2010 will see extended range plug in hybrids — as well as all electric vehicles start to hit the road in significant numbers. The plugin hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a primarily an electric vehicle with a small non-electric motor to extend their range; it is more of an electric vehicle and less of a gas powered vehicle than current hybrids. This post examines some of the main players in this emerging electic vehicle sector.
by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post
It seems that 2010 may be the year that extended range plug in hybrids start to hit the road in significant numbers. While hybrid cars – such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight or Ford Escape – have been around for some years these vehicles are still primarily efficient gasoline powered cars that are assisted by a small electric motor that is coupled with a small battery pack. The plugin hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is instead primarily an electric vehicle with a small non-electric motor to extend their range. In a PHEV the electric motor supplies a larger percentage of the total potential power typically 50% or more allowing the vehicle to operate on electric power alone even at highway speeds.
Following is a quick list of the notable electric and PHEV vehicle players that will be on the market in 2010 (or soon thereafter)
• General Motors is planning to launch its heavily anticipated Chevy Volt in 2010, initially in the California market and then expanding to the rest of the US market over the next few years.
• BYD, a Shenzhen (China) based car company is already producing a midsized sedan plugin hybrid, called the F3DM that can go 60 miles on its batteries. While it is still a couple of years away the company is apparently planning on producing plugin hybrids for the US market.
• Aptera Motors a startup in San Diego County, California plans to release the Aptera 2e, which is a 3-wheel compact electric powered car in 2010.
• Fisker Automotive, a well funded startup based in Irvine, Ca said it would begin will begin delivering its Karma plug-in hybrids in the third quarter of 2010.
• The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid vehicle will have a limited release (a sadly very limited release of only 150 vehicles) in 2010 to showcase the new vehicle in key locations around the country.
• Tesla Motors, based in the Silicon Valley currently sells the Roadster a high end all electric sports car. In 2011 it plans to start delivering the less exclusive and lower priced Model S
• TH!NK North America, Inc. hopes to begin production by late 2010 of its all electric economy cars. Initially it plans to produce 2,500 vehicles per year increasing that number as demand grows.
Plugin Hybrids Dramatically Reduce Both Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The California Air Resources Board 2004 Staff Report study found that electric vehicles emit 67% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than comparable gasoline powered cars do and that a PHEV with a 20 mile all electric range can achieve a 62% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This calculation was based on the current mix of electric energy supplies on the grid and assumes that these vehicles are re-charged with off peak night time electricity. As the quantity of renewable energy on the grid increases this figure will increase even more. Of course this also means that these vehicles use far less fossil fuel than a gas powered car would – even if fossil fuel is burnt in power plants to make the electricity that the vehicle consumes.
This finding makes sense when one looks at the comparative well-to-wheel efficiencies of the advanced PHEVs and traditional ICE vehicles. Well-to-wheel attempts to measure the efficiency of a transportation system through all phases of its energy chain – i.e. from the well all the way to the wheel. An internal combustion engine only converts around 20% of its thermal energy into mechanical force and because of additional energy losses in the transmission system even less actually makes it to where the rubber meets the road. An electric vehicle is far more efficient converting 90% or even more of the electric energy into useful work and although to the extent it requires a power transmission system it will lose some energy electric motors have a very good torque profile even at low RPM and can thus get away with simpler transmission systems than ICE engines, which are instead characterized by very poor torque at low RPM.
Now it is true that the electricity itself needs to be produced and currently this is done largely by burning fossil fuels. However modern combined cycle thermoelectric power plants can achieve efficiencies as high as 55% and most operate above 40%. So even factoring in line loss big thermo-electric power plants can recharge a PHEV vehicles batteries using significantly less fossil fuel than an ICE engine would require in order to produce comparable work.
In addition plugin hybrids are designed to take advantage of off peak load power at night time when there is a lot of surplus electric power on the grid. Though the range between peak and off peak wholesale prices varies by region depending on particular regional factors it is an almost universal phenomenon because the large thermoelectric power station t hat supply the base load need to operate continuously and cannot easily be cycled on and off. Wholesale prices for off peak power can be one third or even less than the wholesale price for the same power delivered during peak load periods. As more and more wind energy capacity is added the wholesale price for off peak power will continue to drop and in some wind producing areas it has even gone negative. For example real time price of electricity in West Texas, where almost all generation is wind, was negative for 23% of April 2009.
Whether the consumer can benefit from this spot electricity price volatility depends on whether or not their electric utility offers residential off peak rates – usually known as time of use plans. For those customers off peak rates can be as little as one third the peak rates.
