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The 2021 introduction of the e-tron Sportback now adds a second all-electric model to Audi’s stable of electrified vehicles, contributing to the automaker’s corporate goal of electrifying 30 percent of its U.S. model lineup by 2025. The e-tron Sportback is a crossover SUV like the standard e-tron, but with a coupe-like four-door body influenced by the shape of the A7 Sportback sedan. Despite the steep pitch of the e-tron Sportback’s rear roof, there is ample headroom at all five seating positions.

Mechanically, the 2021 e-tron Sportback benefits from several improvements Audi made to the e-tron powertrain. The e-tron’s quattro all-wheel-drive system is powered via asynchronous electric motors on the front and rear e-tron axles. In a new-for-2021 development, only the rear axle provides e-tron Sportback propulsion in most driving conditions to improve efficiency. The front motor is designed to engage instantly in spirited driving and cornering situations or before wheel slip occurs in inclement weather conditions.

Power for the motors is provided by a 95 kWh battery that Audi has configured to use at less than total capacity, thus optimizing battery longevity and repeatable performance. For 2021, e-tron drivers can access 91 percent, or 86.5 kWh, of the battery’s total capacity, up 3 kWh from the previous model. Also new for 2021 are battery charge ports on both sides of the vehicle to enhance charging convenience.

Output for the e-tron Sportback is rated at 355 horsepower and 414 lb-ft torque, though with Boost Mode engaged those numbers rise to 402 horsepower and 490 lb-ft. In Boost Mode, the e-tron Sportback accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. EPA rates the e-tron Sportback’s efficiency at 76 city and 78 highway MPGe, and 77 combined, with driving range of 218 miles. The e-tron Sportback’s regenerative braking system is designed to recoup energy from both motors during coasting and braking. Steering wheel paddles control the amount of coasting recuperation in three stages.

The e-tron Sportback is equipped with 20-inch wheels and adaptive air suspension as standard equipment. Standard driver assistance systems include Audi pre sense basic, side assist with rear cross-traffic assist, and active lane-departure warning. Among the features on the e-tron Sportback’s MMI touch screen system is a map estimating where the SUV can travel given its current state of charge, plus suggested charging station locations along the route. Amazon Alexa is integrated into the e-tron Sportback’s MMI system, and a subscription service provides access to news, music, audiobooks, and control of Alexa-enabled devices from the SUV’s steering wheel.

With a cost of entry at $69,100, the e-tron Sportback’s pricing is solidly in the midst of its competitors in the luxury electric vehicle field, like the Jaguar I-Pace and Polestar 2.

Now in its second generation, BMW’s 330e plug-in hybrid sport sedan comes to market with measurable improvements in electric-only driving range, fuel efficiency, and a neat trick or two. Long the benchmark of premium compact sport sedans, BMW’s 3 series first presented an ‘e’ variant in 2016, a bit early to capture the growing electrification movement in North America. Fast forward to today, and you’ll note  every major and minor car and light truck manufacturer is turning to electrification. And this brings us to a more powerful and fuel efficient 2021 BMW 330e PHEV, a logical step toward total BMW fleet electrification.

Looking to the exterior of BMW’s latest and greatest 3 series variant, one is hard pressed to discern it from its 330i I.C. stable mate. Case in point: A modern plug-in needn’t look Bladerunner-esque to be ‘green,’ nor lack sport performance characteristics and panache. The beauty and marketing genius of the 2021 BMW 330e is the car’s appeal to the sport driver in all of us, without jeopardizing our collective environmental inclinations. Simply, it looks like a BMW.

Torque 4-cylinder goes electric

Seamless electric motor integration juices up an already torque-rich twin-scroll turbocharged, direct injected, variable-timed 2.0-liter DOHC gasoline engine. This results in a combined 288 horsepower and 310 lb-ft torque, an increase of 24 horsepower and 12 lb-ft torque over the first generation offering. New for 2021 is BMW’s Xtra boost function that delivers an additional 40 horsepower for up to 10 seconds, with or without remaining battery reserve. 

Torque transfer is delegated to the time-tested ZF 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission, featuring integrated steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, sport and manual shift modes, and ‘launch control.’ BMW xDrive all-wheel-drive is an available option for greater traction and all-weather driving.  Performance tuned suspension, selectable variable dynamic drive modes, auto start-stop, regenerative braking,  and personalized electric assist steering rounds out the performance package for an exceptional driver-centric commute. There are real performance benefits that come with electrification  A non-hybrid base model 330i claims a lesser 255 horsepower and 294 lb-ft torque in the low- to mid rpm range, with no benefits of electrification, fuel efficiency, or electric-only drive capabilities.

The base 2021 330e PHEV retains its rear axle drive, sports performance heritage. Sport drivers will appreciate this compact BMW’s power-to-weight ratio and new-found lower center of gravity, thanks to the under-passenger seat positioning of the 330e’s increased charge capacity, air cooled 12 KWh lithium-ion battery pack. Drivers will enjoy an estimated 20 mile electric-only driving range, combined with an estimated combined fuel efficiency of 71 MPGe that represents a range increase of 8 miles over the earlier 330e. Combined driving range is estimated at 290 to 320 miles on a full charge and 10.6 gallons of premium gasoline.  

