electric cars

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Nissan announced dates for its Nissan LEAF (did you know they capitalize that name? Me neither) Zero Emission Tour in the next few months. No test drives — the car on tour is a left-hand drive Japanese prototype — but if you’ve got questions about the car, or electric cars in general, I’m sure the Nissan reps would be happy to answer.

Most of the dates are on the alterna-fuel lovin’ West Coast, with stops in Detroit to rub it in and Tennessee, where Nissan has its U.S. headquarters.

The sked:

Southern California
Los Angeles: Nov. 13-17
Orange County: Nov. 18
San Diego: Nov. 19-21

Northern California
Berkeley/Walnut Creek: Nov. 23-24
San Francisco: Nov. 25-29
Santa Rosa: Dec. 1
Sacramento: Dec. 1
San Jose: Dec. 3-6

Pacific Northwest
Seattle: Dec. 8-12
Vancouver, Canada: Dec. 14-15
Portland, Ore.: Dec. 17-23

Phoenix/Tucson: Dec. 30-Jan. 5
Las Vegas: Jan. 6

Midwest/East Coast
Detroit: Jan. 11-13
Knoxville/Chattanooga, Tenn.: Jan. 16
Middle Tennessee: Jan. 19-21
Washington, D.C.: Jan. 26-28
Raleigh, N.C.: Jan. 29
Orlando: Feb. 1-2

Houston: Feb. 5-6

New York
New York City: Feb. 9-14

Daimler says that the electric Smart Fortwo will go into large-scale production at a plant in Hambach, France, as early as next month.

The first run of 1000 electric Smarts will be built in November 2009 and delivered to customers by the end of the year (Merry Christmas!). The car will be at full production and in Smart car dealerships by 2012, said Daimler Chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche.

Specs for the new electric Smart Fortwo:

  • Lithium-ion battery housed between the axles
  • 30 kW motor in the rear
  • 88 lb-ft of torque from the get-go
  • 80-mile range
  • 0-62 mph in 6.5 seconds
  • Max speed limited to 100 km/h (62 mph)

Zenn Motor Company, the Toronto-based electric car company, announced that it will stop building electric cars to focus on supplying its ZENNergy drive electric drive train. The plug has been pulled on the cityZENN electric vehicle project so that the company can pour its resources into developing the ZENNergy drive for other manufacturers to use in their electric cars.

The idea, according to a press release, is to not get swallowed up in a sea of small electric vehicles. Rather, ZENN will develop the powerplants for those cars. They’ll even make the ZENNergy drive available for aftermarket conversions of gasoline or hybrid cars to electric power.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been working diligently on a new system to rate the fuel efficiency of alternative-fuel vehicles. It’s turned out to be tricky, as the dust-up over GM’s claims of 230 mpg for the Chevy Volt and Nissan’s follow-up claims of 367 mpg for its electric leaf showed up this summer.

While the EPA is working this out, the New York Times “Wheels” blog asked a few folks in the know what they thought the fuel economy rating should look like on the window sticker. A few of their suggestions are below; what would you the potential alt-fuel buyer like to see? Tell us in the comments.

  • ETV Motors of Israel wants three pieces of information: the all-electric range, the electric efficiency in miles per 10 kW hours, and gasoline fuel efficiency for plug-in hybrids
  • Think! of Norway wants to measure energy usage during a standard driving cycle, maybe with a star rating
  • Coda Automotive prefers to see the battery range and a statement about the car’s emissions-free status

Arcimoto of Eugene, Oregon, revealed its three-wheeled electric vehicle last week, called the Pulse. It may look like low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles of recent years, but this little guy can go a bit fast and a bit farther than many three-wheeled EVs.

The Arcimoto Pulse is a two-seater with a range of 50-100 miles, depending on terrain and speed, and a top speed of 55 mph. It can charge at a standard U.S. 110-volt outlet in six hours.

