Hydrogen has been on the minds of automakers for decades. Ever since GCJ editors experienced the hydrogen fuel cell Mercedes-Benz NECAR 2 (New Electric Car) on the streets of Berlin back in the mid-1990s, we’ve been believers that hydrogen could prove to be an important part of our zero-emission driving future. Over the years, concept, demonstration, and production hydrogen vehicles have been fielded by many automakers, from Chrysler, Ford and Nissan to Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota. One of the most notable was GM’s Sequel unveiled some 18 years ago, which followed in the footsteps of the automaker's Hi-wire hydrogen fuel cell concept Green Car Journal editors drove in 2003. The Sequel hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) was decidedly ahead of its time with its skateboard platform, sandwich-style floor, steer-by-wire technology, lithium-ion batteries, and 10,000 psi fuel tanks. Read our take on GM’s groundbreaking Sequel, pulled from our archives just as it appeared in the magazine's Spring 2005 issue.
Excerpted from Spring 2005 Issue: Reality check time. When General Motors debuted the AUTOnomy and Hy-wire advanced technology concept cars at the Detroit and Paris auto shows three years ago, the vision of real-world hydrogen powered fuel cell cars still seemed very far away. Sequel brings those concepts home in a ‘do-able’ vehicle that is suddenly a lot less like science fiction and more like Main Street.
Clearly, GM hasn’t lost sight of what seemed to many a lofty goal when the company announced its intention to design and validate a fuel cell propulsion system that could be manufactured and sold by 2010. While this date certainly won’t see mass commercialization of fuel cell vehicles at GM’s new car showrooms, the General is surely aiming at reaching that milestone with technology and vehicles that can be sold – at a cost far lower than today’s fuel cell vehicles – to fleets and others willing to pay the price to be early adopters.
Sequel utilizes GM’s concept of a separate, low-profile skateboard chassis that completely houses the fuel cell propulsion system. By decoupling the rolling chassis from the bodyshell and utilizing bi-wire control technology, Sequel’s architecture offers incredible flexibility for future models. That flexibility could provide a significant advantage as merging technologies bring fuel cells closer to the showroom.
While a concept, Sequel aims to create fuel cell performance that meshes well with the kind of driving experience expected of modern vehicles. By utilizing three lightweight, high-pressure carbon composite hydrogen storage tanks, completely housed in the 11-inch thick chassis, Sequel boasts a driving range of about 300 miles. Combining electric motor front-wheel-drive with separate electric wheel hub motors at each rear wheel, Sequel is able to deliver all-wheel-drive traction and a noticeable increase in acceleration. According to GM, Sequel will scoot from 0-30 mph in three seconds and reach 60 mph in just over nine seconds. Top speed is said to be 90 mph.
That performance is made possible by a transversely mounted, three phase 80 horsepower (60 kW) electric motor at the front of the chassis and two 34 hp (25 kW) three phase electric wheel hub motors at the rear, which together deliver a total torque output of 2,506 lb-ft at the wheels.
GM’s skateboard chassis design holds several key advantages. Most significant is its inherent low center of gravity, which dramatically increases vehicle stability. With Sequel, GM engineers were able to deliver an ideal 50-50 weight distribution by placing the lithium-ion battery pack at the rear of the chassis, offsetting the motor mass up front. The hydrogen fuel cell stack is placed directly behind the front wheels beneath the driver/passenger compartment.
Midship, you’ll find the three high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks mounted in the sandwich style chassis, a location that provides the best protection from crash intrusion. These tanks have a service pressure of 10,000 psi, allowing them to carry much greater amounts of hydrogen than the 5,000 psi tanks used in the Hy-wire concept.
A high-power 65 kW lithium ion battery is employed for the power demands of launch and acceleration, but once up to speed, Sequel can cruise solely on the fuel cell. Auxiliary power generated by the fuel cell at cruising speed is combined with regenerative braking to top off the battery charge. Sequel utilizes aluminum substructures in the chassis design and extensive use of aluminum in the body panels and structure to minimize weight.
Sequel is also the showcase for GM’s next-generation fuel cell technology. The fuel cell stack delivers 25 percent more power than previous models. GM’s Fuel Cell Product Engineering facility in Honeoye Falls, New York, is working to simplify and better integrate the overall fuel cell stack and power module system design, which will ultimately drive down the cost of production.
”A fuel cell system is more efficient than an internal combustion engine, but its energy conversion is totally different and requires much more heat to be removed via the coolant,” points out Lothar Matejcek, project manager of GM Fuel Cell Activities in Mainz-Kastel, Germany. To extract the heat, Sequel uses multiple radiators with three large openings in the front of the vehicle and two additional openings in the rear. These openings are well integrated into the overall vehicle design and lend a very aggressive look to the body profile. This attention to cooling demands are said to allow the Sequel to operate at maximum power with full air conditioning even on 100 degree F days.
By-wire controls are utilized for all Sequel systems. Steering, braking, and acceleration are all free of mechanical and hydraulic control linkages. Pushing a pedal or turning the steering wheel sends an electronic signal from the vehicle controller to modulate power output, apply braking, and precisely control steering. Steer-by-wire on the Sequel processes steering inputs through a computer, actuating the front steering rack and two rear wheel steering actuators based on vehicle speed and driving conditions.
A major advantage to the separate low-profile chassis design is incredible flexibility in body and interior design, configuration, and packaging. Sequel is addressing a hot spot in the current vehicle market – the sport/luxury crossover SUV. In fact, GM compares Sequel’s size to the current Cadillac SRX crossover, with its measurements of 196.6 inches in overall length, 66.8 inches in height, and its 119.7 inch wheelbase.
Styling is contemporary, with a broad shouldered and aggressive stance enhanced by crisp lines that blend hard edges with flowing curves. The chassis design delivers wheels pushed to far corners of the body structure with little intrusion into the cabin area. GM stylists were careful not to push the design envelope too far with this concept, though, to deliver the notion that this is a real-world vehicle.
The five passenger interior is accessed through a pair of conventional doors up front with rear suicide-style door on either side of the cabin. There is no obstruction to the spacious interior with both doors open. Innovations inside are tempered by practicality. While this is a concept, the message is clear that Sequel is credible transport. One of the more striking design elements is the unique center glass sunroof that runs the length of the top. It is actually a series of individual glass panels that slide rearward and pivot up to provide a very airy cockpit.
The front passenger seat rotates 180 degrees to provide a conference-style seating configuration. Although it is drive-by-wire, all controls are familiar with a traditional steering wheel, accelerator, and brake pedals. The center console travels on a track that allows it to move from its normal location between the front seats to an aft position closer to rear seat passengers. Hinged at the front, the console’s lid pivots forward to reveal the Sequel’s audio, DVD, and navigation system. When in use as an entertainment center, the console is easily moved to the rear seat passengers for DVD movie viewing. The interior look and feel is contemporary and tasteful with metal and wood accents combined with a palette of plum, rice, and wasabi hue trim.
Sequel is the culmination of a global effort by General Motors to advance fuel cell vehicle design. Nearly 200 suppliers from around the world were sourced to fuse the latest technology into a vehicle that brings a clean, hydrogen fueled future a bit closer to home.
In recent years, state energy and regulatory agencies have modeled plans that conclude hydrogen is required to achieve deep decarbonization targets. Air pollution continues to worsen across the U.S. with hydrogen and fuel cells seen as part of the answer. For example, as a one-to-one replacement for diesel powered vehicles, equipment, and generators, hydrogen fuel cells have significant potential to decrease the negative air quality impacts this diesel equipment causes and eliminate their carbon emissions.
With California’s current grid reliability challenges and need for more power generation capacity – coupled with the state’s continuing “overdemand” – all energy and mobility solutions must be brought to bear. National Lab studies have demonstrated the grid infrastructure required to charge battery electric vehicles of all sizes. The use of fuel cell electric vehicles, fueled by hydrogen, avoid further compounding grid reliability challenges. The California Air Resources Board recent Hydrogen Station Self-Sufficiency Report determined that an additional $300 million investment in hydrogen infrastructure, coupled with existing incentives like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, would lead to financial self-sufficiency of a fuel cell electric vehicle and hydrogen station network by 2030, avoiding additional upgrade costs and strain on the grid.
At the federal level, the multi-billion-dollar commitment to hydrogen and fuel cell programs in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Job Act (IIJA) has spurred a flurry of planning, project development, and investment in the hydrogen sector. States in every U.S. region have expressed support for project applications to the $8 billion Department of Energy hydrogen hub program. The awarded hubs will showcase production of hydrogen, distribution and delivery infrastructure, and broad end uses of hydrogen and fuel cells in the electricity, industrial, and transportation sectors.
States from California to New York to Texas are committing significant funding and resources to support the development of these hydrogen hubs. The DOE and other agencies are launching additional energy manufacturing, clean electricity, zero-emission vehicle, and goods movement programs funded by the IIJA to further support hydrogen use alongside other clean energy technologies. Project developers and investors are simultaneously seeking guidance on the use of tax credits for hydrogen and fuel cells that came from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
On the passenger light-duty vehicle side, Toyota and Hyundai continue to sell Mirai and Nexo hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in California. There are now over 15,471 fuel cell electric cars sold and leased in the U.S. In February, Honda announced a joint venture with General Motors to deliver a new fuel cell system not only for its light-duty vehicles but also for use in heavy-duty trucks, stationary power generation, and construction equipment. In early 2022, BMW announced its continued commitment to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles with on-road demonstration of the iX5 to begin in 2023.
