Category Archives: Electric

Future Ford Escape plug-in, China vs US, more solar power, electric semis on wires: Today’s Car News

Self-driving Jaguar Land Rover prototypes testing on public roads

Self-driving Jaguar Land Rover prototypes testing on public roads

Enlarge Photo

Today, we’ve got a different approach to electric trucks, a complicated combustion engine, more solar power, a plug-in future Ford, and some worries about U.S. competitiveness. All this and more on Green Car Reports.

Over the weekend, as we do every seven days, we ran down last week’s most important green-car stories.

The Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon will be withdrawn from the U.S. market due to the sales success of its less-efficient crossover sibling, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.

While the unveiling of the Tesla Semi electric long-haul tractor continues to make headlines, there’s another way to power trucks with electricity. We explain the tests.

We’ll see our first variable-compression engine in a production vehicle when the 2019 Infiniti QX50 crossover utility vehicle launches next year.

The volume of newly installed solar power continues to grow, and a global energy group continues to get it wrong; we’ve updated an article from this spring with the latest data.

With the Ford C-Max departing the market as well, what’s next for Ford plug-in cars? Apparently, a 2019 Ford Escape plug-in hybrid and a couple of bigger hybrid SUVs too.

Analysts and commentators are now openly worrying that China’s focus on electric cars could make the U.S. auto industry irrelevant globally.

Some prototype self-driving cars from Jaguar Land Rover will soon be seen testing on the streets of England.

Finally, they’re similar under the skin, but how do the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox and the 2018 GMC Terrain compact crossovers match up? We rate and compare them.


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Is China making U.S. irrelevant to the future of automobiles?

Buick Velite 5, for sale in China, at 2017 Shanghai auto show   [photo: Ronan Glon]

Buick Velite 5, for sale in China, at 2017 Shanghai auto show [photo: Ronan Glon]

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The first automobile was invented in Germany in 1885 by Karl Benz, but it was the U.S. that led the building of the 20th-century automobile industry globally.

Through the turn of the current century, the U.S. new-vehicle market was the world’s largest, and General Motors was for decades the world’s largest car company.

Neither of those is the case—and an increasing number of analysts, commentators, and industry executives quietly express concerns that the U.S. may become less relevant to the future of automobiles in the 21st century.

DON’T MISS: China developing timetable to end sales, production of gasoline cars

The volume of concern has increased since the stunning early-September announcement that China is developing plans to end the sale of new vehicles with combustion engines.

It has long been that country’s government-industrial policy to dominate global production of photovoltaic solar cells, lithium-ion battery cells, and electric cars.

Last year, 17.5 million vehicles were sold in the U.S. against roughly 30 million in China.

Even before it enacts a ban on sales of new cars with engines—and such a ban is likely at least 10 or 15 years in the future—China has a variety of carrots and sticks it is using to boost sales of plug-in electric cars.

Those sales are now double the number of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid cars sold in the U.S., and seem likely to soar further to 700,000 for this full year,

Xu Heyi, chairman of Chinese carmaker BAIC Group, told Reuters in October that next year’s sales of so-called New Energy Vehicles would hit 1 million units, and could reach 3 million by 2020.

The Trump Administration, meanwhile, has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, promoted fossil fuels at a recent climate conference (to widespread heckling), and appears to be planning to roll back rules adopted in 2012 that steadily reduce carbon emissions from vehicles.

Regulators from progressive states are now in open warfare with the Administration, pledging that their states will abide by Paris commitments to reduce carbon emissions and attending climate conferences as a sort of resistance to the national policymakers.

The “tax reform” legislation now being debated by Congress may eliminate the income-tax credit for purchase of a zero-emission vehicle, as of the end of this year—though it remains to be seen whether any tax bill will be passed, and what provisions that would end up containing.

None of this is good news, and in mid-October, several different outlets weighed in with their worries.

“Beijing is … creating a sweeping change in the automotive industry that will impact the … cars available in other countries as well,” wrote utility expert Constance Douris in Forbes on October 16, noting that Chinese buyers can choose among 75 different models that plug in. (The U.S. figure is 10 to 25 depending on what state a buyer lives in.)

China is winning the future; here’s how,” wrote reporter Fareed Zakaria in an opinion piece for The Washington Post on October 12.

Most pointedly, Ashley Feng and Sagatom Saha, a pair of research associates at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in Fortune on October 17, “China is poised to take over this industry; America can’t let it happen.”

2019 Ford Escape to get plug-in hybrid, plus Expedition SUV hybrid, Lincoln versions too: report

In recent years, Ford Motor Company’s plans for putting more plug-in electric cars on the road have been, shall we say, murky.