The car isn’t quite ready for the road yet, but Arcimoto is taking preorders. $500 will hold a place in line for a car that’s expected to come in under $20,000 when it rolls off the assembly line in Eugene in Fall 2010. If you take a look at the Pulse and decide it’s not for you, the company will refund $450 of the deposit. If it is for you, and you want to trick it all out with more power and a schmancy radio, they can do that, too.

The 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show was filled to the brim with electric cars, it seems, though it also seemed that only a few of those cars were destined for American shores. Case in point: the two new electric cars from India, the Reva NXR and NXG.

The Reva NXR will see production first, probably as soon as next year. It comes with either an expensive but range-extended lithium ion battery pack or a cheaper but shorter-distance bank of lead-acid batteries. With the li-ion battery, the NXR can hit 65 mph and travel as far as 100 miles; the price is a pretty reasonable $21,000 or so in Europe. The lead-acid version has a 50-mile range and a top speed of 50 mph, and a price tag around $14,000.

The Reva NXG will be a 2011 model, with a top speed of 80 mph and a range of up to 125 miles. No prices were reported yet, but he car will have a targa top to let in a little sunshine.

Renault successfully out-greened everyone else at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show last year, with the debuts of four electric cars in its booth. These vehicles are slated to start appearing as soon as 2011, though a gasoline version of the Fluence will be in European showrooms this fall. Here are all four electric Renaults  in a nutshell:

Renault Twizy Z.E.

  • All electric, zero emissions
  • Two-seater, with the passenger behind the driver
  • Developed for city driving
  • Performance comparable to a 250-cc motorcycle

Renault Zoe Z.E.

  • All electric, zero emissions
  • Optimized climate control for better fuel economy
  • “Hydrating,” “detox,” and “active scent” functions for the interior climate

Renault Fluence Z.E.

  • All electric, zero emissions
  • Designed for families
  • 100-mile range

Renault Kangoo Z.E.

  • All electric, zero emissions
  • Based on an existing model
  • Made for business use

Jay Leno’s new nightly show will have a regular-ish feature called the”Green Car Challenge.” He’ll get guests like Drew Barrymore to take a turn on the track in an electric Ford Focus specially built for Leno. The drivers will try to out-drive each other for the best times of the season.

The idea is to show America that electric cars aren’t weird — they look just like the other cars in the mall parking lot, for better or worse — and they aren’t poky little puppies. They have a lot of torque, if mashing the pedal at stop lights is your thing, and their light weight can make them pretty zippy if they’re supplied with enough juice at the factory.

The car being used in the show will go on sale to the public in 2011, according to the New York Times. The one on the show has an extra battery for power, plus a roll cage and a five-point harness for safety.

On the heels of its successful Velib bike sharing program comes Autolib, the all-electric car sharing program in the city of Paris.

The locations of the cars — rumored to be at about 1400 parking stations — membership costs and participation process will all be announced this fall, when city officials are back after summer break. One-way trips will be possible, as they are with Velib, and the cars will be able to be picked up and dropped off at any Autolib station. No word yet which electric cars will be used for the program.

By the way, it’s pronounced Auto-LEEB, as it’s the words for car (automobile) and freedom (liberte) smashed together in one marketable word.

Automotive News, and industry publication, recently did a rundown of the upcoming cars from Japanese manufacturers. Here’s the latest in green cars from the Land of the Rising Sun (and Rising Fuel Economy):


  • Rumor has it that an electric vehicle from the company could be unveiled this fall and see production in 2015
  • The hybrid version of the Honda Fit has been canceled
  • The CR-Z hybrid sport coupe will go on sale in Spring 2010


  • The company may introduce a diesel engine in the U.S., like it sells in Europe
  • We’ll see an Infiniti hybrid in 2 or 3 years,probably in an M-class sedan


  • The Lexus HS dedicated hybrid debuted in January this year, and goes on sale this month
  • A hybrid version of the ES will be added in 2012


  • The U.S. will get the I-MiEV electric car in 2012
  • A larger I-MiEV II with more cargo space could debut in 2012, too


