Category Archives: Electric

CA electric-car sales, rebates rise; Tesla safety ratings; Model 3 info; what Trump won’t say: Today’s Car News

Today, two words Trump won’t say, soaring electric-car sales in California, some perspective on hydrogen fuel cells, and a couple of details on the Tesla Model 3. All this and more on Green Car Reports.

We still don’t know most of the specifications for the Tesla Model 3 that the company says will enter production this year, but now at least its 0-to-60-mph acceleration and trunk volume have broken into public view.

While the pope gave President Trump his encyclical on climate change yesterday, it appears those are two words that can’t be said in public by the Trump Administration. We explain the latest example.

If you’re an electric customer of Southern California Edison, the utility wants to give you $450 if you buy an electric car—new or used—or even if you already own one.

General Motors and Honda have combined their hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain expertise; GM’s fuel-cell chief talks about the deal, and the future of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Remember how Consumer Reports downgraded the safety ratings of Tesla electric cars after they lost their automatic emergency braking? The consumer magazine has now restored some points, although not all, after a software upgrade.

Sales of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles have soared in California; that’s the good news. The bad news: hybrid sales sank over the same period.

How many gears should an automatic transmission have these days to boost fuel-efficiency ratings? For the gigantic 2018 GMC Yukon SUV, the right number is 10—as in a 10-speed automatic transmission. Yup.

Finally, if you know any Aussies, you may commiserate with them over the GM-Holden plant having built its last Chevrolet rear-wheel-drive models for U.S. sale. They weren’t at all green, but they were kinda cool.

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California trend: hybrid sales sink, plug-in electric cars soar

California has always been a bellwether for automotive trends, and it leads every other state by far in the volumes of plug-in electric cars sold.

It also led in national sales of hybrid cars for many years.

In fact, for several years running, the Toyota Prius was the single most popular passenger car sold in the state—setting it well apart from the rest of the U.S.

DON’T MISS: Plug-in electric car sales for Apr: Bolt EV back over 1,000

Now, sales of electric cars have soared in the state, at the same time that hybrid sales actually lost ground as a proportion of the total.

The data comes courtesy of a Los Angeles Times article last week that looked at data on car sales within the state from January through March.

A total of 506,745 cars and light trucks were delivered in the first quarter. Of those, 13,804 were battery-electric vehicles, making up 2.7 percent of the market.

First 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV buyers, Fremont, California: Bobby Edmonds, Bill Mattos, Steve Henry

First 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV buyers, Fremont, California: Bobby Edmonds, Bill Mattos, Steve Henry

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Two big factors were the Tesla Model S and the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which went on sale in the state in December, two months before it was offered anywhere else except Oregon.

A total of 2,735 Bolt EVs found buyers in California in the first three months, which represents 88.5 percent of the 3,092 Bolt EVs sold anywhere in the U.S.

Deliveries of Chevy’s 238-mile electric car in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia didn’t start until February.

READ THIS: When can I buy a Chevy Bolt EV? Our state-by-state schedule

Plug-in hybrids made up another 2.1 percent of total California vehicle sales, a rise of 54 percent over the same quarter last year.

That puts vehicles with plugs of any kind at almost 5 percent of the California total, against roughly 1 percent of overall U.S. sales of 17.5 million vehicles last year.

Hybrid cars, meanwhile, took an additional 4.4 percent of California sales, meaning electrified vehicles of all kinds represented 9.2 percent, or almost one of every 10 vehicles sold in the state.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime test drive, Ojai, California, Sep 2016

2017 Toyota Prius Prime test drive, Ojai, California, Sep 2016

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But as the Los Angeles Times notes, that percentage of hybrid sales is 9.2 percent lower than in the same period last year.

It’s known that sales hybrids correlate fairly closely with gasoline prices, which have remained at relatively low levels over the last few years.

The new fourth-generation Toyota Prius, while it is a much better car than its predecessor, is selling below expectations—possibly due to its extreme styling.

