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Posts Tagged ‘Tesla Motors’

Anniversary

June 25th, 2010 admin Comments off

Time flies. It was just about a year ago that ThatCarBlog kicked off with my inaugural post.  A lot has happened since then:  Cash For Clunkers came and went; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act doled out several billion dollars to help improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, primarily through electrification; automobile manufacturers introduced a few new interesting vehicles; a few Toyota Priuses got Christined and took their drivers on a wild ride; oh, and BP broke something that they don’t know how to fix…

Unfortunately, I’ve been busy the past month, and haven’t had time for a single update.  To my recollection though, not much has happened during the past few weeks, automotively speaking.  We’re still waiting for the public release of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf later this year – signifying the mass-market introduction of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles in the U.S.  (One thing that has happened is that a few automotive journalists have had the chance to drive the Leaf, and were quite impressed!)  Mercedes did reveal the first prototype of the all-electric version of their SLS AMG, which is drop-dead gorgeous, although the color-scheme for the prototype is questionable…  Tesla Motors’ initial public offering of stock is right around the corner, with much speculation as to whether it’ll be a success or a flop.  …Oh, and BP has done basically nothing to stop the oil-geyser that they created in the Gulf of Mexico, despite spending over $2.3 billion.

…OK, so maybe a lot has been going on in the last month. The automotive world doesn’t stop just because I don’t have time to think about it.  (Or because the World Cup is happening.  …Hhhmmm, maybe that’s why I haven’t had time for ThatCarBlog in the last couple of weeks!)

Anyway, Happy Birthday to ThatCarBlog.  Thanks for reading!  Now, it’s time for Brazil v. Portugal!

Missing the Point

January 7th, 2010 admin Comments off

The fuel-economy of our nation’s light-duty vehicle fleet has been roughly stagnant for the past three decades, following a significant (but unsustained) improvement just after the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules were enacted in 1975.  And although our cars’ fuel-economy hasn’t really improved, their efficiency certainly has.  We’re certainly moving around a lot more mass, a lot faster, on the same amount of fuel (per car) we were using 30 years ago. The problem is, all this technology packed into our automobiles has been engineered almost entirely to give us more performance (a 1980 Honda Accord had less than 80 hp; today’s base-model is approaching 200) and move us around in a lot more luxury (with a resulting heft of 3200 lbs for today’s Accord, a gain of a half-ton over the 1980 version) than we ever thought possible, at the complete expense of fuel-economy.  (I know, it’s a result of market demand…  But the best marketers are experts at selling us what we don’t need.)

These days, hybrid technology seems to be the solution to significant increases in fuel-economy, as it becomes ever more difficult to squeeze further efficiency improvements from conventional powertrains.  But BMW has taken a different tack with their ActiveHybrid X6.  Touted as “the world’s most powerful hybrid,” BMW starts with a 4.4-liter, 400 hp V8 internal combustion engine – which, until recent years, would have been enough of a beast to power anything but vehicles of near-supercar status – and integrates it with not one, but TWO electric motors totaling an additional 174 hp.  And sure, the combined 574 horses will be enough to provide incredible acceleration in this nearly 3-ton mammoth, but … what’s the point?

2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid

2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid

The X6 ActiveHybrid starts at a base price of nearly $90k.  At that price-level, you could almost have a Tesla Roadster, or one of the other upcoming EVs or PHEVs with phenomenal performance and actual environmental benefits.  Granted, the X6 will carry a little more gear than a Roadster.  But, it’s ugly – no matter what powertrain is under the skin.  The X6 looks like the answer to a question that nobody asked.  And while I’m sure it, like all BMWs, offers a driving experience more exhilarating than the majority of other cars on the road, I can’t help but think of it as a caricature of a Honda CRX.

I hope automakers don’t repeat the trend of the past 3 decades, by following BMW’s example of continuing to utilize efficiency-improving technology to increase performance while sacrificing potential fuel-economy benefits. Fortunately, due to the recent and long-overdue increase in CAFE standards, this trend may be thwarted.  At least, as it was in the 1980s, temporarily.