Traditional manufacturers of engines and heavy-duty vehicles are partnering with clean energy companies to rapidly bring fuel cell electric vehicles to market in high volume, heavily polluted transportation corridors, with the assistance of the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Program. Already, on-road testing of fuel cell systems and vehicles made by Ballard Power Systems, Cummins, Hyzon Motors, Nikola Motors, and Toyota is underway. Off-road, the Port of Long Beach is working with Toyota and FuelCell Energy using a fuel cell to generate power, heat, and hydrogen, the latter used to fuel Toyota equipment at the port and Toyota Mirai vehicles coming off the ship. Byproduct water from the fuel cell’s hydrogen production is used to wash the cars.
Presently, the largest throughput of hydrogen is in the off-road and materials handling sectors. In creating the first commercially viable market for hydrogen fuel cell technology, Plug Power has deployed more than 60,000 fuel cell systems and over 200 fueling stations, more than anyone else in the world, and is the largest buyer of liquid hydrogen. Plug customers have completed more than 55 million hydrogen fills into forklifts and other material handling equipment used in warehouses, including those operated by companies like Amazon and Walmart, showing the economic value of fuel cell powered forklifts. Contributing to their increased productivity throughput are advantages like rapid hydrogen refueling and a smaller overall footprint than battery electric counterparts that require space for chargers.
The State of California is considering the level of support needed for the required hydrogen fueling infrastructure to service all on-road fuel cell electric vehicles. Documents from the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership illustrate the fueling stations needed for light-duty passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks that would create a refueling network for launching a self-sustaining market. This would serve to quickly decarbonize key transportation corridors and improve air quality in the urban, rural, and agricultural communities along these corridors.
Public transit agencies have been operating or conducting real-world testing of hydrogen fuel cell buses in their fleets . Following operational bus trials, many agencies concluded that both battery and fuel cell electric buses are required. Among the benefits cited for fuel cell buses are lower operating costs, often due to avoiding the investment required for battery electric buses such as charging stations and the need to expand capacity at local electric substations. In addition, the longer range and greater power density of fuel cell electric vehicles can support transit operations that must deal with varied, hilly terrain and longer routes.
California currently has 66 fuel cell electric buses in service with another 100+ committed to be placed in operation. Many transit agencies are set to follow the pioneering efforts of Alameda-Contra Costa Transit and SunLine Transit with their fleets of fuel cell electric buses and hydrogen refueling infrastructure. Among these are California’s Foothill Transit, Orange County Transit, and Humboldt Transit. Outside California, Stark County Transit in Ohio and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia are committed to using hydrogen fuel cell buses to meet their service needs.
Hydrogen is here. Debates on energy resources should include discussion of best fit, rather than either-or. There is significant public and private recognition across the U.S that an all-of-the-above strategy is needed to meet our varied energy requirements and decarbonization goals, and hydrogen is poised to make an immediate and growing contribution to a global decarbonization strategy.
Katrina Fritz is the Executive Director of the California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC).
The transportation sector is now the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States, contributing to poor air quality and the climate crisis, and disproportionately impacting underserved and disadvantaged communities. To address this, our goal is to eliminate nearly all GHG emissions from the sector by 2050 while working to achieve a fair and just transportation system that will support economic growth and benefit all citizens.
In December 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) joined forces with the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development by signing and MOU to coordinate on transportation decarbonization. The first deliverable from that partnership was the January 2023 release of The U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization, a roadmap for how we can address these issues to provide better transportation and fuel options as well as zero-emission vehicles.
Light-duty vehicles (passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and motorcycles) are responsible for about half of all U.S. transportation GHG emissions. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (larger delivery trucks, work vans, and buses) are the second-largest contributor to transportation GHG emissions with 21 percent of all emissions. Aviation is the third largest contributor at 11 percent, including fuel used for all domestic flights and international flights departing the United States
Biofuel – derived from biomass or organic wastes – plays an important role in decarbonizing transportation. The Federal Aviation Administration projects continued growth for the aviation sector and as more EVs enter the market, aviation will become a larger portion of the transportation sector’s GHG emissions.
To reduce aviation GHG emissions, the aviation sector is scaling up sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) use. SAF is a “drop-in” liquid hydrocarbon jet fuel produced from renewable or waste resources that is compatible with existing aircraft engines – a critical near-term solution to reduce GHGs. This led to the creation of the SAF Grand Challenge.
Together, DOE, DOT, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed a roadmap to accelerate SAF research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) to meet the ambitious government-wide commitment to accelerate production of SAF to 3 billion gallons per year by 2030 – ultimately meeting 100 percent of U.S. aviation fuel needs with SAF by 2050.
DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) supports RDD&D of technologies that convert domestic renewable carbon resources into biofuels and bioproducts. This effort is already decreasing the price of drop-in biofuels for airplanes, big rigs, and passenger vehicles. To meet the ambitious SAF Grand Challenge goals, BETO has accelerated efforts to scale up these technologies. Scale-up is essential for reducing risks associated with deploying novel technologies at large scale, as is expected in a biorefinery. In doing this, technologies move from the laboratory into relevant and realistic environments.
Public–private partnerships are critical for ensuring that scaleup matches industry needs. For example, BETO is already funding projects with industry partners to turn industrial waste gases into jet fuel, convert biomass into refinery-ready biocrude, reduce GHG emissions from first-generation ethanol plants, and more. These large-scale pilot and demonstration projects enable researchers to test prototype components or subsystems in relevant operating environments. That way, researchers can identify further R&D needs for BETO’s subprograms. Large-scale projects also create larger volumes of target products, supporting quality control testing to verify existing infrastructure compatibility and potential end user specifications. They also provide data that analysts use to evaluate economic and sustainability performance.
BETO saw its first opportunity to fund SAF-focused research in 2021, awarding $64 million to 11 scaleup and demonstration projects. In early 2023, BETO awarded an additional $118 million to 17 projects with industry partners. In recognizing the need for strong designs prior to breaking ground on expensive construction, BETO requires projects to meet necessary criteria to advance from phase 1 into phase 2, which funds construction and operations.
By allocating funding across multiple years and different scales, BETO expects to collapse the time it takes to see success at the demonstration scale. Projects that meet criteria and are ready to go don’t have to wait years for additional opportunities.
As the demand for plane, train, and automobile transportation continues to increase, it is critical that we come together to find innovative solutions to the climate crisis. Biofuels can be a win-win solution, allowing our economy and way of life to thrive while lowering our carbon footprint on a national – and global – level.
Valerie Sarisky-Reed is Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office
One trend we hear from the market is the challenge small and midsize organizations face in finding accessible, scalable fleet management software that works for their business across all powertrains, gas, hybrid, and electric inclusive. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the global share of electric vehicles in a fleet is set to reach 31 percent by 2050. So, this challenge will continue in the years to come, especially as EVs become more widely adopted.
The reason? The market is awash with disintermediated software solutions, especially in the fleet management world. Many large companies don’t have this issue as they have bigger budgets that acquire these solutions tailored specifically to them, or their in-house IT teams create bespoke solutions fit specifically for their business. This offers larger businesses a significant advantage in terms of efficiency. Smaller organizations typically lack the depth of IT support to integrate and customize disparate software solutions – let alone the capital to do so – to create integrated solutions that make their businesses safer, greener, and more efficient.
This is why there’s increased pressure on software vendors and OEMs to provide integrated suites of fleet management solutions to all, from Main Street USA to the largest fleets.
Organizations of all sizes need a simpler, integrated platform to enable holistic vehicle management, efficient maintenance monitoring with proactive scheduling. and improved driver behaviors to help increase the safety of operators while lowering costs associated with fuel, downtime, or vehicle damage. A single platform can also enable organizations to consolidate the management of their larger fleet needs, including managing vehicles across all powertrains as noted, as well as connectivity to insurance, financing, charging, and electric vehicle optimization. Adopting an integrated platform is essential for all businesses – and it represents a first step toward competitive parity for small and midsize fleets.
Reaching the next level of efficiency and competitiveness is anyone’s game. As we’ve all heard, big data is the new oil that makes businesses run. One of the most critical applications of big data is the ability to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) and maximize the uptime of ICE vehicles and EVs.
Data helps organizations gain real-time insights into fleet operations to enable better decision-making and take proactive measures to ensure vehicles stay well maintained. Fleet managers are using data from connected vehicles to predict and prevent breakdowns in an incredible orchestration of activities that can drastically reduce vehicle downtime.
For example, let’s say my telematics system tells me I will soon need to replace a part in one of my vehicles. It will identify the exact part to be replaced and may also locate the part and have it shipped to my dealer. I can make an appointment with the dealer, where the vehicle will be off the road for a few hours or maybe a half day.
Contrast that to what typically happens, which is the late identification of an issue, taking the vehicle to the dealer, having them diagnose a problem, and then perhaps needing to order the part, waiting for the part, and then replacing it. This can take days instead of hours.
Data will also play a crucial role in deriving added value from connected vehicles. Once we have millions of cars on the road equipped with telematics, the amount of data generated will be massive. We’ll be able to use the data to monitor aspects of the vehicle – such as temperature, location, and brakes – and the surrounding environment. Through high-speed 5G connections, vehicles could contribute information to a giant data lake that, when analyzed in real-time, could provide information about the road ahead, traffic patterns, and potential hazards.
