MINI E – BMW Mini E – Mini challenges Detroit, wins race by years!

Maybe it’s a size thing. There must be SOME good reason why Mini managed to build an electric production model car in 10 months when GM’s Chevy Volt hasn’t been able to do so in 3 years and a LOT of money. But sure enough, there it was at the November 2008 L.A. Auto Show, the Mini E!

BMW-owned Mini has a way of doing things their own way, and this is no exception. Five hundred Mini E electric cars will be build put on the road as long-term test drive cars. The price? Well, that may make some of the nearly 10,000 people who have signed up for the Mini E take a pause. The lease is a scathing $850 a month — to be a part of the experiment. Of course that’s offset a bit by the fact that they’ll cost next to nothing to run or maintain.

Mini is looking at this as the first stage of their ascendancy — a Beta Test, per se. “The know-how gained from this project will help us perfect the Mini E’s innovative drive system and speed production of a mega city car,” said Mini spokeswoman Natalie Bauters. Already their first stage is a lot more car than most others’ best efforts.

What’s under the hood? 150 kilowatts of electric motor producing 204 horsepowers of instant torque, kept in juice by a high-performance lithium-ion battery that Mini says is good for 150 miles per full charge. There’s a single-stage helical gearbox to put the power out to the front wheels. Zero to 60 is about 8.5 seconds (which seems a bit slow, considering, and may be improved.) This Mini E’s maximum speed is limited to 95 m.p.h. The down-side? The batteries took posession of what would have been the rear seats; this Mini is a 2-seater… with the very consistent stylings of a Mini, not too far off from their Coopers.

Before you rush out the door, remember that there are only 500 available, and there’s a long list ahead of you. But you should be seeing them on the streets of L.A. and New York very soon… which is a lot more than anyone can say for the Volt. Ain’t it amazing? And BMW hasn’t asked us for one red cent in bailout.

Linc Volt Technology – Neil Young: Detroit’s Dinosaurs Can Go Electric

It seems everywhere there’s a push for smaller, lighter, more energy efficient cars. These days it’s a foregone conclusion that the cars of the near future will be electric. For Neil Young, the venerable singer-songwriter and outspoken environmentalist, that doesn’t mean having to choose between the huge Detroit beast he loves and the toxic gas consumption we all hate. It’s all about walking the talk, right? Neil Young has formed a company, Linc Volt Technology, and is using his beloved 1959 Lincoln Continental as proof.

“Detroit can do without that $25 billion in retooling loans,” Mr. Young says, “It can make electric cars from existing designs with the tools it already has.” In walking the talk, he has combined forces, pulling together an international team to convert his mammoth 5,000 pound Lincoln Continental from a 9-1o mpg fuel hog to a very friendly 100 mpg example of what can be done. On board is UQM of Denver, the company providing the electric engine, and the Australian firm responsible for building the engine that carried an aircraft around the world without refueling. Young’s car would be a hybrid, with a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) motor generating electricity. Young thinks that the car may end up generating more juice than it uses, meaning that when you plug it in when you get back home, it will actually run your home meter backwards. But he concedes that Detroit’s versions would probably benefit from lighter materials.

Young isn’t the only one who wants a bigger Green vehicle. Salesforce.com Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, wants a F-150 converted. Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, is pushing for a government program to retrofit existing trucks and SUVs, giving them a plug-in electric engine. It seems more than a few people want to keep on having big cars AND be Green while they’re at it. We’re not thrilled that it still has a combustion engine in it, but applaud his efforts to go Green and conserve the energy created while the CNG engine is at it.

How does he like his conversion car? “It’s just a lot faster. A lot healthier… It went from being a hog to being a swan.”

Going Green – To Make An Omelette (Part 2 of 2)


VIDEO: Full of Hot Air?

(Continued from Dec. 4, 2008′s “Bustin’ Some Eggs” in the Energy News section)

Fuel prices have fallen sharply. Earlier this year, we saw $150 a barrel for crude, and over $4 a gallon at the pumps. In the past quarter, that has dropped to just over $41 a barrel (yesterday) and gasoline is well below $2 a gallon all across the nation. A part of this is supply and demand, but we would be foolish not to recognize that it’s the only smart strategy left for oil producing nations. When gasoline was crushing our budgets, causing everything we buy to increase dramatically, it seems we finally found wisdom, realized that we cannot afford this petroleum addiction. By keeping gas prices low, the oil producers hope out of sight will be out of mind, and we’ll forget the lessons of the first half of this year. We must not allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. Of course OPEC would rather have $40 a barrel than nothing for their oil. Once we are independent of their petrol, it will be nearly worthless, so they’ll do whatever it takes to keep us strung along. It is on us not to forget, to continue to develop alternative energy solutions as though our lives depended upon it. They do.

