Archive for the ‘Electric Cars’ Category

Could the Pricetag for EVs Drop Soon?

Posted in: Electric Cars

Electric cars haven’t exactly taken the country by storm (yet), and even with gas hovering around the $4 a gallon mark, sales are sluggish at best. Today, we are miles away from the government’s prediction that there will be 1 million EVs on the road by 2015, although they areoutselling hybrids by nearly a two-to-one margin.

Chevrolet's electric Volt

Part of the challenge with electric vehicles is the cost; an EV costs significantly more than its gas-guzzling counterpart, and many drivers remain unconvinced that the higher up-front price will be offset by fuel savings. We received a little more insight into those costs on Monday when Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally revealed the cost of electric car batteries are even higher than what had been suspected.

A 23-kilowatt battery pack — which is what you’ll find inside Ford’s electric Focus — sells for around $12,000 to $15,000, he said. That means the battery comprises about one-third of the car’s total pricetag, which is presently $39,200. The good news is, Mulally also indicated that the price of batteries have started to fall … so if those prices drop, logic would follow that the overall sticker price will come down as well.

Mulally isn’t alone in this prediction; Tesla‘s Elon Musk recently alluded to the same belief.  Here’s hoping that they’re both right.  The best bet for putting more EVs on the road is to actually make them affordable for the average American — something that we simply haven’t seen yet.

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Ladies, We’re Not Shopping Enough!

Posted in: Electric Cars, General

Tesla-RoadsterSome disturbing news was released last week – and, for a change, that announcement doesn’t have the name “BP” attached to it!

In the grand scheme of things, this news is much more innocuous, but it also strikes me as being rather curious. A recent study by of more than 13 million car registrations reveals that, even though women comprise more than half the population (51 percent), we account for just over one-third of new car registrations (36 percent).

Not surprisingly, the registrations that were made by women tended to focus on value and safety, with names like Volvo, Honda and Volkswagen ranking high on the women’s list. For men, new purchases were highest in the truck and exotic car market.

In fact, women accounted for 10 percent or less of the new registrations for such exotic brands as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Tesla (pictured above), Aston Martin and Lotus.

And not a single new Bugatti was registered to a female buyer!

Is this the best we can do? I think not! It’s time to put on our shopping shoes.

Good Karma Making the Rounds

Fisker Automotive’s Karma plug-in hybrid has a busy 2010 Fisker_Karma059[1NEW]month planned for August. Just 19 months after being unveiled as a concept car, it will make its world driving debut at the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races on Aug. 15. The prototype is on tap to take two laps on the 11-turn Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca course. Karma isn’t just making laps, it’s making history, as this marks the first time a plug-in hybrid vehicle appears on track at the event.

Fisker reps have a busy schedule that week; it will be on display at Concorso Italiano on Aug. 14 along with the Karma Sunset hardtop convertible concept, and the Sunset will be on display at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Aug. 16.

Dodge EV Should Get Your Motor Runnin’

Posted in: Electric Cars, General

dodge-ev.JPGAlthough I have loved the premise of the electric car since Day One, the prototypes we’ve seen unveiled haven’t exactly been something that gets the pulse racing. With the exception of Tesla’s Roadster, the proposed EVs so far have clearly indicated that we’ll have to leave our love of design at the door if we want to jump on the eco-friendly bandwagon.

Who knew that Dodge would be the one to break the mold?

jeep-ev.JPGLast week, Chrysler unveiled one new electric model each for Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep. While Chrysler is getting the Town & Country EV mini-van (yawn), Jeep is adding an electric version of the four-door Wrangler to its fold – which means guilt-free off-roading (as long as you don’t take out any trees while you’re out there.) That’s right – you can leave a smaller footprint but still leave tread marks on the side of the hill.

