Sep 192011
 
By: Wayne Cunningham

Earlier this year, I spent a week driving a preproduction Prius Plug-in hybrid, but little did I realize that Toyota was using me and the other people who got to drive the car as guinea pigs, test subjects to help further refine the car for a 2012 production model. Toyota recently put me behind the wheel of a substantially tweaked Prius Plug-in, this one the result of everything learned from the earlier drive program. Still billed as preproduction, this latest Prius Plug-in boasted enhancements over the previous car, along with a full-blown marketing strategy.

2012 Toyota Prius

In typical Toyota fashion, this new preproduction car was not radically different than the one I drove previously. And I confess to a lack of enthusiasm over this new driving opportunity. Despite that you can plug it in, it is still just a Prius.

2012 Toyota Prius

But that expectation crumbled a bit after seeing some of the improvements made to the car. And, like the previous version, it was a novel experience to drive a Prius at speed with the engine off.

During an initial presentation about the car, Toyota Vice President Bob Carter made it clear that the Prius brand would be a tent pole for the company. He talked up the four different models that will bear the Prius name: the original Prius liftback, Prius V, Prius C, and Prius Plug-in. A fan of the quick and maneuverable, I’m most looking forward to the Prius C, which will hopefully retain the sporty nature of its concept.

2012 Toyota Prius

The presentation covered pricing for the car, which seemed high at $32,000, or $39,525 for a high-trim, fully loaded model. But that price is also subject to a $2,500 federal tax credit, bringing the base car under $30,000. Another journalist at the presentation suggested Toyota tailored the size of the Prius Plug-in’s battery pack, at 4.4 kilowatt-hours, to make the car qualify for the tax credit, which is based on battery capacity.

However, the earlier version of the Prius Plug-in I tested had a larger lithium ion battery, at 5.2 kilowatt-hours. The refined battery pack is smaller than that of the previous version, yet it gives the car more pure electric range, 15 miles versus 13 miles. Not a huge change, but 15 miles is a rounder number. Taking the gasoline tank into account, total range remains at over 500 miles.

2012 Toyota Prius

Toyota also moved the charging port, as was shown by a model it had set up for photos showing the plug-in cable. Where it had previously been at the front fender, Toyota moved it to the right rear, the opposite side of the fuel tank filler. Nobody should have a problem pouring gasoline over the car’s plug, as the hatch cover also has an embossed plug symbol. Similar to the previous test model, charging times are rated at 3 hours for a 110-volt outlet, and 1.5 hours at a 220-volt outlet. Toyota is also partnering with Leviton to offer buyers a level 2 charger, which should take mere minutes to fill the battery.

Once handed the keys to this new, refined Prius Plug-in, I was pleased to note that the cargo area had been restored. Where the previous version’s battery pack caused a slight lift to the cargo load floor, the smaller battery pack in this preproduction model not only allowed a normal load floor level, but also an extra compartment for storing the charging cable.

2012 Toyota Prius

The car started up, in Prius fashion, quietly. EV mode was already engaged and Toyota had charged the car up before this drive. But the range shown in the eyebrow display was only 11.8 miles, less than the promised 15. I wasn’t thrown by the lower number, as trip computers always calculate the range based on how the car was recently driven. Fleet drivers are not always gentle on the accelerator.

2012 Toyota Prius

This Prius Plug-in glided quietly forward under quarter acceleration, lacking even the sound generator Toyota implemented on the Prius V model. Out on the first stretch of the 4.5-mile driving loop, I stepped into it, and the gas engine promptly fired up despite the still glowing green EV mode icon on the instrument cluster. Letting off acceleration, the engine persisted, ruining the promised electric drive experience. Pushing the EV mode button repeatedly turned the EV mode icon off and on, but didn’t shut off the engine.

Read the full Story At CNET news

Sep 192011
 
By Courtney Holden For the Camera

Just like their gasoline-burning forebears, electric cars need to refuel. And as more e-cars take to Boulder’s roads, the city is gradually gearing up to meet their fuel needs.

