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Posts Tagged ‘BMW’

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

IMG_4831

Kia Soul EV

Kia Soul EV

IMG_4766

 

 

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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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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IMG_4368As fortune would have it I was able to spend much time on two of my favorite things recently: innovative technology and cars. The two have met, the world of cars is transforming in a big way, and my not-so-new-anymore writing charter for KITCO News allowed me to study it up front and close. In the process, I believe to have unraveled the mystery of where the industry, and we as frequent users of cars, are going. After many hours of conversations with people from all camps, and after even more hours of visiting events and reading online material, here is my prediction on what the next twenty or so years will look like:

  • We will not run out of gas. Yes, more people use gas, but more people use less gas than before. Ironically, the melting ice caps will allow us to drill for oil in even more places.
  • Consequently, the internal combustion engine (ICE) will continue to live on for quite a while.
  • However, since we keep changing climate by living the way we do, there is still an urgent need to implement new technologies that reduce our carbon footprint.
  • These new technologies don’t necessarily have to be “sustainable” in the beginning, but using what is always available instead of continuing to burn up precious resources must be the ultimate goal.
  • The majority of consumers is not in the “pioneer” or “early adopter” camps when it comes to changing.
  • This is bad news for any car that’s battery powered. A large amount of people will remain sympathetic but on the fence for a very long time, especially since there is no immediate need to change.
  • Small battery powered cars will continue to struggle with range for a while, meaning they will mostly be used for commuting only. Their market is further narrowed down by the necessity to keep a second car, so to a lot of people they make no sense economically.
  • Large battery powered cars like the Tesla will continue to be expensive for quite some time. Tesla’s Model S has replaced the Toyota Prius as an avatar to a specific demographic subgroup of society: people with a certain level of education, enough money and an overall “sustainable” and “organic” approach to life. Plus, in some cases, the desire to show it.
  • The majority of car producers will move towards designing new models in ways that will allow for an easy swap of power trains.  Customers will not only be able to select between different conventional engine sizes (gasoline and diesel) but also CNG, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery EV and fuel cell EV.
  • This “menu” approach will put them at a distinct cost and acceptance advantage over EV-only concepts like Tesla or the new BMW i-line of cars. In fact, I am ready to predict that unless Tesla keeps pushing the envelope their growth will flatline within a few years. Note that the “new” Tesla X scheduled to come out next year is essentially the same car.

IMG_4316Bold predictions? Perhaps. Except they are not, apart from the last bullet, maybe. The above statements are a -preliminary- assembly of puzzle pieces I gathered as explained in my my opening paragraph. Elon Musk has so far remained elusive to me but I hope to be able to confront him with this scenario one day. As to the other manufacturers, VW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Ford and Toyota are all rolling out “menu” cars already, with other brands close behind. So it isn’t actually a prediction I am making, it’s an observation of what is already happening.

Meaning the future is now, and I like it!

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Another week again? Creating one article per week doesn’t sound impressive but it sure is a lot of work. The final product being just the tip of the iceberg; what you don’t see is the research for and verification of sometimes small details – an application, a market share, if you all want it to be correct then the research never ends. People like John Voelcker, last week’s interview partner, usually produce three articles per day. Sounds like fun but it’s hard work, especially when you run a business during daytime like I do. Anyway, enough of the whining.

Here is a link to this weeks article, “A Road Map to Technology Metals“, if you are interested.

The article just came out today – it was supposed to be released last week but neither I nor my editor liked it, so we swapped it with the Voelcker interview. Instead of breaking the topic down in its three logical sections I had crammed them all in one, and the result was rather confusing. I am glad we scrapped it, the new version was a lot easier to write and it sure is easier to read and digest (I hope). I spent a lot of time creating a slide on the use of technology metals in cars but KITCO embeds images, and the chart is rather hard to read. So as a bonus to everyone who bothers coming over to this blog, here is the high res version of the slide (click on it to open):

TMI Slides Part 1

IMG_0076In other news, Tom Moloughney, the man who drove the most electric miles worldwide to-date (outside of factory test drivers, perhaps), had a horrific crash in which he was injured, and his beloved BMW ActiveE was totaled. Tom is also an extremely nice guy, moderates BMW’s Facebook groups on the ActiveE and the i3, runs a very good Italian restaurant, and recently gave me an interview on a consumer’s perspective of the EV market. It will be published next week. Best wishes to Tom and a speedy recovery. Check out his blog if you like, it is all around interesting.

Where will I go from here? I’ve been covering the electric vehicle market extensively this month and will now move on to hydrogen (H2) technology. Three people are already queued up for interviews next week and I am very excited to learn more about this facet of the industry. It also looks like a contest is beginning to brew. Some of the H2 people announced they’d throw the glove down, and prove their technology is superior. So stay tuned, the journey continues.

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From time to time I look back at my blogs. Topics, categories, search strings and statistics provide an image of what I like to write about, what readers want to read about, and the part where both overlap. If you recall, after a brief excursion into the world of “precious metals only” I returned to “Marketing and The Meaning of Life” quickly after realizing that neither I nor my readers enjoyed what I wrote. Ever since my blogs have been hovering around several hundred readers each, plus minus, and I want to thank every one of you for lending me your time and for sending the occasional comment.