But it was the prototype EV from Dodge that came as a biggest surprise. Borrowing some design cues from its gorgeous beast of a sports car, the Viper, and throwing in elements of the Lotus Europa, Dodge unveiled one of the most exciting EVs we’ve seen to date.

dodge-ev-console.JPGThe two-passenger rear-wheel-drive sports car has the sleek design and high performance we want from a car, but also gives off zero tailpipe emissions.  It actually looks fun to drive – something that’s been noticeably lacking in too many EV designs – and the 200 kW electric motor is the equivalent of 268 horsepower. That gives drivers better performance than we’ve dared to hope for in an EV, reaching 60 mph in less than five seconds and taunting us with a top speed of 120+ mph.

Thanks to its advanced lithium-ion battery technology, the Dodge EV has a continuous driving range of 150-200 miles, and it can be recharged in eight hours from a standard 110-volt household outlet. (Using a 220-volt appliance power outlet will cut charging time in half.)

The possible cloud surrounding this silver lining is that we’ll have to wait for it; the earliest we’ll see this coming off the production line is 2010.

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Chrysler’s On a Roll with Electric Peapod

Posted in: Electric Cars, General

peapod.JPGEarlier this week, Chrysler LLC announced its intention to have three electric vehicles in production in 2010. The electric-drive technology will arrive in each of its three brands – Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler – and will boast range-extended technology that, much like Chevrolet’s forthcoming Volt, employs a small gasoline engine to provide additional power for longer trips.

We’ll look at Chrysler’s three proposed EVs next week, but in the meantime, let’s look at their newly redesigned “Neighborhood Electric Vehicle” – the totally electric Peapod.

The backstory on the Peapod is that Chrysler’s “electric community vehicles” have been around for a decade, but there hasn’t been much of a market for a plug-in with a range of 30 miles. Our new, greener consciousness opened the door for Chrysler to retool this four-passenger street-legal cart and tempt eco-friendly passengers with a new look, a new name and some updated features.

The Peapod brings with it all the usual jeers and complaints of short-range EVs: It feels like a glorified golf cart, and its top speed is a laughable 25 mph. But if you can get past its anti-Speed Racer persona, you’ll find that it brings some nice attributes to the mix.

peapod-dash.JPGAdmittedly, this car is not built with luxury in mind, but it isn’t as spartan as one might think, either. The dashboard console doubles as a docking station for your iPod and also allows for hands-free operation of your iPhone. In fact, the dash kind of looks like an altar for your iPod. (And it has a cupholder … didn’t a recent study prove that cupholders were important to female consumers?)

The ergonomically crafted seats are made of recycled and recyclable materials, and the open-air mesh design of the seats lends itself to better air circulation.

For what it is designed to do, the Peapod shows a lot of potential. No, you’re not going to load it up and trek cross-country; but it’s cute and cool enough that you shouldn’t have trouble getting the kids to climb in and let your cruise through the carpool lane. Even though it remains, in many ways, a souped-up golf cart, at least it has some sleek lines and kind of looks like a smiley face on wheels. Which, frankly, is something we can all use these days.

At the time this post was published, we were unable to find the price point of the Peapod. So if any of you readers find it please be sure to let us know!

Mercedes, Gimme an “A,” A-Class That Is

mercedes-a-class-2008.jpgA few months ago while in Vancouver, I climbed inside a small, sporty crossover that had all the comfort and markings of a Mercedes, but lacked the familiar interior I’m accustomed to.

Feeling a lot like an upgraded Honda CRV, the compact MPV (or multi-purpose vehicle) boasted a deceptively roomy interior and, the driver told me, was perfect for taking her large Portugese Water Dog on adventures. It was my first introduction to Mercedes’ B-Class, and upon returning home I set out to learn more about it.

The B-Class Tourer is best described as a cross between the R-Class, which is sold in the U.S., and the subcompact A-Class, which is not. Yet.

