Archive for February, 2011

111 years of EVs

Thomas Alva Edison’s incandescent light bulbs are being swapped out for more energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs around the world, however his advocacy of electric vehicles 111 years ago seems to be gaining wattage in the U.S. and internationally.

Let’s begin in India. Have you heard about Project Edison? The Hindustan Times reports today that India maybe one of the first markets to get a global small car being developed by a collaboration between Mercedes Benz (Smart), Renault (see the Renault Zoe concept car above) and Nissan.

You may find it strange that a cooperative venture called Project Edison will most likely yield a Smart-sized new car for the subcontinent powered by small gas and diesel internal combustion engines. But because we eagerly anticipate broader distibution of the MB/Smart electric vehicles in the U.S., and we are aware of Renault’s EV in Israel, as well as this year’s U.S. rollout of the Nissan’s Leaf, we figure its a good bet there will also be an electric car option for India from Project Edison.

In the United States, we are already rolling in Leafs and are looking forward to getting behind the driver’s seats of the Mitsubishi electric vehicle (the iMiEV pictured below) that has been running on the roads of Japan for a couple years and tested in the U.S.

And we often wonder what’s up with the EV offering from two car companies with 4-letter names,  India’s Tata and Italy’s Fiat which have had a deal to create a car together that has encountered some patches of rocky road. We’ll keep you posted.

When people hear “electric cars” their first thoughts are usually not of vehicles made back in the year 1900. But 111 years ago, Thomas Edison was a big advocate of electric vehicles. Back then,  for just over $2K you could get a four-passenger electric coupe with removable top and your choice of solid or pneumatic tires.

Back in 1900 there were a total of 2370 automobiles in New York, Chicago and Boston. Of these, 1170 were steam-powered, 400 were powered by gasoline, and 800 were electric. So back at dawn of EVs there were twice as many electric vehicles as those powered by gas. It was by no means apparent to anyone back then which power source would prevail.

Put an imaginary EV’s pedal to the metal through electric vehicle history to the present. January 2011, Cleantech Investor Conference in Palm Springs. Tesla’s founder and CEO Elon Musk (who is said to have drawn some of his inspiration from Thomas Edison) announces what electric vehicles he’ll be introducing next. To start with, Tesla will be giving us the Model X electric or “ESUV” later on this year. Two years from now Mr. Musk says he will share with us his Tesla Model S electric sedan (pictured here). Finally, in 2015, Tesla plans to provide a mainstream EV for $30,000.

The $30K price point is important as it is the top price that the largest group of U.S. consumers with steady median-wage jobs, low debt and good credit are likely to be able to afford in their family budgets. In short, most green family car buyers will only purchase electric cars as second vehicles when they become affordable, which currently relies on alternative power vehicle purchaser tax credit from government agencies.

Beginning back 111 years ago and for next 15 years or so, EVs gained in popularity. They were used for driving around the major cities, just as Edison had envisoned. In fact they brought the electric power companies which Edison the inventor-businessman had founded more customer dollars to pay back his investors.

The electric vehicles of Edison’s day were sometimes called “opera cars” and (as in the case of the Waverly electic vehicle ad shown above) were sometimes advertised to women as being clean, quiet, and easy to start. It is said that doctors also purchased EVs back in their early days, back when doctors still made housecalls in the middle of the night. 

Their electric cars didn’t wake the neighbors.


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Org adds new factors to green car list

Using a hybrid method to calculate the greenness of vehicles, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a non-profit group funded by electric utilities and others, announced its greenest vehicles for 2011.

The ACEEE ranking expands on the ratings of the Environmental Protection Agency for fuel-efficiency and tailpipe-emissions, as well as factoring in the GREET model created by Argonne National Laboratory.

Other factors considered in the ranking are the emissions produced by the “gas-assist” power plants that add range to electric vehicles such as the GM Volt (see number 12 on this list), as well as the environmental costs associated with battery production and disposal. 

  1. Honda Civic GX, a limited-production model Civic that has been around for a several years burns compressed natural gas and is expected to be in wider distribution and more retail showrooms in 2012.
  2. Nissan Leaf, a true ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) with no tailpipe needed because it is all electric gets a number two rating due to this list factoring in considerations about mining of materials used by the batteries and also battery disposal. 
  3. Smart Fortwo, a small and thus lightweight design uses a 1.0 liter engine to efficiently move two passengers. Drivers of more conventional looking vehicles love to make jokes about the design, such as “What happened to the rest of your car?”  Keep your eyes out for the EV version of the Smart Fortwo, which you can see illustrated at right. It combines small size with electric power and promises to be about the greenest vehicle on the mass market. 
  4. Toyota Prius
  5. Honda Civic Hybrid
  6. Honda Insight
  7. Ford Fiesta SFE, a Fiesta with a Super Fuel Economy package (lighter weight, more aerodynamic, with performance tweaks and mileage-maximizing tires) gets 40 miles per gallon on the highway.
  8. Chevrolet Cruze Eco
  9. Hyundai Elantra
  10. Mini Cooper
  11. Toyota Yaris
  12. Chevrolet Volt
  13. Mazda 2

For more information about the ACEEE organization and additional factors used to rate green vehicles, see

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A look at the all-electric Nissan Leaf

Fellow auto writer extraordinaire Lou Ann Hammond recently received an all-electric Nissan Leaf for testing.

In this video, she gets a primer from Owen Thunes, the Senior Project Engineer at Nissan Technical Center North America. Sacramento, California.

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From the Mini E to Mitsubishi “i” EV

As most readers know, Mini is a part of the BMW Group. The beloved Mini Cooper came out as a 100% electric 2-seater with batteries taking up the backseat called the MiniE, which was leased to 450 lucky U.S. field trial drivers during 2010. We know how much the drivers dug their E’s because we talked with them many of them when they gathered at the Alt Car Expo in Santa Monica, California last year.

While we wouldn’t categorize the MiniE a green family car, due to its lack of a back seat and minimal stowage area, it could come in handy as a second car for one parent in a two-car household to pick up or drop off one child, or run errands and go shopping. According to a BMW Group rep at the 2010 LA Auto Show, most of the trial drivers extended their leases after end of field trial, so Mini is not definately not killing this little and much-loved electric car.

Exactly when the rest of us will be able to lease or purchase a MiniE is still not precisely known. Our best guess is that it will be available when the Fiat 500 EV (pictured at right ) comes on the market in the beginning of 2012.

But let’s move on from what the Germans (Bavarian Motor Group) and the Italians who bought Chrysler are offering to what the Japanese have in store for us beyond the plug-in Prius hybrid.

We can’t tell you if the vehicle from Honda called the PNUT  (their Personal Neo-Urban Utility Transport pictured at left a the 2009 LA Auto Show) is what the company’s electric vehicle entry will look like, or even what it will be called when it gets to dealer showrooms, but we can tell you that Honda has teams working hard to get them into the EV ballgame as soon as possible.

However there is an electric vehicle that is already rolling on the streets of Japan, and in a Gulf state or two, the Mitsubishi “i” electric vehicle known as the MiEV. This fun little car is set to go on sale in the United States this fall with a range of 120 to 160 kilometers and a top speed of 130 kilometers per hour. Recharging the MiEV is estimated to take 7 hours from a 240-volt power supply.

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