  • “By the middle of the next decade, or 2015, something on the order of 10% of our volume will be EV,” said Brian Carolin, senior VP for North American sales and marketing
  • The all-electric Leaf will go on sale in 2011, and be built in the U.S. in 2012
  • The 370Z sports car might get a hybrid version for 2012


  • 2011 iQ: The tiny, gasoline-powered car is expected to get 60 mpg and go on sale in the U.S. in fall 2010


  • Has neither a hybrid nor a clean diesel in its plans for the next few years


  • A two-door Prius could see production in 2012 or 2013
  • Toyota is considering hybrid versions of the Yaris, Avalon, and Corolla
  • The Sienna minivan will get a hybrid version in 2012

Image of the I-MiEV by Kristen Hall-Geisler.

Two Japanese companies are gearing up to collect lithium from electric and hybrid vehicle batteries for recycling, making green alternative fuels even greener. And the U.S. Department of Energy granted several million to Toxco  to build the first lithium ion battery recycling plant in this country. Toxco already recycles lithium in British Columbia, Canada.

Lithium recycling is pretty small potatoes right now. Most of the hybrids on the road use lead-acid batteries, which are cheaper (so far) but less energy dense. Lithium ion batteries are used in many small electronics, like MP3 players and iPhones, and they’re gaining traction in electric vehicle manufacturing. As more battery power is required to run cars, and as more cars run at least partly on batteries, lithium recycling is likely to be big business.

According to HybridCars.com, the lithium recyclers will go online as soon as 2011 in one case, with the others soon to follow.

Smart has a couple bits of news this week. First, as of November 2009, the electric Smart Fortwo will have a lithium-ion battery pack from Tesla Motors on board. It’ll sit between the axles, so as not to compromise the already precious space inside the Fortwo, with the motor in the back, where it’s always been. The new battery gives it a range of about 70 miles, and will fully charge at a 220-volt socket overnight.

The electric Fortwo is currently being leased to “select markets,” as they say, in Europe and the U.S. for real-world testing. It’ll go on sale to anyone who wants one in 2012.

If you want 41 mpg in a gasoline car, plus a dash of je ne sais quoi, check out the new Smart Fortwo Highstyle, in chocolate brown with 12-spoke alloy wheels. The interior gets an upgrade to leather and fabric, and the car is available with start-stop technology to increase the gas mileage even more around town.

A couple of years ago, Volvo introduced the ReCharge hybrid electric concept; now, it’s taking the idea a step further by giving the little Volvo C30 hatchback an electric motor with a 130-mile range.

A plug-in electric Volvo C30 will debut at the Innovation for Life event just after the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, according to a report in Autocar. Unlike the ReCharge, the C30 won’t have four small electric motors at all four wheels. It will instead have a more conventional single-motor set up.

The New York Times Wheels blog said the car could maybe possibly be part of a small test fleet. Fingers crossed. I’ve driven the gasoline C30, and for a city car, it’s brilliant. Swap out the gas pump for an outlet, and I’ll be in line. I’ll start saving my pennies.

Image courtesy of Volvo Cars.

It’s been a while since we’ve heard any real news about the Chevy Volt, and now GM has captured our green imaginations by claiming that the extended-range electric car will get 230 mpg. Now the EPA, GM, and of course the blogosphere are saying that number may be too good to be true.

GM used the EPA’s new mileage model for electric cars to come up with that massive 230 mpg. There are two problems with this, though: The EPA hasn’t finalized the electric car methodology; and the Volt isn’t purely electronic. Though the first 40 miles are all electric, the Volt has a small engine that uses gasoline and acts as a generator for the electric motor. The engine never powers the car directly, but this is the kind of hiccup that has kept the EPA from giving its mileage equivalency methods the green light.

That doesn’t take into account the Volt’s carbon dioxide emissions, or if the driver is a pedal-smashing speed freak, or if the power comes from a wind farm or a coal plant, or any number of things. Before the EPA could say, “Hey, wait a minute … ” GM had whipped up a 230 logo with a smiling outlet and a green background.

