Posts Tagged ‘Toyota Prius’

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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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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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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Last week, BMW gave their chosen ActiveE customers a glance at their next generation “electric” vehicles. At an event in New York City the company presented their latest prototypes of the i3 and i8 which they say will be sold as an entirely separate sub brand, much like their “M” cars. I didn’t quite make it in time but my son did, and after listening to what he learned I am glad I didn’t waste my time.

BMW presented both their i3 4-door hatchback and the i8 sports car which will be available as a coupe and a roadster starting 2014. Typically, prototypes like the “Vision” they showed off at various car shows around the world for the past 2 years get toned down and become more practical over time. The i3 and i8, however, are evolving into objects that are borderline goofy, and that don’t even qualify as electric cars. I consider them to be complete failures, and I am very disappointed in my favorite car maker. Here is why:

Unlike Tesla, for example, who keep pushing the envelope in terms of range, BMW have apparently resigned and turned towards covering up their lack of innovation by going all flashy on the outside. I’ll come to that later. Fact of the matter is that my ActiveE never lived up to its 100 mile range as advertised, and only the biggest enthusiasts still care bringing their numbers up to that level. Truth is that if you drive the car like a BMW is meant to be driven, you’ll end up with a little over 80 miles in range.

On paper, 80 miles gets me everywhere I want in terms of short distance destinations. Alas, there is the weather: if its hot you need the air conditioner which depletes the battery; if its cold the battery range drops just because of that; and if it rains the tires find more resistance, and the range goes down. Since there always IS weather out there in real life I have to build a safety cushion into my travel plans, rendering the vehicle almost obsolete.

I realize the Active E is sort of a prototype so I am prepared to forgive (see my previous blogs). What I don’t see happening is an evolutionary process, a gradual improvement in the car’s performance based on user experience, which is what we all signed up for. Au contraire, the new i3 now appears to have the exact same performance data as the Active E; 80-100 miles per charge. Yes, there are two more doors, and there appears to be more interior space. But BMW claim the car is also lighter than the Active E so this doesn’t count as an excuse. Instead, they are offering a range extender (at a surcharge, I am sure) that will give you the peace of mind not to get stranded. This turns the i3 into a Chevy Volt competitor and makes it pretty lame in my book.

So what about the i8? When I first saw it in “Mission Impossible” I immediately wanted one, even after accepting that the cool windshield touch-screen computer was fictional, and that you can’t really drive that fast downtown Mumbai. So what has it become after all those years? A car capable of going 20 miles electric after which a “real” engine kicks in. A car featuring two backup transportation devices (scooters) in back, a car running on tires reminding me of my Toyota Prius. I am sure one of their doctors will explain to us why this doesn’t compromise roadholding and cornering at all. Common sense and five years in a Prius say it does.

Which brings us to appearances: both cars still yell “Look at me!” – the Active E does that in a – comparatively – more subdued way and I have gotten used to the occasional question from fellow motorists. The i3 and i8 are, however, sure to draw a crowd and – similar the Active E – they are built with BMW’s self promotion in mind, not a view to customer preferences. To the company’s credit they did announce more color choices so let’s wait for this detail to be released. Maybe it’s just me, but if someone wants me to promote their product they should pay me for doing so. BMW are counting on their stedfast enthusiasts to pay, and then go out to do their PR. The “Electronaut” welcome kit even included little cards you could hand out to people you met on the road, pointing them to  more information on the car online. Seriously….

I won’t go into color choices since tastes differ, so I’ll just say that subjectively the bright white and blue exterior clashes with the brown interior big time as far as I am concerned. I understand the cows used to make the seats were fed organic food only, and they died happy, but still. Again, I trust there will be choices eventually.

Why the rant? If you haven’t noticed, dear makers of BMW, I like your cars and I care about your brand. I’ve driven BMWs for most of my life and I want to continue doing so. But first there was Bangle and then you started taking strange turns towards poseur cars with engine noise coming from the stereo rather than the exhaust; you are losing your edge on technology by giving the world hybrid cars that you cover under the “i” mantle – what other company does this preface remind me more of than yours? Please wake up, please give your true enthusiasts the cars they want again, and please stop the theatrics. If what I see isn’t what I get then I may not want it anymore in future.

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