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Plug-Ins: Industry Developments and Media

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  • Felix Kramer
    Below we include news about GM, Toyota and Ford, plus a major story in the New Yorker magazine, and an invitation to unsuccessful applicants for recent US
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 21, 2009
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      Below we include news about GM, Toyota and Ford, plus a major story
      in the New Yorker magazine, and an invitation to unsuccessful
      applicants for recent US Energy Department grants to share some
      information about the process from their perspective.

      (Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
      viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
      add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)

      MISIMPRESSION FROM READING HEADLINES ON GM: If you've read the
      alarming news along the lines of "Citing lack of consumer interest,
      focus group reactions, GM pulls the plug on Buick plug-in hybrid,"
      you'd assume it's a setback for plug-in cars....WRONG! The PHEV was
      migrating to Buick as GM divested its Saturn division, so it was
      planning to rebrand the Vue, changing grills and trim, for its
      standard, hybrid and PHEV versions. What happened? Attendees at a GM
      future vehicles showcase mocked the result as the "Vuick" because it
      lacked luxury features. Vice Chairman Tom Stephens at GM's Fastlane
      blog
      http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/archives/2009/08/reports_from_the_front.html
      explained that "The Buick crossover we showed received consistent
      feedback from large parts of all the audiences that it didn't fit the
      premium characteristics that customers have come to expect from
      Buick. So the vehicle was cancelled, and along with it, its future
      PHEV version." Stephens cited the decision as proof of GM's new
      responsiveness and ability to act quickly "to take swift action to
      prevent a potential underperformer from reaching the marketplace."
      Confirming that the PHEV version's cancellation was a side-effect, he
      emphasized, "And we decided that the important plug-in hybrid
      technology would be applied to another vehicle, at no delay, that
      we'll discuss in the very near future."

      230 MPG CHEVY VOLT, 367 MPG LEAF: First, some background: in 2004,
      when CalCars.org first converted a Prius, we succeeded in getting out
      the message that the auto industry could built cars that use much
      less fossil fuels. Everyone got a kick out of the large 100+MPG
      stickers on our cars. (Concerned not to overstate, on flyers, we
      regularly added an asterisk, "plus a penny a mile of electricity." In
      photos of our driving results http://www.calcars.org/photos and in
      testimony about our calculations at venues including the California
      Air Resources Board http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/531.html , we
      explained that factoring back in electricity led to 80+ MPG equivalent.)

      The slogan took off, showing up in speeches by elected officials,
      media headlines, and on after-market conversion companies' signs,
      including Raser's recent Hummer PHEV. 100+MPG was the starting point
      for the Automotive X Prize. Organizations like Set America Free and
      journalists like Fareed Zakaria pointed out that an E-85 PHEV could
      get 500 MPG of gasoline plus ethanol plus electricity. We succeeded
      in creating a "meme" -- a catch-phrase/idea/cultural unit that
      spreads broadly from person to person much as a gene spreads
      biologically) (We had similar successes with our use of the short
      "dongle" extension cord, and with "cleaner/cheaper/domestic" to
      describe electricity's advantages over gasoline.)

      Recently, after a national "teaser" ad campaign, GM announced the
      Chevy Volt would get 230 MPG of gasoline on the Environmental
      Protection Agency's "Recommended Practice For Measuring The Exhaust
      Emissions And Fuel Economy Of Hybrid-Electric Vehicles." The EPA
      didn't confirm GM's claims; then Nissan jumped in and said its EV
      Leaf would get 367 MPG, and Bill Ford called for a more user-friendly
      and meaningful number from the EPA. In general, we think the
      discussion is almost entirely positive -- continuing to reinforce the
      message that with PHEVs and EVs we could vastly exceed the recently
      agreed upon vehicle efficiency standards of 39MPG for passenger
      vehicles and 30 MPG for light trucks by 2016. We were quoted by
      Reuters as saying, "The sticker problem has not been solved yet."
      http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSTRE57F1OX20090816.
      The best scenarios would be new stickers that give drivers
      indications of cents per mile for a standard drive cycle based on
      national average costs for gasoline and electricity, as well as
      greenhouse gas emissions per mile driven based on the national grid's
      CO2 characteristics