The 330e cabin environment is pure BMW and shared with the conventional 330i, conservative yet elegant in detail. Appointments include Sensi-Tech fabrics, burnished wood details, and an anthracite grey contrasting headliner. Standard equipment includes the latest in driver assist and active safety technology, a rather intuitive electric drive monitor, range minder, and navigation-controlled chassis efficiency monitoring. Also standard is premium audio, 14-way power adjusted front seats, automatic three-zone climate control, a two-way power glass moonroof, rain sensing windshield wipers, and more.

The BMW 330e is available at an MSRP of $44,550 with the all-wheel drive xDrive version coming in at $46,550. An interesting side note is that when factoring in anticipated Federal and State tax rebate incentives, the 2021 BMW 330e comes to market at less cost than the conventionally-powered 330i, while affording single drivers to HOV lane access and greater fuel efficiency.

Hyundai has unveiled a major refresh of its best-selling Elantra compact sedan this year, bucking the industry’s trend of dropping cars in favor of crossovers and SUVs. It’s not that sport-utilities aren’t important to this automaker. In fact, Hyundai has half-a-dozen crossover SUVs in it stable. It’s just that with 3.4 million Elantras sold in the U.S. since the model’s introduction and its continuing popularity, there’s every reason for Hyundai to go all in with this compact sedan.

An extended hood and low roofline present a lower, wider, and more aggressive stance compared to the previous 6th generation Elantra. Design cues include a hard chiseled wind deflecting hood, a wide cascading grill, integrated turn signals, projector beam LED auto dim headlighting, and full width tail lights. Looking to Elantra’s grillwork, one is reminded of Hyundai Genesis design, quite intentionally. Gloss black and chrome body accents add nice touches. Elantra offers 15, 16 and 17 inch alloy wheel options to accentuate its appealing look.

Inside, Elantra buyers discover a driver-centric design delivering a much improved cockpit experience, with everything in easy reach and eyeshot. Among its features are an available side-by-side 10.2 inch digital instrument cluster, IMID display, and a 10.2 inch center dash navigation monitor. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability is standard. Smart steering wheel controls are intuitive. For audiophiles, Elantra is optioned with a Bose premium audio upgrade.

Hyundai’s comprehensive SmartSense active safety and driver assist technologies are standard equipment across the trim walk. An enhanced natural-language voice recognition system – a Hyundai first – features Speech-to-Meaning and Deep Meaning Understanding technologies. Buyers will discover yet another first for the segment, Hyundai Digital Key. With this feature the Elantra can be unlocked and started from a compatible smartphone or key-card, no key required. The electronic key application is shareable to other smartphone users.

The gasoline model is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft torque. Elantra Hybrid’s motivation comes straight from its Ionic cousin. It pairs a direct-injected 1.6-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine with a 43 horsepower motor and lithium ion battery, delivering a combined 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft torque. Power is transferred to the front wheels via Hyundai’s 6-speed Shiftronic transmission with select drive modes. It features electric assist power steering, 4-wheel disk brakes, Macpherson struts up front, and multi-link rear suspension

Hyundai Elantra and Elantra Hybrid prices will be announced closer to when the models go on sale later in 2020. EPA fuel efficiency ratings have yet to be disclosed.

The 2021 all-electric Polestar 2 arrives in North America this year as the brand’s first pure electric vehicle, aiming to take on Tesla in a market that’s seeing increased interest in EVs. Produced in China through a collaboration of Volvo and Geely Motors, this 5-door midsize electric hatchback proudly forwards the Polestar nameplate that was formerly dedicated to Volvo’s performance arm. Now, Polestar represents the maker’s global electric car initiative as a stand-alone car brand.

At first glance, there’s no mistaking the Volvo pedigree of Polestar 2 as it embraces the design language of Volvo’s XC40. Manufactured on Volvo’s CMA (compact modular architecture) platform, it presents premium fit and finish seamlessly blended with the utmost in functionality. This eye-catching model gets high marks for attention to detail, clean lines, and an unapologetically conventional front facade and grille design that fits its persona, without giving way to the whims of those who seem convinced an electric must look decidedly different.

No performance is lost here in the transition to zero-emissions electric power. Polestar 2 is motivated by dual electric motors, one at each axle, producing a combined 408 horsepower and 487 ft-lb torque in the Performance Pack all-wheel drive variant. This delivers a claimed 0 to 60 sprint in just 4.5 seconds.

A 292 mile range is estimated on the electric’s 78 kWh LG Chem lithium-ion battery pack, which is said to be 10 percent more powerful than Audi and Jaguar offerings. Polestar integrates the battery module as a crash-protected unibody stress member, improving overall road handling characteristics through strategic weight distribution. There are multiple charging options with integrated dual inverters and AC/DC at-home and network charge capability. Charging to 80 percent capacity can be had in 45 minutes at a fast-charge station.