The latest challenger in the electric vehicle ring made its debut on Sunday: the Nissan Leaf. At first glance, it’s got several things going for it:

  • It’s cute but not weird
  • It’s 100% gasoline- and emissions-free
  • It’s got a 100-mile range on lithium-ion batteries
  • It’s supposed to carry a price tag that competes with gasoline cars (Popular Science is guessing around $30,000)

Nissan’s goal is to make the Leaf an affordable, mass-market, all-electric vehicle. They plan on having these things hit the market — the real market, not the small-batch, lease-only test market — by 2012.

2SSIC vs Tesla

I spent the weekend at the Wayland Invitational, an electric vehicle drag racing event held at Portland International Raceway and sanctioned by the National Electric Drag Racing Association. Didn’t know they had such a thing, did you? Well, they do, and the electric cars repeatedly beat the pants off the gasoline-powered competition. Even the little Tango surprised the fans by beating a souped-up Mustang.

The weekend’s big (and little) draw was KillaCycle, Bill Dube’s electric-powered drag motorcycle. He built it to do one thing: go fast in a straight line. And it does just that. It’s the fastest electric vehicle in the world, and I saw it turn in quarter-mile times in the 8-second range. In contrast, the Teslas that drove down from Seattle turned in consistent 12.9-second times — and they were hitting 100 mph pretty regularly.

KillaCycle also wowed the crowd by racing against a miniature version of itself. A remote-controlled electric scale model of KillaCycle lined up on the track against the monster drag bike and did its best to hold its own. Do I need to tell you that the big bike won? It did. But it was fun to watch, in any case.

KillaCycle, Tesla, and every other electric car that took the track were there to prove one thing: green doesn’t have to be slow and boring. There were a lot of surprised newbies to the EV scene in the stands who flocked to the electric race cars in the pits after their runs to find out just what the hell was going on with these battery-operated cars, and found drivers and builders happy to tell them all about it.

A new survey by Better Place, the folks who’ve so far brought electric cars to the streets of Israel, Denmark, and Australia says that nearly one in three U.S. poll respondents were interested in buying an electric car as their next vehicle. A total of 8,000 people in five countries were polled by Better Place; here’s a breakdown of how many drivers in each country are considering buying an EV:

  • Israel, 57%
  • Denmark, 40%
  • Australia, 39%
  • Canada, 35%
  • U.S., 30%

A couple of notes to the survey: The Canadian numbers come only from the greater Toronto area, so it doesn’t include the opinions of drivers in, say, the sparsely populated province of Alberta. Also, the Israelis must really like their Better Place electric car program, because 28% of them said they’d consider only an electric car for their next vehicle — no petrol allowed.

The survey found that interest in electric vehicles ranged across economic and generational lines in all the countries. The number-one reason for U.S. driver’s interest in an EV? Concern about dependence on foreign oil. That was followed by a near-tie between concerns about terrorism and climate change.

What about you? Would you be like Bob Dylan in the Sixties and go electric? Let us know in the comments.

Mitsubishi announced that it’s little egg-shaped EV, the i-MiEV, will start production ASAP, with limited test leasing of about 1400 cars to select customers begining as soon as July 2009.

The press release for the unveiling of the production version of the i-MiEV calls it “the pioneer that will open the door to the next 100 years of our automobile society.” While electric cars will figure in the next century of driving, let’s remember that improved gasoline technology, clean diesel, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, liquid natural gas, and hydrogen fuel cells will all play a part in transportation in the decades to come.

Image of the production Mitsubishi i-MiEV provided by Mitsubishi Motors.

Oregon-based HumanCar Inc. made some big announcements recently — including the fact that the company plans to build its HumanCar neighborhood electric vehicle and sell it to the public. The open-topped car may not seem too practical in rainy Oregon, but its lead-acid batteries can store energy to be used at home, should you need a little extra juice.

