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Archive for the ‘Automotive Industry’ Category

A year and a quarter ago, “Tech Metals Insider” launched on Kitco News. What started with the innocent question: “what would happen to precious metals if we all drove electric cars” has become a roller coaster ride into the worlds of energy generation, nuclear fission, transmutation, electronics, and many more. As I was informed by Kitco, my series is enjoying steadily increasing popularity, which is why it was now moved from the “Contributed Commentaries” to the “News” section further up on the website.

As happy as I am with this development, there are a few downsides, too: apart from confusion to readers who will not find my articles where they used to be, news items in this section of the website rotate more quickly, meaning that my articles will not stay on the homepage for an entire week. They drop below the fold after about two days where they are harder to find. Here is how to get to my column:

Once an article is published, you will find it labeled “Featured” on the homepage:

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Afterwards, my reports can be found either by clicking “more news” and scrolling down, or via this direct link which takes you to the archive of all articles I have written so far (it may take a second or two to scroll to my name). Sorry about the inconvenience. I think it will be all for the better in the long run – we’ll see.

Many thanks to all of you who took an interest in my series, and to those who wrote in response to my sometimes controversial topics. I will continue to respond to all reader mail unless it is anonymous or contains personal insults – happy to report that there were VERY few of those so far. Have fun with the fascinating world of technology metals in 2015.

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“Metal Chemistry – Exponential Developments that Shape our Future”

AIChE Logo

Presentation at the 8th Annual Energy and Resources Conference of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, New York Metro Section on September 15, 2014. Information is available here: http://www.aiche-metrony.org/2014%20Energy%20Conf%20flyer.pdf

IPMI Logo

“Automotive Catalysts – A Swan Song”

Presentation at the Fall Seminar of the International Precious Metals Institute, New York Chapter, on September 17, 2014. For information click here: http://www.ipmi.org/chap_mnyc/

Looking forward to seeing you at one of these events, or at any time during Platinum Week.

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Only two cars were on display at the show: Hyundai’s updated ix35 which is on public roads already, and Toyota’s FCEV concept. Honda decided not to bring their prototype for some reason – their entire booth was surprisingly void of anything electric or “sustainable”. You have to wonder why they decided to do that.

If you follow my articles on KITCO News you will know that I had the privilege of driving the ix35 fuel cell car in Germany last year. So I was happy to get confirmation of their plan to release 1,000 fuel cell cars in California during 2014. The roll-out is about to begin, and the terms are very attractive: $499 monthly lease, which includes “all you can use” hydrogen for the duration of the term. There aren’t many refueling stations yet which is a downside, but California just pledged to build 200 of them, and the ix35 has a range of over 300 miles, similar to a Tesla, so it shouldn’t be too big of an issue unless you want to travel town-to-town.

Toyota FCEV

Toyota FCEV

Toyota, on the other hand, assured me that the prototype on display will be very close to the final product. The rear view cameras will be exchanged with conventional mirrors, of course, and crash test requirements will surely take a toll, too. I hope the sparkly headlight LEDs will stay; they look really cool (pic below). According to statements made by Toyota the company was able to reduce the cost of building the power train by over 90%, and they are planning to sell the cars below cost at a price comparable to a battery electric vehicle (typically $30-40k). Here is a link to a Toyota press release giving more information on their plans, and a link to a Reuters article on pricing.

If 2014 is the American year of the electric car, I have little doubt that 2015 will be the American year of the hydrogen car.

Toyota FCEV LED headlight

Toyota FCEV LED headlight

(Pictures: Felix Albrecht)

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Hardly any manufacturer at this year’s auto show did not bring an electric or “alternative energy” vehicle along. With Tesla being absent, all players in the “pure electric” segment are in the 80-100 mile range with batteries varying from 22 – 28kWh (except for the Toyota RAV4 EV which still has a 42kWh battery, it seems.) The only surprise to me, perhaps, and a bit of a disappointment, was Mercedes’ confession that their new B-Class EV won’t have more range either. While an official EPA rating for the U.S. is still pending, the product specialists present said it would be anywhere between 80-100 miles per charge.