Polestar 2’s regenerative braking enables one-pedal driving, a feature pioneered by the BMW i3 some years back and now adopted in an increasing number of electric models. In effect, strong regenerative braking slows a vehicle down sufficiently to often allow coming to a gradual stop without using the brakes, a fun feature that enhances the joy of driving. Although not fully autonomous, Polestar 2 comes standard with the automaker’s Polestar Connect, Pilot Assist, and adaptive cruise control for Level 2 partial automation.

Inside, driver and passengers enjoy a more conventional cockpit and cabin environment than that presented by some competitors. Polestar 2 is minimalistic but also business class posh in its interior design, placing emphasis on low environmental impact manufacturing practices and materials like repurposed Birch and Black Ash wood accents, plus soft touch ‘vegan’ synthetic seat fabrics.

Heated and cooled seats, inductive cellphone charging, ample points for device connectivity, and a standard panoramic digitized sunroof are provided. Information is intelligently presented in the instrument cluster and a large center stack navigation/infotainment touchpad. A familiar center console select shift is used. Easy access to an ample cargo deck is afforded by a power lift rear hatch, with additional room provided by a fold-down second row seat.

The price of entry for Polestar 2 is $59,900 before federal or state incentives, with the model offered in three trim groups, five color combinations, and four add-on price upticks. It’s currently available for order in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Buyers will discover a no-salesman showcase approach with a take-your-time-and-look buying and lease environment. As the market reacts, Volvo intends to make Polestar 2 available in all 50 states.

Following the recent addition of a fuel efficient V-6 diesel option, Ford’s perennial top-selling F-150 will also now be available with a powerful and efficient hybrid powertrain for 2021 model. The hybrid delivers performance from an all-new 3.5 liter V-6 PowerBoost engine that Ford claims makes it the most powerful in the full-size, half-ton pickup class. The gas-electric combination transfers power through a ten-speed Select-Shift automatic transmission. Hybrid power makes great sense in a pickup model where the instantaneous torque from an electric motor can be put to good use.

The hybrid F-150 stores electricity in a 1.5 kilowatt lithium-ion battery that powers a 47 hp electric motor, with the battery packaged under the truck between the F-150’s fully boxed frame rails. An optional Pro Power Onboard output system allows the hybrid F-150 to function as a mobile generator at worksites or campsites, with the generator cranking out enough juice to power the equivalent of 28 average household refrigerators. Plug-in connections include in-cabin outlets, four cargo bed-mounted 120 volt/20-amp outlets, and a 240 volt/30-amp outlet.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the hybrid variant are yet to be released, though we do know the PowerBoost hybrid F-150 is expected to travel over 700 miles on a single tank of gas. Fortunately, the hybrid model won’t compromise any of the F-150’s  best-in-class hauling or towing capabilities. Tow rating should exceed 12,000 pounds. An array of other engine options are offered in the F-150 line including a 3.3-liter V-6 FFV, 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, 5.0-liter V-8, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, and 3.0-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V-6. EPA estimated mpg ratings for the 2021 F-150 have yet to be released.

Across the model lineup, there are 11 new grille options. The F-150 is available in Regular Cab, SuperCab, SuperCrew configurations with 5.5, 6.5, and 8.0 foot cargo beds. The 2021 model continues to offer excellent towing and cargo-carrying capabilities, though 2021 model specs have yet to be released.

This is one new pickup that doesn’t skimp on technology. The F-150 offer’s Co-Pilot360 2.0 drive assist and collision avoidance tech, plus Ford’s SYNC4 with over-the-air updates of road and traffic conditions in your path. A new 12-inch center display is standard on XLT models and above.

Ford took vehicle lightweighting to a new extreme a number of years ago when it shed the F-150’s stamped steel body in favor of an all-aluminum alloy skin. Full-size pickups in general and the F150 in particular are true bread-and-butter products for Ford.

The innovative PowerBoost hybrid model should keep the F-150 top-of-mind for many amid the field’s pack of half-ton, full-size pickup contenders.

After a five year hiatus, Toyota is bringing a totally reinvented 2021 Venza midsize crossover to the North American market. Built on the automaker’s TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, the 5 passenger Venza arrives exclusively as an all-wheel drive hybrid. It features a wider, lower, and shorter body than the similarly-sized RAV4, delivering a refined and sport-injected crossover for those wanting a bit more citified demeanor. 

Available in LE, XLE and Limited trim variants, Venza features Toyota’s latest tech and comfort innovations presented in a near-premium, roomy, and comfortable cabin. Toyota does a commendable job in mixing eye-pleasing, earth tone hard- and soft-contact surfaces with hints of burnished trims and gloss details, all within a driver-centric cockpit design. From a smart steering wheel and informative instrument cluster to a tasteful navigation/Infotainment monitor, function dictates form with features that are easily accessed and intuitive. 

Available options include a 12.3-inch touchscreen display with nine JBL speakers, a 7-inch multi-information display, digital rearview mirror, a 10-inch color head-up display, and a first-for-Toyota Star Gaze fixed panoramic glass roof with electronic pushbutton auto-obscure. 

All trim levels feature pressure point supportive, 8-way power adjustable driver and 4-way adjustable passenger seats that feature ample head, hip, and shoulder room in all seating positions. Passengers enjoy tilting seats in row two. Venza presents a softer, plusher ride dynamic with an emphasis on interior quietness and comfort for a sedan-like ride and crossover utility. In fact, Venza may be the logical hybrid uptick for Toyota loyalists wishing to break away from the rugged and outdoorsy RAV4 Hybrid, without venturing outside of the midsize 2-row crossover SUV segment.