CHECK OUT: California utility SCE offers $450 rebate for new and used electric cars

The big question, then, for makers from Toyota to Tesla, is whether hybrid owners are simply replacing them with plug-in cars, or whether sales of electrified vehicles overall will continue to rise as a percentage of the California market.

The Bolt EV seems certain to have expanded the market, as will the second-generation Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model 3 when they arrive over the next six to nine months.

Both of those cars are expected to offer 200 miles or more of electric range at prices starting in the mid-$30,000 range.

They should boost overall sales of all-electric models, and plug-in hybrid offerings will increase as well as German luxury makers add a plug-in option to more of their mainstream model lines.

Depending on how fast the Model 3 rolls out, it seems not out of the realm of possibility that plug-in sales for the first quarter of next year might double this year’s total.

With California intending that a significant percentage of new cars sold by 2025 be zero-emission—the proportion may range from 8 to 15 percent depending on the vehicle mix—that would be an encouraging sign.

[hat tip: Brian Henderson]

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Consumer Reports restores some points to Tesla electric cars for automatic braking

Tesla had long been a darling of Consumer Reports magazine since the time the Model S electric car was first revealed, and it consistently scored well in the magazine’s tests.

However, when Tesla pulled its automatic emergency braking feature when it switched to all-new vehicle sensors and AutoPilot active-safety software—called Hardware 2—the respected consumer guide was less than impressed.

Tesla saw the Model S’s safety rating downgraded significantly, but now Consumer Reports has restored a few lost points after the automaker updated cars built since October to include the emergency braking feature.

DON’T MISS: Tesla Autopilot gets automatic braking just as Consumer Reports downgrades safety rating (updated)

Both Tesla models currently in production earned back one point each from the addition of the safety feature, according to Consumer Reports.

The Model S now returns to the number-two spot among luxury sedans, right behind the Lexus LS.

Even with the update, however, the Tesla Model X still remains at the back of the pack when it comes to luxury crossovers.

It should be noted that the update has not restored the automatic emergency braking system, which was included on cars built before the hardware changeover.

Originally, the system was capable of applying the brakes at speeds up to 90 mph; the revamped system presently works at speeds only up to 28 mph.

The publication has stated it will re-evaluate the ratings if Tesla chooses to make the system operational at highway speeds.

READ THIS: Why did Tesla take capabilities out of latest Model S + Model X?

“It’s uncommon for a newer vehicle to be less capable than an older vehicle,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, “especially when it comes to safety.”

Tesla plans to roll out another update in the future to restore the system completely, according to the report.

The Model S, in particular, has had a bumpy road with Consumer Reports ratings.

The publication initially named the luxury electric sedan one of its most recommended cars in 2014.

The accolade was retracted in 2015 when the publication dropped the car from the list due to owner reports of less-than-stellar reliability.

Tesla’s habit of updating cars outside model-year breaks also applies to its owner policies on things like free Supercharger DC fast-charging.

CHECK OUT: Tesla upgrades self-driving sensors, hardware; full autonomy test next year?

After saying it would charge new buyers to use the DC fast-charging system after January 15, it recently expanded the free Supercharging to all current owners.

Through its longstanding referral program, first-time buyers can also qualify for free Supercharging if a current owner gives them a purchase code, which comes with a discount as well.

While continuing to sell Model S and Model X electric cars around the world, Tesla’s main focus this year is the upcoming launch of its lower-cost Model 3 sedan, which it says will go into production before the end of this year.

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Volkswagen brand intends to almost halve environmental impact of production by 2025 vs. 2010 baseline

Volkswagen brand intends to almost halve environmental impact of production by 2025 vs. 2010 baseline

25 May 2017

The Volkswagen brand has set itself new, ambitious targets for reducing the environmental impact of production. By 2025, vehicles and components are to be produced in a way which is 45% more environmentally compatible than in 2010, the reference year for the current Think Blue. Factory. environmental program. (Earlier post.)