The Chevy Volt
General Motors announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show in California in early December that the Chevy Volt, an extended-range PHEV, will be available late next year (2010) in the California market and will be rolled out in additional markets later. GM is investing $336 million in its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant to begin Volt production in late 2010. It is also partnering with three California utilities and the Electric Power Research Institute in a real-world demonstration to establish vehicle charging programs and to introduce the Volt to consumers.
The Chevy Volt is an extended range PHEV that will be able to go 40 miles on a single charge of its large 400 lb lithium-ion battery that can contain 16kwh of power. The Volt is powered by a 150-hp electric motor that powers the car’s front wheels. The Volt also carries a 1.4-liter flex-fuel engine that kicks in when its battery pack has discharged – after 40 miles on a full charge. Crucially this engine does not actually drive the car’s wheels, but is used to efficiently generate power for the car’s electric motor and to recharge its battery pack.
This configuration is known as a “series” hybrid and is fundamentally different from a “parallel” hybrid (the Prius, for example) in which the car’s wheels are driven primarily by a ICE engine that is assisted by a much smaller electric motor powered by a much smaller battery pack. In parallel hybrids the car’s electronic control unit constantly switches ratios of power between the ICE engine and a much smaller electric motor + battery pack (about 1 kWh). In other words the Volt is an electric car with an ICE engine for backup as opposed to hybrids such as the Prius that are primarily powered by their ICE engines. This is a fundamental change in the car’s power train; the Volt is a very different kind of car.
The car will be priced around $40,000 (with a $7,500 tax credit) largely because of the high price of its lithium-ion battery packs. The company plans to build 10,000 Volts the first year, and as many as 60,000 a year after that.
BYD, A large Chinese car and battery manufacturer based in Shenzhen is already producing a midsized sedan plugin hybrid, called the F3DM. BYD showcased its F3DM PHEV at the North American Auto Show 2010. The company has claimed the F3DM can travel 100 km purely on battery, but the figure is based on a test at a constant low speed of 50 km/h. There have also been reports that the car’s battery pack is also suffers from high rates of defective power packs, because it is difficult to ensure that all batteries are produced using the same procedure and materials. Sales have so far been disappointing because the car is priced out of reach for most Chinese consumers and there is a lack of a charging infrastructure and a stagnant auto market. In addition the car’s battery pack requires nine hours to recharge.
While it is still a couple of years away the company is apparently planning on producing plugin hybrids for the US and European markets. In order to penetrate these markets BYD will need to work out the kinks in its battery power packs and raise the quality and safety features up to EU and US levels. No small feat, but it would be foolish to ignore BYD. It is a dynamic and innovative company that employs over 100,000 people and is a leader in battery power packs as well as being an automobile manufacturer. Warren Buffet recently invested some $320 million to acquire a 10% stake.
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Aptera Motors, a start-up based in Carlsbad, California has built an innovative prototype 3-wheel all electric vehicles that it had hoped to get into production by 2009. It has not managed to make this date and now reports that it will go into production in 2010. The production model known as the Aptera 2 Series will be a two-seat, three-wheeled passenger vehicle available first in an all-electric configuration the Aptera 2e and later in series hybrid Aptera 2h configuration. The company hopes to be able to sell it at prices ranging from mid-twenty to mid-forty thousand dollars. This is a very distinctive vehicle – you either love it or you will hate it — that because of its highly aerodynamic body shell and light weight promises to get more than 300 mpg.
Unfortunately – for the many of us who would love to see this innovative vehicle make it onto the streets — there are ugly rumors swirling around about the company’s survival; rumors that are fueled by large layoffs at the company and by the extended “vacation” of co-founder Steve Fambro and by the other co-founder Chris Anthony “stepping aside from day-to-day activities” — Wired.com reported that the co-founders have been ousted, in a boardroom showdown, by the management team they brought in last year to run the company.
Aptera has been dogged by repeated production delays – first 2008 and now 2009 – leading to questions about the direction it has taken under CEO Paul B. Wilbur. Probably most troubling allegation for the company is the troubling – many would say criminal – past of Laura Marion the CFO who in 2006, was cited by the SEC for her role in one of the largest accounting frauds in US history at Delphi. Many people rightfully ask: what is someone who is so evidently ethically challenged as Laura Marion (as the SEC citation clearly shows: click here to read the SEC citation) doing as the CFO of any company? Having read the citation I was left with the impression that this individual is clearly guilty of a massive fraud and it leads me to question the integrity and judgment of the CEO who hired her. For those who wish to read more in depth about the troubles at Aptera Motors I suggest the excellent and well researched series of exposes: Aptera’s Troubles: Get the Full, Inside Story Here by Karen Pease.
