There was a lot happening in the electric vehicle field during the early years of California’s new low-emission vehicle (LEV) program in the 1990s. This program, which required automakers to offer new model vehicles with increasingly lower emissions in successive years, was initially focused on internal combustion models. That is, until GM announced it would offer a production electric vehicle based on the Impact electric car prototype shown at the 1990 L.A. Auto Show. The realization that auto manufacturers could actually make production vehicles with ‘zero’ localized emissions set in motion a series of events. The most important of these was the addition of the ZEV – or zero emission vehicle – classification to California’s emissions program.
This didn’t apply only to GM, but seven of the largest marketers of vehicles in California. Required numbers were set based on a percentage of each automaker’s sales in the state, with financial penalties to be imposed if these numbers were not met. Understandably, there was a new urgency to electric vehicle development programs on the part of the affected auto manufacturers.
Prototypes were created, electric drive technologies explored, and electric demonstration vehicles were fielded to gain understanding of how best to meet consumers’ needs. One of the many early limited production electric vehicle models was Honda’s EV Plus, a study in innovative design. It's not that the stylish vehicle offered cutting-edge style – its evolutionary ties to the Civic hatchback were evident at the time, and Green Car Journal editors were reminded of BMW's circa-1991/1992 E1 and E2 electric concept vehicles. Rather, it was Honda’s overall approach with the EV Plus and its smart packaging from corner to corner that netted this automaker high grades in EV market savvy. That kind of achievement was not easy at a time when endless focus groups and gut hunches seemed to rule the EV development world.
Since the electric powertrain, large battery pack volume, and mass presented unique packaging requirements, the frame of the Honda EV was designed differently than that of a conventional vehicle, shared Ben Knight, then-vice president of Honda R&D at the time. The passenger cabin, with its raised flat floor, was above and completely separated from the single under-floor battery pack. While that’s a signature feature in most electric vehicles today, it was a notable innovation in the mid-1990s. Along with a roomy interior devoid of battery placement, this configuration provided the side benefit of a low center of gravity.
This EV's clever ground-up design offered a roomy and well-thought-out interior that typical of Honda models of the day. Standard equipment included dual airbags, automatic climate control, electric power-assist steering, a two-way remote communicator, and power windows, locks, and mirrors. It also featured a unique liquid crystal display instrument cluster with state-of-charge and miles-to-discharge shown in bars, and speed in large numerals.
The two-door, four-passenger hatchback had nearly identical height, length, and width dimensions as the Kia Sportage at the time, weighing in only about 300 pounds heavier than the Kia SUV even with the electric Honda’s sizable stash of batteries. Projector headlamps were used up front while high-mounted taillamps flanked the rear hatchback window of this Honda EV. A charger inlet was located on the passenger side fender ahead of the door.
Packaging beneath the hood was color-coordinated and top-notch. Knight pointed out that seven components were combined here including the electric car’s management ECU, motor ECU, power drive unit, DC to DC converter and inverter, and an onboard charger. The motor and batteries shared a liquid central cooling system.
Green Car Journal editors who road tested the Honda EV found it to offer reasonable performance for the era along with satisfying ride and handling. Its 49kW brushless DC motor, powered by 24 12-volt Ovonic nickel-metal-hydride battery modules, achieved 0-60 mph acceleration in about 18 seconds. While that kind of acceleration seems glacial by today’s standards, at the time it was pretty much standard fare for most early electric vehicles. Driving range was estimated at 125 miles based on the U.S. Federal Urban Driving Schedule, to full battery discharge and without air conditioning. Top speed was an electronically-governed 80 mph.
The 1997 Honda EV Plus represented the next logical step in electric vehicle market development for this automaker. Honda had been evaluating prototype CUV-4 electric vehicles with utility partners Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric for a year and a half prior to the EV Plus launch, and also evaluating the vehicle's use as an airport rental car with National Rental Car in Sacramento.
Knight told GCJ that very early in the program, Honda studied the potential size of the EV market and who potential customers might be, looking at both consumer and fleet markets. This brought about a stark reality: While fleets offered the best chance for early EV placement and were on the minds of all automakers developing electric vehicles at the time, the fleet market was too limited to guarantee a model's success. So Honda geared up for both, with a plan to lease the vehicles to both consumers and fleets in a turnkey program that was fairly inclusive, with roadside assistance and battery maintenance included.
Honda's limited 1997 EV rollout of the EV Plus was more of an extensive demonstration program than an actual new model launch. The aim was to work toward meeting the requirements of California’s ZEV mandate while evaluating the vehicles' advanced NiMH batteries, infrastructure issues, and customer acceptance. Dealers initially leased and serviced Honda's EV Plus in Southern California and Sacramento. The EV Plus was delivered to initial lessees in spring 1997, with some 300 Honda EVs planned to be in service over the next several years. This early movement in the electric vehicle field set the stage for Honda’s focus on electrification in the years to come.
Back when the modern electric vehicle was new, automakers explored different strategies for getting in the game while meeting California’s zero emission vehicle mandate. Costs were high so these efforts were limited, with the earliest electric vehicle offerings focused much more on fleets than consumers. One of the more interesting approaches came from Chrysler with its electric minivans. Among its highest-profile explorations was the battery electric Chrysler EPIC that followed the automaker’s first electric minivan, the TEVan, the first limited production electric vehicle sold to the U.S. fleet market back in 1992. Here’s our take on the automaker’s improved version of the EPIC as it was making its way to fleets, straight from the Green Car Journal archives as it originally appeared in the August 1998 issue.
Excerpted from August 1998 Issue: Chrysler, the first automaker to bring an electric vehicle to the fleet market in 1992, is set to begin leasing an advanced battery iteration of its electric minivan to fleet markets in California and New York later this year. This improved version of the automaker’s EPIC (Electric Powered Intra-urban Commuter) minivan, based on the popular Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager platform, will begin rolling off Chrysler’s Canadian assembly line in Windsor, Ontario in October.
The EPIC, which offers an 800 pound payload and seating for up to seven, will benefit from a SAFT nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery pack that will enable the minivan to achieve a claimed 0-60 mph acceleration time of 16 seconds and travel up to 90 miles between charges under moderate driving conditions. The van was previously powered by less expensive lead-acid batteries which provided reduced performance and limited single-charge driving range of 68 miles. Chrysler plans to manufacture up to 2,000 EPICs for the 1999 model year. They will be offered under a three-year lease program with payments of $450 monthly with no down payment, or a one-time payment of $15,000.
It’s no surprise that Chrysler’s EPIC is now joining the ranks of advanced NiMH battery EVs like the Toyota RAV4 EV and Honda EV Plus. Even Ford’s Ranger EV and both electric GM products, the EV1 and S-10 electric, are now being offered with NiMH battery options, or will be shortly. Advanced battery power, with the enhanced performance it brings, is simply a requirement in an era where fleet managers have multiple electric models from which to choose.
Simply put, the low-performance, lead-acid battery powered EPIC hasn’t been a particularly desirable option for fleets, as evidence by the less than 20 EPICs that Chrysler has leased to date. Under the terms of the Memoranda of Agreement it signed with the California Air Resources Board along with others like Ford, GM, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota, Chrysler is required to field more than 250 EVs for demonstration through the year 2000. Upgrading to advanced battery power significantly decreases this number. In Windsor, EPIC production will take place on the same production line that handles assembly of Chrysler’s conventional gasoline-powered minivans.
Craig Love, Chrysler’s executive engineer for electric vehicles, points out that the addition of NiMH batteries also offers another tangible benefit by tripling the expected operating life of the traction battery pack. “Although considerable cost challenges remain, we believe the performance of this battery makes it the best for near-term ZEV (zero-emission vehicle) application among the several battery alternatives we’re investigating,” Love says.
Those battery alternatives include next-generation lithium-based batteries being developed cooperatively through the US. Advanced Battery Consortium, of which Chrysler is a member. While lithium batteries are popular in cell phones and laptop computers, increasing their size for use in automobiles offers design and cost challenges, Love notes. This is an important detail not lost on Nissan, points out GCJ editors, which pays a huge premium for the Sony lithium-ion batteries it uses in its Altra EV minivan. Chrysler plans to test its first vehicle-sized lithium-based battery in 1999.
“With EPIC, we’re combining our latest ZEV technology with our state-of-the-art entry into the electric vehicle segment. While there’s still a gap in cost and operating range between electric- and gasoline-powered vehicles, we’re working hard to close that gap.”
Plug-in electric vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell cars. Hybrids. Plug-in hybrids. All have come to the fore over the years, and we’ve noted their unique impact on the automotive landscape. While these technologies share similarities in that they all employ different ways of managing electricity to power electric motors, it’s been pretty easy to draw lines between them. But what if those lines were blurred in the interest of creating a new and possibly better answer, like maybe…a plug-in hydrogen hybrid?
Actually, that question was on the minds of creative souls at Ford some 15 years ago. Back then, the automaker explored new paths with its Ford Edge HySeries, a drivable demonstration vehicle unveiled at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show.