Electric Eye Candy

December 16th, 2009 admin 1 comment

A decade ago, Toyota showed us that transportation could be efficient but boring when they introduced the first generation Prius.  A few years ago, Tesla wowed the world (well, at least the automotive world – or rather, the green-sports-car-world) with its Roadster, showing that fast can be efficient and sexy all at once.  Then came Fisker‘s Karma.  And others…

Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

At this point, high-end, electrified sports cars are popping up as frequently as Tiger Woods’ mistresses.  Two recently caught my eye.  (Cars, not mistresses…)  The first is the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG.  Now, the SLS isn’t a built-from-scratch EV supercar.  This homage to the classic 300SL comes with a 6.2-liter, 563 hp V8 providing the motivation for sub-4-second acceleration to 60 mph.  But, Daimler’s Chairman of the Board Dieter Zetsche says “As of 2013, it will be available with an electric-only driveline.”  Unfortunately, details are sparse.  But given the gasoline version will probably cost around $200,000, there’s plenty of financial opportunity to install a very capable electron-based drivetrain in a couple years.

The other car that caught my attention is a new car (the Motion) from a new car company (Kepler Motors, presumably named for German mathematician Johannes Kepler, for a reason I don’t know, although I did once visit Tübingen, Germany – the town of Kepler’s alma mater – and had some really good spätzle).  The Motion – a parallel through-the-road hybrid – utilizes Ford‘s new EcoBoost engine (which I described here), tuned to 550 hp and attached to the rear wheels, while a 250 hp electric motor provides motive force at the front end, adding up to new levels of ridiculosity.  It’s good-looking, exclusive, and undoubtedly fast, but I keep thinking:  All these new companies keep showing us what they can do with electrified drivetrains – now, show us what you can do with a $20k – $40k price point.

A Battery of Questions

November 24th, 2009 admin Comments off

cell photoI often think I know more about things than I really do. And one thing I think I know a lot about is batteries – the kind that goes in your Prius, and the kind that will go in your Volt.  As most car-folks know, the battery industry is currently transitioning from nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries (i.e., what’s in your Prius) to lithium-ion (Li-ion; i.e., what’s in your Volt.  Or Leaf.  Or Tesla.).  And, it turns out, a battery isn’t just a battery – different types of batteries require significantly different control mechanisms to manage how much and how quickly they are charged and discharged, and how they behave while in operation, so that lifetime, safety, and performance are maximized.

But it’s even more complicated than that.  There are dozens of different Li-ion battery chemistries.  Every battery manufacturer has their own idea of the right combination of chemistry and manufacturing process that will result in the winning formula.  But each of these batteries has very unique characteristics that require very specific controls once it’s embedded in an automobile.  Auto manufacturers, on the other hand, would like to be chemistry-agnostic.  (They just want a battery that meets their requirements.)  But, given that the battery dictates the control software, it’s not so easy for a car maker to just pick a battery off the shelf.  Substantial development effort must take place between the auto maker and the battery maker, so that the car and the battery work together as a system.  (Just look at all the effort that has gone into the Volt’s development, in conjunction with Compact Power / LG Chem.)  Once a vehicle has been developed with a particular battery in place, changing battery suppliers would be a major hurdle.  As a result, there have been a lot of joint-ventures formed between auto manufacturers and battery companies, effectively tying their efforts together.

In the end, we’ll likely see each electrified automobile maker tied to one particular type of battery.  But there’s also the issue of standardization in the industry.  I wonder, if each auto/battery manufacturer takes a different path, will this complicate standardization?  How will this effect business models like Better Place – will their entire infrastructure be wedded to one type of battery and one manufacturer?

You Lie!

October 6th, 2009 admin Comments off

This is not a political blog.

24

TWENTY-FOUR.  That’s the number of misleading statements (most of which are outright lies) that I just counted in this 9-and-a-half-minute video showing two Fox News segments about the DOE loans given to Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, authorized by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.  The myth perpetuated by the Fox folks (and a WSJ columnist) is that these loans are going to European companies, creating jobs overseas, to build ultra-expensive cars that nobody can afford, all because of Al Gore’s influence over the DOE.

As pointed out in this Autobloggreen post, Fisker is not a Finnish company – they’re based in Irvine, California.  The Karma’s body construction is contracted out to Valmet, a Finnish company that also builds Boxsters for Porsche.  As Fisker points out, 65% of the Karma (by cost) is built in the United States.  Similarly, Tesla Motors is not a British company, but is based in San Carlos, California.  Lotus builds the bodies for their Tesla Roadster in the UK, but again the majority of the car (not to mention the R&D efforts) come from the U.S.  And while the Fisker Karma and Tesla Roadster are indeed more expensive than the Camry in your garage, they are first-generation high-performance electric vehicles.  (The first computers were also outrageously expensive.  So were CD players.  And video cameras.  And DVD players.  And any other new technology that makes its way downmarket.)