Motivation comes from Toyota’s Hybrid System 2 powertrain and advanced electronic on-demand all wheel-drive as standard fare. This sophisticated hybrid system brings to bear a  2.5 liter, variable valve-controlled DOHC four-cylinder gas engine and three electric motors. Toyota increases the model’s fuel efficiency with automated intake and exhaust valve tweaks, electronic variable cooling, high-efficiency cabin climate control, and more. Toyota estimates a class-topping 40 city/37 highway fuel efficiency, with a slightly higher bump from the base LE with a combined 40 mpg.

Seamless torque transfer is on tap through a three-drive-mode, sequential shift-capable CVT (constantly variable automatic transmission) for adequate off-the-line acceleration and fuel efficiency. EV mode can be selected for short electric-only bursts. 

Along with its notable fuel efficiency and exceptional all-weather driving safety, the Venza comes with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, the automaker’s latest driver assist and accident avoidance technologies. These include a Pre-Collision System with Daytime/Low-Light Vehicle and Pedestrian Detection, plus Daytime Bicycle Detection. Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beams, Lane Tracing Assist, and Road Sign Assist are also part of the package.

With an appealing design language that hints of Lexus, Toyota’s all-new midsize crossover entry is a departure from the “sameness” that too often pervades the crossover/SUV scene. There’s plenty of appeal here for those desiring a fuel efficient hybrid with welcome utility, functionality, and style.

There’s a race of sorts for premium and exotic brands to introduce electrified vehicles, either variants of existing models or all-new ones designed with electrification in mind. We’re seeing this from legacy brands like Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Porsche, of course, but also from new and emerging automakers as well.

Enter The 21C (‘21st Century’) hypercar from Southern California-based Czinger Vehicles and its parent company, Divergent Technologies. By any measure this is no ordinary electrified supercar.

Yes, it offers massive power with an in-house developed 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V-8 and a pair of high-output electric motors energized with lithium-titanate batteries, producing a total 1250 horsepower. It impresses with its frenetic 11,000 rpm redline, 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 1.9 seconds, and quarter-mile time of 8.1 seconds. Not impressive enough? Then let’s ponder a 0 to 185 mph sprint that’s said to consume a mere 15 seconds.

Power from the two front traction motors and combined, crank-driven starter-generator is transferred to all four wheels through a seven-speed sequential transaxle gearbox. Two versions of the gearbox are available, one a synchromesh street version for everyday shifting and the other a track variant with full race dog gears to achieve the fastest possible shift times.

Inside, the 21C features “jet-fighter” seating that’s said to address optimum vehicle weight distribution. This configuration finds the driver positioned in the middle of the 21C and the passenger behind, with this in-line seating allowing for a narrow cabin that aids the vehicle’s slippery aerodynamics. A range of cutting-edge and next-generation Alcantara  materials are found throughout the cabin.

This is as beautiful a design as you could want in a supercar. But what really sets this apart from the crowd is that, for the most part, its carbon fiber and alloy construction is the result of Divergent’s advanced 3D printing and manufacturing technology. Yeah, you read that right. And it’s all created in-house at the company’s facility in Los Angeles. Czinger says only 80 copies of the 21C will be produced at a cool $1.7 million.

The immensely popular pickup field is being electrified. Coming electric pickups from legacy automakers like Ford and GM are hugely important since pickups are among their most profitable models. And Tesla? Well, in its typical disruptive fashion, Tesla is introducing a wildly different take on pickups with the company’s signature performance and range characteristics built in. Even luxury electric vehicle maker Karma plans to join the party with an extended range electric pickup.

Names like Atlis, Bollinger, Lordstown, Nicola, and Rivian are new to the scene. These startups are in varying stages of development, some with a solid foundation of billions in investment, manufacturing facilities, and actual product in the works, and others a bit more aspirational. Will they succeed? Time will tell. Plus, we’ll have to see how some wishful launch schedules align with reality.

ATLIS MOTOR VEHICLES plans to offer its heavy-duty electric XT as a regular bed pickup, plus in flat-bed, service body, and dually configurations. Atlis says the truck will carry a 1,000 to 5,000 pound payload, tow 6,000 to 17,000 pounds with a conventional hitch, or 20,000 to 35,000 pounds with a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. The company claims a driving range of 300 to 500 miles. These capabilities depend on the battery capacity selected, which starts at 125 kWh. Rather than the lithium-ion batteries powering most EVs today, Atlis is using nickel-manganese-cobalt batteries. It says these batteries are fast-charge capable and can be charged in as little as 15 minutes.

ANALYSIS: The performance claimed by Atlis is quite ambitious, especially since it’s using a less mature battery chemistry and plans to offer a pickup starting at $45,000. This start-up has a concept model developed and is actively seeking investment.