The HySeries combined power from the grid by plugging into an electrical outlet, just like an electric car or plug-in hybrid. It used a hydrogen-powered fuel cell to provide electricity, just like other fuel cell vehicles. And it managed its two power supplies via on-board battery storage, just like hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars do today.
Central to the HySeries Drive, both figuratively and physically, was a 336-volt lithium-ion battery pack that powered the electric motors at all times. Electricity from the grid and the fuel cell didn’t get to the wheels without first going through this battery pack. In this single-path flow of power, the power unit – the fuel cell – and the batteries were designed to act in series.
With the notable exception of a few models like the Chevrolet Volt, in most hybrids the batteries and engine operate in parallel. That is, the engine can still directly send power to the wheels with the battery stepping in to provide boost or take over as necessary. These hybrids do periodically act like a series configuration by using the engine to charge the batteries back up, for instance. The difference is that the HySeries Drive runs exclusively in series mode…thus, the name.
What’s the advantage? In a word, simplicity, according to Ford at the HySeries’ auto show debut. Operating in series streamlined the process by eliminating the extra hardware – and complex management software – of two propulsion systems in favor of a single power flow. By the same token, this made the HySeries Drive remarkably versatile.
In the Ford Edge prototype presented here, the fuel cell acted as a range extender, providing electrical power when the batteries ran low on their grid-sourced charge. But that range extender could just as well have been an engine powered by gasoline or some other alternative fuel. The thinking was that any new fuel or propulsion technology could be swapped in as it became available, with the underlying architecture of the HySeries Drive the same in any case.
The Ford Edge with HySeries Drive was designed to demonstrate the logic of this approach. According to Ford, the size, weight, cost, and complexity of this particular drivetrain was reduced by more than 50 percent compared to conventional fuel cell systems at the time. By relying more on the battery pack and the grid-sourced electricity, the demands on the fuel cell system were reduced as well. This meant the Ballard-supplied fuel cell would last longer and less hydrogen would need to be stored on-board.
Out on the road, the Edge was designed to drive 25 miles on battery power alone. When the battery pack was depleted to 40 percent charge, the fuel cell turned on and began generating electricity to replenish the batteries. The 4.5 kg of hydrogen stored in a 5,000 psi tank was enough to extend the range another 200 miles, for a total of 225 miles. Ford pointed out that range was highly dependent on driving conditions. In fact, it was also said that careful driving could potentially squeeze more than 400 miles from the fuel supply. Given that on-board hydrogen is now typically stored in 10,000 psi cylinders rather than the earlier 5,000 psi variants of the HySeries’ time, that driving range had the potential to be significantly greater.
Actual fuel economy would depend on the length of a trip. For those driving less than 50 miles a day, the Edge with HySeries Drive would be expected to return a miles-per-gallon equivalent of 80 mpg. Longer drives tapping further into the hydrogen supply would bring combined city/highway equivalent fuel economy down to 41 mpg, still respectable for a crossover SUV. Of course, while the fuel economy rating may have had a gasoline equivalent, the emissions did not. That is, there weren’t any emissions at all…at least not from the vehicle itself.
As innovative as Ford’s HySeries Drive was, it was not totally unique. Also in 2007, Chevrolet showcased its Volta concept using GM’s E-Flex System, which later evolved into the Chevrolet Volt powertrain. Both Ford and GM approaches relied on a large lithium-ion battery pack operating in series with a separate power source that charged batteries when they ran low. Notably, both systems offered plug-in capability. While the HySeries incorporated advanced hydrogen fuel cell power, the Chevy Volta did not, though GM did share this was a future possibility. Rather, the Volta, like the production Chevrolet Volt to come, used a 1.0-liter gasoline engine as its range-extender,
What we saw in the Ford Edge with HySeries, the Chevrolet Volta, and other concepts to follow was the underlying development of a drivetrain showcasing a new propulsion category carving its place into the mainstream – the plug-in hybrid vehicle. At the same time, both GM and Ford seemed eager to link their conception of the plug-in hybrid to the trek toward hydrogen-based transportation, which at the time was the official long-term goal of these two major automakers and others. In this sense, the plug-in hybrid would conceptually follow the conventional hybrid as another intermediary step on the path to hydrogen power.
Of course, to expect such a simple, linear progression – gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, hydrogen – is, and was, naïve. But that’s the core challenge with predicting the future of any industry, or of life in general, for that matter. Emergent and divergent technologies, parallel paths, and new alternatives are guaranteed along the automobile’s evolutionary path. In particular, we have seen that in recent years with the breakout of all-electric vehicles into the automotive mainstream, in numbers that were not envisioned by most at the time the HySeries was revealed.
With the HySeries-equipped Edge, Ford presented a surprisingly realistic look at how HySeries Drive – or something like it – could one day take to the road. It sat on the cutting edge of a broad trend away from petroleum-burning internal combustion and toward electrically-powered transportation, a trend that is accelerating today.
A few years ago, my wife Shelly and I visited Greece. It filled me with wonder to think about how challenging life must have been, and yet the ancient Greeks built massive architectural structures without the modern tools and machines we have today.
When I think about the last 30 years of the biodiesel industry, I am reminded of the Greek God, Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, he pushed a giant boulder uphill for eternity. I’d say our industry, like other alternative fuels, has felt that way a number of times.
However, I’d say fuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel are better represented by Athena. She was known to represent wisdom and the virtues of justice, skill, and victory. We have never let the challenges overtake our spirits. Instead, we have held our heads high and strategized our next moves. At last, we’re reaching a point we had long dreamed of – perhaps even beyond what we initially envisioned. The tables have turned. Our fuels are in demand to help people meet their goals and help America reach a low-carbon future. We’re here and we’re making an impact now – not waiting until decades into the future.
As the biodiesel industry celebrates its 30th anniversary, I am reminded that the soybean farmers, the soybean checkoff, and leaders who founded our organization had great faith, foresight, and fortitude. These humble beginnings in 1992 and the small group of leaders and visionaries who started our industry are the reason our industry, even today, seems like a family – and now a growing family! In 1992, no biodiesel had been produced commercially yet, and today, we produce 3 billion gallons a year of biodiesel and renewable diesel.
The emphasis on carbon reduction across the globe has opened new doors. Net-zero commitments from governments and corporations have raised interest in low carbon fuels like never before. We are making great strides in markets like marine, rail, and aviation that previously had been, at best, neutral to us. Likewise, when considering options to help reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from their vehicles and equipment, Original Equipment Manufacturers and fleets are also taking a much deeper look at us.
While electric solutions are still under development, clean advanced biofuels such as biodiesel and renewable diesel are readily available now for use in existing diesel engines. Most OEMs, including Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, Cummins, and many others, currently support the use of 20 percent biodiesel blends in their diesel equipment. However, forward-looking fleets from coast to coast – including several in California, Chicago, Madison, Washington D.C., and New York City – are looking to higher blends of biodiesel, even up to B100, to lower their carbon footprint even more dramatically.
Our vision statement says that “biodiesel, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel will be recognized as mainstream low carbon fuel options with superior performance and emission characteristics.” There is room for all these fuels at our industry’s family table. In that spirit, the National Biodiesel Board has added another leaf.
This January, we made it official: We are now Clean Fuels Alliance America.
This new brand will transform our image and position us as a proven, innovative part of America’s clean energy mix now and in the future. In the process, we’re inspiring America’s energy and transportation leaders to discover new sources of scalable, cleaner fuels.
Biodiesel remains a foundation of our association. Our country couldn’t be having real conversations about carbon reduction targets today if it weren’t for the work of those in biodiesel.
Athena was known as ‘one who fights in front.’ As Clean Fuels Alliance America, we move to the front, proudly blazing a new path forward in clean energy.
Donnell Rehagen serves as the CEO for Clean Fuels Alliance America, biomass-based diesel’s preeminent trade association. Clean Fuels Alliance America is funded in part by the United Soybean Board and state soybean board checkoff programs.
Around the nation, fleets are facing more scrutiny than ever before to reduce emissions. Headlines in recent months shout that it’s ‘now or never’ if we want any chance at slowing climate change. If we really want to make a difference on the environment, solutions need to be implemented immediately to start replacing dirty diesel and gasoline vehicles from the road as quickly as possible.
While fleet owners I talk to understand the significance of operating a clean fleet, I also continue to hear the same line, “I can’t be environmentally sustainable if I’m not financially sustainable.” Mistakenly, many fleet owners think that going green has to be an expensive endeavor. While that is true of some alternative fuel options, it’s not the reality for every energy source. Propane autogas is an affordable, clean, and available fuel that’s used by thousands of fleets around the country every day.
As we think about the larger decarbonization effort, it will take a diverse mix of clean energy sources to achieve this goal. Propane autogas’ role in the movement is to ensure energy equity by offering a low-carbon solution to medium-duty (class 3-7) fleet owners without cost-prohibitive barriers. When you factor in the cost of a new vehicle and the costs for fuel, fluids, maintenance, and repairs, propane autogas provides the lowest costs for the lifetime of the vehicle, providing a short return on investment.