Most of these cars will reportedly go on sale in the U.S. some time this year with CA and other coastal regions receiving priority – all because of the energy credits to be obtained, no doubt. The “rest” of the country will get the cars in 2015.

There was some confusion on the use of the word “range extender” which to BMW signifies a petrol engine while being used to describe regenerated energy by everybody else. Technically, I believe that BMW will have to accept at some point that what they have created is a hybrid, and not an electric vehicle. Here are some pics, all taken by my son Felix, by the way:

Toyota RAV4 - EV

Toyota RAV4 – EV

Mercedes Benz B-Class EV

Mercedes Benz B-Class EV

 

IMG_4469

 

VW e-Golf

VW e-Golf

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Kia Soul EV

Kia Soul EV

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Not much new in the hybrid section, and I sincerely hope BMW will forgive me for lumping them in here. I realize there is a pure electric version of the i3 but if internal sources can be trusted then the majority of customers is opting for the “REx” (range extended) version, which – as I said before – makes it a hybrid in my book. So here we go:

 

 

Audi A3 e-tron

Audi A3 e-tron

BMW i3 / i8

BMW i3 / i8

BMW X5 eDrive

BMW X5 eDrive

 

Trunk, unusable if you want to show off the cool blue eDrive cover.

Trunk, unusable if you want to show off the cool blue eDrive cover.

 

Cadillac ELR - if the Chevy Volt just doesn't look fancy enough in your garage.

Cadillac ELR – if the Chevy Volt just doesn’t look fancy enough in your garage.

 

Porsche 918 - more fun to run on conventional gasoline because of the flames coming out in back.

Porsche 918 – more fun to run on conventional gasoline because of the flames coming out in back.

 

I will post pics of hydrogen powered vehicles and other novelties in a little while so please check back later.

Finally, here are high-res versions of the pics used in my KITCO News report on the show:

Kitco Slide 1

Kitco Slide 2

 

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As part of my “Tech Metals Insider” column on KITCO News I just released the first part of a segment drilling deeper into which metals are used where, and in what quantities. To make it as user friendly as possible I condensed the information collected over the past six months into one spreadsheet which is available for download here: Technology metals in passenger cars part 1. As a faithful reader of my personal blog you have preferred access – I will post a link to the official article as soon as it was published.

Tech Mets in Cars Title

Part 2 will deal with the many little helpers, fairies and gremlins in our cars that we don’t even think about anymore. Should be even more fun than this one so please check back for it next week. And before I forget, this previously published picture might be useful to provide additional context.

this picture

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Electric vehicles – toys of a few for several years, EVs have become main stream with Tesla producing them by the thousands, and many other manufacturers getting ready to join the fun next year. Electric vehicles are in fact incredible (if they work, but I won’t harp on that again…), fun to drive, they make you feel good and they make you the center of attention wherever you go. Infrastructure was an issue at first but more and more charging stations, free and fee-based, are going up around the world making it easier to use your car to go wherever you want to go. Even the charging times are much reduced: a Tesla takes about half an hour at a “super charger” to replenish its battery to over 80%. Few places can afford to ignore the trend these days and preferred parking for EVs is now quite common, at least in the main markets along the West- and East Coast of the USA.

EV ParkingAlas, this picture of a happy family casually strolling back to their electric vehicle after a pleasant shopping experience will soon be history (image: Schneider Electronics). The number of EVs and plug-in hybrids is growing much faster than the number of parking spaces offered. Inevitably, bad manners take over and the once happy community of pioneers sees itself confronted with a growing number of bullies:

  • EVs get unplugged by people who feel they need the power more.
  • EVs get unplugged by pranksters just because.
  • EV parking spaces get taken by EVs and Plug-Ins that aren’t charging (but the spaces are free)
  • Drivers of internal combustion engine (ICE) powered cars occupy EV parking spaces and chargers
  • Free “customer only” parking spaces get used by non-customers.