Where, you might ask, does the human come into play in the HumanCar? While the batteries can be charged at any standard 110-volt outlet, they can also be topped off by people power. The car seats up to four humans, and each seat has an oar-like handle. The occupants can “row” the car for a bit to generate energy that can be stored in the cells and used later.

The HumanCar NEV is limited to 35 mph, but the FM-4 is limited only by your good health. It’s powered solely by people.

There’s a rumor that Jaguar, which is owned now by Indian motor company Tata, will debut a plug-in hybrid version of its next-generation XJ four-door sedan. According to Autocar, a British magazine, the technology will be similar to the Chevy Volt (or Opel Ampera, if you’re in the European Union), with batteries that can be recharged by either plugging in or by a small, on-board, gasoline-powered engine.

Jaguar was granted a loan of more than 300 million pounds for developing green technology by the European Union. It’s worked with outside engineers on the PHEV project, including Lotus Engineering, to put the car into production by 2011. This dovetails with Jaguar’s plan to reduce its emissions by 25% by 2012.

The state of Oregon issued an RFP (request for proposals) last week asking for companies that make public electric-car charging stations to submit their systems for consideration in the state’s green transportation plans. The state already has a bunch of stations, mostly in the Portland metro area, but it wants to increase that number to hundreds and spread the EV love as far and wide as possible.

The Oregon Department of Transportation was authorized to ramp up the curbside charging program last November, including standardizing the look, performance, and safety of the chargers. Also, they’d like to buy in bulk to make things easy, so charging stations built by hand in the family garage likely aren’t going to cut it.

The chargers won’t be limited to curbside parking. ODOT envisions them at park-and-ride locations, retail parking lots, and motor pools, among others. Of course, Good Green Cars already covered the unveiling of a curbside charger in Oregon City last fall.

Researchers at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have burst through the lithium-ion ceiling with an improved material that could allow the batteries to charge in minutes, rather than hours, as they currently require.

The researchers found that the ions moved slowly across the lithium iron phosphate material common in today’s rechargeable batteries. They reworked the material to create “tunnels” that the ions could move through much more quickly, reducing both the charge and discharge times of the battery. Because the material is not new but just redesigned, the battery could be on the market sooner rather than later.

This breakthrough has implications for more than just EVs, though. Phones, laptops, MP3 players — pretty much anything that uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery — will be able to fully discharge, which extends the life of the battery, and then recharge in a fraction of the time required now.

Sources: InventorSpot, GearLive

Last week, I wrote about the LiV Wise electric car from Hybrid Technologies. A member of the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association had taken delivery of one of these Toyota Yarises with the combustion engine ripped out and replaced by lithium batteries and an electric motor. He shared his excitement about the car — and the fact that he’d put 1000 miles on it in his first month of ownership — and I shared it with GoodGreenCars readers.

But lest you think EVs are absolutely perfect, he did write in that he’s had a few minor issues with his LiV Wise:

  • A software glitch had the computer beeping at him, but that can be updated
  • When plugging in the car, metal contacted metal (”completely my fault,” he said), which created a spark that tripped the breaker in his garage
  • The battery management system screen no longer comes on when charging without the key, so he may have blown a fuse in the car

“So we’ll see how idiot-proof the car is,” said the owner in an email. He also mentioned that Hybrid Technologies’ “customer support has been awesome so far,” a necessary attribute in a company whose products are on the bleeding edge of automotive technology. If you’re going to take the $40,000-leap, you want to know that the builder of your car has got your back.

Would you like to see more reporting about real people living with the latest in automotive technology? Let me know in the comments.

David Hazen of Eugene, Oregon, had a dream: to build an electric car in the same manner as you would a hand-crafted wooden boat. And on October 22, 2008, he achieved this dream — mostly. The XP-Humm-E is still missing a few niceties, like doors and carpeting, but it runs and drives, and he’s even got a VIN from the state.