One new recharge station has just opened at the Wolf Law Building on the University of Colorado’s campus.

“We want to be able to offer this opportunity in a public fashion,” said Moe Tabrizi, CU’s campus sustainability director.

Electric cars can plug into the 220-volt station for two to three hours at $6 and $9, respectively.

Tabrizi said the new charging station is a step toward CU’s ultimate goal of carbon neutrality.

“This is a small piece of that large plan,” he said.

The electric-vehicle movement is gaining traction throughout Boulder. Two other stations have opened. The city had planned to spend $500,000 in federal grant money to open 38 more by June 2012. But those ambitious plans hit a snag when stations turned out to cost two to three times more than expected — $10,000 to $15,000, compared to earlier estimates of $4,000.

Still, Joe Castro, facilities and fleet manager for the city of Boulder, wants to make sure that Boulder is ready when more electric cars come online.

“Having the stations ahead of the cars promotes the purchase of electric vehicles in alleviating the … anxiety prospective buyers may have,” he said in an e-mail. “Although it’s predicted that 80 percent of owners will charge their vehicles at home.”

Electric cars are “fueled” by a large, rechargeable lithium ion battery pack housed within the car. Responding to the amount of pressure applied to the “gas” pedal, the motor receives more or less current, allowing the driver to go his or her desired speed.

Companies like Nissan, with its 2010 release of the Leaf, and the dual gas generator/electric Chevy Volt are driving the market in the electric direction as well. Then there’s Tesla, whose ultra-sexy exterior masks an ultra eco-friendly interior.

“Tesla is all about proving that electric cars can be anything that an internal combustion vehicle can be,” said Camille Ricketts of Tesla’s communications department. “The purpose of the roadster was to grab the world’s attention that (electric cars) can … drive like most of the coveted super cars on the road.”

But for the most part, rechargeable cars are built with the commuter in mind — people who drive to work and back during the day, then let the car sit in the garage to recharge overnight, when energy costs are minimal.

Ricketts deflects the worries of skeptics concerned that more coal plants will have to be built to keep up with rising electricity demands.

Read the full Story At Daily Camera

Sep 162011
 
By Aaron Colter – Earth Techling

Hertz, which recently started offering electric bicycle rentals, and Marriott hotels are partnering to give travelers electric vehicle options while in the San Francisco area.

Overnight guests at the San Francisco Marriott Waterfront, or dinner guests in the hotel’s restaurant, have the ability to receive free valet parking and time at one of the company’s charging stations.

Currently, Hertz offers electric car models such as the Nissan Leaf and the Smart Fortwo (in photo above), and in the future is expecting to offer the Chevy Volt as well as a plug-in hybrid option.

Visitors can join Hertz’s green car rental program online, available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, to reserve one of the vehicles at an hourly rate of $6 to $8. We’ve seen similar electric car rental programs across California, giving eco-conscious travelers several options while on the road.

Read the full Story At Earth Techling

Sep 162011
 
Battery prices are poised to fall as a result of the overcapacity, the company said.

Automakers have committed to producing up to 839,000 plug-in EVs worldwide by 2013, up from just 124,000 that will be delivered by the end of 2011.

EV Battery

As a result, demand for lithium-ion batteries will increase by sevenfold in those two years, but the supply capacity under construction by battery makers will be almost double the number of planned electric vehicles by 2013. As batteries have a limited shelf life, it is unlikely that battery manufacturers will produce more than market demand, and instead will reduce their output to match contracted demand.

Read the full Story At www.autos.ca

Sep 162011
 

WASHINGTON – Both of Michigan’s U.S. senators are now calling for a formal investigation of Chinese trade practices related to electric vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow wrote U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Wednesday asking for action to determine whether China is attempting “shakedowns” of American companies to turn over their technology secrets.

Today, Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin sent his own letter to Kirk and acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank.

