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Mainstream Media Jaw-Droppers: Kiplinger and Car & Driver; WSJ vs. BizWeek on Volt

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  • Felix Kramer
    For your Independence Weekend enjoyment to hold your interest while we work on an overall carmakers update covering recent developments among automakers: *
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2008
      For your Independence Weekend enjoyment to hold
      your interest while we work on an overall
      "carmakers" update covering recent developments among automakers:

      * Musings from Csaba Csere Car & Driver's
      Editor-In-Chief (who back in October 2005
      http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/183.html was
      one of the first to pay attention to PHEVs as the "next big thing,")
      * An "insider" from the Kiplinger's Letter (prognosticating for 85 years);
      * A whiny, uninformed criticism of GM from Holman
      Jenkins, Editorial Board Member of the Wall Street Journal
      * A rebuttal of an earlier, shorter editorial by
      Jenkins, from Business Week's "AutoBeat" columnist David Kiley.

      Fearless Prediction: Plug-In Hybrids Will be the
      Hot Rods of the 21st Century - Column
      The Steering Column BY CSABA CSERE May 2008

      Plug-in hybrids are the latest rage among
      cutting-edge planet savers. By combining a big
      battery with an electric motor and a small
      internal-combustion engine (75 or so horsepower)
      hooked to a generator, a plug-in hybrid delivers
      the pollution-free exhaust of a pure electric car
      for about 40 miles, which encompasses most trips
      for most people. Yet unlike a pure electric car,
      a plug-in can drive from New York to Los Angeles
      once its engine fires up to spin the onboard
      generator and recharge the battery. In this mode,
      the plug-in achieves a hybridlike 40-to-50 mpg
      while neatly eliminating the range limitations of purely battery-powered cars.

      The lithium-ion batteries needed to achieve this
      performance--at a reasonable price--still do not
      exist, but numerous firms are on the case, hoping
      to nab major contracts to supply the world's
      automakers with batteries by the millions. When
      such inexpensive batteries become available,
      plug-ins will quickly proliferate, as they can be
      charged at standard household electrical outlets.

      That's more than can be said for fuel-cell
      vehicles, which are still decades away, owing to
      the high costs of the fuel cells and the immense
      difficulties of producing pollution-free hydrogen
      and distributing it across the country. In fact,
      a reasonable person might conclude that once
      plug-in hybrids become common and their batteries
      become inexpensive purely battery-powered
      vehicles will leapfrog the fuel-cell machines and leave them stillborn.

      The key to making the plug-in hybrid work is the
      big battery that stores enough juice for the
      vehicle to solely run on electric power for a
      considerable distance. In the case of the Chevy
      Volt concept, this battery has a capacity of 16
      kilowatt-hours. For the technically challenged, a
      kilowatt means 1000 watts, so this battery can
      produce 16,000 watts for one hour, one watt for
      16,000 hours, or anything in between. In reality,
      these ratings will be cut in half because using
      only half the battery capacity will greatly
      extend the number of times the battery can be charged and discharged.

      When I see a battery that large, my first thought
      is to convert its electrical energy into
      horsepower. Eight kWh equal 10.7
      horsepower-hours, or 644 horsepower-minutes. In
      other words, the battery has enough juice to
      produce 644 horsepower for one minute. Even if we
      cut that back by 10 percent to account for motor
      and electric inefficiencies, we're talking about serious power here.

      There are a number of steps required to turn this
      substantial reservoir of electrical energy into
      speed. The first is to install a switch that lets
      the driver tell the power control electronics not
      to run the car on its fully charged battery but
      rather to fire up the internal-combustion engine
      immediately and run as a conventional hybrid
      while keeping the battery fully charged and ready
      to deliver a maximum dose of electrical power for
      high-performance driving. The switch will simply
      let the driver select whether the car is
      operating in power mode or efficiency mode, and
      it will need to be accompanied by appropriate
      software changes in the computer that controls
      the system's power flow. The skill to accomplish
      this will surely be developed among the hordes of computer hackers in America.

      The next step is to install a serious electric
      motor into the plug-in hybrid vehicle. The Volt
      is powered by a 160-hp electric motor with 236
      pound-feet of torque. Replacing this motor with
      one that is two or three times as powerful would
      energize the car's performance considerably. Or
      remembering that the Volt is front-wheel drive,
      adding a second motor to power the rear wheels
      could also provide the additional muscle. The
      specialized, three-phase AC motor/generators used
      in hybrids are not sitting on the shelves at your
      local RadioShack, so a certain amount of
      scrounging and improvisation will be required to
      find and fit them. But much as hot rodders of
      half a century ago took superchargers designed
      for GM's 71-series diesel engines and adapted
      them to various Detroit V-8s, the truly motivated
      will find the motors needed for these plug-in hot rods.