BOLLINGER is looking at a late 2020 launch for its B2 electric pickup and B1 electric SUV. The B2 pickup will have a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) over 10,000 pounds, making it a Class 3 truck with a 5,000 pound payload capacity. It’s expected to offer a 7,500 tow capability and drive an estimated 200 miles with power from a 120 kWh battery pack. Portal axles mean excellent ground clearance for off-road duty. The Bollinger B2’s Class 3 rating and stark styling – flat glass, external door hinges, and aluminum body panels devoid of compound curves that can be formed by simple equipment – makes it clear the company is not aiming at buyers who want to make a fashion statement. Plus, prototypes shown to date have an austere interior without an infotainment system, surprising for a vehicle projected to have a $125,000 price tag. The cargo area’s unique pass-through into the cab makes the truck capable of handling a telephone pole.

ANALYSIS: With its substantial price, rudimentary styling, and austere interior, Bollinger’s B2 pickup appears aimed at commercial applications rather than mainstream pickup buyers. It looks like Bollinger recognizes this niche market role since the company is planning to make only 1500 vehicles in its first year.

FORD plans to offer as many as 16 pure electric vehicles by 2022 including an electric Ford F-Series pickup, which could appear later in 2021. Ford hasn’t released much information about the electric F-150, but it is expected that range, payload, and towing capability will be competitive with other electric pickups, and perhaps a bit better. That means a range of 250 to over 400 miles, at least a ton of payload, and the ability to tow 7,500 to 14,000 pounds. These numbers are based on battery kWh capacity and selected motors. Like options for conventional F-150s these will be items to be checked off by buyers.

ANALYSIS: Pickup buyers are a very loyal bunch, and if the electric F-150 doesn’t stray too far from the best-selling F-150 it should readily succeed with Ford pickup fans who want to go ‘green.’

GM will naturally have an electric pickup if its traditional competitor Ford has one, and in all likelihood, it will offer several. GMC will get a version that will be marketed as a Hummer, and a Chevrolet Silverado variant will surely emerge since this brand has such a huge pickup following. Both would be built on a similar platform with capabilities comparable to that of Tesla, Rivian, and Ford electric pickups. Again, buyers will be able to select battery/motor options. GM expects a 2021 launch for its electric GMC Hummer pickup. Rumor has it that a Chevrolet Silverado variant will be a more traditional pickup built on a smaller version of the platform, with the GMC Hummer pickup aimed at the off-road, adventure vehicle buyer.

ANALYSIS: Chevrolet and GMC, like Ford, have the advantage of decades of owner loyalty. An electric Chevy Silverado pickup will certainly find a strong following, while the Hummer will likely be a niche vehicle.

KARMA AUTOMOTIVE says it is developing an electric pickup that extends its battery range with electricity from an internal combustion engine-generator, similar to its existing electrified products. The electric pickup will be based on a newly developed all-wheel drive platform and cost less than the company’s $135,000 Revero GT, an extended range electric luxury sedan. A concept pickup is promised later in 2020. The new electric pickup will be built at the company’s existing manufacturing facility in Southern California.

ANALYSIS: A start-up that launched in 2015, Karma has shown it is committed to the electric vehicle market with several high-end models under its belt and others in the works. It has worked with Italy’s renowned car design and coachbuilder Pininfarina on a concept electric grand touring car with production potential, so we have yet to see if its coming electric pickup will be an entirely in-house project or involve others.

LORDSTOWN MOTORS says it plans a 2021 introduction for its Endurance electric pickup with a four-wheel-drive hub motor system. Limited information is available except that it will climb a 30 percent grade fully loaded, carry a 2200 pound payload, and tow 6000 pounds. Range is estimated at a minimum 250 miles. The company is now taking deposits for its 2021 Endurance pickup at a base price of $52,500. Its primary emphasis is on fleets, though private parties can also make a reservation.

ANALYSIS: Lordstown Motors has received a $40 million loan from General Motors and took over GM’s huge Lordstown Assembly Plant. GM is building a large battery factory nearby in partnership with LG Chem. Part of this effort might include taking up an option to lease space in the Lordstown Assembly Plant. In addition to its own manufacturing, Lordstown Motors hopes to provide overflow manufacturing capacity for Workhorse Group’s last-mile electric delivery vans.

NIKOLA MOTOR COMPANY has shown its Nikola Badger pickup that would presumably come in two models, one battery-electric and the other running on a combination of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell power. Battery electric propulsion is said to feature a 160 kWh battery and a 300 mile range. Adding fuel cell power to the battery electric powertrain would incorporate a 120 kW fuel cell and a total 600 mile range, when hydrogen is available. The Badger is engineered to deliver 906 peak and 455 continuous horsepower, with a massive 980 lb-ft torque. An 8,000 pound tow capability is claimed. In addition, the pickup will feature a 15 kW power outlet for tools, lights, and compressors. Nikola says it will partner with an established OEM to build the Badger and initially announced a late 2020 launch plan, while identifying a $60,000 to $90,000 price range.

ANALYSIS: Nikola is leveraging the technology and expertise developed for its Nikola One and Nikola Two electric and fuel cell semi tractor-trailer trucks. Given the capabilities of the Badger pickup and the likely high price tag of a combined battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, we would expect its target market to be primarily commercial operations. Nikola plans to build hydrogen filling stations along well-traveled truck routes to facilitate fuel cell use, a move that further underscores a focus on the commercial market.

