Mainstream Media Jaw-Droppers: Kiplinger and Car & Driver; WSJ vs. BizWeek on Volt
- 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
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?
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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