To date, Think Blue. Factory. has received more than 30 awards—including the National Energy Globe as the best project in Germany, the GreenTec Award for energy efficiency and water-saving measures in production and the Sustainovation Award. As of the end of 2016, Volkswagen had achieved an average reduction of 29.2% in environmental impact: energy -23.5%; CO2 – 28.6%; waste -58.6%; water -27.5%; and solvent emissions -7.6%.

We reached our environmental target of producing our vehicles 25 percent more sustainable by 2018 before the date set. We now intend to reduce environmental impact by a further 20 percent by 2025. We are on the way to the resource-optimized factory at all the locations of the brand.

—Thomas Ulbrich, Member of the Brand Board of Management responsible for Production and Logistics

With Think Blue. Factory., Volkswagen launched the first program for environmentally sustainable production. 5,300 measures to reduce emissions and use resources more efficiently have been implemented. 16 existing paint shops have been optimized and the base load energy consumption of the plants during non-production times fell by 15 percent on average. Eight international locations have taken 100% of their power requirements from renewable sources since the start of the program. Thanks to lower consumption, the environmental program has already saved more than €130 million (US$146 million) in production throughout the world over a period of six years.

The approach adopted means that the plants which form part of Volkswagen’s global production network systematically exchange information on their respective success stories and adopt the most appropriate measures from each other. In future, not only compressed air systems, cold networks and cooling towers but also ventilation and lighting systems are to be reviewed at all locations with a view to achieving further savings.

The Volkswagen brand is not only adapting its environmental targets in quantitative terms but also in quantitative terms. It will be basing its targets more closely on the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

To date, we have given equal weighting of 20 percent to each of our environmental indicators. This corresponded to 40 percent for the global climate protection factors CO2 and energy, and 60 percent for the local environmental protection factors of water consumption, waste production and solvent emissions. In future, the weighting will shift to 60 percent global and 40 percent local.

—Dr. Liendel Chang, Head of Environmental Production

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Two words the Trump Administration can’t say: climate change

During President Donald J. Trump’s half-hour meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican yesterday, the pope gave the president a copy of his 2015 encyclical calling for urgent, drastic cuts in fossil-fuel emissions.

It is unclear whether the U.S. president will peruse the document.

Back at home, however, his administration is continuing unabated in its efforts to end all U.S. government efforts to stem carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

DON’T MISS: Trump’s EPA deletes ‘science’ from Science Office mission statement

The gift of the pope’s encyclical was noted in coverage of the visit by Bloomberg, which noted it suggests that the pope is “adding his voice to those pressing Trump not to renege on the Paris accord, which is the cornerstone of global efforts to limit climate change.”

“Thank you, thank you,” Trump is reported to have told Francis after their meeting. “I won’t forget what you said.”

The U.S. president has previously referred to climate science with a bovine scatological epithet and said it was created by the Chinese as a plot to hurt U.S. business interests.

The White House, Washington, D.C. [Creative Commons license by dcjohn]

The White House, Washington, D.C. [Creative Commons license by dcjohn]

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Trump will meet tomorrow with Group of Seven leaders in Sicily, at an event where he is expected to reveal whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris Climate Treaty.

Last week in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of the Interior removed a mention of the role of climate change from a press release describing a U.S. Geological Survey study that looked at the role of climate change in rising global ocean levels.

According to a report in The Washington Post, the deleted line read:

Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding.

The press release thus publicized a study that concludes that coastal flooding globally “will increase rapidly, and eventually double in frequency over the coming decades, even with only moderate amounts of sea level rise”—without ever saying why.

The authors of the study acknowledged that the release was not inaccurate as edited, but suggested it begged the question.

The Post notes that the top U.S.G.S. press officer claimed the deleted line “didn’t add anything to the overall findings.”

“Because climate change causes sea levels to rise is not a new finding,” A.G. Wade is quoted as saying, “it did not warrant inclusion in the news release.”

The existence and scientific acceptance climate change has proven a thorny publicity issue since the Trump Administration took office on January 20.