Let’s consider just the cost of the fuel itself. As oil prices fluctuate, propane autogas can beat diesel on price per gallon by as much as 50 percent. In most cases, propane autogas suppliers will work with fleet owners to create a mutually beneficial fuel contract that allows fleets to lock in a set price per gallon for a period of time. This is another layer of protection against fluctuating fuel prices and is especially helpful during times of high gasoline or diesel prices like much of the country has experienced in recent weeks.
Plus, propane autogas infrastructure is also affordable. In most cases, propane suppliers will provide the infrastructure equipment to a fleet at no cost in exchange for a mutually beneficial fuel contract. The refueling infrastructure is also designed to scale and can easily adapt to the varying needs of any size fleet.
So, how clean is propane autogas? Today’s engines are 90 percent cleaner than mandated EPA standards, with effectively zero particulate matter emissions and 96 percent fewer NOx emissions than clean diesel engines. The latest propane autogas engine technology is classified as near-zero and has moved the fuel even closer to achieving zero emissions levels.
Not to mention, a recent study by the Propane Education & Research Council found propane-powered medium-duty vehicles provide a lower lifetime carbon footprint in the majority of U.S. states when compared to medium-duty EVs that are charged using those states’ electric grid. This is due to the amount of carbon that is produced from each state’s unique energy mix for electricity generation using coal, petroleum, or other primary sources.
While EVs may have zero tailpipe emissions, emissions are generated prior to the wheels turning on the road through the electric grid and the powertrain (chiefly battery manufacturing) production. When comparing the difference in lifecycle equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2eq) emissions of a single medium-duty vehicle, propane autogas on a national average emits 125 tons of CO2eq less than an electric medium-duty vehicle.
The study also reviewed the lifetime carbon emissions of a medium-duty vehicle operating on renewable propane – an energy source made from a mix of waste residues and sustainably sourced materials, including agricultural waste products, cooking oil, and meat fats. It has the same chemical structure and physical properties as conventional propane, but because it’s produced from renewable, raw materials, it has an even lower carbon intensity. As the study found, renewable propane medium-duty vehicles currently provide a lower carbon footprint solution than comparable EVs in every U.S. state except Vermont.
As we think about both the immediate need to start reducing emissions today and the long-term goal of providing a better environment for the next generation, propane autogas is a critical energy source that will help to move the needle in both situations. Decarbonization will not be solved overnight. But propane’s role as a clean energy source that can help fleets conquer their financial sustainability will set us on the path to one day reach better environmental sustainability.
Steve Whaley is the director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Research Council, Propane.com/Fleet-Vehicles
Driving electric is becoming increasingly important to a growing number of new car buyers today. While efficiency and zero-emission driving are high priorities, so is performance, especially in the view of those accustomed to brands like BMW that have long been noted for delivering a spirited driving experience. It’s no surprise that this automaker’s new 2022 BMW iX xDrive50 continues the tradition.
Performance is achieved through a combination of lightweight construction and BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive technology. The iX body is made up of an aluminum spaceframe overlaid with a body shell that combines carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP), thermoplastics, high-strength steel, and aluminum. Further weight reduction is found in the construction of the chassis, with extensive use of aluminum in suspension components and the front and rear axle subframes.
An all-wheel-drive powertrain positions an electric synchronous motor at each axle, fed by a 111.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack located low in the floor. EPA rates the iX at up to 86 combined MPGe with a driving range from 305 to 324 miles, with the best range achieved by the iX equipped with 20 inch wheels and tires. The 2023 iX M60 is not yet rated but BMW expects it to net up to 280 miles on a charge. Enhancing the iX’s range are several modes of regenerative braking selectable by the driver.
Power is impressive. The $83,200 iX features a combined 516 horsepower and electric all-wheel drive, plus exhilarating acceleration that delivers a 0-60 mph dash in 4.4 seconds. Performance is even better in the soon-to-come $105,100 iX M60, which combines 610 horsepower, a whopping 811 lb-ft torque, and launch control to compress the model’s 0-60 time to just 3.6 seconds.
The iX rides on suspension comprised of front control arms and a five-link rear, damped by lift-related shock absorbers that adjust firmness in relation to suspension travel. An optional adaptive suspension includes electronically controlled shocks and a two-axle air-suspension with automatic leveling that can be raised nearly an inch for extra ground clearance, or lowered almost a half-inch at higher speeds to improve aerodynamics and stability.
Inside, the iX interior features a hexagonal steering wheel and BMW’s new Curved Display, which groups driver information and infotainment screens behind a single panel of glass angled around the driver. The Curved Display, and many other iX features and amenities, is controlled by the new iDrive 8 operating system, “designed with a focus on dialog-based interaction using natural language and touch operation,” says BMW. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are integrated into the iX, as is 5G connectivity and the ability to receive over-the-air software updates.
The list of electronic amenities and advanced driver-assistance features aboard the BMW iX is extensive and ranges from cloud-based navigation to parking and back-up assist. Five cameras, five radar sensors, and 12 ultrasonic sensors provide data for the SAV’s safety systems, which include front collision warning, cross-traffic alert with braking, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, active cruise control, and lane keeping assistant.
Both AC and DC charging are available with the combined charging unit in the iX, which allows charging at 11 kW from an AC wall unit and up to 200 kW using a DC fast charger. Launched with the iX debut last month, BMW is offering 2022 BMW EV customers two years of free 30-minute charging sessions at 3,000 Electrify America public charging stations nationwide, a valuable addition to electric BMW ownership.
Green Car Journal has been documenting the evolution of light-duty, personal use transportation over the past three decades. A lot has changed over the years, with fuel efficiency now reaching previously-unexpected levels and electric cars achieving surprising momentum. While environmentally friendly vehicle choices have expanded greatly, the same can’t be said of commercial transportation. But there is significant movement in the form of electric trucks and potentially commercial vehicles running on hydrogen.
Today, legacy truck makers and smaller start-ups alike see the imperative to clean up commercial transportation. Chalk it up to increasing government regulation and the recognition that mitigating carbon emissions and climate change must be resolved on all levels. Not to mention, in these days of extraordinarily high fuel prices and petroleum supply volatility there is even greater reason to look toward new and cleaner answers for motor vehicles of all classes. Larger commercial vehicles are now part of the momentum.
Green Car Journal’s prestigious Green Car Awards™ have been recognizing new vehicle models exhibiting laudable environmental achievement for the past 17 years. Deserving light-duty vehicles were recognized in eight popular categories earlier in the 2022 model year auto show season. Now, it’s time to turn attention to the next frontier: medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks.
While the mind’s eye can conjure images of large diesel trucks emitting plumes of soot from years past, this has been changing for the better through the application of advanced emissions technologies and alternative fuels. Now, there’s movement afoot to remake the image of medium- and heavy-duty trucks through electrification. The result? Silent, zero-carbon, powerful trucks running exclusively on batteries and electric motors, charging up in lieu of fueling with liquid hydrocarbons.
There’s no better example of this than Volvo’s zero-emission VNR Electric, a battery powered model that’s been undergoing trials through the Volvo LIGHTS (Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions) program over the past several years, conducted in partnership with the South Coast Air Quality Management District and a dozen other organizations. The result is the new production Volvo VNR Electric, Green Car Journal’s 2022 Commercial Green Truck of the Year™.
The Class 8 Volvo VNR Electric, based on Volvo Trucks’ popular VNR model, aims to provide a sustainable transportation strategy to fill local and regional distribution, pickup, and delivery needs. Power is provided by a 455 horsepower electric motor featuring 4,051 lb-ft peak torque that’s coupled to a two-speed I-Shift automatic transmission. Top speed is 68 mph. It’s available with six-battery pack options that provide up to a 275 mile driving range and comes with fast-charge capability that enables gaining up to 80 percent state-of-charge within 60 to 90 minutes. The VNR Electric is available in five straight truck and tractor configurations.
There’s significant competition out there in the evolving field of ‘greener’ commercial trucks with environmental leadership exhibited in many high-profile ways. The following models are standouts being honored with Green Car Journal’s 2022 Green Car Product of Excellence™ award.
Freightliner eCascadia: This Class 8 electric truck is intended for short haul or last-mile delivery, regional deliver, and drayage. It features 500 horsepower and a 250 mile range.
International eMV: An electrified version of International’s proven MV medium-duty truck, the eMV features 215 continuous horsepower, a 135 mile range, and DC fast-charge capability.
Kenworth T680E: Available as a Class 8 tractor or straight truck, the zero-emission T680E features 536 horsepower, 1623 lb-ft torque, and a 150 mile electric driving range.
Lion Electric Lion6: The Lion6 is a Class 6 urban electric truck featuring 335 horsepower, 1800 lb-ft torque, a 252 kWh battery, and a driving range of up to 200 miles.
Mack LR Electric: The next-generation Mack LR Electric is a Class 8 truck aimed at refuse and recycling duty. It has a 376 kWh battery and twin electric motors producing 448 horsepower.
Nikola Tre BEV: Nikola’s Tre BEV is an all-electric Class 8 tractor for regional applications featuring 645 horsepower, a 753 kWh battery pack, and an operating range up to 350 miles.