Fisker Automotive, is a joint venture between Fisker Coachbuild and Quantum Technologies founded in 2007 and headquartered in Irvine, CA that bills itself as a green American premium sports car company. Fisker is planning on releasing the Karma a luxury plugin hybrid sports coupe that will be able to go 50 miles on electric power when fully charged. This car will do 0-60 in less than 6 seconds and have a top speed of 125mph. The car may be quite muscular, but it also sports green credentials. Karma is good for just 83 g/km of CO2 emissions a CO2 output that is less than that of today’s cleanest production cars. In Stealth (or battery powered) mode the Karma can be driven into the growing number of traffic-restricting Low Emissions Zones (LEZ) that are springing up around Europe, including in Berlin, Stuttgart, London and Amsterdam and 70 other cities and towns across the continent.
This series plugin hybrid car is has a small efficient gas powered ICE that turns a generator, which charges the lithium ion battery pack, powering the electric motor and turning the rear wheels.
The company seems well positioned to begin production – planned at 15,000 units per year initially – in 2010. It has built up a sales channel by partnering with 42 North American retailers in 45 locations and is represented in Europe by three major distributors across the continent.
Fisker has also been awarded a $528.7 million U.S. Department of Energy conditional loan. The DOE loan directs $169.3 million for engineering integration costs to get the Fisker Karma finished, with the remaining funding to be used on Fisker’s Project Nina, which is a project to manufacture a lower cost middle market plug-in hybrid in the U.S. Fisker estimates that up to 75,000-100,000 of these highly efficient vehicles will roll off assembly lines in the U.S. every year beginning in late 2012.
Toyota Prius Plugin Hybrid
Toyota, the global hybrid king has been forced to play defense by General Motors development of the Chevy Volt. By aggressively moving to bring the Volt to market GM threatens to overtake Toyota in the hybrid sector. It seems like Toyota was caught a little bit off guard.
Toyota plans a limited 150 car release of its PHEV Prius in the US market that is based on the third-generation Prius, it adds a lithium-ion battery and an 81-hp electric motor that enables all-electric operation at higher speeds – of up to 62 mph and longer distances than the conventional Prius hybrid. The new Prius PHV is designed to use the all-electric mode for trips of about 13 miles. After that, it reverts to the hybrid mode like a regular Prius. According to Toyota, its plug-in Prius hybrids are averaging 65 miles per gallon in real world testing, an improvement of 15 mpg over the recently-unveiled 2010 Prius. While Toyota is not saying when the new PHEV version of the Prius will go on sale, many speculate that it is planning on a 2012 release date.
Tesla Motors, a privately held company based in the Silicon Valley is currently selling its all electric Roadster a high end two-seater sports car that does 0-60 in just 3.7 seconds. It is a beautiful sports car and it is an expensive sports car – at more than $100K. In 2011 the company plans to start delivering its Model S, which is more in a price range that more people can dream about. The Model S is an all electric 4-door sports sedan that boasts a 300 mile range on a single charge (for models that have the extended battery pack) and 160 miles per charge for the base model and a fast 45 minute 80% recharge time. Tesla plans to sell the Model S starting at a base price of $49,000 (after a $7,500 federal tax break). This is a pretty muscular vehicle; it will go 0 to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds and has a top speed of 120 mph.
TH!NK North America
TH!NK North America, Inc., the North American division of Norwegian electric car manufacturer TH!NK Global is in the final stages of its decision where to site its North American operations. Elkhart County, Indiana is offering a 10 year tax abatement to convince the company to locate its facility there near Middlebury. However it is not yet a done deal and alternative sites in Michigan and Oregon are still being considered. The company hopes to begin production by the end of 2010, making about 2,500 electric cars a year and employ 415 people by 2013.
It currently produces the Th!nk City an all electric car that has a 112 mile per charge range and a 62 mph top speed. It is not clear at this time whether the US plant will be producing the Th!nk City or a production version of the five seater Th!nk Ox concept car.
This year certainly seems to be shaping up as a watershed year in which a lot of plugin hybrid as well as all electric vehicle makers make it out into production. Other projects, such as the Toyota plugin hybrid project are also moving closer to market as well. All is not rosy — the troubling news coming out of Aptera and ZENN motors stopping production of its electric cars – however in the balance this year seems like the start of a new chapter in automotive history.
One long term cloud that potentially hangs over the plugin hybrid and electric vehicle sector is the long term supply of lithium (lithium carbonate) that is critical for the high power density lithium ion battery packs that power these types of vehicles. Unless technical problems can be worked out in competing battery technology such as zinc air, lithium ion batteries seem positioned to be the power pack technology of choice for plugin hybrids (as well as all manner of other electric devices – such as laptops)
There seems to be enough recoverable supply for the near and medium term, with global production projected to increase to 450,000 metric tons by 2020 according to a report by Dundee Capital Markets and lithium battery packs are suited to recycling.
© 2010, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.