No transition happens without growing pains. You’ve gotta break some eggs to make an omelette, as they say. Let’s begin to see these pains as a badge of honor, a first-hand proof that we’re growing past the juvenile fossil fuel existence that brought us out of the Dark Ages. The time has come for us to leave that in our past as we head into maturity. Let us not look upon solar panels and wind turbines as eyesores, but as a symbol of our freedom from dependence upon foreign oil, our liberation from the filthy toxic pollution that threatens our very existence. Indeed, we’re going through some growing pains but, if you’ll pardon the mixing of metaphors, we’re on our way to making one beautiful and delicious omelette.

Zagato’s PRT Pod – World Future Energy Summit

Zagato is much better known for such suave stylings as those made for Maserati, Ferrari and Aston Martin, but it was their Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) pod which seems to have gotten the lion’s share of attention at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi this year. The PRTs are going to be used to transport students at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology this fall. For now, they’re on display and wowing the attendees.

The WFES has brought together heads of State, auto manufacturers, energy producers, scientists, and all manner of other concerned parties, both to network and to thinktank what our futures will hold. As you may have read, the Middle-east is sinking billions into alternative energies, and clearly taking the next wave of energy into their own hands — including acquiring the PRTs.The PRTs operate by calculating the number of revolutions of the tires, the direction traveled, and calibrating all of that by magnetic sensors which correlate with marked positions on the street. Sensors slow or stop the vehicle if there’s an object blocking the path ahead.

Studies have shown them to be much safer than having a human operator. The pods will travel to pre-determined stops, but will not run unless there are occupants, avoiding the waste of large bus routes which operate at all hours. Seating 4 comfortably (or 6 cramped,) the cost of these pods, once they’re being mass-produced, is expected to be about $40k each, will run on LiOn batteries from China, and will run for 3 hours before they need to be recharged. The pods are expected to play a big part in the zero-carbon city of Marsdar, as there will be 50,000 residents and another 40,0000 workers who arrive in the city every workday, all leaving their cars (if they have them) at the gate.  Similar craft have carried people in Europe already.  

2getthere, the same company which developed the PRT pods, has provided Holland’s Rotterdam with some 300 automated lorries, for example.  They also have developed human transport vehicles for use there in the Netherlands. The comfort and safety of the pods shows us a rather favorable vision of the future.  Ride on cushioned seats, holding hands or facing each other.  Have a conversation, catch up on the morning news.  The car will stop to let you off at your chosen destination.  Chauffeurs for everyone, and Green at that?  That’s our future?  Not bad.  Not bad at all! 

Best mpg cars – 100 MPG Blast From The Past

Watching this video earlier today, I found a comedic blast from the past. The vehicle? The Peel P50, a 1962 one-seater 49cc 4.2 horsepower 3-wheel car, sans reverse, that gets 100 mpg. Yep. In 1963, a vehicle was made that sports a headlamp, windshield wipers and gets 100 miles per gallon. The top speed of 40 mph may be achieved depending, as the commentator notes, “on what you’ve had for breakfast.” When the entire vehicle weighs in at 130 pounds, weight is a factor.

While the video is quite a bit of fun, it also points something out: Even if we were to get 100 mpg, we’d still be stenching things up with fossil fuels. Improve the engine all you like, and it’s still bellowing out smoke. Give it a reverse gear and higher performance engine, so it gets 60 mpg and goes 70 mph, you’ve still got the same basic problem.

What if a similar vehicle were made with an electric motor? Well yes, it’d still be a scary little box to be driving around in, considering that it makes a Yugo into a full-sized sedan, but the smoke goes away, the noise goes away, top speed is improved, and a reverse would probably be inherent. So even if our comedic blast from the past doesn’t quite set the world on fire, it still shows us some valuable information as we navigate our way through to truly Green technologies.

Going Green in a Weak Economy-Historical Perspective

A mechanic friend just sent me an email full of pictures and descriptions of a Dodge sedan that had been lovingly owned by a veterinarian who died about 8 years after buying the car new — in 1940. The car was safely put up in a garage, where it remained until it was discovered some 60 years later. I was hoping he was telling me he’d acquired this vehicle, but just being able to see the pictures is both moving and educating.

It was truly spacious and elegant. The highly detailed interior was made to blend harmoniously throughout. In short, the car was magnificent, a very comfortably functional piece of art… one of 87,000 such cars built in Detroit in 1939. Suspension was apparently already capable of making for a very comfortable ride, even on dirt roads. The car came with a 217 cubic inch 87 HP engine, a radio and an ashtray, floating hydraulic brakes, electric start, and much attention was paid to the little details that make such a car so wonderful.