Peterbilt 579EV: The 579EV is a Class 8 Day Cab configuration intended for short haul and drayage operations. It features 536 electric horsepower, a 396 kWh battery, and 150 mile range.
SEA Hino M5 EV: Sea Electric’s Hino truck-based M5 EV Class 5 electric truck integrates the company’s electric SEA-Drive Power System to provide 110 horsepower and a 200 mile range.
One of the motivations to go hybrid is the promise of significantly higher fuel efficiency. This has never been lost to us at Green Car Journal, though it did take quite a few years to catch on with car buyers in general since the very first Honda and Toyota hybrids were introduced here more than two decades ago, followed by the first gas-electric SUV, the Ford Escape Hybrid.
Today, the reasons to opt for a hybrid are more evident than ever. In the midst of historically high gas prices, we seriously appreciate that the Ford Escape Hybrid we drive every day is amazingly fuel efficient. Even though we complain like everyone else whenever we fill up now, we gripe perhaps a bit less because we know our Escape is consistently delivering its promised 41 mpg combined fuel economy. As many know quite well, EPA fuel economy estimates lend an idea, but not a promise, of what actual fuel efficiency expectations should be for any given model. In this case it’s spot on based on a lot of miles on the road.
We feel compelled to point out that the Escape, which Ford introduced as an all-new generation in the 2020 model year, is a bit of a tease. True, Ford made waves at its introduction by offering a pair of EcoBoost four-cylinder engines, an efficient hybrid, and promising a plug-in hybrid. But the ever-changing automotive field that’s been hugely impacted by the pandemic and a persistent silicon chip shortage upended lots of plans, including the rollout of the new Escape and in particular the Escape PHEV.
To wit: Whatever the reason – though the pandemic likely had as much to do with it as anything – the abundance of new-generation Escapes on Ford dealer lots was significant in 2020 and 2021. Loads of 2020 Escapes were still being heavily promoted and discounted well into the 2021 model year, with the same occurring with 2021 models when 2022 Escapes were on sale. That meant some pretty sweet deals for those on the hunt for a new crossover SUV.
That’s all changed now that the chip shortage has become entrenched, new car availability tightened considerably, and prices shot upward across the board. Amid this changing backdrop, the highly-anticipated 2020 Escape PHEV variant never happened. The aforementioned challenges and a battery issue delayed the planned plug-in hybrid intro here until late in the 2021 model year.
When the all-new, fourth-generation Escape debuted it did so with a lower and smoother look and a distinctively more car-like front end than earlier iterations. A bit longer and wider with a slightly lower roofline, the popular crossover features slightly more interior space with additional rear legroom and up to 37.5 cubic feet of useable stowage behind the rear seats. A Panoramic sunroof is available on specific models like the Escape Hybrid Titanium we drive daily.
Gasoline and standard hybrid variants of the Escape are offered with front- and four-wheel-drive, while the plug-in hybrid comes exclusively with front-wheel drive. Our Escape Hybrid test car’s combustion part of the power equation is a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine. This engine is augmented with two electric motors that bring total combined system power to 200 horsepower. A PowerSplit electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) transfers power to the road. The hybrid is energized with a 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack positioned under the floor.
Start-stop engine technology enhances efficiency, though we’ve found it to be a bit abrupt under certain conditions, like when backing out of a driveway on brief battery power and then shifting into drive. Every time, we’ve found the changeover from electric to combustion power happens within seconds of moving forward and feels more noticeable than we’d like.
Being the car enthusiasts that we are, there’s always a yearning to eke more performance from many of the most efficient vehicles we test drive. But honestly, the Escape Hybrid hits a pretty impressive sweet spot. Acceleration and overall performance are just what you need in an efficient compact SUV, with its 200 horsepower delivered confidently and seamlessly whenever needed for passing or just a bit of fun on twisty roads.
Inside, this compact SUV strikes a good balance of comfort and economy of space, the latter expected in a crossover in this segment and the former not always delivered in smaller SUVs. In this case, the Escape Hybrid feels like a good fit. There’s plenty of seating and elbow room up front and a good amount of space for rear seat passengers. Of course, squeezing three adults in the back is possible since this is a five-seater, but we’ll bet that most families will have at least a few younger passengers in the rear so three side-to-side adults riding along will be a rarity. Legroom in the back is reasonable though things can get cramped if tall folks are up front and seats are adjusted considerably back. Adding comfort to the rear are 60/40 split back seats offering limited recline and the ability to slide rearward to add extra legroom when needed.
Escape Hybrid offers an array of desired comfort, infotainment, and driver assist systems to enhance safety and the driving experience. Our Titanium model includes a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and center 8-inch touch screen display. Ford Co-Pilot360 features include Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Lane-Centering, Evasive Steering Assist, and Voice-Activated Navigation. Wi-Fi for up to 10 mobile devices is provided through FordPass Connect. We found USB connections in the front console to be handy, along with the 110-volt AC outlet located in the rear seat area below the center console’s air register. For everyday drives when the weather turns colder, we especially like the heated steering wheel and front seats, which come up to temperature surprisingly fast.
Our considerable time behind the wheel of the Escape Hybrid has found us appreciating its welcome compact SUV functionality, satisfying performance, and comfortable ride. It has proved to be an enjoyable and dependable daily ride that lends some comfort during these times of exceptionally high gas prices. An additional benefit is that the Escape Hybrid runs on less pricy regular grade gas and its combined gas-electric power provides a 550 mile driving range that means fewer fill-ups…something that’s just fine by us.
Photography by Sheree Gardner Cogan
The U.S, will get the long wheelbase version of the ID.Buzz electric microbus, but measurements aren’t yet available. It will be longer, though, than the short wheelbase version that goes on sale in Germany and a few other European countries in the third quarter of this year, with more European and Asian markets to be added in 2023.
The Buzz – a play on the word ‘Bus’ – was initially shown as a concept at the Detroit auto show in early 2017, about six months after VW launched its ID (Intelligent Design) sub-brand for electrics at the 2016 Paris international Auto Show. It was confirmed for production later in 2017. At the time, VW was aiming for a 2022 launch, but Covid, microchip shortages, and stuff got in the way.
This first version – we’ll call it the short Buzz – will have an 88 kWh (77 kWh usable) lithium-ion battery pack. It will have a single-motor, rear-drive layout with 201 horsepower and 299 lb-ft torque. Top speed will be limited to 90 mph. Initial models will be the ID.Buzz and ID.Buzz Cargo. The commercial van will have three seats in the front row and a wide open interior behind them. Other ID.Buzz versions with bigger batteries, all-wheel drive, and more power will launch in 2023.
The I.D.Buzz ‘short’ will charge at up to 11 kW on 240-volt Level 2 chargers and up to 170 kW on Level 3 DC fast-charge equipment. At that speed, the 88 kWh battery can be recharged to 80 percent of capacity from 5 percent in about 30 minutes. The same charging capacities are likely to be standard on the U.S. version.
The short will be 185.5 inches long, 78.1 inches wide and 76.3 inches high, with a 117.6-inch wheelbase. That’s about the same total length as a Porsche Macan, Chevrolet Equinox, or Mitsubishi Outlander but with a much longer wheelbase than any of those crossovers. The new Hyundai ioniq 5 EV, at 182.5 inches overall length and 118.5-inch wheelbase, is a fairly close match.
All exterior lighting is LED and 18-inch steel wheels will be standard, with alloys ranging from 18 to 21 inches available as options. For the European version there will be seven single-color exteriors – white, silver, black, yellow, orange, green, and blue (VW has much fancier names for each shade) – and four two-tone schemes, white over yellow, orange, green, or blue.
The base interior will be in a grey tone, with two-tone schemes available for the versions with two-tone exteriors. Inside, the passenger version is a five-seater, with adjustable, sliding (9.6 inches of travel) front captain’s chairs and a folding rear seat with a 60/40 split and up to 5.9 inches of travel. Top trims will have electrically adjustable front seats with memory and massage functions, the latter a real delight for anyone who’s has spent much time in an original microbus.
A two-row, six seat version of the short is coming later, and the long wheelbase version will be configured with three rows for up to seven passengers in a 2-3-2 configuration. There are fold-down tables built into the backs of the front seats. The 39.6 cubic-foot rear cargo area has an optional raised floor, which reduces total cargo area but makes the floor level with the folded-down seat backs for easier loading and carrying of long pieces of cargo.
Instrumentation includes a pair of 10-inch screens, one for driver info and one for the infotainment system. A 12-inch infotainment screen with navigation is available. The initial versions will have a pair of USB-C ports and a wireless charging pad in a shelf to the right of the steering wheel. There are more USB-C ports in the center console, on the driver’s door, in each of the two sliding doors, and up near the rear-view mirror to facilitate dash cam installation.
There’s a ‘shifter’ stalk on the steering column, but as is the case with most EVs, the ID.Buzz has a single-speed gearbox. Functionally, it takes just a twist of the stalk forward to go from neutral to drive and rearward for neutral to reverse. The center console is a big box with lots of room for stuff. There’s an optional removable center console that latches into place and has storage bins, a drawer for laptops and tablets, and a flip-top bin for water battles.