      Big motors will also need upsized power control
      electronics to deliver a suitably elevated supply
      of volts and amps. In many ways, it's like a
      souped-up V-8 needing a larger-capacity
      fuel-injection system with a bigger fuel pump and
      fatter fuel line. The electrical components
      needed to do this should be available, although
      custom fabrication will be required to achieve the desired results.

      Let's imagine a suitably modified plug-in hybrid
      with a 16-kWh battery. With half of that
      energy--to preserve the battery life--available
      to power the car, coupled to an upsized 400-hp
      electric motor, you can enjoy full power for 96
      seconds. That's enough to run 0 to 60 in the
      four-second range and continue on to 170 or 180
      mph, depending on the car and whether its gearing
      supports such a high speed (another area for potential modification).

      With a little bit of regenerative braking thrown
      in, that would get you a full hot lap around most
      road-racing tracks in the country. After
      exhausting the battery with such an extended
      high-power run, it would take roughly 10 minutes
      of driving--at a mild speed--for the onboard
      generator to fully recharge the battery again.

      You can't really do any of these things to a
      parallel hybrid like the Prius because the
      electrical and IC powerplants are too fully
      integrated to easily modify them. But because a
      plug-in is a series hybrid, with the electric
      motor only driving the wheels and the IC engine
      only running the generator, there's much greater
      potential to tweak the individual components. The
      beauty of such a plug-in is that even after
      making performance modifications you can still
      flip the switch and drive the vehicle in the
      battery-intensive mode and get those flashy
      100-plus-mpg figures on short commutes.

      Plug-in Hybrid Cars Zooming Ahead
      Automakers are speeding ultra-high-mileage
      plug-in cars to market to beat looming federal emissions mandates.
      By Jim Ostroff, Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter June 26, 2008

      Get ready to see the USA in your plug-in
      Chevrolet -- or your Saturn, Ford, Toyota or
      Mercedes. High gasoline prices have automakers
      fast-tracking development of fuel sipping
      vehicles that will allow most motorists to charge
      up at night from home, then commute to work and
      run errands without heeding the gas gauge. Even
      long trips won't drain wallets, with plug-ins
      averaging 80 to 100 miles per gallon (mpg),
      cutting fuel costs about 40%, including the cost of recharging.

      General Motors and Toyota will get their
      souped-up hybrids into showrooms first, within
      two years, followed by Ford. Virtually every
      major automaker plus niche manufacturers such as
      Fisker Automotive and Visionary Vehicles have a plug-in entry in the works.

      Within a decade, plug-in cars will account for
      around 20% of all new U.S. vehicle sales, largely
      replacing their lower mileage gasoline-electric
      hybrid forebears. By 2025, that share will be about 30%.

      Automakers have little choice but to go electric.
      They're already being forced to boost fleets'
      average fuel efficiency to 35 mpg by 2020, a 40%
      jump. The auto companies also don't want to be
      caught flat-footed by enactment of carbon dioxide
      (CO2) emissions restrictions by Congress.
      Lawmakers are inching toward them and may enact
      such restrictions as soon as next year. Although
      carbon caps will be phased in over several years,
      Detroit carmakers and their foreign cousins fret
      that their vehicles will have to exceed 35 mpg
      fuel efficiency in order to slash CO2 tailpipe emissions.

      Automakers are under the gun from states, too.
      California's zero-emissions vehicle program
      mandates nearly 60,000 plug-in cars be sold in
      the state between 2012 and 2014. Connecticut,
      Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New
      Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont have
      adopted similar requirements, and other states will follow.

      Technical breakthroughs will help automakers get
      plug-ins on the road faster than anticipated even
      a year ago. "After years of work and false
      starts, the lithium ion battery is about to move
      beyond the development stage into
      commercialization. That will enable vehicles to
      be recharged at home during the night, or
      elsewhere during the daytime," says David Cole,
      chairman of the Center for Automotive Research,
      an auto industry consulting firm. Early models
      will be able to travel up to about 40 miles on
      the battery charge alone. That's not much of a
      drawback -- more than 80% of motorists drive less
      than that in a day, Cole says.

      Infrastructure is revving up, too, with companies
      such as Coulomb Technologies set to install
      curbside and garage recharging posts. Motorists
      will be able to buy volts with a pre-paid card,
      says Paul Scott, a cofounder of Plug In America, a lobbying group.