So all those features were already available in 1940. What have we REALLY invented to improve it since? Heat & refrig? Big deal. The STRUCTURAL, functional part of the automobile was already largely done. And look at how simple and clean the motor is!

All of that was accomplished between the Model-A Fords of 1903 and 1927, and the Dodge of 1940?

THE TIMELINE TRANSITION: Museum Restorations of a 1903 Ford Model-A, and a 1928 Ford Model-A (first row)
an unrestored 1940 Dodge Deluxe Sedan, and that Deluxe Sedan’s Dashboard (second row)

In comparison, we haven’t done anything since, really. The only real differences are found in plastic cosmetics (that most certainly wouldn’t have survived 60 or more years as these cars have done.)

Now let’s put it into perspective. In 1929, the U.S. stock market crashed. In 1937, the first wave of that depression ended, only to resurface in 1938 and continue until the beginning of our involvement in WWII in 1941. The government’s war spending signaled the official end of the Depression years. So the changes between the 1903 Model A and the 1928 Model A happened during the inflationary times just before the market crashed… and the beautiful Dodge was built during the years of the Great Depression itself!
What this demonstrates is that we can make huge strides, innovate, towards alternative energy cars, when and if we want to. A weak economy won’t stop creative, innovative minds from developing these technologies. Rather, Necessity may bring about many Inventions.

Now is the time for us to put on the thinking caps and tool kits. Now is the time for us to create the technologies that will carry us out of the fossil fuel era and into the far greater things we can do, and better ways we can be.

Electric and Hybrid Vehicles Explained

car-volt.jpgAs fuel costs continue to rise, and environmental impacts become apparent, environmental concerns surrounding normal gas vehicles have brought about a need for vehicles which can save on fuel costs while simultaneously being a little friendlier to the environment.  Hybrid cars have begun to enjoy mainstream success in an attempt to fill this need, as sales for it continue to increase over time.  The definition for a hybrid vehicle is something that can be traced back as many as thousands of years ago, even back to the ancient sea vessels which made use both of wind power and rowing power to operate.  The term is meant to refer to any vehicle which operates based on the combination of two or more different types of power, and these power sources can include gas, natural gas, wind, electricity, vegetable oil, bio-fuel, ethanol and fuel cells.

How do Hybrid Cars Work?  – There are many different types of hybrid vehicles, each with a different mechanism for power.  One of the most popular hybrids on the road today is the Prius which is a product of the Toyota Motor Corporation.  The Prius is a hybrid vehicle as it operates through the use of a combination between gas and electricity.  Under the hood you will find both a regular internal combustion or gas engine and an electric motor as well.  These power systems are connected to one another and then to the vehicle through the transmission.  The vehicle uses a battery for power storage, and this battery can be used for powering the vehicle’s accessories including climate control and air conditioning.  Both of these engines work in parallel, meaning that one or the other or both can completely power the vehicle at the exact same time.

The Cost of Hybrid Cars – Hybrid vehicles tend to cost more upfront than if you were purchasing a normal vehicle, depending on what options are selected at the time of purchase.  You will find that a conventional vehicle will typically cost at least several thousands of dollars less, but over the long run you will save enough money in fuel costs that it will make the hybrid car a much better bargain.

Advantages – One of the greatest benefits of a hybrid car is the obvious cost advantage.  You may not see the savings right away, but they are there.  Environmentally speaking, hybrid cars are sound to drive, as they take far less gas, and put out far less pollution.  Modern hybrid vehicles are beginning to look sporty and incredibly elegant.  You will even find hybrid SUVs available, which are extremely cost effective compared to their non-hybrid predecessors.  Appearance may have been a concern with hybrid vehicles of the past, but they are no longer an issue.

What’s next for Hybrids?  – The future for hybrid vehicles is relatively uncertain at this point, because there are so many alternatives already in the pipeline, including completely electric cars, fuel cells and bio-fuels like ethanol.  Hybrids are being forced even further to evolve in order to keep their lead in the energy-efficient vehicle industry.

Electric Bicycles: Green Cure to Urban Blues

Gas prices may have eased up quite a bit lately, but that’s still nearly twice the price of just 3 years ago.  As one might expect, people are still looking for ways to save money and reduce fuel costs.  One company has seen the future, and brings electric 2-wheeled transportation — lots of different kinds of it — to fill that need. Eco-Wheelz, in Plymouth, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, is the culprit behind it all. They’re bringing electric bikes, electric scooters and electric mopeds all to the market.