After finding success in Germany, the A-Class, which was first rolled out in 1997, was slated for American production. Plans to bring the small family car to the U.S. were scrapped because of weak dollar, but the A-Class and its spinoff, the B-Class, which was introduced in 2005, both enjoyed healthy sales in Europe and Canada.

Now it seems that we might be able to get in on the subcompact luxury. Automotive News is reporting that Mercedes-Benz chairman Dieter Zetsche has announced plans to bring the A-Class and B-Class to American soil. The reason? High fuel costs are making even luxury drivers re-think the merits of their gas-guzzling daily drivers. Suddenly, those subcompacts are looking rather attractive – and let’s face it, when you slap a Mercedes emblem on the front of it, it’s just bound to look good!

With sales taking a nosedive, Mercedes apparently thought it seemed like a good time to re-think their previous plan – and they’ve also announced plans for an electric version.

Current plans call for the new models to arrive in the U.S. in 2011, and we’ll get both a coupe and a small crossover. All of a sudden, downsizing looks a whole lot better…

Honda Rolls Out Fuel Cell Vehicles

honda-clarity.JPGMost women would agree that they would like a little more clarity in their lives – and now Honda is delivering that.

Honda will put about 200 of its FCX Clarity vehicles on the road over the next three years, although – much like GM’s electric EV1 introduced back in 1996, the cars will not be sold. They’ll only be available for lease, and let’s hope they don’t meet the same fate! (For more on that, check out the documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?)

Adding a little celebrity appeal to the FCX Clarity’s profile is actress Jamie Lee Curtis (pictured above), who became only the second customer to take ownership of the new vehicle. Curtis and her husband, mockumentary filmmaker Christopher Guest, have been vocal advocates about green living and have owned other alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles. As a veteran driver of fuel-saving vehicles, Curtis said the appointments of the new FCX Clarity caught her off guard.

“I really wasn’t expecting it to be so luxurious,” she said. “It’s luxurious, luxurious, luxurious!”

All that luxury includes a satellite-linked navigation system with a rearview camera; voice-recognition controls and heated and cooled seats … made of bio-friendly fabric, of course. And if you believe the surveys that say most women make their automobile selection based on cupholders – well, you’re in luck. The Clarity has a bunch of ’em.

More significant, of course, is the mileage of this car, which runs on hydrogen-powered fuel cells. It gets the equivalent of 74 miles to the gallon and has a driving range of about 280 miles. The electric motor runs on electricity generated in the fuel cell, and the only by-products from this zero-emission car are heat and water.

Most of the cars will be leased in Southern California, according to Honda. Here’s hoping they can hit the rest of the country fairly quickly.

Dyson – The Next Big Name in Autos?

Posted in: Electric Cars, General

dyson-vacuum.jpgWhen Dyson came on the scene with its superb line of wind-tunnel vacuums a few years ago, I had to have one. The selling points were just too strong: As the first bagless vacuum on the market, it was also easy to maneuver and completely allergy-friendly. Sold. It’s not as good as having someone clean my house for me, but it makes the task – dare I say it – more enjoyable. (Or at least less dreadful.)

Inventor James Dyson hasn’t just been resting on the millions he’s made as the King of Suction; now the brilliant Brit has a new idea that’s gaining traction. Dyson has announced that, for his next trick, he’ll build an electric car. He plans on creating a lightweight solar-powered motor based on those found in his fabulous vacuums. The battery would get its charge from solar panel on the car’s roof or could also be charged from panels on the garage’s roof.

Rather than try designing the body, Dyson is focusing on the motor and, according to the U.K. Daily Mail, will team up with an automaker such as Honda to build the perfect shell for his electric car. Best of all, Dyson is determined to shake the notion that electric cars are only good for city driving.

“An electric motor can go to very high speeds,” he promises. Given what the man can do with a vacuum cleaner, I’m hoping he can do the same with a car.

Can’t wait to drive down the road with the bumper sticker that reads, “My Other Dyson is a Vacuum Cleaner.”