      Early buyers may suffer sticker shock, though,
      with prices of $40,000 or so for a plug-in,
      including $10,000 for the lithium ion battery.
      Within a few years, as volume picks up and the
      cost to make lithium ion cells declines, the
      price of the battery will slip 25%, and in less
      than a decade, battery cost should drop below $1000.

      Because plug-in vehicles involve a whole lot more
      than replacing a fuel tank and gasoline-powered
      engine with a battery and an electric engine,
      widespread adoption of electric cars should spawn
      an economic boomlet. In addition to the lithium
      ion batteries, plug-in vehicles will need whole
      new systems -- including computer components and
      software -- to control braking, turning,
      acceleration and so on, replacing the
      mechanically linked drive trains, transmissions,
      steering and braking systems of today's
      gasoline-powered vehicles. The battery market
      alone is expected to hit $30 billion by 2020.
      Best positioned to take advantage: Early electric
      controls, transmission and advanced timing system
      leaders BorgWarner, Continental, Johnson Controls and TRW. But start-ups

      What Is GM Thinking?
      Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2008 Page 11
      By Holman Jenkins

      "Violent change" in consumer tastes is not a new
      challenge for the car business. The phrase is Lee
      Iacocca's, from his autobiography, referring to
      public demand for small cars after the 1979 oil shock.

      Less violently, a sudden shift in taste for
      smaller, more fuel-efficient cars amid the
      recession of 1958 helped doom the Edsel.

      The 1950s also happen to be the last time GM's
      share price sank as low as $11 per share. Two morals must be drawn.

      One is that GM's ability to avoid bankruptcy has
      again become doubtful in the minds of investors.
      The 1950s comparison indeed overstates the
      company's well-being today. In inflation-adjusted
      terms, today's share price is closer to $1.50 in mid-1950s dollars.

      Secondly, any forecast calling for a "permanent"
      shift in auto tastes based on a quantum as
      volatile as the price of gasoline is nuts.

      GM's leaders are not nuts, and yet to pour
      hundreds of millions into a race to launch an
      electric car, the Chevy Volt, guaranteed to lose
      money on every unit sold, begins to seem a
      peculiar strategy for a company in dire liquidity straits.

      With each hectic advance in the development
      process, the expected sticker price to consumers
      has gone up. Reportedly, off-the-shelf electrical
      fixtures, such as headlights and taillights,
      won't suffice because they draw too much power.
      At last leakage, GM is saying now the Volt may need a sticker price of $45,000.

      At best, the Volt will be an affluent family's
      third car. It will have to be plugged in for six
      hours a day - i.e., it will be a car for a
      suburbanite with a sizeable garage wired for
      power. It won't be a car for a city dweller who
      parks on the street or in a public lot. It will
      travel 40 miles on a six-hour charge. After that,
      a small gas motor will kick in to recharge the
      battery while you drive. Some reports claim the
      Volt will get 50 mpg in this mode, but that's
      hallucinatory: If using a gasoline engine to
      power an electric motor were so efficient, the
      streets would be full of such vehicles. (Our
      guess: The car will be lucky to get 15 mpg under gasoline power.)

      Notice that, even today, some people continue to
      buy SUVs capable of hauling eight passengers, the
      dog and groceries, though they spend most of
      their time in the car driving alone. Customers
      value flexibility in their vehicles. For a car
      with the Volt's narrow usability to sell would
      require an unlikely revolution in consumer
      behavior, especially if gasoline prices aren't going to $10 a gallon.

      And for those who think the Volt's justification
      is greenhouse emissions, notice that electric
      cars play Three Card Monte with energy inputs: It
      all depends on where the electricity is coming
      from. (Ditto, by the way, GM's long-range faith
      in hydrogen fuel cells - it all depends on where
      you get the hydrogen from.) On the other hand, if
      you replaced the world's coal plants with nuclear
      plants, it would have a huge impact on greenhouse
      emissions regardless of what cars people are
      driving. If curbing CO2 is your goal (however
      quixotic), power plants, not cars, should be your focus.

      Never mind. GM executives are not nuts. They
      justify the costs and risks of the Volt as a way
      of changing GM's image in the minds of consumers
      and politicians. To commit a pun, the Volt is
      GM's vehicle for making a bailout of GM politically acceptable.

      The company has already started signaling it
      expects Washington to provide a whopping $7,000
      tax credit to Volt purchasers. In Europe and the
      U.S., under whatever fuel economy and emissions
      regulations prevail, GM also expects special
      favoritism for the Volt. The goal is to re-enact
      the flex-fuel hoax, in which GM receives extra
      credit for making cars that can burn 85% ethanol,
      even if they never see a drop of such fuel.