For example, suppose multiple vehicles report the use of anti-lock brakes and traction-control systems around a specific corner in a cold-temperature climate. In that case, analytics could infer there might be a patch of black ice and instruct other vehicles to slow down and take the turn carefully.
Or perhaps a deep pothole triggers connected vehicles’ sensors. A city could purchase data related to road issues and send crews out to make repairs before the issue causes damage to vehicles or injuries to passengers. The sensors could also help fleets prevent damage to expensive vehicles. Connected vehicles will and are using prognostics to diagnose and alert of potential catastrophic failures ahead of time.
To fully realize the benefit of connected vehicles, fleet managers must get their entire fleet connected. In the future, this will become easier as OEMs automatically embed modems in their vehicles. Companies like Ford Pro are already offering free solutions such as Ford Pro Telematics Essentials with their connected vehicles to help provide visibility into the health and performance of their vehicles.
The connected vehicle market is at a tipping point and is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. This is good news for everyone: connected vehicles and integrated solutions can help small businesses achieve competitive parity, decrease costs through predictive maintenance, and apply analytics to reduce GHG emissions and maximize EV battery productivity to create a greener and more sustainable world.
David Prusinski is Global Chief Revenue Officer of Ford Pro Intelligence
As the country comes to the realization that a future of electrified mobility is crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change, government leaders and the electric vehicle (EV) industry have made it their mission to build a network of 500,000 EV chargers across America.
At the same time, the past year has demonstrated how disruptions in globally interconnected supply chains can lead to severe bottlenecks and slow production. The EV charging industry is not immune to these conditions. In order to achieve the ambitious electrification goals set by our elected officials and business leaders, EV charging companies must ramp up their domestic manufacturing capabilities to ensure they can meet the demand, regardless of global factors.
There’s no better time than now to increase American manufacturing. With the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) earmarking $7.5 billion to build a nationwide charging network, there is more investment in the space than ever before. However, in order to qualify for these federal funds, EV charging manufacturers must meet the “Buy America” requirements – standards that call for equipment and projects to use American-made material and products, as well as be manufactured domestically. While domestic production of EV chargers holds much promise in solving supply chain concerns, this requirement also presents several challenges.
When considering the “Buy America” requirements for EV chargers, two provisions are most relevant. First, all steel in a finished product must be sourced locally. Secondly, under current criteria as clarifying language is pending, at least 55 percent of a finished product must come from the U.S.
Generally, meeting the steel requirement is not a challenge for EV charging manufacturers as chargers do not require large amounts of steel and steel can be locally sourced without undue burden. However, the larger challenge for EV charging manufacturers is sourcing domestically made chips, as most chip manufacturing is done offshore and imported to the U.S. From microprocessors to Wi-Fi and cellular modem chips, these necessary components are hard to source domestically, presenting a significant roadblock for EV charging manufacturers looking to meet the “Buy America” requirements.
In addition to the challenges presented by the “Buy America” requirements, there are also logistical challenges that come with relocating a manufacturing process, that was previously done overseas, entirely to the U.S.
In other countries, robust manufacturing corridors exist – areas of production where the various parts of a product are all sourced near one another – that help reduce the time and cost it takes to assemble critical components. However, in recent decades many of these components have been imported from overseas, and the U.S. has far fewer manufacturing corridors. This means domestic manufacturing facilities will have to re-invent their processes and supplier relationships to better centralize them and avoid the expenses and pollution incurred by shipping parts across the country.
As we transition to this new age, EV charging manufacturers are facing a plethora of challenges as well as unprecedented/exciting growth opportunities. From adhering to the “Buy America” procurement requirements to working out the logistics of a new supply chain, manufacturers have a lot to overcome, all while trying to keep up with the demand of a growing population of EV owners.
Right now, the biggest hurdle facing domestic EV charger manufacturing is time. In order to tap into the federal funds made available by recent legislation, manufacturers must build up domestic capabilities and expertise in new areas, from sheet metal fabrication to PVC manufacturing, quickly.
With these challenges, it may seem daunting to make the transition to domestic manufacturing. However, Blink Charging, a leader in the EV charging industry for close to 14 years, has long been aware of these concerns and is taking steps to overcome them.
In June of 2022, Blink acquired SemaConnect, a leading provider of EV charging infrastructure solutions in North America with a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Maryland. This acquisition brought the complete design and manufacturing processes of Blink’s EV chargers in-house, allowing the company to comply with the “Buy America” provisions in federal law. The acquisition also marks Blink’s emergence as the only EV charging company to offer complete vertical integration – from research & development and manufacturing to EV charger ownership and operations – creating unparalleled opportunities for the company to control its supply chain and accelerate go-to-market speed while reducing operating costs.
In addition, Blink recently announced its commitment to establish a new manufacturing facility in the United States, which will further increase its charger production capacity. While the search for the facility’s location is still ongoing, the plant will offer 200,000 square feet of space with the latest technology to manufacture both DC Fast Charging (DCFC) and Level 2 Chargers.
With one facility already up and running and another on the way, Blink is leading the charge in domestic manufacturing of EV charging infrastructure in the U.S.
Harjinder Bhade is Chief Technology Officer at Blink Charging
As GM was taking a high-profile with its Impact electric vehicle prototype in the U.S., Nissan was showcasing the marque’s FEV (Future Electric Vehicle) that GCJ editors saw in Japan. Over the next several years, Nissan continued its electric vehicle development and showed its FEV-II, a less sexy but more practical electric vehicle prototype. As its program evolved, the FEV series was dropped in favor of other electric and hybrid electric vehicle studies. Still, the design of the initial FEV in particular resonates as we look back at early electric vehicle programs. This article is reprinted just as it originally ran in Green Car Journal’s December 1995 issue to share perspective on Nissan’s early electric vehicle development efforts.
Excerpted from December 1995 Issue: The Nissan FEV, which debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in late 1991, was a milestone electric vehicle concept for this automaker. It showed considerable thought as to what an electric vehicle could and should be, from its stylish exterior and handsome interior to an innovative powertrain and quick-charge system that garnered substantial world-wide attention.
As they say, that was then, and this is now. Nissan has now provided a follow-though by introducing its latest electric vehicle iteration, the FEV-II. This model is a bit less sporty than the original but definitely appropriate for the coming electric vehicle market. Somewhat in the vein of Volkswagen's Beetle-like Concept1, the FEV-II is handsome, rounded, and sure to be popular on the auto show circuit, and maybe even the highway.
The four-passenger (2+2) coupe's design is the handiwork of Nissan Design International, located in Southern California. It features a flat floor so batteries can be secreted beneath without infringing upon passenger comfort or space – a nice touch.
Nissan is once again credited with offering advanced thinking in its electric vehicle concepts. The FEV-II uses the advanced lithium-ion batteries this automaker is developing in conjunction with Sony. Top speed of the 3120-pound car is said to be 75 mph, while single-charge driving range is a claimed 125 miles. The EV can be charged from any standard electrical outlet via a detachable charging system.
Nissan is among many automakers who are actively working to develop viable electric vehicles to meet the 1998 ZEV mandate in California and other states. While GCJ editors have not yet road tested Nissan's new FEV-II, behind-the-wheel time has been spent in the automaker's Avenir demonstration EV. Not surprisingly, GCJ testers found it to be quite a capable electric vehicle with good acceleration and handling, indicating a great deal of sophistication in Nissan's EV development program. This electric station wagon also exhibited a high level of comfort – surprising from an electrically retrofitted production vehicle.
The automaker has been field testing 15 Avenir electric vehicles with Kyushu Electric Power Company, a Japanese utility which helped develop the electric variant. The station wagon is reportedly capable of a 50 to 100 mile single charge driving range with a top speed of 70 mph.
Not so long ago, it was generally accepted that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles could be used as bridge technologies until ‘zero-emissions’ vehicles could perform like existing vehicles, at similar cost. Unfortunately, politics in New York and elsewhere demand net-zero by 2050 with policies that preclude their use.
I have spent a lot of time the last three years evaluating New York’s net-zero by 2050 target mandated by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) from a pragmatic point of view. Pragmatic environmentalism is all about balancing the risks and benefits of both sides of issues. Most troubling in the quest for net zero is the lack of consideration for tradeoffs.
In New York the mandated technology is ‘zero-emissions,’ either battery electric or hydrogen fuel cells. PHEV and CNG vehicles have direct emissions and so will be banned. The Climate Act fossil fuel accounting requirements inflate the global warming effects as compared to all other jurisdictions and mandate that upstream and life-cycle emissions also be considered. On the other hand, the life-cycle emissions and impacts of the ‘zero-emissions’ technologies are ignored.
The Climate Act’s net-zero by 2050 transition is extraordinarily ambitious. The Scoping Plan that outlines the framework to implement this transition projects that in order to meet the net-zero schedule, over 30 percent of all light-duty vehicles sold will either be battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) in 2025, and 100 percent by 2035. For medium- and heavy-duty truck sales, the Scoping Plan projects that at least 10 percent sold will either be BEVs or FCEVs in 2025, and 64 percent by 2035.