Much of the interior is trimmed, covered, or upholstered in recycled or otherwise sustainable materials and there won’t be any leather options. The exterior paints are organically based, the battery chemistry don’t include cobalt, and Volkswagen intends to have a plant ready to recycle its EV batteries for second use – such as stationary energy storage – when their automotive life is done. These batteries are guaranteed for 8 years or 100,000 miles and expected to last longer.
We’ll follow up with more when VW releases additional information specific to the coming U.S. model.
This article was originally published on thegreencarguy.com. Author John O'Dell is a distinguished career journalist and has a been an automotive writer, editor, and analyst specializing in alternative vehicles and fuels for over two decades.
Our journey of discovery with hydrogen vehicles started with the Mercedes-Benz’ fuel cell-powered NECAR II (New Electric Car II) in Berlin back in the mid-1990s. Since then, we have driven an array of hydrogen fueled vehicles from the world’s automakers on test tracks and on the highway. Along the way we have analyzed their capabilities and the strides being made in the hydrogen vehicle field over time, always impressed with constant improvement in their technology, cost, durability, component downsizing, and packaging.
What we’ve found in recent years is that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles drive like their more conventional counterparts, exhibiting satisfying levels of power and an overall positive driving experience. Their cabins are quiet, devoid of earlier developmental issues like gear whine or compressor noise. There is no sound or vibration from internal combustion because power is generated electrochemically without combustion. This electricity powers one or more electric motors that drive the vehicle, just like a battery EV. No greenhouse gases are produced and no emissions other than water vapor.
While there have been many important milestones over the years from the automakers pursuing hydrogen power, perhaps none was as notable as our experience driving GM’s Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell in 2007. At the time we knew the crossover we were piloting was one of the most advanced vehicles on the planet, Yet we set out on our drive chatting away with our GM guide almost oblivious to the high technology at work as we motored along, as if this was an everyday journey. That was a telling moment.
It may be that this crossover vehicle was fueled with hydrogen, created its power through an electrochemical process in lieu of combustion, and used the same kind of technology that created electricity and water onboard the Space Shuttle of the era. No matter. Driving it felt so normal . We were completely at ease during the drive with little thought of the processes at work behind the scenes. And that’s just what GM – and in fact, the entire automotive industry – was after. The deed was done.
It wasn’t always so, though developers of fuel cell vehicles had come ever-closer over the years. The ultimate goal was to create hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that disguised all the advanced technology at work. From the driver’s seat, some fuel cell vehicles leading up to our Equinox Fuel Cell drive were more seamless than others, like Toyota’s FCHV and Honda’s FCX. In many cases, though, developmental fuel cell vehicles functioned quite well but were still a degree of separation from production vehicles in certain areas.
Among the many challenges of the day was making the electrically powered drive-by-wire systems required in fuel cell vehicles act and feel like familiar mechanical systems of the day. At times, accelerator and brake pedal input routed through central control units felt a bit too much like on-off switches in developmental fuel cell vehicles. While otherwise eerily silent, high-pitched electric motor whine and sometimes fuel cell compressor noise were present. These challenges were being aggressively addressed as fuel cell vehicle development marched ahead, and they appeared fully resolved in the Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell crossover we were driving.
Soon after our time behind the wheel of the Equinox, drivers in suburban Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington D.C. also had the ability to experience these vehicles through the automaker’s “Project Driveway.” This program placed more than 100 Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles in the hands of private motorists ranging from regular families to celebrities. Drivers were provided free use of an Equinox Fuel Cell and the hydrogen fuel needed to run it for an average period of about three months. In return, participants provided GM feedback about the vehicles’ performance and their views about the experience.
Following our test drive of the Equinox Fuel Cell, , we were certain these advanced hydrogen vehicles would have no problems keeping up with the daily driving demands of Project Driveway participants. Plenty of space for four passengers and 32 cubic feet of cargo volume were afforded by careful packaging of GM’s fourth-generation fuel cell propulsion system, including a 1.8 kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and three 10,000 psi hydrogen storage tanks.
The Equinox Fuel Cell’s 160 mile driving range was designed to meet the needs of most driving chores. Sub-freezing operating capability was an additional advancement of particular importance to East Coast drivers. As is the case with most fuel cell vehicles, fueling up the Equinox with hydrogen was done in about the same amount of time as filling up a gasoline car. The hydrogen-powered Equinox Fuel Cell met the same federal safety standards as all cars. Importantly, it also attained the important benchmark of being certified a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) by EPA, the ultimate goal for all motor vehicles of the future.
Chevrolet’s Equinox Fuel Cell so impressed Green Car Journal editors at the time that it was recognized with the magazine’s Green Car Vision Award™. This marked the first time the magazine honored a limited production vehicle for its forward-thinking technologies and potential for influencing the future of personal mobility. For a highly advanced developmental hydrogen vehicle tasked with shepherding in an entirely new age of transportation, that’s perhaps the highest praise we could give.
In the very early 1990s, GM was in the midst of translating its one-off Impact electric vehicle prototype into a car that could be readily manufactured. At the time it was toying with a variety of power schemes and motor combinations to determine the best for its new electric drive system. We experienced first-hand GM’s focus on developing a practical electric powerplant for its soon-to-come EV1 electric car at the GM Desert Proving Grounds in Phoenix, Arizona. Here, Green Car Journal editors drove several test cars for the EV program including an electrically-powered Chevrolet Lumina APV minivan and an electric Geo Storm.
What was unusual about the vehicles was the application of individual electric propulsion at each front wheel using a pair of motors. Clearly, there was work to be done. Synchronization imbalances in these test mules caused steering to be uneven, but the engineering direction was there. The EV1 eventually made its way to limited production but with a single electric drive motor. This appeared to relegate GM’s two motor effort to an historical footnote in its drive toward electrification.
As it turned out, this didn’t end GM’s exploration into motors power individual wheels. In 2004, the automaker created an innovative motor-in-wheel drive system that was quite unlike its earlier efforts. It demonstrated this technology in a Chevrolet S-10 hybrid electric pickup equipped with in-wheel motors at each rear wheel. This supplemented front-wheel drive power provided by the pickup’s 120 horsepower, 2.2-liter internal combustion engine.
Developed by GM's Advanced Technology Center and made in Italy, the motors generated about 34 hp (25 kilowatts) of power each and added 80 pounds total to the rear wheels. The automaker turned to Southern California-based Quantum Technologies, a vehicle integrator, to build the concept truck. Quantum modified the vehicle's coolant, power, and electrical systems, and developed its special electronic controller and related software.
Green Car Journal editors had the opportunity to test drive this motor-in-wheel equipped S-10 in Los Angeles back in the day. The result was affirmation of GM’s strategy. The S-10 exhibited significantly more power than a stock variant and acceleration was definitely impressive. According to GM engineers, these hub motors added about 60% greater torque at launch with that torque available instantly, a power scheme that enabled a four-cylinder engine to perform like a six-cylinder.
At the time of our test drive, this in-wheel motor concept was not viewed by GM as an electric vehicle drive system. It was a hybrid strategy that could potentially be added to any number of vehicle models to deliver higher performance and significant fuel economy improvements. The technology didn’t materialize as a popular hybrid application as the field evolved. Still, we see that in-wheel motors have very real potential today in the battery electric vehicle world as they are championed by some automakers and suppliers like Protean Electric and Elaphe Propulsion Technologies.
The all-new Tonale is a big deal for Italy’s Alfa Romeo. This automaker has been around the block – and the track – for some 110 years now, but we understand if Alfa Romeo is a name that’s escaped your new car shopping list. This storied brand offers intriguing style, a sporting nature, and the kind of attractive Italian design that calls for a second glance as one passes by. It’s just that Alfa Romeos don’t pass by nearly as often as, say, other mainstream European brands like Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen, or even MINI. British and especially German brands are ubiquitous on our highways. But Italian cars? Not so much in the scheme of things.
That isn’t to say that Stellantis, parent company of the Italian Fiat, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo brands, wouldn’t like to change that, especially when it comes to its hopefully rising star Alfa Romeo here in the States. It’s just that this nameplate isn’t ingrained in the American psyche like Stellantis’ indigenous-to-the-U.S. brands Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and RAM. So, Alfa Romeo sells in quite small numbers here relative to most of its European competitors.
There’s change in the wind. Alfa Romeo’s champion for an evolving auto market is its all-new 2023 Tonale, a compact all-wheel drive crossover SUV that expands the brand’s offerings here in a most important way. SUVs are huge sellers these days because of their desirable functionality and style. Compact crossover SUVs in particular are top-of-mind with buyers as fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions play a larger part in the decision making process. Add to that the availability of a plug-in hybrid powerplant – a first for Alfa Romeo – and things really start to get interesting.
The Tonale is a statement of high-fashion Italian design, perhaps not unexpected from a company born in Milan, Italy’s hub of fashion and industry. Attention to the senses pervades this SUV. The model is eye-appealing with its fluid, aggressive, and sensuous lines that take the expected compact SUV form and add artistic depth, contour, and flair. Of course, its distinctive nose features the marque’s signature, shield-like ‘scudetto’ grille that’s been integral to Alfa Romeo since its 1948 models. This grille is accented by a pair of horizontal grilles below and flanked by a three-LED headlight design at either side. Wrap-around taillights deliver an appealing look at the rear. Capping this off are very distinctive alloy wheels that further the aggressively stylish persona of this new model.