Still, life goes on, things progress and I may have changed a little over time. My observations are:

  • While blogging about “current affairs” is incredibly satisfying it is also true that these blogs never seem to change anything. So what’s the point?
  • With the appearance of the electric BMW in my life last year (and its disappearance earlier this year) I discovered how fascinating the world of alternative energy really is. I have since become more involved with the technology and logistics behind these vehicles, learned much about other alternative technologies such as hydrogen, and of course the materials required to enable them. So my blog has turned into a car blog a bit more than anything else last year.
  • Lastly, I find myself not reading as many blogs anymore as I used to. No disrespect to my fellow bloggers, some of which are good friends of mine, but it seems like I am not the only person experiencing “blogging fatigue” after everything of relevance has already been said before by someone else.

Instead, I find myself drawn more towards topical news, information and industry insider commentaries on discoveries, technologies and trends. Which lead me to combine the two: with my unique exposure to the precious metals and specialty metals / rare earths industries combined with my passion for everything that moves fast I am confident to be in the right spot to pick up topics at the intersection of both areas, report and interpret on developments, and hopefully manage to insert the occasional interview with interesting people from participating industries. And I promise my sentences will be shorter.

Bodo 2013So here is the plan: my blog will go passive for a little bit and relaunch in September this year with a new focus, and a new design. Anyone sharing my passion or wanting to contribute is invited to do so. I hope you will like the new “Eniqma”. Of course my other website pages will remain in place. Where else in the world do you find information on Albert Schweitzer, Taekwondo and Deaf Cats on the same website? I am conscious of my responsibilities. 😉  Also, some of my older blogs are still getting hits on a regular basis so I’ll leave the archive in place.

Again, thanks for tuning in, and I hope you’ll be giving the new “Eniqma” a shot.

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IMG_0691Probably the most unusual car I have driven in my life. One of those cars you like not despite its flaws, but because of them. Not having much trunk space, for instance. Not being able to go everywhere you want. Not having a lot of interior room either. Not getting the advertised range out of it, a little over 80 miles vs 100 miles as it were. I liked it a lot, and I am sad to see it go. But it had to go. It had to go because this last flaw turned from an “oh well” flaw into an “OMG” flaw in recent months when temperatures came down. Our low point was 76 miles at one time and the general consensus among Electronauts is that doing more than 70 miles means pushing it in this weather.

My second, equally sad experience was that the ActiveE “field trial” seems to be a rather poorly managed program. BMW gave its customers an online forum for discussions but the really interesting things happen in the customer-driven Facebook group, as I found out just recently. Communication from BMW is limited to gimmicks, video sessions with happy Electronauts and glances at future products while there is little to no feedback on the project itself, the mysterious “software updates” they make or any kind of incremental improvement going into our cars. Au contraire, when my first breakdown occurred, instead of getting sympathy I got a very German answer: Ve tested se car. It does 80 miles so suck it up! (I am paraphrasing of course, including the exclamation mark). When I challenged the author to prove it I heard nothing but the chirping of crickets.

ActiveE Range

“Electronauts” are the most hardcore fans of the BMW brand. They are pioneers, they are mavens and they are definitely avid communicators. Many have blogs that amplify the message, and they have all gladly invested in this project.   Being asked “How is the ‘Kaputt’?” (which happened to me) is not nice when this is your personality profile, and you feel left alone with your problems.

This project is marking the brand’s third attempt of creating an image of environmental conscience in recent history. First there was the “Hydrogen 7” that has yet to go anywhere; then came the “Active Hybrids” failing to perform better than their standard counterparts, and now there is the electric car program which is on it’s way into a very uncertain future – “Mission Impossible” was probably a bad omen. To this day, the TechSpecs on the web promise a range of 100 miles and safe trips from my home town to Philadelphia or Scranton that will never happen. Yes, there is fine print like in ads for weight loss products saying “results may vary”, but come on – that’s not what you tell an M5 buyer about horsepower either. It is this perception of a particular attitude that makes it so hard to believe future iterations of this concept will be any different. Why not be honest, why not admit to the flaws? The myth might have suffered, but the trust would have remained.

It is important to know that other “Electronauts” have different emotions about the experience. Most notably Tom Moloughney who just wrote a very interesting summary of his first year in his ActiveE. I am bringing this up to put my rant into perspective: there are people for whom the Active E makes a lot of sense. But note that Tom uses his car to commute from A to B and back every day – same purpose, same distance, with a charging station at each end. This is what the car was built for. And it’s what it does best.

Bottom line? Like Tom Moloughney I am convinced that electric cars are the future. Check out Tom’s earlier blog on how he added photovoltaic cells to the roof of his house for maximum effect. Local / decentralized energy production is a critical component for these cars to make sense. I predict that in 10-20 years from now homes will have their own fuel cells for energy production (which is where fuel cells belong – wrong idea for a car). The loss of power in transport will be near zero equalling additional “free” energy. I can also confirm Tom’s calculation of fuel expenses: the direct cost of my ActiveE was about 1/3 of what a gasoline powered car would have cost. A recent study in Germany also indicates that – despite of having to replace the main battery after 5-8 years – the overall cost of maintenance of electric cars is about 30% lower compared to a conventional vehicle; mainly due to the absence of moving engine and transmission parts and the use of kinetic energy recovery breaking systems. I still think there should be 4 motors, one at each wheel, batteries in the bottom, Tesla style, to refine the idea and to address the torque issues but that’s a topic for another day. So stay tuned for my next electric car adventure (although this may take a while…).

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