It's wishful thinking to presume that large percentages of people will choose BEVs and HFCVs, forgoing the flexibility of a personal car that has much greater range in all seasons, can be refueled quickly on long trips, and does not require expensive charging equipment at home. PHEV technology eliminates range anxiety, refueling, and home equipment concerns. It also reduces fuel use and air pollution emissions significantly and uses a smaller battery pack than a BEV, which reduces the environmental impacts of rare earth mineral supplies and disposal that the Climate Act ignores.
When all the physical, cost, and logistical issues associated with hydrogen use are considered, it will not play a major role in the future. BEV technology doesn’t appeal to a majority of car owners because of nuisance constraints, but the technology could work. The same cannot be said for battery electric heavy-duty vehicles since range, refueling, and charging infrastructure constraints are deal breakers that prevent heavy-duty trucks from meeting the 2050 net-zero target.
There are serious inhalable particulate air pollution issues associated with diesel truck emissions at freight terminals in New York City. The Scoping Plan claims that replacing these trucks with zero-emission alternatives provides significant benefits. However, the plan’s zero-emissions aspirations ignore technological tradeoffs and the reality that CNG heavy-duty trucks are a viable alternative that would markedly reduce inhalable particulate emissions. The problem with CNG is not technology since we know it works, but a problem with the development of fueling infrastructure and vehicle fleet turnover. It is not pragmatic to insist that heavy-duty trucks use unproven battery electric technology over other alternatives that can markedly reduce the air quality issues.
The use of PHEV and CNG vehicles for personal and freight transport offers the opportunity for significant air quality benefits, at a cheaper societal cost, with less impacts on personal choice, and sooner than the ‘zero-emissions’ alternatives. Failing to consider those benefits while insisting upon a riskier technological approach is not good social policy. Someday, there may be a better alternative, but in the meantime bridge technologies that provide most of the benefits are the more appropriate policy approach.
Roger Caiazza, a retired Certified Consulting Meteorologist who has worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years, is a blogger at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York
You know the drill. Get in the car, commute to work, run your usual errands, and at regular intervals stop at the gas station to fill up. It’s a routine that’s been ingrained in the driving psyche for decades. If you want to simplify, then consider a move from gas and instead drive electric. Driving an EV is not a panacea to life’s constant demands but all in all, it calls for less of your time and attention. Here are a few reasons why driving an electric vehicle may be for you.
How much is your time worth? Charging an EV’s battery can conveniently be done at home with a garage charger, through a growing public charging network, and increasingly at workplace chargers. Those regular trips to gas stations? Cross them off your list, forever. Another benefit that can save time – and frustration – is the ability for solo EV drivers to use high occupancy vehicle (HOV/carpool) lanes in some states, which can shave plenty of time off a commute.
Electricity is a far cheaper way to fuel a car than gasoline. In fact, electric motors are so much more efficient than internal combustion engines, the most efficient electric vehicle today nets an EPA combined city/highway rating of 140 MPGe. The savings don't stop there. If you charge at home, additional savings can be realized by signing up for an electric utility’s favorable electric vehicle rate plan, then timing a charging session during a plan’s specified hours.
Vehicle maintenance is key to a healthy vehicle. Tune-ups keep a typical car running its best over the long haul, making the most efficient use of the gas it consumes and optimizing combustion so it produces fewer tailpipe emissions. One of the important benefits of an electric vehicle is that maintenance needs and costs are significantly diminished. Simply, there are far fewer moving parts in an EV than a conventional internal combustion vehicle, which means there’s less to take care of and fewer appointments needed for service.
Electric vehicles today are almost universally more expensive than those powered by traditional internal combustion engines. But if you want one, the federal government – along with many states, electric utilities, and other sources – can make it easier to buy an EV with generous subsidies of many thousands of dollars. The most valuable of these subsidies comes from the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which offers a potential clean vehicle tax credit up to $7,500 if you buy a new plug-in electric vehicle and up to $4,000 on a qualifying used EV.
Driving an EV makes a statement. We’ve seen this over time as Toyota’s Prius hybrid made its way to U.S. highways just over 20 years ago and was embraced by environmentalists and celebrities. The instantly recognizable profile of the Prius was part of the attraction, which shouted, “Look, I care about the Earth!” To many, that was reason enough to drive a Prius. To a whole lot of others it was just kind of obnoxious. Thankfully, today’s expanding field of eco-friendly electric vehicles offer a different approach. Some feature futuristic design cues that push the envelope in a positive way, but most are so mainstream you have to look for EV badging. Either way, your immediate circle of influence will recognize that you’re driving an electric vehicle and that confers positive status.
The world’s automakers have long pursued diverse alternative fuel technologies for good reason. Simply, the future of transportation may well unfold in surprising ways. Among the many advanced fuels explored has been hydrogen, and in fact, even amid today’s focus on battery electric power there continues to be significant interest in this zero-carbon fuel. Here’s a look at the amazing developmental work that BMW was conducting on hydrogen vehicles 18 years ago, as documented in Green Car Journal at the time. We lend perspective on the BMW H2R hydrogen vehicle’s evolutionary importance by presenting this article just as it ran in Green Car Journal’s Winter 2004 issue.
Excerpted from Winter 2004 Issue: In the quest for environmental leadership, there’s often a delicate balancing act as designers strive to create cars that are environmentally positive, yet offer the features drivers most desire. Clearly, core values must remain in focus during the process to retain the values and identity that distinguish carmakers from their peers.
This has been BMW’s mission over the past decade as it has pursued hydrogen cars and the performance to go with them. You can’t, after all, lay claim to the title “ultimate driving machine” if your zero-to-sixty times are glacial and you slog through corners, even if powered by clean-burning hydrogen.
For years, BMW has been refining the liquid hydrogen fueled sedans that it has placed in field trials on multiple continents, championing the use of hydrogen in conventional engines in lieu of the more popular fuel cell. These hydrogen vehicles have improved over the years, making the most of renewable hydrogen fuel in their internal combustion powerplants.
Now, this automaker is putting its stamp on the hydrogen record book with adaptations of this hydrogen engine technology, fielding a land speed record car that has passed the 185 mph mark and claimed an additional eight records as well. Along the way it has achieved recognition by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile as the fastest hydrogen car in the world.
A distinction achieved at the high-speed Miramas Proving Grounds in France, BMW’s 285 horsepower H2R hydrogen car was propelled to 100 km/h in about 6 seconds, setting records in the flying-start kilometer; standing-start ½ kilometer, kilometer, and 10 kilometers; flying-start mile; and standing start 1/8 mile, ¼ mile, mile, and 10 miles. The record car was piloted by BMW works drivers Alfred Hilger, Jörg Weidinger, and Günther Weber, who took turns at the wheel of the H2R during their record-breaking session.
The sleek and imposing car was conceived, designed, and developed by the automaker’s subsidiary, BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH. Its carbon fiber exterior was designed by DesignworksUSA, the California-based strategic design consultancy owned by BMW Group. This is the same design house that worked on the BMW E1 and E2 electric car prototypes in the early 1990s.
This BMW is motivated by a 6.0-liter V-12 engine modified to run on hydrogen, a gasoline powerplant normally found in the automaker’s 760i model. Among the engine modifications is a fuel injection system adapted to handle hydrogen, which uses injection valves integrated into the intake manifolds. Special materials are also used for the combustion chambers. Liquid hydrogen is carried in a vacuum-insulated, double-wall tank that’s fitted next to the driver’s seat.
Is the H2R just a whimsical exercise? Nope, it’s part of a larger vision. In fact, BMW plans to launch a dual-fuel 7 Series that will run on hydrogen or gasoline, sometime during the production cycle of the present model, surely at a price far lower than that of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Exercises like the H2R help pave the way.
One of the more interesting electric cars in the early 1990s was the German-designed BMW E1 and then the U.S.-designed E2, innovative yet mainstream looking vehicles that illustrated BMW electric vehicle aspirations. The E2 was slightly more compact than the futuristic-leaning BMW i3 ‘megacity’ electric car that was to come some 25 years later. It was 8 inches shorter, 6 inches narrower, and 5 inches lower than the i3, plus 700 pounds lighter. The E2’s ‘hot’ sodium-sulfur battery was projected to deliver a 161 mile driving range, about 8 miles farther than the i3. To enlighten readers on BMW’s early electric vehicle development efforts, we’re sharing the following article from the Green Car Journal archives as it originally appeared in the January 1992 issue.
Excerpted from January 1992 issue: BMW’s E1, an electric concept vehicle now undergoing road testing in Europe, has just been joined by a new U.S. variant. Introduced at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, BMW’s new E2 prototype appears mainstream enough to be a mid-‘90s model. Its appearance is somewhat reminiscent of both a downsized minivan and sedan, leaning toward the look of Mitsubishi’s new 1992 Expo and LRV, and the Mitsu-built Eagle Summit.
Is this the precursor of a production model? We asked Robert Mitchel, product information manager of BMW of North America. “It’s a concept car,” Mitchell shares, “although it is fairly close to what a production car could be. Rather than taking a current 3 Series and modifying it as we have in the past, we’ve built this solely with the intent of designing a car that would satisfy consumer needs and potential legislation.”
Among the important consumer needs to be served is a handsome package, and the E2 does provide that. Lower ground effects panels, distinctive BMW grillework, and an aero exterior are distinct design features. While the initial E1 was designed in Germany by BMW Technik GmbH, the automaker turned to California-based Designworks/USA (which is 50 percent owned by BMW AG) for the U.S. version.