Inside is a driver-focused cabin finished in leather and Alcantara suede accented by aluminum trim. The black Alcantara on the well-bolstered seats integrates laser-drilled holes with red backing and contrast stitching to enhance the interior’s sporty and high-end look. Leather headrests are accented with contrast red stitching and red Alfa Romeo logos.
Drivers will appreciate the Tonale’s readily accessible controls on the instrument panel, center console, center display, and steering wheel, the latter also offering available aluminum shift paddles. Driver information is presented on a 12.3-inch instrument cluster screen ahead of the driver and a 10.5-inch center touchscreen display with Uconnect 5 infotainment features. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, and over-the-air update functionality come as a matter of course.
Advanced electronics is part of the package, as expected. Among the most desirable driver assist systems are standard adaptive cruise control, intelligent speed assist, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist, with Level 2 autonomous driving and traffic jam assist available. Also standard are safety and convenience features including blind spot and rear cross path detection, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and traffic sign recognition.
This Alfa’s base powerplant is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s said to provide best-in-class standard horsepower, delivering 256 horsepower and 295 lb-ft torque. It connects to a nine-speed automatic transmission. As is the case with many combustion powerplants today, engine stop-start technology is integrated to increase efficiency, though we don’t yet know what that fuel efficiency number will be. It connects to a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The big news is the Tonale’s plug-in hybrid powertrain that reportedly makes it the most efficient crossover PHEV in the segment. This hybrid system uses a 180 horsepower, 1.3-liter MultiAir four-cylinder turbo and high-voltage belt starter-generator to power the front wheels. Power at the rear axle is provided by a 121 horsepower electric motor that ups the ante to 272 total system horsepower for expected levels of performance. This power is delivered to the road via a six-speed automatic transmission. Both plug-in hybrid and conventionally powered Tonales offers standard Q4 all-wheel drive.
Tonale’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain is energized by a 15.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack the maker says is good for a 30 mile all-electric driving range. After that, as battery power wanes, the Tonale reverts to its efficient hybrid drive. Three selectable driving modes – dual power/dynamic, natural, and advanced efficiency – are offered to tailor the driving experience via a DNA control. ‘Dual power’ is the performance mode, with both the motor and combustion engine providing maximum power. The ‘natural’ selection optimizes efficiency and driving performance with a balance of electric and mechanical power. All-electric driving, with variable range depending on current battery state-of-charge, is delivered with the ‘advanced efficiency’ mode.
Alfa Romeo’s new Tonale will be offered in base-level Sprint, uplevel Ti, and more sport- and luxury-oriented Veloce trim levels. While cost has yet to be disclosed, the aim is to be priced competitively in its compact crossover segment, which means a likely entry point in the mid-$30,000 range, rising to perhaps $50,000 or so for the top-of-the-line Veloce. We’ll know more as the model gets closer to its official launch expected late this year.
It wasn’t always electric vehicles dominating the news. In recent decades there was also great focus on hydrogen vehicles, which continues in the background today. One pioneer worth noting is the late Stanford Ovshinsky, who with his scientist wife Iris founded ECD Ovonics in 1960. Among the company’s technologies based on its discoveries are Ovonic nickel-hydride batteries, thin-film photovoltaics, and the Ovonic metal hydride fuel cell . In the early 2000s, ECD Ovonics showcased its innovative solid metal hydrogen storage in several second-generation Toyota Prius hydrogen-hybrid vehicles. Our report on these vehicles is excerpted just as it ran in Green Car Journal’s Fall 2005 issue.
Excerpted from Fall 2005 Issue: As the “hydrogen highway” vision takes form through incremental technology advancements and demonstrations on many levels, much of the glory is captured by hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. It’s true that they’re marvels of technology and are deserving of this attention. As shared in Green Car Journal’s Summer 2005 issue (Hydrogen/Where We Are on the Drive to the Future), automakers have come a long way and these vehicles are so good, they make it seem effortless to drive on this most environmentally positive fuel. But that’s far from the case.
The vehicles are truly million dollar machines, using hand- built or limited production componentry handsomely packaged within normal-looking sedans, minivans, and SUVs. They drive seamlessly, for the most part, assuring us that the mission of bringing hydrogen vehicles to the highway can be accomplished. Still, there’s a lot of work ahead to make this vision workable – costs must come down, fuel cell durability must improve, and challenges that go beyond the vehicles themselves must be met. Creating hydrogen economically is one of them, as is developing a widespread refueling infrastructure. Storing hydrogen is yet another significant technical challenge, and that’s what this story is about, although a car once again appears to be the star.
This story begins and ends with Stanford Ovshinsky, an inventor of rarified stature who, many decades ago, made discoveries involving amorphous and disordered materials that created a whole new area of materials science. He was recognized with a Time Magazine “Heroes of the Planet Award” because of this work and how it led to many breakthrough applications, including his patented nickel-metal-hydride batteries (he and the company he founded, Rochester Hills, Michigan-based Energy Conversion Devices, hold the patents). As it turns out, this work has also led to the ability to store hydrogen in solid form at low pressure, a technology being developed by ECD business unit Ovonic Hydrogen Systems.
This is no small thing. Before we can buy a hydrogen-fueled vehicle in the showroom, some big technical hurdles need to be overcome in the lab, and one of the biggest is hydrogen storage. A hydrogen vehicle’s range depends directly on how efficiently this fuel can be converted to motive power and, more fundamentally, how much fuel can be stored on-board. Range will be especially important in the early years of hydrogen vehicle commercialization since a refueling infrastructure will still be in its infancy.
Automakers have been grappling with the issue for a long time. Liquid hydrogen, championed most visibly by BMW, is attractive because a much greater amount of liquid hydrogen can be stored in a given tank size than gaseous hydrogen. This translates to greater range. However, the downside is that hydrogen must be stored at -423 degrees F to keep it in liquid form, and getting it down to this temperature requires a lot of energy and special fueling equipment.
Most automakers use gaseous hydrogen in their developmental fuel cell and hydrogen internal combustion vehicles because of this. However, gaseous storage also has its challenges. Current 5,000 psi (pounds per square inch) hydrogen cylinders simply don’t hold enough fuel for a decent driving range. That has prompted many automakers to explore a new generation of even higher 10,000 psi hydrogen storage cylinders, which require additional changes to support this high pressure including 10,000 psi-capable lines, fittings, and dispensing equipment.
Then there’s the approach offered by Ovonic Hydrogen Systems’ solid hydrogen storage, a concept so clever and intriguing it seems improbable...yet it works. A tank containing powdered metal alloys is filled with hydrogen at relatively low 1,500 psi. Removing heat during the process causes the metal to absorb hydrogen like a sponge, and a new material called a metal hydride is created. Hydrogen stored in solid form like this is in a safer state and can be stored within a tank at a lower 250 psi. On-board systems determine when hydrogen is needed by an engine or fuel cell, providing heat to reverse the process so gaseous hydrogen is released from the hydride and into the fuel system. In an interesting phenomenon, a greater volume of hydrogen can be stored in the same size cylinder with metal alloy than
without it, a consideration that provides better driving range.
Several years ago, Green Car Journal drove a 2002 Toyota Prius hybrid equipped with such a system. Operating as a hydrogen hybrid vehicle, it produced near-zero emissions and drove seamlessly. Ovonic Hydrogen Systems has now gone one better by offering several second-generation Prius hybrids equipped with a similar system to showcase its solid metal hydrogen storage. Some of these vehicles will operate as part of a hydrogen hybrid demonstration fleet at Southern California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District in Diamond Bar, California, a program that will prove the viability of hydrogen hybrids in everyday use.
Beyond the solid hydrogen storage, other modifications to these vehicles include vents and leak detectors to ensure safe operation, as well as hydrogen-compatible fuel lines, an engine management computer that operates new gaseous fuel injectors, and a variety of sensors. A turbocharger is used to compensate for the lower engine output that comes with combusting hydrogen. Extra battery modules are also added for better electric motor performance.
All this technology is wrapped within sharp-looking demonstration vehicles that promise to forward the company’s solid hydrogen storage message in a very high-profile way. These high-tech cars also demonstrate that hydrogen internal combustion could represent a more readily-achievable interim step toward the hydrogen highway as more complex and expensive fuel cell vehicles evolve in coming years. With potentially larger numbers of more affordable internal combustion hydrogen vehicles on the road, there’s also more incentive for building the hydrogen refueling infrastructure that will be needed for those fuel cell vehicles in the future.
A coming electric Chevy pickup is no surprise given the intense competition in the pickup field and what’s at stake in this highly profitable market segment. Given that Rivian already has electric pickups on the highway, Ford has over 200,000 preorders for its coming electric F-150 Lightning, and other electric pickup competitors are on the horizon like the Ram 1500 EV and Tesla Cybertruck, an electric Chevy pickup was just a given. And now that it’s officially coming, GM’s bowtie brand is snaring that over 110,000 customers have already submitted preorders for its battery powered pickup.