      MEDIA ON TOYOTA AND PLUG-INS: Journalists and analysts are saying
      Toyota may be lagging in the race. The NY Times, in a story
      headlined, "Toyota, Hybrid Innovator, Holds Back in Race to Go
      Electric,"
      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/business/energy-environment/20electric.html
      reports that Toyota cites inadequate batteries and speculates that
      the company "would like to profit all it can from the current
      technology before shifting to a new one." The article cites multiple
      consumer, government and infrastructure conditions favorable to EVs
      "falling into place," and suggests that unless Toyota speeds up its
      plans, the arrival of disruptive technology could cause it to lose
      its market leadership position. It also reports, "Toyota's new
      president, Akio Toyoda, has become a big promoter of the company's
      fuel cells, which he calls the 'ultimate' technology. But fuel cell
      cars, which produce electricity from hydrogen, would take even longer
      than battery-electric vehicles to commercialize."

      Hybridcars.com's Brad Berman has since then interviewed two Toyota
      executives, Doug Coleman, US-based Prius product manager and Jana
      Hartline, Toyota's environmental communication manager
      http://www.hybridcars.com/news/exclusive-toyota-explains-position-electric-cars-26031.html.
      Their more balanced though still negative view spurned continuing
      periodic misleading statements by Toyota about comparative
      environmental benefits, as well as provocative speculations that the
      total market for PHEVs could be as low as 3,500
      http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601110&sid=a.zO9jgEc7MU and
      http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/toyota-plug-in-hybrids-will-have-limited-appeal


      FORD PROMOTES ITS LONG-TERM VEHICLE-TO-GRID PLANS: Working to stay in
      the race despite having plans now only for an EV commercial van in
      2010, an all-electric compact in 2011, and a PHEV in 2012, Ford has
      announced a "smart" charging concept that other automakers say is
      similar to many of their vehicle-based approaches. The communication
      and control system, integrated with utilities' forthcoming "smart
      meters," will be demonstrated on 21 Escape PHEV prototypes
      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204044204574358802757138692.html
      . It's encouraging to hear Ford touting the long-term benefits of V2G
      (which most utilities say will be proceeded by V2B integrating
      plug-in vehicles with residential and commercial building energy
      systems). It's also worth remember Southern California Edison
      Director of Electric Transportation Ed Kjaer's often-repeated
      admonition that the first priority remains to "get the wheels on the
      road." (SCE has been partnering with Ford on demonstration projects
      since 2007.)

      NEW YORKER ON PLUG-INS: The August 24 issue (with the Brooklyn Bridge
      on cover) Letter from California: "Plugged In: Is the electric car
      the future?, by Tad Friend, gives the prestigious magazine's stamp of
      approval to plug-in cars. The entertaining piece's focus is on Tesla
      Motors and its CEO and largest investor, Elon Musk. Along the way it
      spends some time describing GM's Volt series PHEV as it tells the
      story of the two vehicles' treatment by David Letterman. It ends with
      a provocative comparison of possible sales rates for Tesla and GM 10
      years from now that points up how long it will take for new vehicle
      production to scale up.

      CONTINUING ANALYSIS OF US DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY RECOVERY GRANTS: After
      we reported on the announcement of the winners in the $2.4 billion
      program http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/1068.html , which we
      described as "mixed results," funding many worthwhile projects but
      puzzlingly omitting others, we have heard from unsuccessful
      applicants who have since received from DOE 3- to 5-page summaries of
      Merit Review Committee reports on the strengths and weaknesses of
      their applications. In several cases, they describe incomplete or
      inconsistent evaluations. We have been asked by journalists to
      provide them with examples. If we do so, our goal will be not so much
      to critique DOE as to motivate an improved approach for any future
      solicitations. (Expected in the near future are awards in the $300
      million Clean Cities Alternative Fuel and Advanced Technology
      Vehicles Pilot Program that could fund an additional 30 programs.) We
      encourage readers of CalCars-News who submitted applications to send
      us the 1-page non-confidential summary PDF of your project, your DOE
      evaluation, plus a brief analysis that covers objective, verifiable
      matters of fact on topics such as:
      * correlations and non-correlations between your application and
      strengths/weaknesses described;
      * indications reviewers didn't view material in your application or
      attachments;
      * indications of lack of familiarity or understanding for the subject matter;
      * internally self-contradictory statements in review.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      http://www.calcars.org
      http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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