These, unfortunately, are symptoms of an idealistic world meeting the reality of daily life and its multi faceted annoyances of egocentricity and envy. Some EV drivers report about incidents in online forums, and the number of occurrences is increasing. They fight valiantly by placing notes (friendly and not) under windshield wipers; they confront perpetrators, report them…. to little avail. Special problems arise for people utilizing airport charging spaces: their cars are fully charged long before their return, after which they are unnecessarily blocking a valuable charger-equipped parking space.

These events may in fact be uncovering a major flaw in any kind of “plug-in” vehicle concept: a divided society, Gas versus Electric. Studies suggest that the transformation to electric will take a very long time. EVs will need another decade to even build a noticeable footprint in the automobile market. The complete transformation, which is inevitable, will take until 2070. Until then, how will the two camps coexist? Without a surplus of EV charging stations consumers will be deterred to make the switch. An increasing number of EV reserved parking spaces will, on the other hand, reduce the available conventional parking spaces. Conflicts are inevitable.

I have a feeling that the only way to resolve this will be to uncouple the process of charging from the “act” of parking. The two are asynchronous and should not be connected. Be it by way of ultra-quick chargers that will allow drivers to “refill” their EVs in the amount of time to refuel a conventional car (i.e. by way of battery-swapping as proposed by Tesla and Better Place), or to abandon the concept of lithium ion batteries altogether in favor of hydrogen fuel cells right away.

Future will tell – I am afraid, though, that this issue will turn out to be a major and unexpected roadblock in the proliferation of EV technology.

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This week’s “Tech Metals Insider” blog on KITCO News is featuring Hyundai, a brand that few people get excited about. Having started off as a manufacturer that followed the Japanese business model initially (inexpensive, reliable but bland cars), they are in the process of shaping their own identity now. At the International Auto Show in Frankfurt this September, my attention was drawn to Hyundai’s fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) which is based on their ix35 crossover SUV. While several other brands had made announcements about upcoming fuel cell vehicles, Hyundai was the only one present to actually have one. And not just that: it was a finished product, several of them serving as press shuttles to prove the point.

I now had a chance to follow up on my encounter by interviewing Frank Meijer, Team Leader FCEV and Infrastructure Development, at the company’s European headquarters in Offenbach, Germany. Mr. Meijer showed me a very detailed presentation on the company’s future plans for FCEV technology which I have posted here: FCEV Deployment 12-11-2013 if you are interested.

At the end of the interview, Mrs. Kerstin Mueller, the company’s Product Marketing Manager for FCEVs, surprised me by offering me the keys to one of their ix35 FCEV vehicles for a test drive. I couldn’t possibly have said “no”, of course, and I want to thank the folks at Hyundai once again for the opportunity.

Hyundai ix35 FCEV

Hyundai ix35 FCEV

So how was it? Shockingly normal, is the answer. Normal in a good way. Not only is the car very similar to its gasoline powered siblings, it also works without drama or the need to learn how to operate it. It’s plug and play, agile, roomy, quiet and relaxing like an EV should be, and at the end of the 20 minute test drive the fuel needle was still on “full”. So how does the experience differ from the battery-electric vehicles (the BMW ActiveE or the Tesla S / P85) I have driven? The Hyundai doesn’t accelerate nearly as well as those two which was to be expected. There is also much less “regen” upon deceleration meaning you can’t drive it with just the right pedal. If you are just converting from a regular car this will, I believe, make your transition easier as the driving experience is nearly the same. There is hardly any noise from the fuel cell, and apart from a short 10 second cooling cycle after turning it off you don’t even know it’s there. Trunk space is much improved thanks to the absence of battery packs which rounds off my initial statement.

After a little while, our conversation turned away from the car onto other things. Which, if you think of it, is a good thing. If you are not one of the pioneers or early adopters who enjoy playing with their car’s features for hours on end, if you are just buying the car for its environmental impact or (later) for cost reasons, then you’ll be a lot better off getting a less dramatic car, like the Hyundai ix35 FCEV. A car you’ll be able to refuel whenever you have to, just like in the old days when your car ran on gasoline.

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