The DOE loans are intended to increase the pace of technological development and volume manufacturing at these companies, and help bring the technology into the mainstream more quickly. Tesla’s Model S and Fisker’s NINA will arrive sooner than they otherwise would have, and they will be built here in the U.S. because of these loans.  And what role did Al Gore play in all of this?  None.  He (along with about 43 other individuals) is a partner at Kleiner Perkins, one of the financial backers behind Fisker, and a host of other companies.

Describing Fisker as “an Al Gore-backed company from Finland” isn’t only a stretch – it’s a blatant lie.

The Public Option, Good Karma, and the Mainstream

September 23rd, 2009 admin Comments off

If you’re keeping up with the goings-on in the alternative vehicle world these days, you might be as optimistic as I am.  As the economy starts to emerge from the sewer of the past year, indications are that momentum behind electrified vehicles is starting to increase – especially that of the financial variety.

a123-logoThe Public Option OK, so healthcare has taken center-stage for a number of weeks now, but that’s not what this is about.  I’m talking about the Initial Public Offering of shares of Li-ion battery maker A123 System’s common stock.  Without doing any rigorous financial analysis, I’m excited about the IPO.  A123 is a good company with an appropriate battery chemistry and some degree of demonstrating that it can mass produce battery cells at high volume.  Their acquisition of Hymotion gives them a test-bed and demonstration platform for using their battery technology in automotive applications.  They’ve received grants from both the federal and Michigan state governments.  Plus, they have a nice website.  The fact that the IPO was estimated to be priced at $8.75/share just a couple of weeks ago, and is now likely to be more in the $10 – $11.50 range, illustrates the excitement behind this IPO.  (This, in a time when folks are still reluctant to let go of their cash.)  We’ll know today or tomorrow what the price is, and it’ll be fun to watch what happens going forward.

fisker logoGood Karma It was announced this week that Fisker Automotive, maker of the Karma high-end PHEV, has joined the ranks of Ford, Nissan, and Tesla Motors and received federal loans from the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, to the tune of $528-million (slightly more than the amount awarded to Tesla).  These funds will be used to complete the development of the Karma, as well as a second previously unknown model codenamed Project NINA, targeting the more mainstream lower-cost market.  Hopefully, private money will follow public, for Fisker and for the other companies receiving DOE grants and loans.

The Mainstream I hereby declare that electric vehicles have become mainstream!  The proof is that Stephen Colbert’s guest on the Colbert Report last night was Shai Agassi, the technologically brilliant and business savvy founder and CEO of Better Place, the company planning to deploy massive electric vehicle charging and battery-swap infrastructure.  Some might say Better Place’s task is more daunting than that of the automakers.  They have certainly received, and will continue to receive, a lot of attention from the industry.  But now Shai is visiting Stephen Colbert?!  What next – will Elon Musk appear on Letterman?!…

Tesla v. Fisker

July 25th, 2009 admin 1 comment
Fisker Karma Front

Fisker Karma

Fisker Karma

No, this isn’t another post about the legal battles between Tesla and Henrik Fisker, who had a shot at designing Tesla’s all-electric sedan before starting a car company on his own.  (You can find those on countless other websites.)  This is my subjective opinion, a comparison of the Tesla Model S and the Fisker Karma – two high-end, electrified automobiles intended to excite the car-guy as much as the environmentalist.  These two vehicles will be natural competitors once they’re available in 2010/2011.