RIVIAN plans to launch its R1T pickup in 2021. It will be available with 105, 135, and 180 kWh battery packs and corresponding ranges estimated at 230, 300, and 400 miles, starting at an estimated price of $69,000. All versions will have an 11,000 pound tow rating. The pickup features a ‘gear tunnel’ stowage space behind the rear seats and the ability to make a 360-degree turn in its own length, like a tank. In addition to the truck, Rivian will offer an R1S SUV using the same skateboard platform as the R1T truck.

ANALYSIS: While Rivian is a startup, it has billions in backing from the likes of Ford, Amazon, and T. Rowe Price. Amazon has placed an order with Rivian for 100,000 electric delivery vans, which will be built at Rivian’s manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois, a former Mitsubishi assembly plant acquired by Rivian in 2017.

TESLA’S Cybertruck is by far the most high-profile pickup introduction and the one most talked about today. Coming from the well-established electric car leader, the Cybertruck is a combination of edgy and disruptive styling one might expect on the set of a dystopic sci-fi thriller infused with some pretty impressive innovations. Among these are a motorized metal tonneau cover that completely retracts below the truck’s rear window and a built-in ramp for loading gear and recreational toys. Tesla claims its stainless steel Cybertruck will deliver a range of 250 to 500 miles, offer a 3500 pound payload, and will be capable of towing between 7500 to 14,000 pounds. The range of capabilities varies on battery capacity – 75 to 200 kWh – and motor configurations, including Tri Motor AWD, Dual Motor AWD, or Single Motor RWD. Prices are said to range from $39,990 to $69,900, though Tesla’s track record of rolling out high-spec editions first means the lower-end model won’t be seeing daylight any time soon.

ANALYSIS: Tesla, which arguably can be credited with making electric vehicles a serious option to combustion engine models, could be the first startup to achieve long term success. The company sold 367,500 cars in 2019 and has four current models in its stable with plans for more, which means it has transcended the traditional definition of a niche automaker. Like previous Tesla products, expect the Cybertruck to exhibit many changes before deliveries presumably start in late 2021.

A shift to electric pickups is tantalizing to many, but it’s no easy thing. It’s true that electric pickups require less maintenance than their gasoline or diesel counterparts. Still, there are times when EV-specific service will be required beyond the usual tire, brake, and fluid maintenance that can be performed by mainstream service providers. Electric pickup manufacturers must provide for this service. That’s not a significant issue for legacy automakers like Ford and GM that have a widespread dealer sales and service network, even in sparsely populated states. Service personnel at dealerships can be trained in EV-specific work. Fledgling and start-up electric pickup companies will certainly be at a disadvantage here.

Are there other electric pickups in the works beyond the brands mentioned here? That’s certainly likely considering the interest already developing and the intensively competitive nature of the auto industry, though details on additional players are unknown. With the advent of electric pickups on the near horizon, that may change sooner than you would expect.

It’s well understood that driving electric is more efficient with a lower cost-per-mile than driving internal combustion vehicles. That’s especially true if you charge an EV up at home. But what if you need to use public chargers on the road or live in an apartment where a commercial pay-per-use charger is your only option?

The cost can vary significantly since commercial chargers use different methods of payment. For example, many providers charge for the time it takes to charge a battery rather than the kWh of electricity delivered. This would be like gasoline stations charging for the length of time a nozzle dispenses gas in the fuel tank, not by the number of gallons of gas pumped. A few providers charge a per-session fee or require a monthly or annual charging subscription. While many public chargers at businesses and parking lots remain free of cost to EV drivers, that is changing over time.

When you pay by the minute, charging cost is influenced by an EV battery’s state of charge, ambient temperature, and the size of the EV’s on board charger. Different size chargers can mean a big difference in the cost of a charge even though the same number of kW hours are delivered. For example, earlier Nissan LEAFs had a 3.6 kW (3.3 kW actual output) on board charger while later ones had an updated 6.6 kW (6.0 kW output) version. Thus, it takes almost twice as long to charge an earlier LEAF at double the expense than later ones, even though both have the same 30 kWh battery. Many EVs now come standard with a 6.6 or 7.2 kW charger. When considering buying or leasing an electric model, keep in mind that a more powerful on-board charger means quicker and potentially more cost-efficient charging.

It’s an interesting bit of science that while charging an electric vehicle, the rate of charge isn’t linear but rather decreases as a battery approaches full capacity. If an EV has a lower state of charge (SOC) at the beginning of a charging session, charging occurs at its maximum rate, such as 3.3 kW, 6.6 kW, 7.2 kW, and so on. As the battery approaches 100 percent SOC, charging can slow to a trickle. The last 20 percent of charge can sometimes take as long as the initial 80 percent. To be most cost efficient, it’s recommended to only charge to 80 percent full capacity when using a public charger, especially one that includes time-based pricing.

