Archive for February, 2012

Green news for families – Tesla plans all-electric SUV

In Los Angeles this week, Tesla made an announcement that all green-friendly families will enjoy — a new, all-electric, seven passenger sport utility vehicle is on its way. The pioneering electric car manufacturer for the luxury segment will base the family friendly e-van on the same platform as the Tesla S sedan model that is due out in mid-2012.

This new electric model is bound to create a stir, not just because it’s electric, but because of its wings. Tesla’s designers took a big step forward by going back in time to replicate the “Gull Wings” of the DeLorean DMC-12 from the 1980s. Tesla prefers to call them “Falcon Wings.”

Whatever bird you want to call them, the wings look pretty cool and are sure to draw attention from the carpool crowd.

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The talk around the Chicago Auto Show is once again centering on the benefits of electric vehicles. There’s the fuel savings, of course, by not having to purchase gasoline at ever-fluctuating rates; and the environmental benefits are certainly palpable when you consider the lack of emissions for electric vehicles.

But the drawbacks of e-cars are also at issue. Battery safety and lifespan are evolving technologies and often leave potential customers contentedly on the sidelines until proven systems are available.

The vehicle’s range is another concern for customers who are not accustomed to “filling up” at shopping malls and public parking lots rather than gas stations on every corner.

It’s this last concern — “Range Anxiety and searching for e-charging stations — that the Chicago Tribune focuses on in its kickoff coverage of the Chicago Auto Show. Writer Julie Wernau tells the story of an electric car enthusiast who is thrilled to start seeing more e-cars charging up at electric outlets all over the city, including laundromats, hotels, churches and even gas stations.

“Any given week there are more electric vehicles wanting to charge than there are charging stations,” he said. “This is my nirvana. These are the days I’ve wanted to see for the last 10 years.”

But if there’s a full-blown revolution coming, it isn’t here yet. While the hybrid market is growing, in 2012 it comprises just 2.46 percent of the overall market. Electric vehicle sales represent less than 1 percent, according to industry watcher Edmunds.com.

“We’re in the covered-wagon days of this industry,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds. “We’re in a pioneering time.”

Here’s the full story from the Chicago Tribune.

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New Prius C pricing to start at under $19K

Calling all hybrid naysayers. Those who say they won’t consider driving a hybrid — or any other alternative fuel vehicle — until the price comes down to a reasonable level.

Well, it’s time to  start considering.

Toyota today announced the pricing for the all-new Prius c — a sub-compact hybrid that uses the same Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive that has been the standard for all other hybrid drives to emmulate. 

Designed to function as a city-friendly vehicle with an engaging driving experience, hatchback utility, and an EPA-estimated city fuel economy rating of 53 mpg, Prius c offers the highest city mpg rating of any vehicle without a plug. The all-new Prius c joins the Prius Family, which includes the third generation Prius Liftback, the versatile new Prius v and the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, which will be available in early 2012.

So at what cost would it take to get into this 53-mpg hybrid? Toyota announced a MSRP of $18,950 for the base Prius c — also known as the Prius c “One.” There are four levels of packages for the Prius C, with the fully loaded Prius c “Four” carrying a price of just 23,230. The MSRPs for the 2012 Prius c do not include the delivery, processing and handling (DPH) fee, which is $760.

In other green car news, Honda today announced the delivery of some of the first 2013 Honda Fit EV battery-electric vehicles to Stanford University and Google Inc. as part of the company’s Electric Vehicle Demonstration Program.

Along with the city of Torrance, Calif., each participant is now conducting general testing as well as providing specific feedback related to the future introduction of electric vehicles. The Honda Electric Vehicle Demonstration Program participants are the first recipients of the 2013 Fit EV in the United States.

The all-electric Fit EV debuted at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show and is expected to achieve 123 miles per charge — 76 miles combined city/highway driving. It will become available for leasing to customers in select California and Oregon markets in the summer of 2012.

Here’s the full announcement.

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Near miss with a flying Leaf

I almost got hit by a Leaf the other day. Had it happened, not only would I have likely been badly hurt, but the consequences could have had a potential impact on the electric vehicle industry for years to come.

Let me explain.

The near disaster took place at mid-day in a busy Southern California intersection. Having a clear green light and two lanes of stopped traffic to my left, I slowly guided the 2012 Buick LaCrosse with eAssist I was driving into the intersection. Suddenly, a silver Nissan Leaf came whizzing through the open third traffic lane and racing into the intersection aimed right into my path.

The driver of the Leaf slammed on her brakes just a couple of feet from the front bumper of my Buick LaCrosse.

After catching our collective breaths, the driver and I exchanged glances, and then a thankful  grin before I nursed the LaCrosse’s gas pedal to continue moving on.

Then I began to wonder:

  • What was she thinking about when she didn’t notice the red light and stopped traffic? Was she enjoying the silent ride of the all-electric Nissan Leaf?
  • Perhaps she was so ecstatic about the Leaf’s amazingly zippy pick-up that she forgot how fast she was going. With no torque to rev up, the throttle-to-wheels time is almost instantaneous.
  • Or was she just not used to stopping her car at all? Never having to stop at a gas station for a fill-up can spoil a person, you know. She was probably counting the money she was saving by not buying gas.

On a global scale, I thought about the potential consequences that this collision could have had on the electric car industry. While most emergency personnel have plenty of experience handling gasoline spills, would they know what to do with leaking acid from a damaged battery?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a report released last month, the agency said it “remains unaware of any real-world crashes that have resulted in a battery-related fire involving the Chevy Volt or any other electric vehicle. NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers.”

So had that little near-miss with a Leaf actually been a direct hit, you can be sure that Nissan and NHTSA officials would have been on the scene as quickly as possible to inspect and analyze the damage to the Leaf’s battery.

As for my Buick LaCrosse with eAssist, I’m pretty sure it would have stood up fairly well against the little Leaf. And even though it’s not called a “hybrid,” the eAssist system helps the LaCrosse achieve an average fuel mileage of 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.

Nevertheless, that’s one collision with a Leaf that I am happy to have avoided.

— Keith Turner

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