CHECK OUT: EPA website removes climate-change pages, because science contradicts Pruitt policy goals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, while retaining its top-level page on climate change, has removed many of the underlying pages of scientific backup that were available to the public.

Its administrator, Scott Pruitt, has denied multiple times that carbon emissions from human activity has contributed to global warming.

In his previous role as attorney general of Oklahoma, he sued the agency he now runs more than a dozen times to prevent it enforcing emission laws on the state’s fossil-fuel extraction industry, whose language he copied wholesale in state legal filings.

President Barack Obama looks at 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car at Detroit Auto Show, Jan 2016

President Barack Obama looks at 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car at Detroit Auto Show, Jan 2016

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The president’s decision on whether the U.S. will exit the Paris Climate Agreement remains unknown, but reports indicate the White House has been deeply split on the issue.

With fossil-fuel supporters and climate-science deniers throughout the new administration, President Obama’s signature on the treaty last fall may be viewed as going too far toward admitting that carbon emissions damage the environment.

That decision may be revealed tomorrow, though it’s also possible the president will tell the Group of Seven the country is still debating the issue.

Green Car Reports respectfully reminds its readers that the scientific validity of climate change is not a topic for debate in our comments. We ask that any comments by climate-change denialists be flagged for moderation. Thank you in advance for helping us keep our comments on topic, civil, respectful, family-friendly, and fact-based.

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Platinum-yttrium nanoalloys 10x as effective as platinum nanoparticles in fuel cells

Platinum-yttrium nanoalloys 10x as effective as platinum nanoparticles in fuel cells

25 May 2017

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology and Technical University of Denmark have shown that thin alloy films of single-target co-sputtered platinum-yttrium exhibit up to 7x higher specific activity (13.4 ± 0.4 mA cm−2) for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in fuel cells than polycrystalline platinum, and up to one order of magnitude higher mass activity (3.5 ± 0.3 A mg−1) than platinum nanoparticles.

These nanoalloys have the highest reported ORR activity for an as-deposited material—i.e., without any additional chemical or thermal treatment. The films also show an improvement in stability over the same materials in nanoparticulate form. In a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces, the researchers suggest that their results open new possibilities for the preparation of platinum-rare earth metal alloy catalysts in commercial devices.

Nanokatalysator
Nanoalloys of platinum (grey) and yttrium (blue) are created using sputtering in a vacuum chamber. This is done by directing plasma (purple) at a piece of platinum with small attached pieces of yttrium. The nanometer-thin alloy films effectively transform oxygen (red) and protons (white) into water. It is this reaction that causes the fuel cell to generate electricity. Niklas Lindahl /Chalmers University of Technology. Click to enlarge.

Physical characterization shows that the thin films form a platinum overlayer supported on an underlying alloy. The high activity is likely related to compressive strain in that overlayer, the researchers suggest. In addition to enabling a significant reduction in the need for platinum in fuel cells, the technology is also well suited for mass production as sputtering can be used to mass-produce the nanoalloy materials.

With our method, only one tenth as much platinum is needed for the most demanding reactions. This can reduce the amount of platinum required for a fuel cell by about 70%. Hopefully, this will allow fuel cells to replace fossil fuels and also be a complement to battery-powered cars.

—Björn Wickman, researcher at the Department of Physics at Chalmers

If this level of efficiency is possible to achieve in a fuel cell, the amount of required platinum would be comparable to what is used in an ordinary car catalytic converter.

The catalysts in today’s fuel cells require large amounts of platinum, which is one of the world’s most expensive metals. Previous research has shown that it is possible to mix platinum with other metals, such as yttrium, to reduce the amount of platinum in a fuel cell. However, no one has yet managed to create alloys with these metals in nanoparticle form in a manner that can be used for large-scale production. The major problem has been that yttrium oxidizes instead of forming an alloy with the platinum.

The researchers solved the problem by combining the metals in a vacuum chamber using a technique called sputtering. The result is a nanometer-thin film of the new alloy that allows mass-produced platinum and yttrium fuel cell catalysts.