According to Designworks/USA president Chuck Pelly, the studio’s intent was to give the E2 a formidable stance, with strong wheel flares and tires moved outboard as much as possible. A more substantial hood and bumper system were also integrated. “It’s a totally new body,” adds Pelly, “that’s more traditionally BMW styled, with less reversals” than the original E1. It’s also longer, wider, and lower with a smoother overall shape.
Inside the E2 variant is seating for four with storage behind the rear seat. A rounded dash integrates driver and passenger side airbags and a speedometer, range indicator, and clock. Forward/reverse controls and an electric handbrake are also provided. Designworks/USA is currently working on a completely new and more luxurious interior for the E2.
Both rear drive models use a new Unique Mobility [UQM Technologies] brushless DC motor mounted at the rear axle. The 45 hp, motor is efficient, offering very respectable power by EV standards. But the E2’s acceleration numbers point to fairly sedate performance when compared to internal combustion vehicles.
Bottom line: Could the E2 sell if it were produced as a mid-‘90s model? Green Car Journal editors believe so, with a few caveats. Acceleration is passable for an EV utilizing current state-of-the-art technology. But a projected 15.6 second 0-50 mpg (80 kph) time may not be acceptable to the mainstream BMW buyer who expects sporting performance from his driving machine – even if the E2 does exhibit a typically upscale BMW image.
BMW-style performance is possible by combining more potent electric propulsion with the E2’s advantageous curb weight. Perhaps integrating twin UQM motors would do the job (90 hp total), or using an advanced generation motor available closer to the time the E2 could make it to market. The LRV’s 1.8-liter engine supplies 113 hp total, 1 hp less than the GM Impact prototype’s twin electric motors … so electric propulsion can offer the level of highway performance driver’s have come to expect. It doesn’t seem such a stretch to conjure visions of contemporary BMW performance from an ideally configured E2.
The movement that’s bringing ever-greener vehicles to our highways is in hyperdrive today, with enormous focus, funding, engineering, and production devoted toward decarbonizing transportation at all levels. In today’s pickup field, this increasingly means the addition of batteries and electric motors to the powertrain in hybrid or full electric configurations.
Other approaches to increasing efficiencies and reducing carbon emissions are also being taken through more traditional methods, like improving combustion engines and transmissions, lightweighting a pickup’s body and frame, and improving aerodynamics and rolling resistance. Pickups employing these diverse strategies are all considered in the Green Truck of the Year™ program since there is no single pathway to greater environmental performance.
The pickup truck is a unique proposition in the ‘green’ car field. While its uses are pretty expansive – from highly functional personal use vehicles to high horsepower, ‘stump pulling’ workhorses – there are some givens when we talk pickups. We know this well because of the many years Green Car Journal writers and editors have spent working at pickup and off-road magazines in the past. Trucks must serve their core missions, seamlessly. Their job is to work hard, play hard, tow dependably, and haul what’s needed. They can serve as family vehicles these days with ease, so car-like comfort, connectivity, and style are paramount…even as they deliver the high functionality and improved environmental performance buyers demand.
Through the Green Truck of the Year™ program presented at the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show in Texas, it’s Green Car Journal’s mission to identify the pickup that best represents environmental performance while balancing the core needs of pickup buyers. Among the cornerstones of Green Truck of the Year™ analysis is weighing the merits of pickups integrating the latest efficiency technologies, balanced with cost, value, functionality, performance, and other factors. Also considered is a model’s availability to consumers, since the ability to actually buy and drive more environmentally positive models on our highways is as important as the ‘green’ technologies and capabilities they champion.
These are more complex issues today. We’ve seen order banks for some new or popular pickups like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Ford Maverick unexpectedly close for the model year, which means consumers are no longer able to buy one. Price is also an important consideration. While annual price increases for new models are a tradition in the automotive market, sudden and significant price spikes are not. Today’s reality is that materials costs and supply are wild cards in the auto industry, with silicon chips and especially materials for electric vehicle batteries major issues. How an auto manufacturer chooses to deal with this, such as Ford’s $12,000 increase in the entry level cost of its F-150 Lightning, has a direct impact on a vehicle’s affordability and availability to buyers. All this is taken into consideration in determining the Green Truck of the Year™.
Pickups that made the cut as finalists this year included the Ford F-150 Lightning, Ford Maverick, Hyundai Santa Cruz, RAM 1500, and Toyota Tundra. Each, in its own way, offers features and powertrains allowing pickup enthusiasts the opportunity to drive with greater efficiency and lower carbon emissions. Because of their commendable environmental achievements, these five finalists are recognized with Green Car Journal's 2023 Green Car Product of Excellence™ distinction.
The Ford F-150 Lightning is a champion of electrification. Powered exclusively by lithium-ion batteries and electric motors, this finalist features zero-emission travel of 240 to 320 miles before requiring a charge, depending on battery pack. F-150 Lightning does this while carrying on the Ford F-150’s reputation for dependability, durability, and performance. In fact, the F-150 Lightning’s acceleration and performance is stellar. It can haul up to 2235 pounds and tow up to 10,000 pounds, though towing or hauling heavy loads can significantly decrease the driving range of this all-electric pickup. The Lightning starts at about $52,000, though Ford’s order bank for this model is now closed.
Ford’s Maverick also brings efficiencies and carbon reduction to the pickup market, but in a different way. Starting at just over $22,000, this more compact pickup offers a standard 2.5-liter hybrid powerplant that nets up to 42 miles per gallon in the city, or a more powerful 2-liter EcoBoost engine. Maverick speaks to those who want a pickup with a smaller physical footprint that still fulfills a pickup’s expected mission, which it does handily. Clever engineering means the Maverick’s four-and-a-half foot bed can still carry a 4 by 8 foot sheet of plywood, with its multi-position tailgate at its halfway position and the plywood resting on top of the pickup bed’s wheel wells. Like the F-150, the order bank for the Ford Maverick has closed.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is another example of a downsized pickup with high efficiency. Described by its maker as a Sport Adventure Vehicle, the Santa Cruz features a functional pickup bed that’s just over 4 feet in length, with the bed offering hidden bed storage and a lockable tonneau cover. It’s powered by a 2.5 liter four-cylinder achieving up to 26 highway miles per gallon, or a more powerful turbocharged 2.5-liter four, and comes in front- or all-wheel-drive. It can tow up to 3500 pounds and has a payload rating of 1500 to 1750 pounds. Santa Cruz offers a starting price of $25,500.
With an entry point of just over $37,000, the RAM 1500 is a stylish and highly functional pickup that fits a variety of needs, whether at the worksite or the campsite, trailer in tow. It’s offered in Quad Cab and Crew Cab choices, with two- and four-wheel drive, two pickup box lengths, and eight trim levels. Gas and hybrid power options offer 305 to 702 horsepower and include a 3.6-liter eTorque V-6, 5.7-liter eTorque HEMI V-8, and 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. This pickup’s efficient 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is a fuel economy champ at 33 highway mpg. RAM 1500 offers a dedicated work ethic with the ability to tow up to 12,750 pounds and carry payloads up to 2300 pounds.
Introduced in its third generation last year, the Toyota Tundra offers rugged styling and a broad range of capabilities. It’s available with two efficient twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter engines, the 389 horsepower i-FORCE V-6 or a 437 horsepower i-FORCE MAX V-6 parallel hybrid. It can tow up to 12,000 pounds and carry payloads up to 1920 pounds, with a driving range that can reach 700 miles. Tundra offers a wide range of features, amenities, and advanced driver assist systems and is available in Double Cab or CrewMax choices with two- and four-wheel drive,
Green Car Journal’s 2023 Green Truck of the Year™ is the RAM 1500. This pickup presents an excellent choice for buyers seeking a stylish and hard-working truck that offers efficient hybrid engine choices, plus the ability to tow and haul loads within its substantial ratings, with no limitations.
RAM 1500 features handsome styling, loads of connectivity and driver assist features, and the kind of comfort and functionality appreciated by everyday drivers and those who use their hard-working pickups on the job. Performance is a given. The 3.6-liter eTorque-powered RAM 1500 delivers up to 26 highway mpg with a driving range approaching 600 miles, while the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel nets 33 highway mpg and a driving range of 1,000 miles. Highway driving is a joy and off-roading an adventure if you’re so inclined. Importantly, this pickup’s capabilities dependably meet all the needs of personal, work, and recreational use, confidently delivering the substantial hauling and worry-free towing capability so many truck buyers expect and demand.
Everyone is familiar with Tesla these days. In its early years, though, Tesla was just another aspiring automaker with big dreams and enormous challenges, and at times, seemingly insurmountable financial hurdles. That’s all changed and Tesla is now viewed as a serious competitor by the world’s legacy automakers. Today there’s the Tesla Model 3, Model S, Model X, Model Y, and Tesla Semi. Coming up will be a second-generation Tesla Roadster and Tesla's highly-anticipated Cybertruck. Sixteen years ago, Green Car Journal featured the company’s original electric Roadster and shared the emergence of Tesla as a potential competitor in the electric vehicle field. We present this article just as it ran in Green Car Journal’s Fall 2006 issue to lend context to the ever-unfolding Tesla story.
Excerpted from Fall 2006 issue: Only giant corporations have the resources to develop competent, competitive automobiles, and only internal combustion-powered cars offer the performance and practicality required by today’s drivers. The team at Tesla Motors is tasked with turning these conventions onto their respective heads…and they’re doing it.