GM has the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, sales of its Chevy Bolt EV 238-mile electric car have risen every month, and it plans a pair of all-electric SUVs by 2020—but Ford now offers just two vehicles that plug in.

With Ford C-Max Energi production ended, its sole vehicles with plugs are the five-year-old Ford Fusion Energi and the even older Ford Focus Electric compliance car.

DON’T MISS: Ford C-Max Energi plug-in production over; Hybrid has only months left

Ford regularly issues press releases about its plans for electrified vehicles; on Monday, the Fusion Energi spawned a new model, the Ford Special Service Plug-In Hybrid Sedan.

That vehicle, it said, is “designed for police and fire chiefs, detectives and other non-pursuit low enforcement personnel.”

But where exactly is Ford going with future plug-in electric cars?

According an August report from industry trade journal Automotive News (subscription required), next year it will launch a Ford Escape plug-in hybrid along with a conventional hybrid version of its Ford Expedition full-size SUV.

Those vehicles’ luxury counterparts, the Lincoln MKC compact crossover and Lincoln Expedition full-size SUV, will similarly get plug-in hybrid and hybrid powertrains respectively.

The article attributes the news to “sources with knowledge of Ford’s product plans.”

READ THIS: Ford to test plug-in hybrid Transit Custom van in London

The most important of the three vehicles may be the plug-in hybrid Ford Escape, which would return a fuel-efficient hybrid to the company’s top-selling compact crossover utility line.

It appears the Escape will soldier on for at least a few more model years before an entirely new design is released.

When the Escape was last redesigned for 2013, its hybrid version was not continued. The current Escape has had various engine changes over its life and a mild update for 2017 that included a new front styling.

The Escape Hybrid was replaced in Ford’s lineup by the 2013 C-Max Hybrid and Energi plug-in hybrid models, which did not offer either the popular utility-vehicle design or all-wheel drive as an option.

The Ford C-Max Hybrid was also hit with not one but two reductions in its EPA fuel-economy ratings after widespread media coverage and owner complaints that it came nowhere near its original rating of 47 mpg combined. It’s rated at 40 mpg combined for 2018.

Making the Escape a plug-in hybrid could differentiate what may be called the Escape Energi model from other hybrid crossovers without plugs.

CHECK OUT: Ford’s 13 ‘electrified’ cars are all hybrids, plug-ins, or electric after all

With the launch of the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and the 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid, and a Honda CR-V Hybrid anticipated for next year, a hybrid Escape is a logical offering in the surging compact crossover segment.

The two hybrid full-size SUVs are equally important as Ford works to comply with rising corporate average fuel economy rules even as its sales mix shifts more and more from passenger cars to bulkier utility vehicles and trucks.

Any hybrid system used in the Ford Expedition is likely to find its way into the Ford F-Series full-size pickup truck for 2020 or later, as Ford has long promised.

The large SUV shares underpinnings and an aluminum body with that pickup, which is the highest-selling vehicle line in the U.S.

A hybrid F-150 pickup truck is among the 13 different hybrid, electric, or plug-in hybrid models Ford said several years ago it would launch by 2020.

But the company’s lack of detail about its future plans for hybrids and electric cars has attracted the attention of Wall Street analysts not yet convinced that the company can handle an increasingly rapid transition to plug-in vehicles, especially in China, the world’s largest car market.

Automotive News quoted from an investor note written by Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, who said his bank was “hopeful for a significantly upgraded level of transparency” from Detroit’s second-largest automaker.


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How about electric semis that draw power from overhead wires?

While battery-powered semi trucks remains years away for many prominent makers, the German tech company Siemens is experimenting with a well-known source of electric power delivery to make a different kind of electric semi.

Much like electric trams or streetcars used by public transit agencies for more than 100 years, the method employs a catenary system to provide power drawn from overhead wires.

An active pantograph on top of each truck stays in contact with the overhead line, continually charging an onboard hybrid system as long as the semi runs under the wires.

DON’T MISS: Tesla Semi: 500-mile range, lower running costs than diesel… and it’s fast

Siemens set up its first pilot “eHighway” utilizing the system in Sweden back in 2016, and now California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District has picked up the idea as well.

Siemens and SCAQMD will test the system on a 1-mile-long pilot stretch of roadway between Los Angeles and Long Beach.

When the trucks aren’t running on electricity, their hybrid powertrain reverts to its combustion engine, using either conventional diesel fuel or compressed natural gas.