What’s Sexier – A Porsche or a Prius?

OK, the answer to that question may seem obvious, but you might be surprised.

According to a recent poll, called the Challenge X Survey, about 88 percent of women said they would be more likely to stop and strike up a conversation with guys who are driving the latest fuel-efficient car as opposed to someone cruising around in a hot new sports car. What’s more, about 80 percent of car buyers here in the U.S. say they would rather spend quality time at a party talking to someone in a fuel-efficient auto rather than an exotic sports model.

This kind of information could cause quite a stir among males planning a mid-life crisis – in the past, they’ve been able to buy a Corvette (or some other life-affirming symbol of their manly power) and call it good. But in light of this new information, what’s a guy to do?

Does this mean that they’ll be trading their Hummers for Hondas? They just might, once they discover that more and more women are turning their attention toward cars that are green instead of admiring those fast, mean machines. What’s more, most respondents in the 18-to-43-year-old category said they consider it a fashion faux pas to buy a car that’s not environmentally friendly.

This, of course, poses questions for those tooling around in the kinds of cars that would only be green if you painted them. What does it mean for their future? That remains to be seen.

Until automakers start producing hybrid and electric vehicles that are as sleek and sporty as their gas-guzzling counterparts, auto enthusiasts are in a challenging position. Yes, I want to save the polar bears … but I’m also infatuated with the Bentley Continental. Fortunately, several automakers are trying to follow in the footsteps of the California-based Tesla Motors and give us some sexy yet environmentally friendly cars. Honestly, it just can’t happen soon enough.

A few years ago, a guy (who drove a minivan) tried to convince me that the car you drive has nothing to do with who you are. But we all know that it says as much about you as the music you listen to, the clothes you choose to wear and the style of home you live in. That’s not a shallow indictment of an individual’s strengths and shortcomings, but rather an outward indication of what matters is most important to them.

Perhaps what this survey is saying is that it really is what’s inside – or in this case, under the hood – that counts. What we need now are more cars that take that inner beauty and look as good on the outside as they do under the hood.

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Exploring the “Women Driver” Stereotype

Ohio Electric Car A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to write a story on Chuck Murphy, a Texas car collector with a garage full of unique and antique cars. He has plenty of cars to catch the attention of any gearhead, but the one that I found most fascinating was his 1914 Ohio Electric Dresden Brougham – one of the first electric cars ever made.

Murphy’s model is in pristine condition, and even comes with the original accessories. He explained that the electric cars were sold only to women and were seen as the perfect vehicle for their target market, as they were clean to drive and ran quietly. They were designed specifically for and sold exclusively to women of means – a.k.a. the luxury car lovers of the day – and today their $2,900 price tag would translate to about $80,000.

Chuck explained to me that the cars were created primarily as “social vehicles.” They were intended for women to get back and forth from social visits, and as proof of that, he showed me the original accessory kit that was included with the car. Instead of tools, this roadside emergency kit contains a tiny mirror, a sterling silver comb, perfumed papers for “refreshing oneself” before a visit and a mechanical pencil attached to a tiny pad of unlined paper. He said that, in the event of a breakdown or accident, these wealthy ladies wouldn’t be expected to know what to do, so the tool kit was seen as pointless.

The most interesting information about the car, however, was Chuck’s observation that it just might be responsible for launching the “women driver” jokes. The car’s interior is spacious, but is designed more like Cinderella’s carriage than a working sedan. Seats at the front of the car face the back, so passengers can talk to the driver and other passengers, who are seated on a bench-style seat at the rear. Visibility is almost zero even without passengers; toss in a couple of ladies with big hats, and you will find yourself depending upon luck to keep it out of the ditches.

“I really think this was the start of all those ‘women driver’ and ‘backseat driver’ jokes,” Chuck told me, pointing out that this car is, indeed, steered from the back seat. “Once you put passengers in the car, it was almost impossible to see where you were going.”