in a holding yard three weeks after a severe side-impact crash test by US safety authorities.

In November, the same authorities replicated the test on three Volt battery packs in a laboratory. Two of the three devices caught fire - one after a few hours and the other six days later.

GM has since called back about 8000 Volts for rectification work; a handful of customers have asked for and received their money back.

The US safety authorities and GM said the Volt was safe and no fires had occurred after crashes on public roads. The Volt will be updated before it arrives in Australian showrooms badged as a Holden instead of a Chevrolet.

GM said the Volt's battery should have been drained after the crash but it never told the safety authorities to do that. GM had no formal procedure to drain the batteries until after the June fire.

GM said the liquid solution used to cool the Volt's battery leaked and crystalised, causing an electrical short that set off the fire.

The company now sends out a team to drain the batteries after being notified of a crash by GM's satellite safety system.

Mitsubishi, which introduced a full-electric car last year, and Nissan, which will introduce a full-electric car this year, said they were satisfied with their post-crash battery-safety procedures even though their cars also used lithium-ion packs.

As is the industry norm, car makers introducing vehicles with new technology brief Australian emergency crews about dealing with the wreckage after a crash.

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
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.


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.


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:

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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.

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This page was created on 22 DECEMBER 2011 and updated on 11 FEBRUARY 2013