“The Chevrolet Volt represents intellectual property developed in the United States and paid for by General Motors research and development dollars,” Levin wrote. “The U.S. government must not allow China to coerce American companies to give their technology away to foreign competitors in order to have access to their markets.”

Prompting the concern is the Volt’s debut in China next year, and news that Chinese officials are refusing to let the Volt qualify for incentives worth nearly $20,000 per car unless GM shares some of the vehicle’s key technologies.

Read the full Story At Detroit Free Press

Sep 152011
 

The state of California is known for its firsts, and this is defiantly one for the books. California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a bill that allows all fully electric vehicles, as well as plug in hybrid electric vehicles, to be towed if the vehicle parked in a designated electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid charging parking space is not plugged in.

EVs are becoming a common sight on the roads in some parts of California. As a result, the state now has designated EV or hybrid parking places equipped with charging units.  Before the law, if an EV was parked in a charging place was fully charged the owner of an EV parked nearby could unplug the charged vehicle and plug in his or her own car. Now with the law in place, if the practice of owner/driver self monitoring of other EVs and self charging continues; a practice known as “Plug Sharing”, the unplugged car is at risk of being towed. In a way this law does put more responsibility on drivers of EVs to monitor the level of charge within their parked vehicle. Under the law if someone “Plug Shares” because you failed to monitor the charge level of your car you now risk being towed.

A larger point of issue within the new law, however, is the inclusion of hybrid electric vehicles. Hybrid electric vehicles do not solely run off of electricity, once the juice in the battery runs out gasoline kicks in to power the car and to even recharge the on board batteries. Because the hybrid nature, many EV driver do no think that hybrid electric vehicles should be allowed to use the same chargers that the EVs require.

Read the full Story At Gas 2.0

Sep 152011
 

The Oregon Business Development Department snagged $485,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy last week, money to go toward a plan to put 30,000 plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

The funding comes from the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities initiative. The initiative targets communities with planning experience in electric vehicle development — or those eager to begin — for one-year projects to knock down roadblocks and create strategies for putting more electric vehicles on the road, striving to meet national goals.

Oregon’s plan, called Energizing Oregon, will address next-generation deployment strategies for the state and assess the electric vehicle market here.

Led by the gubernatorial-appointed Transportation Electrification Executive Council, Energizing Oregon’s three main objectives are to integrate all of the state’s existing EV efforts, develop an EV plan to expand them and help Oregon exceed its share of the national goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

The plan will include development of state policies and incentives to achieve broad, fast deployment of EVs. It will also involve strategies for supplying equipment for electric vehicle infrastructure, plus outreach, education and training programs.

“From the industry standpoint, the quicker we can get infrastructure in place, the quicker the industry itself will develop and new products will be tested and the quicker this whole industry sector will develop,” said Barry Woods, acting executive director of Drive Oregon.

In pitching the project, Business Oregon highlighted existing EV efforts including San Francisco-based ECOtality’s “EV Project,” along with ODOT’s $2 million grant from the Tiger II program and the West Coast Green Highway Project, driven by state steering committees.

Read the full Story At Sustainable Business Oregon

Sep 152011
 

In 20 years, a majority of new cars will be electric and the world’s single-largest source of energy will be solar power, Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said today.

Speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, the 40-year-old billionaire co-founder of PayPal shared his vision of the future, and also gave the room full of would-be entrepreneurs some sobering advice about what they should expect when trying to get companies off the ground.

“Expect it to be difficult,” Musk said “A friend phrased it well: ‘Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.’”

Those are no doubt harrowing words, but in speaking them in the closing talk at Disrupt it would seem Musk wasn’t trying to discourage those in the room from seeking their own innovations. Rather, he wanted entrepreneurs to have a decent sense of what’s in store.

Musk is someone who has in recent years tackled two major efforts: making exciting electric cars, and building a profitable private space industry. And though his perspective may be colored by his own experiences, he said that he feels the two biggest problems humankind must solve to have a bright future are clear.