What’s the difference between the three groups. Electric bicycles largely resemble regular bicycles. They have pedals, an open frame, and sometimes a narrow basket (to hold the battery). Electric scooters are about the smallest, most energy efficient hybrid concept around. Each resembles a skateboard with handlebars. Some models have seats, while others ask the rider to stand, and propel the machine by pushing off with one’s foot, much as one would do with a skateboard. Small and very light, these could be idea for getting around in tight spaces and bringing up into the office with you. Electric Mopeds most closely resemble modern-day Vespa scooters or motorcycles. Each has a seat and handlebars, some sort of wind fairing, and, to keep them technically within the realm of bicycles, a mechanism that you can put pedals on.

Battery life is surprisingly good with all of these. It’s a realistic possibility to ride your electric bike to work. The Experts at EcoWheelz know their business, and are able to ship these anywhere in the country. Check out their site at Eco Wheelz

Electric Cars Get Real – Out with the ZAP!

After some slow and false starts with “cars” like the ZAP from China, it seems that electric cars are becoming real-world practical. Tesla’s $100k+ sports car isn’t real world for most of us, and the ZAPs don’t seem to be holding up to their claims.

This bothered one guy (who had wasted $100k investing in a dealership for the ZAP/Xebra and never even getting ONE car from them,) so much that he decided to take matters into his own hands. The result was the Triac, built by combining the efforts and design abilities of the US and China. His company is appropriately named Green Vehicles, out of California.

The Triac is an ultra-modern 3-wheel vehicle with a top speed of about 80 mph, and a range of 70 miles between charges. It’s a 2-seater with room for some cargo in back. The Triac comes in at a base price just under $23,0000 USD.

Green Vehicles has two other models available as well. Their Buckshot is also a trike, with the single wheel forward, allowing the two rear wheels to hold the payload of an open cargo bed. The extra-cab design gives the driver or passenger a bit more comfortable seating than similar models from ZAP provided. Sticker shock is $21,995

Green Vehicles’ final offer of this year is the Moose. This time, they’ve opted for four wheels on the ground, and made an electric cargo van. This could be popular for local deliveries and even a budding family. Its 60 mile range is reasonable, and the price is a mere $12,995.

A more attractive and practical vehicle showed up in Paris this year at the car shows. South Africa has offered up the very competitive Joule from Optimal Energy. This is a 6-seater that goes 84 mph, 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds, and has a standard 125 mile range, (250 mile range optional) and 7 hour recharge time on Lithium Ion batteries (at 220 volts AC). Obviously, it’s right up there with most gas cars in terms of performance, space, etc. — without the gas tank or tailpipe. Ready for the kicker? $24,618 USD (presumably FOB South Africa). How do they do it? The designer genius being the Joule is amongst the most convincing aspects. Keith Helfet, who designed Jaguar’s F-type and XK220 is the man, and the car is his baby.

Utilities Prepare for Electric Car Rollout – Going Green

The big boys at a number of utility companies are considering ordering thousands of electric cars — the plug-in kind — to jump-start the auto industry into making them. The vehicles they’re interested in would run on batteries recharged from a common household outlet, with a gas alternative to extend the distance they can travel.

Power companies are in a unique position to make this happen. They own tens of thousands of company vehicles, so they can make a significant order — significant enough to gain the U.S. auto manufacturers’ attentions, and give them a possible out of their financial woes in the bargain.

It IS a noble pursuit, and one we would all benefit from. By recharging the cars during off-peak times (at night), the electric company gains, and we pay less than prime rates for the electricity. The electric company stands to gain, we stand to save, and the carbon footprint gets a lot smaller very quickly. No facts or figures to back this part up, but it stands to reason that the Grid is going to be a more efficient generator than everyone driving around with his or her own power plant. Electric vehicles also save by not having an engine running at idle.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory determined that 73% of the nation’s passenger and light-weight trucks could be recharged with the existing electrical infrastructure, providing that the vehicles were plugged in overnight to take advantage of off-peak hours. This could offset some 6,200,000 barrels of oil a day on average, which is approximately 52% of our current oil imports.

Another study, this one from the Electric Power Research Institute in conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council, determined that 60% of U.S. cars and light trucksgoing electric by 2050 would increase electricity consumption by under 8%, a pittance, really. Meanwhile, total U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions would be cut by at least 450 million metric tons per year, the equivalent of removing 82,000,000 cars from the streets. This is conservative, as non-fossil-fuel energy sources are bound to increase as well, cutting the carbon footprint even more dramatically.

Clearly, this is a feasible solution, something we can do sooner, rather than later. With the cooperative order of the electric companies, a $15,000 new electric car could be in our futures before the beginning of the coming decade.

Companies involved in these talks include Xcel Energy Inc., Progress Energy, PG&E Corp., Edison International, Wisconsin Energy Corp. and others. Please contact them and let them know that you appreciate and support their taking such a responsible position in leading the way towards energy solutions.