For a charging cost comparison, let’s look at charging an EV with a 40 kWh/100 mile rating and a 50 kW on board charger. At a Level 3 charging station it would take about 48 minutes to get an additional 100 miles of range and cost between $6.24 to $16.80, depending where you did the charging. With a 350 kW fast charger this would take about 7 minutes and cost between $1.82-$6.93 to add 100 miles. This compares to $10.00-$13.33 for a gasoline vehicle that gets 30 mpg and fuels up at $3.00 to $4.00 per gallon. This shows the need for fast charging when away from home and charging with time of use chargers, and more importantly, the need for pricing solely on a per kWh basis.

While kWh charging is fairer to the consumer, some companies prefer time-based charging because the longer customers are connected, the more profit is made. However, public charging could be moving from time-to-charge to the kWh charge model. This will put the energy cost of EV operation in line with that of gasoline vehicles where fueling cost is determined by the cost of a gallon of gasoline, not the time it takes to refuel. Clearly, this change is needed.

New rules in California will eventually ban public charging operators from billing by the minute and require the fairer billing by kWh. The ban will apply to new Level 2 chargers beginning in 2021, and to new DC fast chargers beginning in 2023. Chargers installed before 2021 can continue time-based billing until 2031 for Level 2 chargers or 2033 for DC fast chargers.

The new rules do not prohibit operators from charging overtime, connection, or parking fees, or fees for staying connected after reaching 100 percent SOC, providing they are disclosed. Electrify America already charges 40 cents per minute if your vehicle is not moved within the 10 minute grace period after your charging session is complete. It remains to be seen whether more states will follow California’s lead. Laws will have to be changed in about 20 states where only regulated utilities can presently sell electricity by the kWh.

Charging providers like Tesla and Brink presently charge by the kWh in states where it’s allowed. For example, Tesla charges $0.28 per kWh while Blink charges $0.39 to 0.79 per kWh, depending on location and user status. California regulations require Tesla and others to show the price per kWh and a running total of the energy delivered, just like a gas pump.

Other charging considerations can affect the actual long-term cost of operating an EV. These include lower charge pricing and discounts that come with subscriptions, free charging incentives that accompany a vehicle purchase (like the first 1000 kWh provided free or 100 kWh of free charging per month), or if a charger is shared with another user. For Teslas, free unlimited Supercharger access has often come with the purchase or lease of a new Tesla model.

While EV technology is now relatively mature, pricing electric vehicle use is evolving. Hopefully, competition and a bit of government regulation should ultimately make it as understandable as it is now for gasoline vehicles.

Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, the world's best-selling plug-in-hybrid SUV, features innovative technology to provide welcome performance and family-friendly, fuel efficient all-wheel-drive capability. The combination of a gasoline engine and two electric motors, lithium-ion battery, and plug-in capability allows the Outlander PHEV to travel 310 miles on hybrid power and 22 all-electric miles on  a completely charged battery. The Outlander PHEV has an EPA rating of 25 city/highway combined mpg when operating on gasoline and 74 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent) when operating on battery power.

The Mitsubishi Plug-in Hybrid EV System features three modes to achieve its unique series-parallel operation. Plus, there’s the ability to select up to six levels of regenerative braking to tailor the driving experience.

An integral part of the vehicle’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain is a Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control (MIVEC) engine that combines maximum power output, low fuel consumption, and a high level of clean performance. This 2.0-liter, 16-valve DOHC engine produces 117 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 137 lb-ft torque at 4,500 rpm. It drives an electric generator that supplies electricity to the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery or directly to the electric motors. Each of its two AC synchronous permanent magnetic motors are rated at 80 horsepower (60 kW). A maximum combined 197 horsepower is available. The lack of  a driveshaft or transfer case means response and control much faster than a  traditional 4WD setup.

A 12 kilowatt-hour, high-energy density, lithium-ion battery is located beneath the floor where it contributes to a low center of gravity and stable driving performance. This battery can be charged in 10 hours with a household Level 1, 110-volt source or four hours with a Level 2, 240-volt charger. Using DC Fast Charging that’s available at commercial charging facilities, the Outlander PHEV will charge up to 80 percent capacity in as little as 25 minutes. The Outlander PHEV holds the distinction as being the first PHEV capable of DC Fast Charging capability.

The  Outlander PHEV’s parallel-series hybrid features three operating modes that are automatically selected for maximum efficiency, according to the driving conditions. These modes are EV Drive, Series Hybrid, and Parallel-Series.

In the EV Drive mode the Outlander is powered exclusively by the electric motors, with no battery charging except from regenerative braking. EV Drive is used for medium- to low-speeds during city driving. The two electric motors power the Outlander when operating in Series Hybrid mode, except when battery power is low or quick acceleration or hill climbing is needed. Then, the gasoline engine automatically starts to drive the generator and provide electric power for the electric motors to augment battery power. The engine-generator also charges the battery.

In Parallel Hybrid mode the gasoline engine supplies power to the front wheels with the two electric motors adding additional power as needed. The engine also charges the battery pack in Parallel Hybrid mode under certain driving conditions. At high speeds, the Parallel Hybrid mode is more efficient since internal combustion engines operate with greater efficiency than  electric motors at high rpms.