The engine switches on automatically when the trucks disconnect from the catenary system to pass another vehicle or change lanes, or simply when the system doesn’t need further charging.

It also allows the trucks to leave the lane equipped with the overhead wires.

The growth in freight traffic may contribute to a doubling of global CO2 emissions from today’s levels by 2050, according to Andreas Thon, Siemens’ head of Turnkey Projects and Electrification, North America.

READ THIS: LA Port Cuts Emissions Half Or More Since 2005: Huge Success

Siemens’ system could prove useful in highly congested areas where charging-station infrastructure is lacking.

The Port of Los Angeles continues to experiment with multiple initiatives to reduce emissions from the area.

The Clean Air Action Plan developed by the Port calls for harmful emission levels to fall consistently over a 12-year period.

Another such experiment tests a different zero-emission powertrain altogether: hydrogen fuel cells for large trucks.

Notably, Toyota introduced its Project Portal semi truck with the Port and California Air Resources Board (CARB) this past April.

The semi truck utilizes a pair of Toyota Mirai fuel-cell stacks and a 12-kilowatt-hour battery to produce 670 horsepower and 1,325 pound-feet of torque.

CHECK OUT: Toyota ‘Project Portal’ hydrogen fuel-cell heavy-duty semi tractor as proof of concept

Toyota began carrying out feasibility tests this past summer with the semi truck, while Siemens’ eHighway is now operational in California.

Siemens’ technology will help SCAQMD understand potential avenues to further decrease emissions in the near future.

Residents of the port area have long pushed for reductions in the diesel exhaust emissions from both the trains and the thousands of trucks that haul freight in and out of the busy port, one of the largest on the West Coast.


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Ford unveils its first plug-in hybrid vehicle for police and government customers

Ford unveils its first plug-in hybrid vehicle for police and government customers

20 November 2017

Earlier this year, Ford revealed the world’s first-ever pursuit-rated hybrid police vehicle. (Earlier post.) Now, the company is introducing a plug-in hybrid vehicle with an all-electric range of 21 miles for police and government customers.

The Special Service Plug-In Hybrid Sedan, the first PHEV police vehicle from Ford, is designed for police and fire chiefs, detectives, and other government personnel whose jobs don’t require a pursuit-rated vehicle.

Ford Special Service Plug-In Hybrid Sedan

The vehicle’s 3.3 kW onboard charger allows agencies to fully charge the 7.6 kWh battery in 2.5 hours on a 240-volt, level-two charger. Ford expects most agencies won’t need anything more than a regular 120-volt wall outlet to recharge. The lithium-ion battery can move the vehicle up to 21 miles on a single charge and up to 85 mph on battery power alone. Once the battery runs down, the vehicle is powered by its gasoline-electric hybrid powerplant with a range surpassing 500 miles.

The custom interior features heavy-duty cloth front seats with reduced bolsters for officer comfort (bolsters on the sides of the seats can produce pressure on the sidearm and radio worn on the duty belt, tending to push the officer forward, reducing the amount of low back support) and rear anti-stab plates, plus vinyl rear seating and flooring.

Other highlights include a reinforced top tray for mounting equipment, metal console mounting plate, red and white task lighting in the overhead console, police engine-idle feature, unique alloy wheels and an auxiliary power distribution box in the trunk.

Several unique options are available for the Special Service Plug-In Hybrid Sedan, including a driver spot lamp, a trunk storage vault, trunk ventilation system, and a rear door control-disabling feature. A special dark-car feature turns off interior lighting and allows the dash cluster to be dimmed 100% for surveillance, and several emergency lighting packages like those found on other Ford police vehicles are also available.

The new Special Service Plug-In Hybrid Sedan joins two other Ford police vehicles revealed this year—Ford Police Responder Hybrid Sedan and F-150 Police Responder. Recently, both successfully completed testing conducted by Michigan State Police at Grattan Raceway in Belding, Michigan, and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Customers will be able to order the Special Service Plug-In Hybrid Sedan in December with sales starting next summer.

Updated Mazda 6 to offer cylinder deactivation in 2.5L SKYACTIV-G engine

Updated Mazda 6 to offer cylinder deactivation in 2.5L SKYACTIV-G engine

20 November 2017

Mazda Motor will unveil an updated Mazda6 sedan (known as Mazda Atenza in Japan) at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The Mazda6 is the flagship of Mazda’s passenger car lineup.
The powertrain lineup in this round of updates—the third since the model was fully redesigned in 2012—adopts new technologies, including a cylinder deactivation system for the SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter gasoline engine, to improve superior fuel efficiency.