Let’s start with the Karma, since Fisker intends to start delivering it in mid-2010, about a year and a half ahead of Tesla’s Model S.  The Karma is a plug-in hybrid of the serial variety (meaning its gasoline-powered GM-sourced 4-cylinder engine merely serves to recharge its lithium-ion battery once its electric range of 50 miles has been reached).  Fisker promises acceleration to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, and a top speed of 125 mph.  While the top-speed is slow compared to most sports cars, it’s well above any legal speed here in the U.S., and is a limitation of the electric drivetrain when used with a transmission with a single forward gear.  And while the acceleration is on par with other sports sedans, the Karma doesn’t look like other sports sedans.  It looks exotic, in the vein of Aston Martin or Maserati.  Only something’s not quite right.  It’s hood is a little too long (think Jaguar E-type, only not beautiful).  It looks like it’s wearing braces.  The diamond shaped reverse-lights mimic the diamond shaped vents in the front fascia, and neither is stylistically correct.  And My God, have you seen that interior?  …The Karma wants to be an Aston Martin V8 Vantage – a stunning automobile also designed by Henrik Fisker.  But it comes across as a not-quite-final sketch that should have ended up in the wastebasket.  In any case, it can be yours for just shy of $90,000 (excluding federal tax credits).  We’ll finally get to see one in motion in mid-August.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Now on to the Tesla Model S.  I have to admit, I was blown away when the Model S was revealed in mid-March.  Like Tesla’s Roadster, the Model S is motivated by an all-electric powertrain, going 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds with a top-speed of 120 mph – specs which are almost identical to the Karma’s.  The base version will cost just shy of $60,000 (exluding tax credits) and have a 160-mile range (with optional upgrades to 230 or 300 miles).  The lack of an internal combustion engine allows for more space for occupants as well – the Model S claims it can carry 5 adults PLUS two children.  And it looks good.  Damn good.  It’s not quite as exotic as the Karma; instead, it looks like something you might see on the street.  It looks like what the Porsche Panamera should’ve looked like.  It aims to compete with the BMW 5-series, or perhaps the Mercedes S-class, or maybe the Panamera.  And it does it well.  It’s Achilles-heel is the fact that production likely won’t begin until the end of 2011 (despite the fact that we’ve already seen the prototype going out for a test drive).  And for more Model S design eye-candy, check out this video.

I wish both Fisker and Tesla immense success.  But if I had $90k burning a hole in my pocket, I believe I’d wait the extra 18 months and drive home in a Model S (with the 300-mile battery-pack, thank you).

Does the Insight Hurt the Cause?

July 1st, 2009 admin 2 comments

I have not driven the new Honda Insight (Honda’s “affordable hybrid”).  I did read Jeremy Clarkson’s scathing review of it last month (and if I didn’t link to it, like every other auto-related blog has done, then this wouldn’t be a bona fide car blog).  And although the Top Gear host is admittedly anti-hybrid (his being obtuse is a trait I chalk up to part of his schtick as a TV entertainer), I tend to think his view of things automotive sync up well with mine.  (After all, I did declare the Alfa Romeo 8c Competizione the most beautiful car of the modern era, even before he did.  Unlike Clarkson, unfortunately, I was not offered the opportunity to drive the 8c on a test track, which may be just as well, since Clarkson was thoroughly unimpressed.)

Honda InsightBut now, Consumer Reports has given the Insight another horrible review.  And while I’ve never given any credence to CR’s automotive reviews (they tend to approach cars as if they were appliances), the fact that the Insight has now earned two black marks from both extremes of the auto review spectrum makes me think there may be some truth behind the negativity.  (Heck, I even winced a little when I saw the first photos of the Insight revealed before the vehicle’s introduction.)

Now, I love the fact that there are more and more hybrid vehicles being introduced to the market … but, if one of the most anticipated and talked-about hybrids is really a piece of shit as bad as they say, then this doesn’t really help the cause for powertrain electrification!  If consumers get in their mind that hybrid = crap, then fewer hybrids will be sold.  Purchasers of hybrid vehicles should not have to compromise when making their purchase; otherwise, there won’t be any purchasers of hybrid vehicles.

Tesla Motors had the right idea with their Roadster – make a car that people want.  Sure, most of us can’t afford a Tesla Roadster, but that’s how technology works – when it’s brand new, it’s expensive.  Many more folks will be able to afford Tesla’s Model S.  And you know what?  It’s also a car that people want.  The Toyota Prius – the most successful electrified (in its case, hybrid) vehicle thus far, isn’t necessarily a car that people want, but it doesn’t really force its owner to compromise, either.  (OK, the last-generation Prius that I drove over the Rocky Mountains did struggle to maintain a constant speed, but that’s likely true for any normally-aspirated internal combustion engined economy car going up steep hills at 10,000 feet.)  The Chevy Volt – although similar in shape to the Insight & Prius (where aerodynamics may trump style) – is actually a decent looking car, in my opinion.  And hopefully, GM’s recent claims that the vehicle will be sportier than the Prius will hold true.

So, automakers, take note:  don’t make crappy hybrids.  Or crappy PHEVs.  Or crappy EVs.  …Better yet, just don’t build any more crappy cars.