While it’s true that GM already has its GMC Hummer EV pickup, it’s also true that this is a high-end product that’s not in the thick of the electric pickup battles. As a popular mainstream pickup, the Silverado is well-positioned to capture significant market share amid its electrified rivals.
Unlike the Ford F-150 Lightning, the 2024 Silverado EV is a ‘clean slate,’ all-new design with each component engineered to suit the electric pickup mission. As such, the engineering and design teams were able to include some very unique features well-suited to the electric pickup truck market. Even though the Silverado EV is a sizeable crew cab or two-row cab configuration, four wheel steering allows an impressive maneuverability and tight turning radius.
The pickup box is only 5.5 feet, but a pass-through in the rear cab wall called a Multi-Flex Midgate allows the back wall of the cab to fold down, allowing the pickup to haul cargo and gear up to 10 feet long. Chevy’s Multi-Flex Tailgate, already available on standard Silverado models, also adds work and cargo-carrying flexibility. Added storage can be found up front since there is no engine under the hood like on most trucks. This space on the Silverado EV features a lockable ‘frunck’ that can handle gear up to the size of a large hard-side suitcase.
The power output from the Silverado EV’s two electric motors is impressive. At the push of a button you enter Watts mode that provides an all-in effort of 664 horsepower and 780 lb-ft torque. The result is very un-pickup-like 0-60 mph acceleration in under 4 1/2 seconds.
Silverado EV offers standard automatic adaptive air suspension to even out heavy loads and improve overall ride quality. It can raise or lower the vehicle two inches. Ride quality is also enhanced thanks to a fully independent suspension front and rear. Tow rating on the Silverado EV is 8,000 pounds and it can carry 1200 pounds of cargo. Chevrolet will offer a fleet model with a 20,000 towing capacity after initial launch.
Inside, Silverado EV is designed to be comfortable and tech-savvy. The dash features a 17-unch diagonal LCD infotainment screen. Front and center for the driver is an 11-inch diagonal reconfigurable display along with a heads-up display. If you haven’t been in a pickup truck lately, they are light years away from pickup trucks of old with all the creature comforts you might desire.
Silverado EV utilizes GM’s Ultium Platform that’s the foundation for all GM EVs in the future. In the Silverado EV, Ultium uses a 24 module Ultium battery pack. The result is a very impressive driving range that GM estimates will deliver 400 miles between charges. Handily, the Silverado EV also offers DC public fast charging capability of up to 350W, allowing 100 miles of additional range to be added in just 10 minutes. Like its Ford Lightning competitor, the Silverado offers the ability to power a worksite, recreational campsite, or even a home during power outages with its available PowerBase charging system. It’s also capable of charging another EV using an available accessory charge cord.
Lexus says it has 20 new or updated models coming over the next four and a half years and all will be electrified. While we know that Lexus has a new all-electric crossover coming next year and the brand aims to offer only battery electric vehicles in North America, Europe, and China by 2035, this isn’t an instant shift. In fact, the majority of its electrified models in the short years ahead will no doubt be hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
Considering this, it’s no wonder that Lexus put great effort into its all-new, 2022 NX crossover, since this model’s hybrid variant is expected to represent some 23 percent of Lexus sales over that four-and-a-half year window. The new generation Lexus NX crossover is attractive and right-sized, representing an important update to this subcompact crossover that delivers a freshened exterior with a slightly more aggressive appearance. It’s also slightly longer, wider, and taller than the previous generation. Among the notable design elements are a more refined spindle grille, new headlights, and full-width taillamps.
Four distinct powertrains are offered in the NX line. Conventionally-powered models use either a 2.5-liter or 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the former delivering 203 horsepower and the latter 275 horsepower. Powering the NX 350h is a fourth-generation hybrid drive with a 189 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two-motor transaxle at the front, providing a combined 239 horsepower. An additional electric drive motor at the rear engages as needed to enhance traction.
The NX 350h hybrid is the most likely sales leader in the new NX lineup since it’s actually priced $500 below the gas version of this trim level. This pricing strategy encourages more drivers to enjoy a hybrid’s lower carbon emissions and superior fuel efficiency without the typical price penalty faced with most hybrid models. In this case, Lexus NX hybrid gas mileage is a combined 39 mpg compared to the gas model’s 25 mpg, a significant jump. That efficiency, plus an estimated 565 mile overall driving range, makes the NX 350h a desirable vehicle for commuting and everyday life.
At $14,600 more than the 350h hybrid is the uplevel 450h+ plug-in hybrid. This model also adds a rear motor for more power and all-wheel drive, plus a larger 18.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Along with its hybrid efficiency of 36 combined mpg and a total driving range of 550 miles, the 450h provides drivers an estimated 37 miles of all-electric driving at an EPA estimated 84 MPGe. While this is a crossover, drivers will be able to run with, and in some cases outrun, some sporty vehicles because the 450h+ goes 0-60 mph in six seconds flat. Its hybrid-only counterpart, the 350h, accelerates from 0-60 mph in a still very respectable 7.2 seconds. The 450h+ is distinguished by a muscular-looking power bulge on the hood that accommodates the 450h+ powerplant.
During development, particular attention has focused on the inherent challenges that crossovers and SUVs face compared to lower profile cars that sit lower to the pavement. Recognizing these issues, like handling qualities in high winds and increased rollover potential compared to sedans, Lexus made this issue an engineering focal point for the new generation NX. This close attention found engineers addressing how suspension affects ride quality, handling, quietness, and overall driver confidence, and this attention has paid off with very confident handling characteristics in the NX.
The 2022 NX is nimble and very capable on twisty roads. Both hybrids in the lineup, the 350h and in particular the 450h+, instill confidence while carving sharp turns at speed without tire scrubbing or excessive lean and body roll. Ride quality is exceptional with no harshness over bumps or rough roads, and the cabin remains a quiet space along the way. Further enhancing its roadworthiness and all-weather capabilities is all-wheel drive, which comes standard on 350, 350h, and 450h+ models and is available on the base 250. Adaptive variable suspension is included on NX F Sport models to satisfy drivers seeking sports car handling relative to the NX’s size.
Inside, the model’s digital rear-view mirror is unique and another of the many very functional safety systems in this newly-designed NX 2022 line up. The cabin is well-appointed and comfortable, with four interior color offerings that can be selected in either leather or NuLuxe, a high-quality and eco-friendly synthetic leather alternative. Carrying capacity is increased by 14 percent in the new model’s cargo area for additional functionality. A standard Lexus Premium Audio system with 296 watts of power playing through 10 speakers has the sound quality to satisfy most owners. For audiophiles there is a premium 1800 watt Mark Levinson sound system with 12 channels powering through 17-speakers, something we think will outperform most drivers’ home audio system.
Lexus NX is well-connected and equipped with the latest in infotainment and driver assist systems. It offers a standard 9.8-inch touchscreen featuring a new and intuitive user interface. A 14-inch touchscreen is optional. Standard on all NX models is Lexus Safety System+ 3.0, the automaker’s latest suite of driver assist features. Among its many features are dynamic radar cruise control with curve speed management, oncoming pedestrian detection and braking, left turn oncoming vehicle detection and braking, risk avoidance emergency steer assist, road sign assist, and lane departure alert with steering assist. Remote park and over-the-air software updates are two of the auto industry’s latest high-tech features that have found their way to the NX.
The 2022 Lexus NX price range features a spread of $17,700 between the base NX and the NX plug-in hybrid, so there’s some serious decision making to be made depending on budget, needs, and level of desire for electrification. Conventionally-powered NX models start at $39,025 for the front-drive 250, $42,625 for the 350, and $47,725 for the 350 F Sport. Electrification begins with the 350h hybrid at $42,125 and moves upward to the plug-in 450h+ at of $56,725. Clearly, there’s something for everyone in the NX lineup.
In the early 1990s, California’s coming zero-emission vehicle mandate drove major automakers to dive into battery electric vehicle development. The challenge was daunting and presented substantial obstacles including high costs and limited range. Then along came Volvo’s Environmental Concept Car. This innovative turbine-hybrid didn’t meet the letter of the law since it wasn’t fully zero emission, but it did illustrate there are diverse answers to environmental goals. This lesson lives on with today’s array of electrified vehicles. This report, presented as it originally appeared in Green Car Journal’s February 1993 issue, shares details on how Volvo proposed to bring hybrids to the highway.
Excerpted from February 1993 Issue: It’s interesting to note the diverse ways the world’s automakers are responding to California’s ‘zero-emission’ vehicle mandate that takes effect in just five short years. By most accounts, the majority are involved in intense research and development of battery-powered electric cars that will meet the letter of the law.
Volvo, on the other hand, has a different view. This Swedish automaker, which built a stunning serial hybrid EV called the Volvo Environmental Concept Car, seeks a revision in the California legislative model that would specifically allow electric hybrids under the ZEV category. While this seems to make sense in some ways, it is also highly problematic in others. Some would argue that hybrids could present a regulatory nightmare since it would be difficult, if not impossible, to monitor whether drivers were actually running on straight electric or hybrid power in future urban zero-emission zones.