In addition, the SKYACTIV-G 2.5T direct-injection turbocharged gasoline engine that made its debut in the Mazda CX-9 crossover SUV has been added to the engine lineup in North America and some other markets.

The updated Mazda6 offers a wider range of advanced i-ACTIVSENSE safety technologies which help the driver identify potential risks and reduce the likelihood of damage or injury. Mazda Radar Cruise Control (MRCC) can now bring the car to a standing stop and take off again when the car in front moves away, and the model also adopts Mazda’s latest 360° View Monitor. In combination with previously introduced safety features, these technologies allow drivers to enjoy superior safety and worry-free driving under an even wider variety of conditions.

The updated Mazda CX-5, which also adopts the same SKYACTIV-G 2.5 with cylinder deactivation as the new Mazda6, will also make its North American debut at the L.A. Auto Show.

2019 Infiniti QX50 crossover to debut variable-compression engine

Efforts by automakers to increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions have intensified in recent years as emission rules have tightened and the effects of climate change are better analyzed.

While electric cars and hybrids will grow in popularity, the internal-combustion engine remains the default way of power—and likely will for years to come.

The latest effort to make engines more fuel-efficient will come from Nissan’s premium brand, Infiniti, in the form of itsnew  variable-compression turbocharged (VC-T)  inline-4 engine.

DON’T MISS: Infiniti variable-compression engine: more complexity, incremental gains

The luxury make plans to launch the new powertrain in the 2019 Infiniti QX50 crossover when the vehicle debuts next year.

VC-T will produce a 27-percent increase in combined fuel economy over the current QX50, according to an Automotive News report (subscription required) published on Thursday.

But, the engine won’t sacrifice performance, with 268 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque. Infiniti said the QX50 will sprint from 0 to 60 mph one second faster than its direct luxury crossover rivals.

The VC-T engine boosts fuel efficiency by varying its compression ratio via a device Infiniti calls the Harmonic Drive.

The device uses an electric motor and mechanical linkages to adjust the connecting rod between each piston and the crankshaft, thereby varying the maximum height a piston can reach within the engine’s cylinder.

The less space remaining in the combustion chamber above the piston, the higher the compression ratio and the greater the engine output.

READ THIS: Infiniti plans VC-T engine with variable compression ratio

Infiniti said its technology is seamless and requires no additional effort by the driver. Engine-control software changes the compression ratio with driving conditions to prioritize either fuel economy or added power when needed.

Traditional internal-combustion engines with conventional connecting rods feature a fixed compression ratio, which makes Infiniti’s technology novel.

However, Mazda will achieve the same effect as the VC-T engine with its Skyactiv-X engine, which takes a very different approach to varying compression ratio.

Mazda has incorporated aspects of homogenous charge-compression ignition, or HCCI, into the latest variant of its SkyActiv engine and powertrain series.

While a traditional HCCI engine has no spark plug to ignite the fuel-air mixture and cause combustion, Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine uses a spark plug to ignite a very small amount of rich air-fuel mixture.

That spreads a pressure wave inside the combustion chamber that further compresses the lean air-fuel mixture—which then ignites on its own without a spark.

CHECK OUT: Mazda’s SkyActiv-X: diesel fuel economy from gasoline engine

The Mazda system relies on extremely fast calculations of the conditions inside each cylinder and the car’s power demands in the fractions of a second leading up to each combustion event, along with precise high-pressure injectors and a strengthened engine block.

These increasingly complex methods likely represent the internal-combustion engine’s next and perhaps even its final frontier.

2019 Infiniti QX50 spy shots - Image via Collin Brown

2019 Infiniti QX50 spy shots – Image via Collin Brown

Enlarge Photo

2019 Infiniti QX50 spy shots - Image via Collin Brown

2019 Infiniti QX50 spy shots – Image via Collin Brown

Enlarge Photo

2019 Infiniti QX50 spy shots - Image via Collin Brown

2019 Infiniti QX50 spy shots – Image via Collin Brown

Enlarge Photo

2019 Infiniti QX50 spy shots - Image via Collin Brown

2019 Infiniti QX50 spy shots – Image via Collin Brown

Enlarge Photo

Twenty years from now, it’s possible that we’ll look back at these techniques as increasingly complex and expensive engineering to keep an aging technology afloat.

For that to be the case, however, the cost of battery-electric cars must continue to fall to the point that they’re competitive in sticker price with their gasoline counterparts.

Until that point, such complex technologies will continue to appear in an effort to boost the efficiency of a device—the combustion engine—that wastes more than half its fuel energy in heat and noise.


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