Here’s the 7-minute video of how Hazen constructed the car, which ended up as a Frankenstein of VW, Saab, and Kawasaki parts with glass-backed cedar body panels. It will even have removable gullwing doors; Lamborghini, eat your heart out! The 400 pounds of batteries and 12-hp electric motor propel the XP-Humm-E to a top speed (so far) of 39.5 mph. Normally, according to the video, Hazen can tool around at 35 mph for about 35 miles on a charge.

The video includes an in-car, driver’s-eye-view camera, so you can hear the wind and the road noise, but no engine. For those of you new to the EV experience, that’s a pretty good approximation of what you get. As the car gets more complete, those noises will be lessened, too.

Baker ElectricThough motor vehicles had been around for some 20 years, the White House didn’t make the switch from horse-drawn carriages to horseless carriages until William Taft took office in 1909. According to the L.A. Times, Taft chose an electric vehicle built by the now-defunct Baker company for the first Presidential conveyance.

Fast forward 100 years to president-elect Barack Obama, who made the following promises in his “New Energy for America” speech in August:

Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars — cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon — on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America

Within one year of becoming President, the entire White House fleet will be converted to
plug‐ins as security permits

Half of all cars purchased by the federal government will be plug‐in hybrids or all‐electric
by 2012

Obama also wants to provide a $7,000 tax credit for consumers who purchase advanced-technology vehicles and unspecified tax credits for folks who go the DIY route (or hire a firm to do it for them) and convert their car to a PHEV or EV.

Image by Jim O’Clair, Hemmings.com.

Smart ED at the 2008 Paris Auto Show

One of the most talked-about unveilings at the Paris auto show this month was the all-electric version of the Smart car, called the Smart ED. (That stands for Electric Drive, not the subject of those old Bob Dole commercials.) Parent company Daimler says the cars will go into production in late 2009 for delivery to “selected customers.”

Daimler leased 100 early versions of an electric Smart to Londoners earlier this year to get real-world experience with plug-in vehicles. The second phase of testing, announced last month, will take place in Berlin with another 100 cars.

The updated version seen in Paris at the auto show will have a 90-mile range, which is twice as far as the current crop of neighborhood electric vehicles will go on one charge. No word on if or when the Smart ED will show up at U.S. dealerships.

Tesla Upgrades GearboxIf you’ll recall, when the Tesla Roadster finally started rolling off the production line, the company promised that the transmission shipped with the car was not the final edition. Anyone who took delivery of the car in that first run would be eligible for a free gearbox upgrade — as soon as Tesla figured out what that would be.

The gearbox prize goes to supercar parts supplier BorgWarner. The 27 current Tesla Roadster owners can ship their cars back to the factory in California for an upgrade, which delivers 30% higher torque (in a car that already had plenty) and an EPA-calculated range of 244 miles on a single charge.

The gearbox Tesla planned to use at first turned out to be not so durable under the high-torque conditions generated by an electric supercar. The new BorgWarner setup has a single-speed gearbox.

Tesla says the new gearbox was the final hitch in production (we’ll see about that), and that it plans on upping its weekly production from 10 to 20 in the next few months. It wants to be churning out 40 per week by early 2009. Right now, it takes about six weeks from ordering a roadster to taking delivery and driving it away.

Mitsubishi announced this week that it will bring a fleet of its i MiEV electric cars to New Zealand in February 2009. Local and national government officials will take turns driving the cars to spur discussion of infrastructure, marketing, and presumably some kind of incentive for bringing the cars to the good people of New Zealand in the future.

Why New Zealand, you ask? Why not the U.S. or some other nation tiring of the flucuation in oil prices? Two reasons, one of which is dead simple: Kiwis drive on the left side of the road, just like they do in Japan. The cars are built in Japan, and will be introduced first to the Japanese market, so there aren’t any adjustments to be made. The steering wheel is already in the right place.

The second reason is Mitsubishi Motors’ partner in the tour, state-owned Meridian Energy. Not only is it New Zealand’s largest energy provider, but 100% of that energy comes from renewable sources, like hydroelectric dams and wind farms. That means in New Zealand, the i MiEV can be a zero-emissions car coming and going.