“I think the biggest problem humanity faces in the 21st century,” Musk said, “is sustainable energy, terrestrially, and” achieving life beyond Earth.

This is a man, of course, who should be taken seriously when he poses problems or challenges. After all, SpaceX has already been chosen by NASA as the provider of the rockets that will replace the now-retired Space Shuttle program for getting cargo and astronauts (what he called “biological cargo”) to the International Space Station. And this isn’t a pipe dream: the first SpaceX missions could begin docking at the Space Station within a few months, and the first astronauts could start riding SpaceX rockets to the ISS within three years or so.

But most entrepreneurs will never be able to take on challenges like those. So Musk said that especially when it comes to first-time founders, building Internet companies may be the perfect way to go, given the relatively low costs of creating an online business. “Unless you’ve got a ton of capital,” he said, “you have to start a company that requires a small [investment]. It would have been impossible for me to have done electric cars or rockets right from the start.”

Even those that start companies will almost never find themselves doing what Musk does: run two high-profile outfits at once. And to hear him talk about it, it’s not something that most people would ever want to do. “I do it with great difficulty,” he told the Disrupt audience. “It’s quite hard…I don’t recommend it. I tried not to run two companies, but I didn’t have a choice: one of them would have failed” otherwise.

Read the full Story At CNET

Sep 152011
 

KAHULUI – The University of Hawaii Maui College has received a nearly $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to work with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and private industry to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in Hawaii.

The grant is from the Clean Cities Initiative Awards, which identified 16 projects nationally.

The grant was announced by Gov. Neil Abercrombie at Tuesday’s opening of the 2011 Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo at the Hawaii Convention Center on Oahu.

Other Hawaii awards included $6.1 million to the University of Hawaii to work with industry partners to allow the electric grid to take on more solar energy by developing and demonstrating state-of-the-art photovoltaic inverters; and $750,000 to DBEDT to provide technical assistance to the Public Utilities Commission to remove barriers to allow more renewable energy on-island power grids.

The Kahului college is the only college or university to receive a community planning grant under the initiative, said Susan Wyche, the college’s special projects coordinator.

“Our strategy is to capitalize on Maui’s unique features that will support the mass adoption of electric vehicles, such as our short driving distances, high cost of gasoline and the large number of rental vehicles that make up our vehicle population,” she said. “Our goal is to have the highest EV ownership per capita in the world and to combine that with the greatest percentage of fossil-free sources to charge those EVs. Maui will serve as a case study for other islands in Hawaii and the world.”

Read the full Story At Maui News

Sep 152011
 

Recargo Bringing Coulomb Technologies’ ChargePoint Network Locations and Real-Time Availability Status to EV Community

Automatic Updates Deliver Authoritative Content, Convenience for EV Drivers Seeking Charge Stations

LOS ANGELES, Sep 13, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Recargo, Inc., developer of mobile applications for drivers of electric vehicles (EVs) and connected cars, today announced that it has added automatic charging station location and availability status updates to the Recargo mobile app and website from Coulomb Technologies’ ChargePoint(R) Network. Using Coulomb’s open ChargePoint Network Web Services API allows Recargo to provide real-time updates–the first and only app besides Coulomb’s own to do so–and significantly reduce range anxiety for EV drivers. The ChargePoint Network is an open-platform network of charging stations managing the delivery of electricity to EVs around the globe.

“Working with Coulomb and using their open API is an important step in Recargo’s ongoing effort to be the most trusted and easy-to-use resource for electric vehicle drivers,” said Brian Kariger, CEO of Recargo. “When a Recargo user searches for the best place to charge their car, they can find current locations with up-to-the-minute availability status from the ChargePoint Network, a worldwide leader in electric mobility.”

Recargo combines infrastructure data from trusted providers such as Coulomb Technologies, the leader in EV charging systems and application services, with photos, tips and reviews from the Recargo community to give drivers powerful tools to plan their trips or find a place to charge on the go.

Read the full Story At Market Watch