From its founding in 2003, most of the company’s efforts have gone into developing the heart of the car, the Energy Storage System (ESS). Some 6,831 lithium-ion cells – each slightly larger than a typical AA battery – are contained inside a large enclosure that fits neatly behind the Roadster’s two seats. The batteries are liquid cooled and attached to an elaborate array of sensors and microprocessors that maintain charge balance between the cells. Tesla chose a commonly used lithium-ion cell so that battery development will continue to drive down the cost and improve performance.
Also developed internally is the motor, which features remarkably high output for its small size: 248 hp and 180 lbs-ft of torque. The motor acts as a generator whenever the driver lifts off the throttle, providing an ‘engine braking’ effect similar to conventional cars, while also recharging the batteries.
The Roadster’s chassis is based on that of the Lotus Elise sports car, but lengthened and beefed up to handle the Roadster’s roughly 350 pounds of extra weight, largely attributable to the battery pack. The body design was penned by the Lotus Design Studio, and final assembly is completed at the Lotus manufacturing facility in England.
Along with a top speed of 130 mph, the company claims a zero to 60 mph time of four seconds, on par with some of the world’s top supercars. But the real test for an electric car is range. Tesla says the batteries will last for 250 miles of pure highway driving, and can be recharged using Tesla’s home-based charging system in under four hours. The batteries are expected to last five years or 100,000 miles, after which time they’ll have 80 percent of their original capacity. In terms of real-world practicality, these are some of the most impressive numbers we’ve seen from an electric car.
There’s one more crucial number: price. The Tesla Roadster starts at $89,000 and tops out at $100,000. That’s steep, but not wholly unrealistic given the level of performance the car achieves.
Tesla Motors thinks there’s plenty of demand for their car, and early signs look good: the first 100 Roadsters were snapped up right away. It will be interesting to see if that kind of buying fervor continues as Tesla opens its direct sales and service centers, first in Northern and Southern California, followed by Chicago, New York, and Miami. The company begins the first production run of 600 to 800 cars next spring, maxing out at 2500 per year after three years if demand holds.
Plans are already in the works for the next model, a 4-door sedan in the vein of Toyota’s Prius. Tesla’s Mike Harrigan thinks that in five to six years, the cost of batteries will have been cut in half – the Roadster’s pack costs about $25,000 today – and will be capable of providing a family sedan with a range of 500 miles, double that of the Roadster.
The Tesla Roadster may be the perfect weapon to launch the Tesla brand. It’s eye-catching and fast and targeted at a segment that can realistically command high prices, thereby helping to absorb the high cost of the batteries and high-tech control system. The next step, and perhaps the greater challenge, is to drive this high concept down to the mainstream. We’ll be watching intently.
Trucking companies, and the shippers that hire trucking companies, are making bold commitments to cut their carbon footprint – such as becoming net zero by 2030. Yet achieving net zero or better requires more than operational improvements. Alternative technologies are needed to move beyond even the cleanest diesel platform. Renewable natural gas (RNG) has emerged as the leading pathway for low carbon, clean air trucking. There are three compelling reasons why RNG is helping sustainable companies decarbonize their transportation today.
RNG is derived from organic material found in green waste, food waste, landfills, sewage treatment, and livestock manure. These organic wastes naturally decompose into methane. Methane that leaked into the atmosphere is a potent short-lived climate pollutant and greenhouse gas. Rather than releasing into the atmosphere, methane can be captured and converted into a drop-in replacement fuel for conventional natural gas.
When used for vehicle fueling, RNG reduces carbon by capturing methane that would escape into the atmosphere; and by replacing high-carbon diesel fuel. The chart below shows the carbon intensity of traditional fossil fuels and low-carbon alternative fuels. RNG produced from dairy manure has carbon emissions that are up to 300 percent cleaner than diesel fuel, and has the potential to be negative carbon intensive. Replacing just 25 percent of a fleet’s diesel trucks with negative carbon intensive RNG from dairy manure can reduce a fleet’s carbon emissions by 100 percent.
Many areas of the U.S. have harmful air, and diesel trucks play an oversized role in local air pollution. The greater Southern California area, California’s Central Valley, Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake City, and other metro areas share this air pollution problem. Air pollution contributes to respiratory, cardio, and other illnesses. Studies have linked local air pollution to susceptibility to COVID-19, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Diesel trucks emit high amounts of local air pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and diesel particulate matter. Diesel particulate matter is classified as a toxic air contaminant and is composed of carcinogenic compounds.
Trucks powered by RNG have 90 percent lower NOx emissions than a new diesel truck and over 98 percent lower NOx emissions than many of the diesel trucks in use today. RNG-powered trucks have zero emissions when it comes to carcinogenic diesel particulate matter.
RNG fuel costs less than diesel fuel. Fuel savings are particularly amplified today with skyrocketing diesel prices. RNG prices are also less volatile than petroleum fuel.
RNG trucks have great economics compared to other emerging clean technologies. The cost of these emerging technologies is 200 percent to 300 percent more expensive than RNG trucks. These emerging technologies have far more expensive charging or fueling infrastructure costs than RNG fueling. An RNG truck at one-half to one-third the cost of other technologies has better carbon reduction and equivalent air quality benefits.
Climate pollution and air pollution are problems that exist today, not far in the future. While it is noteworthy for companies to make aspirational goals to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the future, RNG trucks offer the ability to achieve net zero immediately. RNG truck technology has been proven and perfected over the past 14 years. RNG engines are mass produced by Cummins, and RNG trucks are mass produced by Freightliner, Peterbilt, Kenworth, Volvo, and Mack. RNG fueling infrastructure is available throughout North America and is rapidly expanding. Clean Energy alone has over 560 fueling locations at customer sites and at retail locations.
Companies like Amazon, UPS, Waste Management, SAIA, Estes, and TTSI are deploying thousands of RNG trucks today. What do these sustainability-leading companies know? RNG is the lowest carbon fuel available and offers an affordable alternative to diesel today that is proven and scalable.
Greg Roche is the Vice President of Sustainability at Clean Energy, the country’s largest provider of the cleanest fuel for the transportation market.
It’s been more than 100 years since Henry Ford’s Model T revolutionized the way the world moves people and goods. Ford didn’t invent the car, but over the course of about 30 years, he transformed the way vehicles are manufactured – increasing volumes, driving down costs, and converting them from expensive novelties to affordable conveyances for workers and families. Just as importantly, over the last 100 years, other entrepreneurs and innovators developed an infrastructure ecosystem to ensure these vehicles could be fueled, serviced, and customized.
More than a century later, we find ourselves on a new transportation frontier that is once again transforming the way society moves people and goods. This time we are transforming how vehicles are propelled, from internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric, and modernizing the fueling infrastructure. Gone will be the days of imported crude, cumbersome fluid tanker trucks, and lines at the gas station, in favor of producing fuel via localized grids and microgrids, and distributing that fuel via depot chargers, home chargers, and public charging stations.
As we approach 30 years since the first modern retail offering of battery-powered electric vehicles, it’s clear that EVs – of all shapes, sizes, models, and payloads – are here to stay. I am certain of this because nearly every day I witness the reaction of drivers when they operate a Lightning eMotors commercial EV for the first time – smooth, quiet, powerful, and equipped with safety features never before available on commercial vehicles. I see their response when we talk about efficiency of nearly 60 MPGe on the exact same vehicle that got 13 mpg as a gasoline vehicle.
These products and this industry are my passion. I have dedicated myself to creating a company that not only builds amazing products, but also builds products that make both environmental and business sense, a company that helps move the planet in the right direction. As CEO of Lightning eMotors (NYSE:ZEV), a leading manufacturer of commercial vehicle electrification, telematics, and energy and charging solutions, I have seen that it is possible to build exciting products that also have a compelling business case and are environmentally transformational.
Not only has growing public awareness of the environmental and health benefits of electric vehicles led to government legislation and funding to promote the transition from internal combustion engines to electric, but evidence for the EV business case continues to grow as well. Companies of all sizes and purposes are dedicating resources to support the transformation of their fleets to electric vehicles.
In addition to the growing list of companies that has pledged a commitment to reducing their fleet impact on the environment, within just the past year the Environmental Protection Agency allocated $5 billion to replace existing school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models through the Clean School Bus Program. In addition, the Federal Transit Administration announced almost $5 billion for public transit agencies, states, and Tribal governments to support public transportation across the country through its Low or No Vehicle Emissions Program; and the United States passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, both of which provide billions in new funding for EVs and EV infrastructure. History has rarely seen industry and government so closely aligned on a path forward. This is yet another sign that electric vehicles are the future.
While it’s true, for the time being, that up-front costs are higher than their petroleum-powered counterparts, as industry continues to invest in EV technologies and as government continues to provide incentives to purchase, more electric vehicles are being manufactured. Scale is growing and costs are coming down. What’s more, data is proving that over their lifetimes, electric vehicles will last longer and require far lower maintenance and fuel costs.
Critics point to the bumps in the road for EV makers as proof that the endeavor itself cannot succeed. Of course, establishing a successful EV industry comes with challenges. But we are at the point where EVs have proven themselves to make sense logistically, financially, and environmentally, and transitioning from internal combustion engines to electric is both financially prudent and impactful for the environment.
