New Electric Vehicles in Your Near Future

Clean Fleet Report publisher John Addison describes electric vehicles available now and in the very near future.

Published: 22-Dec-2007

By an overwhelming 314 to 100 vote, the US House of Representatives passed the energy bill (H.R.6) with the new CAFE standards requiring auto makers to sell vehicles that average 35 miles-per-gallon (mpg) by 2020. President Bush signed the bill into law. Americans want to pay less at the pump and be less dependent on foreign oil, especially oil from countries hostile to the U.S.

Many are not waiting until 2020. They are driving vehicles now that get better than 35 miles per gallon. Some are starting to drive plug-in hybrids that achieve over 100 miles per gallon. 40,000 in the U.S. drive electric vehicles that use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions.

Sherry Boschert rides on sunlight. She charges her electric vehicle with her home’s solar power. Her Toyota RAV4 runs fast on freeways and silent on quiet streets. She uses a zero-emission approach to transportation. Sherry Boschert is the author of Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars That Will Recharge America.

Some are celebrities like Tom Hanks, who has been driving electric vehicles for years including his RAV4 and Scion that was converted to an EV by AC Propulsion. Other celebrities have deposited $100,000 each on average, eagerly awaiting the Tesla Roadster electric vehicle with its 245 mile electric range.

Electric vehicles are not just for celebrities. Many are priced at a more modest $10,000 and only go 25 miles per hour. They are popular in fleets of university campuses, large facilities that need zero-emission in-door vehicles, shuttles in corporate multi-building campuses, and even the military. They are a popular second car in two vehicle households. These low-cost EVs are fine for those who will compromise on speed and range. Reasonably priced new vehicles are coming with few compromises and many exciting features.

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (7211:JP) has been demonstrating its new electric-vehicle, the iMiEV Sport which it plans to launch in Japan and possibly other countries in 2009. The car has a range of 93 miles (150 km) and a top-speed of 93 mph (150 km/h).

In 2009, the smart ev may be available in the U.S. The cars 70/70 specs are appealing for city drivers: 70 mile range, 70 mile per hour freeway speed. Daimler’s (DAI) smart ev is in trial in the UK with The Energy Saving Trust, Islington and Coventry Councils, Lloyds Pharmacy, The CarbonNeutral Company, EDF Energy and BT. To achieve a range of over 70 miles, it is using the Zebra sodium-nickel-chloride battery which has caused maintenance difficulties in some U.S. fleets. More than 40,000 of the gasoline fueled smart fortwos have been sold in the UK since the car was launched here in 2000. The vehicle is popular in London, where electric charging is free and daily congestion taxes are high for petrol guzzlers.

In addition to electric-vehicles, plug-in hybrids have captured the imagination of many. These vehicles are often designed to go a number of miles in battery-electric mode before internal combustion engines are engaged. Last week, I attended a General Motors (GM) showing of its Chevy Volt. The Volt is an elegant four-door sedan. One GM designer admitted that the Mercedes CLS gave some inspiration for the Volt. The Chevy Volt can be driven 40 miles in electric-mode using 16kW of lithium batteries, before its small 1L engine is engaged. 16kW is twelve times the storage of my Prius NiMH batteries.

40 miles accommodates the daily range requirements of 78% of all U.S. drivers. The Volt uses an electric drive system with a small ICE in series that is only used to generate added electricity, not give power to the wheels. GM’s modular E-Flex propulsion could be adapted to various engines including diesel, fuel cells, and potentially battery-electric. At the Frankfurt Auto Show, GM showed the European sibling of the Volt, the GM Opel Flextreme concept car, which included a 1.3L diesel engine.

Look for more E-Flex announcements from GM in 2009. Announcements could include a more compact global vehicle at an appealing price point and a commitment to a diesel E-Flex vehicle.

GM Manager, Rob Peterson, emphasized that GM is committed to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. To keep the Volt on track, issues that might delay a normal vehicle in development are resolved by the E-Flex Leadership Board Committee which includes Bob Lutz and Larry Burns.

The Volt is targeted to go on sale November 2010. I told a General Motors executive that if it were priced under $40,000, then I would be interested in buying one. He confidently smiled and replied, “Have your checkbook ready.”

If you need to carry more people and cargo, GM plans to start sales of its Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid in 2009. Even though the vehicle will use a 3.6L gasoline engine, it is likely to offer the best mileage of any SUV on the market.

Toyota (TM), Ford (F), Volvo, and Saab all have plug-in hybrids in early fleet trails. Other fleets are doing their own custom integration of plug-in hybrids from sedans to heavy vehicles.

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Co and Renault SA, said that his auto group is planning to mass produce an electric car mainly targeted at big cities by 2012. From London to Shanghai, he sees increased possibilities that only ZEV will be allowed in city centers.

Look for a number of exciting choices in vehicles that use little or no gasoline, improving energy security and addressing the threat of a potential climate crisis. Other Clean Fleet EV Articles

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

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