“Our goal, of course, was to meet the zero emitting vehicle standard that California has set,” says Sylvia Voegele, general manager of Volvo’s Monitoring and Concept Center in Camarillo, Calif. “As we studied what consumers want, wish versus reality…we discovered that there were some fabulous pros for the electric car, but there was also a long list of negatives. Since we had to come up with a family vehicle which seats four people-plus, naturally we had a range problem. So our solution could not be with the given technology of today – the straight electric car – which appears to be the only solution to deliver a zero emission vehicle. So we settled for a hybrid.
“We felt that this hybrid solution gave us the best of both worlds,” continues Voegele. “It could be a zero-emitting vehicle for inner city driving or for shorter trips. Plus it could be, with a far better extender range, the vehicle you could drive to Las Vegas if you wish.” The ECC’s short 55 mile all-electric range is admittedly limiting, but may meet the requirements of those commuting average distances to the workplace. In this configuration the ECC does meet the strict ZEV standard.
The benefit of Volvo’s hybrid approach is realized whenever lengthier drives are required. Using the ECC’s small gas turbine/generator to power the car’s 76 horsepower (56 kW) electric motor provides a range greater than 400 miles, and at emission levels that meet California’s ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) standard. Running on turbine-generated electrical power also provides 0-60 mph acceleration of about 13 seconds, much quicker than the ECC’s 23-second 0-60 mph acceleration times on battery power alone. Again, the slower acceleration would seem to be in a range acceptable within more crowded urban areas, while quicker turbine/generator-inspired sprints seem more in tune with the needs of open-road touring.
“The zero emitting vehicle to us is somewhat artificial because you still have emissions at the powerplants,” says Stephen Wallman, director of Complete Vehicle Product and Process at Volvo Car Corp. “Especially when you introduce global thinking, it doesn’t really matter too much if the powerplant is a little outside Los Angeles or in Los Angeles.”
Still, why would Volvo pursue development of a proof-of-concept vehicle that may not qualify to fulfill what could be a huge niche market for ZEVs? “One way of looking at it is that it’s driven by customer demand,” says Wallman of the ECC. “It is one way of overcoming the shortfalls of straight electric vehicles. It has the possibility, with a super-clean heat engine and very efficient energy conversion to electric power, to give very low emissions and good fuel economy levels. It still depends on battery technology, but to a much lesser extent. In our view this makes hybrid propulsion the most realistic alternative in the middle range.”
It remains to be seen how well a production vehicle like the Volvo ECC could weather the zero-emission regulatory climate already in place in California, New York, Massachusetts, and coming soon to other states. With many R&D efforts developing serial hybrid EVs, and the U.S. Department of Energy embarking on a funding program for their development, it seems at least plausible that hybrids may have a place in our future. What that place may be, and to what extent they’ll be used in a zero-emission strategy, is an interesting question that’s yet to be answered.
Electric Last Mile Solutions, appropriately named since its focus is on electrified specialty vehicles aimed at ‘last mile delivery’ of goods from regional warehouses or fulfillment centers, is currently offering the first of its planned products, the zero-emissions ELMS Urban Delivery van.
Classified as a light duty Class 1 (under 6000 pounds) vehicle, The $28,000 ELMS Urban Delivery electric panel van features specifications offering a good fit for a variety of applications like package delivery and service routes. Riding on a 120-inch wheelbase and measuring in at 186 inches long, 64 inches wide, and 75 inches tall, it has 157 cubic-feet of cargo volume accessible via dual sliding side doors or a tall rear liftgate. It features a curb weight of 3,133 pounds and can carry a maximum payload of 2,100 pounds. Turning radius us 20 feet, about the same as a Ford Transit van.
The Urban Delivery offers an estimated 110 mile range on a charge courtesy of its 80 horsepower electric motor and 41 kWh CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited) lithium-iron-phosphate battery. ELMS has secured a long-term battery supply agreement with CATL, a major EV battery supplier with primary production in China and a new production base in South Korea, the latter supplying batteries for Hyundai’s next-generation E-GMP electric vehicle platform. ELMS provides an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty on the battery and a 4 year/48,000 mile warranty for the vehicle.
Based in Troy, Michigan, ELMS starts with vehicle bodies from China's Liuzhou Wuling Automobile Industry Co., then completes assembly at its 675,000 square foot facility in Mishawaka, Indiana, where AM General HUMMERS were once produced. Here, among other things, ELMS adds components including the battery pack, front and rear axles, front end modules, headlights, taillights, and seats. ELMS also upgrades the vehicle’s safety systems and energy absorbing bumper assemblies to meet federal safety standards.
ELMS’ management team is a seasoned one with its senior leadership offering broad experience in the mainstream and emerging segments of the auto industry. Among these are executives who formerly held positions as CEO at HUMMER, CEO of Ford China, CFO of Byton and Ford China, global head of battery cells at Fiat Chrysler, VP of powertrain and EV systems at Karma Automotive, and VP of sales and service for Mahindra Automotive North America.
Initial vehicles have already been sold and delivered to customers. ELMS has also bolstered its service network through an agreement with Cox Automotive. This means owners of ELMS Urban Delivery vans have access to 800 mobile technicians, 6,000 service centers, and 3,000 partner locations nationwide for battery servicing, collision repair, and maintenance. A collaboration with EVgo also facilitates charging solutions for fleets operating ELMs products.
ELMS recently opened an Urban Mobility Lab in San Francisco to focus on advanced in-vehicle technologies and unveiled its second electric model, the ELMS Urban Utility, that’s aimed at those needing a zero-emission. medium-duty commercial vehicle. Production of this larger Class 3 commercial electric vehicle is planned to start in the second half of 2022.
Rivian delivered the first of its R1T trucks to customers late last year, becoming the first auto manufacturer to market with an electric pickup truck. Importantly, it also made initial deliveries of EDV 700 electric delivery van to Amazon.
The Amazon EDV 700 step-in van, which measures in at a 277 inch length and rides on a 187 inch wheelbase, provides a 700 cubic-foot cargo area and an estimated 200 mile driving range. It‘s powered by an electric motor energized by a lithium-ion nickel-cobalt-aluminum battery pack. The automaker plans to offer both single and dual motor, all-wheel drive versions of its commercial van product in the future.
Coming next is the smaller EDV 500, entering the market later this year with a 500 cubic-foot cargo carrying ability. The EDV 500 has a length of 248 inches and a 157 inch wheelbase,. Following this will be the largest of Rivian’s three electrified vans, the EDV 900 that offers a length of 321 inches over a 205 inch wheelbase. This heavyweight hauler will feature an 840 cubic-foot cargo bay and a GVWR of 14,000 pounds.
Rivian’s electric vehicles are built on an innovative electric ‘skateboard’ platform that integrates the vehicle’s motors, battery, cooling system, braking, and suspension. This strategy allows straightforward adaptation for varying models, wheelbases, and applications, including the company’s electric R1T pickup, R1S SUV, the EDV series it builds for Amazon, and other future Rivian models. This ‘skateboard’ approach is an advanced strategy being used for next-generation electric vehicles by a number of automakers.
The company has received substantial investment from numerous sources including Ford, and Amazon, along with major funding rounds that total some $10.5 billion. Adding to this is the Rivian IPO late last year that raised close to an additional $12 billion. Thus, Rivian is well-positioned to compete alongside legacy automakers and truck manufacturers as these companies begin to offer their own electric commercial vehicles to the market. The company reportedly has over 70,000 preorders for its R1T and R1S products, and importantly it is under agreement to deliver a total of 100,000 EDVs to Amazon by 2025, with the first 10,000 to be delivered by the end of this year.
Given this, a significant amount of the company’s focus will presumably need to be directed at its Amazon delivery contract even as it scales up production of its initial product, the electric R1T pickup that was recently delivered to initial customers, and its soon-to-come R1S electric SUV. That’s a lot to handle for any start-up auto manufacturer, and juggling production priorities has potential to present challenges. In fact, Rivian announced the delay of its longest-range R1T and R1S models with the Max battery pack until 2023, no doubt as it finds its production sweet spot.
Even with its milestone order and production commitment with Amazon – a company that reportedly now owns 20 percent of this new auto manufacturer – Rivian has launched a fleet page for taking general orders for its Rivian Commercial Van (RCV) variant. The list of potential applications for its electric commercial van models goes well beyond the focused electric last mile delivery purpose of Amazon’s vans, ranging from field service and transport to construction and utility use. These configurable commercial models are designed to fit diverse needs with payload capacities ranging from 1,960 to 5,300 pounds. Rivian says deliveries of the RCV will begin in 2023.
Rivian is making strategic moves to increase production with a 623,000 square foot expansion of its manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois – a former Mitsubishi assembly plant – to a total of 4 million square feet. The company is also moving forward with plans for a second production and technology facility near Atlanta, Georgia, with a potential build capacity of 400,000 vehicles per year. Representing a $5 billion investment, Rivian is hoping to begin construction of its Georgia facility this summer and start vehicle production there in 2024.