A little-talked-about factor helping to lower the cost of entry is the increasing production of specialty commercial vehicles. In fact, according to the 2022 IEA Global Electric Vehicle Outlook, the business case for light commercial vehicles (LCV) is stronger than for cars, with sales of LCVs increasing 70 percent in 2021.
Those of us who spent more time at home during the pandemic, marveling at how easy and ubiquitous home delivery has become, are probably not surprised by that. And it’s only increasing. In a post-COVID world, e-commerce sales are forecast to rise 37 percent from 2020 to 2024, according to Statista Digital Market Outlook 2020.
We estimate there to be 2,500 electric vehicles in use in commercial fleets across North America – many as transit buses and cargo delivery vans and trucks, but also as passenger vans, shuttle buses, school buses, ambulances, and motor coaches. And the number is growing every day, as business and industry recognize the value of zero-emission transportation options for customer satisfaction, growing investor demands for sustainability and, importantly, their bottom lines.
Adoption no longer depends on emotion. Choosing EVs for commercial use is a demonstrably smart business decision. It’s no longer a matter of if the world’s primary source of transportation will be EVs but when…and when is now.
At Lightning eMotors, we see firsthand through our advanced telematics capabilities the efficiency of all our zero-emission vans, trucks, and buses through every phase of their lifecycles. Our vehicles have demonstrated between four-and-six-times better efficiency than their gasoline-powered siblings over the last 2.3 million real-world miles. In total, vehicles deployed by Lightning have removed more than 1,850 tons of CO2 from our environment.
As pathways toward adoption continue to grow, some companies will succeed, some will consolidate, and a few will fold. Regardless, the commercial EV market is now firmly established and will continue to make a positive impact on air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and its customers’ bottom lines.
Henry Ford is quoted as having said: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”
The commercial EV industry is a remedy. It’s a remedy for business costs, efficient and effective resource use, and reducing carbon emissions into the environment, and it has been quietly making inroads into the mainstream for the past three decades.
Before long, the days of internal combustion engines dominating our roadways will be as much a symbol of the past as Ford’s Model T.
Tim Reeser is CEO and Founder of Loveland, Colorado-based Lightning eMotors
Behind the wheel of Toyota’s new bZ4X electric vehicle, I’m given to a bit of reflection as to why this car has come to be. After all, Toyota is a specialist in hybrid vehicles and is noted for its focus and leadership here, not battery electric cars. But these days Toyota is feeling the pressure – actually, lots of it – to bring all-electric vehicles to a wanting market.
In between Toyota’s hybrid offerings and its emerging focus on electric vehicles are the automaker’s plug-in hybrids that blend characteristics of the two. The Toyota brand has a pair of these now – the RAV4 Prime offering 42 miles of electric driving and 640 miles total range, and the Prius Prime offering 25 miles on battery power with a total driving range of 600 miles. We expect other models to join in soon enough.
So why the bZ4X battery electric vehicle? Because it’s time, and also because it’s a critical link to Toyota’s ‘Beyond Zero’ (bZ) future and an array of battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid Toyota models in the pipeline. The automaker is serious about this. To support its growing electrification effort, Toyota has announced massive investments in battery manufacturing for its electrified vehicles, including $3.8 billion alone for a new battery manufacturing facility in North Carolina.
Toyota has made some earlier forays into the electric vehicle field in the States, but it’s been a while. The automaker fielded its first RAV4 EVs here from 1997 to 2003 in response to California’s zero emission vehicle mandate, and then a newer generation RAV4 EV from 2012-2014, developed with Tesla. It’s been hybrids and plug-in hybrids ever since, plus of course the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, though most don’t view that model as a battery electric vehicle competitor at this time.
Segue eight years ahead from Toyota’s last battery electric vehicle experience and here we are with the bZ4X. It’s been worth the wait. What we have in the bz4X is a stylishly modern intro to Toyota’s coming line of battery electric vehicles, sized similarly to a RAV4 but just a bit longer and lower. Its body design features disparate elements like a distinctly flat ‘hammerhead’ front fascia combined with sharp angles, pronounced fenders, sculpted sides, and a flowing roofline. All come together nicely as an appealing whole…a design not too conservative, and not leaning too far into the future.
Low-profile headlamps are accented by a dark contrast band that flows from the front fenders and across the front end. Matching contrasts are found at the rear fenders as well, with black accented rocker panels running from well to well. At the rear, the bZ4X innovates with a pair of aerodynamic roof extensions at either side of the upper hatch, lending the impression of a future-esque roofline spoiler. The bottom of the glass features a slight lip-of-a-spoiler with a thin fender-to-fender running light below, along with distinctive angular taillamps.
Inside is a comfortable and modern interior featuring all the necessary elements for a satisfying driving experience, leaning a bit towards the spartan side. While much is familiar to the breed, there are design elements that align with the forward-thinking theme embodied by the car’s distinctive exterior. In particular, we’re thinking of the dashboard and instrument panel design ahead of the driver, which features an unusually long expanse between the steering wheel and MMI information display. Additional information and multimedia features are presented in a 12-inch widescreen display in the center dash position. Driver and passenger seats are comfortably bolstered for support and plenty of room is provided both front and rear, with rear legroom what one would expect in this size of vehicle. A panoramic roof is optional.
The bZ4X is well-equipped with the advanced driver assist features expected in today’s new models. It features the first use of Toyota’s latest TSS 3.0 Safety Sense suite, which includes advancements like improved pre-collision with guardrail, daytime motorcyclist, and low-light cyclist detection, and enhanced lane recognition. Other tech features include cloud-based navigation offering real-time traffic information and parking space availability, over-the-air software updates, and a digital key feature enabling drivers to lock, unlock, and start their bZ4X with their smartphone.
Drivers can choose single- or two-motor bZ4X variants. The former achieves an EPA estimated 119 combined MPGe with a 252 mile driving range, and the latter a combined 104 MPGe with a 228 mile range. Output for the single front-wheel drive model is 201 horsepower with the two-motor AWD version adding just 13 additional horsepower to the total. Energy is supplied by 71.4 and 72.8 kWh lithium-ion batteries, respectively. Both versions deliver a fun driving experience with confident ride and handling, quick torque at the ready, and plenty of power for anyone’s every day driving needs. With the dual-motor version delivering a 0-60 mph romp in the mid-seven second range, acceleration is brisk but does not approach the performance realm of some electric vehicles.
Toyota’s bZ4X is clearly an important introduction for this automaker that reinforces its continuing journey towards electrification. However, it does not mean that Toyota is convinced battery-powered vehicles are a proper all-inclusive strategy. The world’s largest automaker has been clear that it is not ‘all in’ with electric cars in the same way as some of its high-profile competitors, and the company has caught a lot of heat because of this. Rather, Toyota’s well-reasoned take is that multiple approaches exist to solving the interconnected issues of personal transportation and environmental sustainability.
Electrification is a big part of this. It’s just that Toyota’s strategy does not embrace a tunnel-vision approach in which all roads lead to a plug, or a model without a gas cap. Some take form as hybrid, plug-in hybrid, hydrogen fuel cell, and yes, even battery electric vehicles. There is a balance here because one is needed since not everyone’s needs are the same.
An earlier Green Car Journal perspective shared by Toyota’s chief scientist, Dr. Gill Pratt, adds food for thought. Considering the finite resources available for worldwide battery cell production, and the carbon emitted in their production, charging, and use over time, it’s important they are used in the best way possible. Optimum use achieves a higher carbon return on investment (CROA) as cells are used closer to their full potential. EVs with large battery packs regularly making use of their range potential make sense and offer a higher return.
In Dr. Pratt’s illustrations, however, a fully electric vehicle with hundreds of miles of range primarily driving a short daily commute offers a poor return, since the majority of the cells are unneeded most of the time and are simply carried along as dead weight. Using this same number of cells in numerous plug-in hybrid models requiring smaller battery packs would offer a much more favorable carbon return, if these PHEVs are driven in ways that make best use of their more limited battery electric range.
This isn’t to say that plug-in hybrids are an inherently better choice than electric vehicles, or the other way around. It just means that needs vary, and pairing needs with an electrified vehicle’s capabilities makes the most environmental sense.
With hybrids and plug-in hybrids covered in the Toyota lineup, the missing link – the all-electric bZ4X – is now here to fill the need. Those seeking a crossover SUV offering expected zero-emission driving range, eye-catching style, and a comfortable and confident driving experience should look into Toyota’s new electric crossover. At a base price of $42,000, it provides what the brand promises – quality, thoughtful design, and user-friendliness, and no doubt the satisfying ownership experience the Toyota brand is known to deliver. Plus, of course, zero emission driving every mile you travel.
Toyota’s path to producing all-electric vehicles has been a long one, highlighted by the RAV4 EV model it fielded to fleets in response to the California Air Resources Board’s Zero Emission Mandate in the 1990s. Green Car Journal editors test drove variations of this small electric SUV during those early years of the modern electric vehicle’s development. We were impressed by Toyota’s exploration of the potential market for battery EVs at the time. To lend perspective on this automaker’s electric vehicle development, we present this article on the Toyota RAV4 EV pulled from our archives, just as it ran in our January 2002 issue.
Excerpted from January 2002 issue: Many thought the RAV4 EV – the electrically motivated compact sport utility vehicle from Toyota – was gone, the victim of a completed agreement with the State of California in the late 1990s. But it’s not. Toyota Motor Sales USA is bringing the sporty little EV back, this time making it available to retail customers in California, not just fleets. Sales are slated to begin in February 2002.