To use the new material, today’s fuel cells need to change slightly, but doing so creates incredible opportunities.

Resources

  • N. Lindahl, E. Zamburlini, L. Feng, H. Grönbeck, M. Escudero-Escribano, I. E. L. Stephens, I. Chorkendorff, C. Langhammer, B. Wickman (2017) “High Specific and Mass Activity for the Oxygen Reduction Reaction for Thin Film Catalysts of Sputtered Pt3Y” Adv. Mater. Interfaces doi: 10.1002/admi.201700311

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Tesla Model 3 acceleration found in chart on Model S advantages

Electric-car maker Tesla doesn’t announce models in the usual fashion.

It trickles out bits and pieces of information, often in the form of tweets from CEO Elon Musk, punctuated by occasional large flashy debut events for owners and investors at which a vehicle is revealed.

That’s the pattern followed by the upcoming Tesla Model 3, which the company says will go into production during the second half of this year.

DON’T MISS: Manufacturing expert says Tesla Model 3 plan to skip beta testing is risky

To date, no specifications beyond a range (215 miles) and a base price ($35,000 before incentives) are known about the Model 3, though not for lack of speculation.

Now, however, the company has dribbled out a few additional details, first seen in a post on the Tesla Motors Club forum, in the form of an infographic with talking points that compare the existing Model S to the upcoming, smaller Model 3 for use by its store staff.

The goal, presumably, is to convert some shoppers who are interested in the cheaper car—”deliveries for Model 3 orders placed today are not expected until mid 2018,” the chart notes—into Model S buyers, since that car can be delivered in “30 days or less.”

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

Tesla Model 3 design prototype – reveal event – March 2016

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This is a theme the company has stressed recently, including in an April 6 blog post in which it noted, “Model 3 is smaller, simpler, and will come with far fewer options than Model S, but it makes driving feel effortless and offers a good range of at least 215 miles for our starting model.”

The larger, faster, better-equipped car will cost buyers $70,000 or more, of course.

So new information did it release on the Model 3? Two items: acceleration and trunk volume.

Its 0-to-60-mph acceleration time will be 5.6 seconds, the chart suggests, against times “as quick as 2.3 seconds” for the Model S P100D in Ludicrous mode.

There’s no battery capacity or model information associated with that figure, so we don’t know if it’s a base Model 3 or a higher-spec version.

The Model 3’s range is given as “215+ miles,” which we’d known, against combined EPA ratings of 249 to 335 miles for various versions of the Model S.

The other new statistic is cargo capacity: the Model 3 will have 14 cubic feet of volume between its front and rear trunks—less volume between the two than in compact sedans from some other premium brands.

The BMW 330e plug-in hybrid, for example, measures 13 cubic feet, while a conventional gasoline 3-Series offers 17 cubic feet.

A series of tweets by Musk in late March similarly downplayed the Model 3’s capabilities, countering some buyers’ apparent belief that Model 3 would be not only cheaper than the Model S, but also faster, more capable, and better-equipped.

CHECK OUT: Chevy Bolt EV costs $28,700 to build, Tesla Model 3 a bit higher: analysis

In a quarterly earnings call held May 3, Tesla CEO Musk expressed confidence that the company’s previous projections for Model 3 production ramp-up and volumes would be achieved.

Asked by a financial analyst from Deutsche Bank about the “most critical outstanding items are that are going to gate the commercial launch timing” and any changes now that test vehicles are on the road, Musk replied:

Well, actually it seems to be we’re not really seeing any significant change that needs to occur with Model 3. It’s coming in as expected as the design continuation has predicted. It’s been pretty close to the bullseye and I’m not aware of anything that would affect our prior statement to that volume target.

Tesla has previously projected that it will deliver 200,000 cars this year—presumably about half of them Model 3s—and 500,000 cars in 2018, the bulk of them Model 3s.

Its last statement on reservations received for the Model 3 came last August, when it said the number was 365,000.

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