      CEO Rick Wagoner last week laid out the case to
      Barack Obama personally for turning GM into a
      ward of the state, by way of direct and indirect
      subsidies to support a transition to
      "alternative" fuel vehicles. GM has done yeoman's
      work getting its structural costs (i.e., labor)
      in line, but shareholders should note that a big
      part of the company's turnaround gamble consists
      also of eliciting favor once again from
      Washington after a period in which the domestic
      auto makers were nothing but whipping boys on Capitol Hill.

      This year, Ford designers are working to make the
      iconic Mustang look smaller, though it won't be
      any smaller. Ford recognizes, apparently, that
      there's a taste component to consumer demand for
      small, unprepossessing cars as well as an
      economic motive. GM is making the same bet, on a
      much bigger scale. It's betting the Volt will
      trigger a change in Washington's taste for bailing out a domestic car maker.

      WSJ Attack on Chevy Volt----Shocking
      Posted by: David Kiley on April 23

      Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes a pretty tedious
      editorial in The Wall Street Journal today,
      suggesting that General Motors is wrong-headed
      for developing the plug-in Chevy Volt.

      Holman W. Jenkins Jr. does make one reasonable
      point. The Department of Transportation's
      announcement that automakers will have to boost
      fuel efficiency in their cars and trucks by 4.5%
      a year until 2015, is subject to change by a
      future Congress and White House if automakers
      can't get there, market conditions and oil prices
      changes, etc. There are a host of things that can
      happen between now and then to move the goal posts.

      But here is where Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. loses
      me. "America's biggest near-dead car company
      called in reporters this month to boast - boast!
      - about its willingness to lose money on its
      forthcoming electric car. That includes betting
      the farm on whether batteries can be developed
      with the necessary power-to-weight ratio and life
      expectancy to give the car its needed usability.
      "Whatever it takes to do, we will do" to deliver
      the plug-in Volt by a 2010 deadline, project
      leader Frank Weber told journalists."

      The scientists I have interviewed over the past
      few years tell me that not only is the technology
      within reach, but that it makes too much sense
      not to pursue with gusto. Do costs have to be
      brought down? Yes. But never has an application
      of technology come along that so perfectly
      matched the peculiarities of the U.S. driver. The
      plug-in is designed to run between 40 and 50
      miles on an electrical charge. If you have to go
      a longer distance, an engine that kicks on to
      recharge the battery will get you there. It takes
      the nervousness of running out of juice out of the mix.

      Honda doesn't see the market for plug-ins. Okay.
      But Honda have us the awkward looking Insight to
      answer the Prius, as well as the Ridgeline pickup
      and the Element. Honda's read of the consumer
      desire side of the busines can be off.

      GM sees the Volt and its plug-in siblings as a
      new lens through which the U.S. and world will
      view the company--if it gets the products right
      and delivers. But fault the company for
      over-spending on breakthrough technology? Why? GM
      has gotten management decisions wrong plenty of
      times (linking with Italian automaker Fiat before
      its financial renaissance comes to mind) They
      have also gotten product decisions wrong plenty
      of times (see: Pontiac Aztek, Chevy Outlander and Saturn LS to name a few.).

      A financial and management commitment to bring a
      game-changing technology to showrooms is hardly
      something to criticize. As Toyota has proved, the
      presence of the Prius in showrooms and in the
      papers makes even its thirstiest gas suckers like
      the Sequoia and Tundra appear greener than GM's vehicles even when they aren't.

      More from Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "For some number
      of dollars, GM can afford to bribe consumers to drive Volts off the lot…"

      GM is betting that there will be early adopters,
      as well as government incentives to help
      consumers buy the new technology…just as there
      were for the Prius. GM opted out of hybrids in
      the 1990s because it rightly saw that
      gas-electric hybrids were an inelegant
      engineering solution for higher fuel economy. It
      made a bet that hydrogen-powered cars would come
      along faster than reality tells us now is the case.

      Yes, it's a bit of a roll of the dice for GM. And
      it's unlike the way the "near death" automaker
      Jenkins describes has behaved in the past. From
      my vantage point, it looks like GM is taking in
      the political reality that we will never have
      European-style gas taxes to drive demand for
      smaller vehicles, so it is trying to one-up
      Toyota on the technology front. If GM falls on
      its face in the execution, we can all write that
      story. But to pillory the company for trying? What for?

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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