RAV4 EVs made their mark during the late-1990s as hundreds of these were leased and placed in fleet service. Some 700 of the 900 RAV4 EVs were in use in California. That occurred because of requirements imposed on automakers, including Toyota, by the California Air Resources Board, the result of the Memoranda of Agreement that accompanied postponement of the 1998 Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate.
That was then, this is now. No mandate exists this year, although all automakers are feeling the pressure of the impending 2003 ZEV rule that will require major automakers to sell large numbers of EVs to meet a 2 percent threshold. In retrospect, maybe Toyota’s move to bring the RAV4 EV back isn’t surprising after all.
The RAV4 EV is powered by a maintenance-free, permanent magnet motor that produces 67 horsepower (50kW) and 140 lb.-ft. torque, providing an electronically governed top speed of 79 mph. Front wheel drive is via a single speed transaxle, with reverse provided by backward motor rotation.
A sealed, 288 volt nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery pack provides energy to the motor. This pack, comprised of 24 12-volt modules, is located beneath the SUV’s floor to minimize intrusion into the passenger compartment and optimize the vehicle’s center of gravity. Charging this pack requires five to six hours.
Stopping power is supplied by an anti-lock and regenerative braking system that utilizes solid aluminum front discs and steel rear drums. The regenerative system returns energy to the batteries whenever the RAV4 EV is coasting or braking.
Time spent behind the wheel of the RAV4 EV has shown this vehicle to be fun, dependable, and capable of fulfilling most daily missions with ease, so long as they fit within the vehicle’s range capabilities. Since an electric motor produces peak torque immediately, the RAV4 EV offers good off-the-line acceleration but a rather modest 0-60 mph elapsed time of about 18 seconds. Driving range is between 80 to 100 miles per charge.
Seating for five and ample space for cargo is provided in this five-door compact SUV. The interior offers the high level of function and comfort expected of a Toyota product, featuring such standard amenities as split fold-down rear seats, heated driver and front-passenger seats, adjustable-height front seatbelt anchors, and dual front airbags. Convenience is well accommodated by a heated windshield, rear-window wiper and defogger, and power door mirrors, windows, and door locks. An AM/FM stereo system with CD provides the needed tunes. Rear seat heaters and traction control are available options for cold climate use.
One of the advantages of electric vehicles is their use of heat-pump type air conditioning, an innovation that allows climate control functions to operate while a vehicle is turned off and parked. RAV4 EV drivers have the ability to set a timer and adjust their vehicle’s pre-heat or pre-cool function so the SUV’s interior is at a desired comfort level regardless of outside temperatures.
Toyota says the RAV4 EV will have a rather lofty suggested retail price of $42,000, although a $9,000 California Air Resources Board incentive and $3,000 federal tax credit brings the price of entry down to $30,000. This includes an in-home charger. Three introductory lease options will be offered that also include the use of the charger.
Every major metro market in California will soon find a participating RAV4 EV dealer. While initial sales are aimed exclusively in California due to Toyota’s need to address this state’s 2003 ZEV mandate, success here would certainly find the RAV4 EV making its way to other markets soon enough, starting with those poised to follow California’s lead by adopting the state’s ZEV requirements.
Toyota aims to make it easy for buyers to connect with their new electric vehicle. Like the Prius gas/electric hybrid, customers will have the ability to order the RAV4 EV online and take delivery through a participating dealer, as is the case with the Prius currently.
Dealers are ‘all in’ on EVs and incredibly excited about the new electrified products that are being announced almost daily. Dealers are hungry for the sales and service opportunities that are going to come with having numerous new EV models to sell.
While today’s EVs are exceptional, particularly compared to those of just a decade ago, the reality is that almost all appeal primarily either to stalwart supporters of reducing greenhouse gas emissions or luxury vehicle l buyers who want to be on the cutting edge of technology and performance.
One of the great mistakes we make in assessing our progress on converting America’s fleet to electric is assuming that today’s EV buyers will look like the EV buyers of tomorrow. This simply isn’t true.
It is undisputed that Tesla has been extremely successful at selling its products, and the company deserves significant credit for what it has been able to accomplish. But Tesla’s success does not prove that you can sell EVs in great quantities in America: What Tesla has proven is that you can sell Teslas very successfully in America to a certain, and small, subset of affluent new-car buyers.
Mass adoption of EVs in America won’t be achieved using a Tesla-type of direct to consumer model. Why? Because the typical Tesla, Rivian, or Lucid buyer isn’t who’s going to be buying the next generation of EVs.
Look around at so many of EVs being announced and marketed heavily lately – the electric Chevy Silverado and Blazer, the VW ID.4, and the Hyundai IONIQ 6, for example. Far from status or luxury vehicles, each actually has a starting MSRP below the average transaction price of a new vehicle – including ICE cars and trucks – sold today.
As the EV market continues to leave the luxury niche status and enters the mainstream, its customers will come to resemble the average car buyer more and more. And it’s these EV customers of the future who we need to cater to if we are to have meaningful and broad EV adoption. Because to sell effectively to mass-market buyers, you need to capitalize on what has worked for mass-market buyers for generations.
Things like consumer education about the product, help with comparing models, working with a customer’s budget constraints, financing assistance, helping with trade-ins, allowing test drives, and – yes – even good-old-fashioned tire kicking. And this is all in addition to the new challenges specific to EVs, such as the complexities of charging – the fact, for instance, that electric rates vary based on the time of day and the level of charge – and other variables that don’t exist in the ICE market.
Dealers are absolutely essential in this world of new EVs. Because once you get past luxury vehicles and into the mass market, you will not achieve broad acceptance of any product, regardless of how it’s powered, by rejecting the attributes of the sales and service process that mass-market vehicle buyers aren’t just accustomed to, but that they depend on to confidently choose the right vehicle at the right price that best meets all their needs.
This is a critical juncture in our march towards a cleaner future. And it’s a good time for policymakers and stakeholders at all levels to think critically about what it’s going to take to sell EVs in greater volumes to customers who haven’t experienced EVs yet.
Because the reality is that it’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take a network of tens of thousands of retail and service points located in just about every corner of the country, not just a website. It’s going to take hundreds of thousands of knowledgeable sales staff, not just a 1-800 number. And it’s going to take hundreds of thousands of highly trained technicians capable of providing professional service on the spot, not just mobile repair trucks. It’s going to take dealers. Fortunately, we’re already here, and we are raring to go.
Mike Stanton is Chairman and CEO of the National Automobile Dealers Association
A few decades back, it was no sure thing that electrification would take a firm hold on the performance world, let alone the automotive market as a whole. Yet here we are today with a great many of the fastest performance vehicles on the road powered by electric motors. Italdesign-Giugiaro and Toyota presented their take on the electric supercar some 18 years ago in the form of the Alessandro Volta concept shown here. This article from our archives is presented just as it appeared in Green Car Journal’s Fall 2004 issue.
Excerpted from Fall 2004 Issue: In an automaker’s portfolio, the flagship should be a car that sets the tone for the rest of its fleet, pushing brand identity and technology to the outermost limits. Shown here is just such a vehicle. Rolled out on the world stage at the Geneva Motor Show, this Toyota hybrid supercar concept is clearly designed to inspire and, not inconsequentially, underscore the very real potential that hybrid electric propulsion has throughout the Toyota brand.
Toyota’s Volta concept is named for the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the battery. One needn’t look too closely at this car to understand why. It uses a derivative of the high technology drivetrain found in the hybrid Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX 400h, but in this instance configured so there’s no direct link between the gasoline engine and the wheels. Instead, the 3.3-liter V-6 engine’s power is converted to electrical energy for charging the car’s batteries and powering electric motors at both front and rear axles. Drive-by-wire technology allows the combined 408 horsepower to be modulated without the need for a clutch or transmission.
This car puts all those volts to good use, taking advantage of the inherent instant torque provided by electric motors and launching the vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in just four seconds. Combined with a top speed of 155 mph, the Volta certainly has the performance to back up its supercar persona, although these numbers alone aren’t enough to stand out among today’s fastest machines. However, with a claimed 430 mile range and fuel economy around 31 mpg, the Volta would literally leave the rest of the fuel-guzzling pack behind. When was the last time you saw a supercar with those numbers?
The Alessandro Volta was developed collaboratively by the famous Italian design house Italdesign-Giugiaro and Toyota Motor Company, a fusion of car cultures as disparate as the concept’s nobly duplicitous pretensions. The hybrid drivetrain allowed Italdesign to take some packaging liberties with the lightweight carbon-fiber chassis, positioning the engine behind the rear axle without need of a driveshaft to connect the front wheels, thus allowing room in the cockpit for three passengers.
Dimensionally, Toyota’s Prius is three inches longer, over a foot taller, and 300 pounds heavier than the Volta. Of course, a 76-inch width, meaty tires, and wonderfully dramatic styling see that ‘economy’ is purged from the mind of any uninformed onlooker...as planned.
Perhaps this blatant contradiction is the real attraction of the Alessandro Volta. A hybrid electric car shouldn’t look this exotic or go this fast, and certainly an all-wheel drive supercar shouldn’t get this kind of gas mileage – and yet there it sits in all its paradoxical glory. Whether it becomes reality or not, the Alessandro Volta has charted a course of bold possibilities, and we can’t wait to see what surfaces in its wake.