A driver can also choose Charge Mode so the generator charges the lithium-ion battery at any time. Save Mode conserves the battery charge for later use. EV Priority Mode, which can be used at any time, ensures the gasoline engine only runs when maximum power is required. Mitsubishi’s Twin Motor  S-AWC integrated control system delivers optimal power and control by managing Active Yaw Control (AYC), an Anti-lock braking system (ABS), and Active Stability Control (ASC) with Traction Control (TCL).

No matter the hybrid mode, whenever the Outlander PHEV decelerates regenerative braking charges the battery to augment electric driving range. There are six levels of regenerative braking –B1 to B5 plus a B0 coast  mode – that are conveniently selected by a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel. Regenerative braking strength can also be selected by console-mounted controls. Automatic Stop and Go (AS&G) automatically stops and restarts the engine when the vehicle stops, further conserving fuel.     

The Outlander PHEV benefits from Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control system (MIVEC) technology that controls valve timing and amount of lift to achieve optimum power output, low fuel consumption, and low exhaust emissions. MIVEC adjusts intake air volume by varying intake valve lift stroke and throttle valves, reducing pumping losses and thus improving fuel efficiency. The MIVEC engine improves fuel consumption through other strategies, including improvement of combustion stability through optimization of the combustion chamber and reduction of friction through optimization of the piston structure.

An important measurement of your vehicle’s efficiency is understanding the cost per mile of your daily driving. For a gasoline vehicle, one merely divides the cost of a gallon of gasoline by the miles-per-gallon the vehicle gets to determine cost per mile. As we move into the electric vehicle era, determining a vehicle’s operating cost becomes more complicated. That’s because an electric vehicle’s cost per mile can depend on many factors that influence what you pay for charging its batteries – the price of electricity, the length of time it takes to charge, time of day, how close to ‘full’ the battery is, and even an EV’s onboard charger capabilities. Cost can also vary considerably based on whether you charge at home or at public chargers.

We’ll guide you through the process of understanding electric vehicle charging and how this directly impacts driving costs. Just a note, though, that our calculations focus on battery electric vehicles (EVs) and plugin hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) when running solely on battery power. Because things get more complicated when the gasoline engine of a PHEV is operating, this is not covered here.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS Electric vehicle energy use is measured in terms of kilowatt hours per 100 miles (kWh/100 miles). This would be like gallons per 100 miles in a gasoline vehicle. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes this number on the window stickers of plug-in vehicles along with their estimated miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe), since we’re so used to a gas vehicle’s mpg rating as an efficiency reference. EPA determines MPGe by assuming a gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 33.7 kWh of electrical energy (MPGe = 3370/kWh/100).

So how do you determine what each mile of driving costs in your electric vehicle? Let’s do an example. The cost of electricity in a sample California city is about 15 cents per kWh ($0.15/kWh). If a current model Kia Soul Electric with an EPA rating of 31 kWh/100 miles was charged here, it would cost $4.65 to travel 100 miles. This translates to $0.15/ kWh x 31 kWh/100 miles = $4.65/100, or 4.65 cents per mile.

Gasoline prices in the U.S. vary considerably depending on markets and world events. In recent times, that range was between $3 to $4 per gallon, while the average price of electricity ranged from $0.095/kWh in Louisiana to $0.31/ kWh in Hawaii. Even within a state the rate depends on what a specific utility charges, which can differ substantially. Thus, the cost to drive an electric Kia Soul could range from 2.95 to 9.6 cents per mile. In comparison, the cost of driving a gasoline Soul could range from 10.0 to 13.3 cents per mile.

CHARGING AT HOME Unlike gasoline, the price of electricity can vary not only by location, but the time of day it is used. Utilities typically have two types of rate plans – level-of-use and time-of-use. With level-of-use, the price rises with the amount of electricity used. Here, the last kilowatt used in a month could cost more than the first one, which would most likely be the case for electric vehicle owners. With time-of-use, utilities divide a day into peak, off-peak, and sometimes a mid-peak period. Some utilities have as many as six time-of-use periods. In any case, electricity is most expensive during peak usage times, usually in the morning, late afternoon, and early evening. Others offer a lower rate for EV charging than the rest of a home’s electrical service, but the savings may not amortize out considering the fee charged for installing a separate meter. Additionally, many offer the option of a special EV rate plan that can make the cost of charging an electric vehicle more financially favorable.

You can charge an EV or PHEV using Level 1 household 110 volt current using a portable charger often provided with a plug-in model, with the charger powered via a standard wall outlet. Typically, electricity is supplied at a 1.4 kW rate. This is workable for topping off batteries after limited daytime driving where little battery power was used, but the time required for charging a fully depleted battery can be considerable. For example, to charge a Chevy Bolt’s 66 kWh battery to 80 percent state of charge (SOC) with Level 1 charging would take about 38 hours…far too long for most drivers. This time is reduced to about 7 hours with a Level 2 charger at 240 volts and a 7.2 kW charging rate. Level 2 charging is recommended for any vehicle with a battery capacity larger than 10 kWh.

While the latest generation EVs and some PHEVs have the capability to fast-charge to 80 percent SOC in a half-hour or less at a Level 3 and above charging rate, Level 3 charging is not available for homes since this requires 480 volt electrical service. In all cases it’s important to avoid discharging EV batteries to near-zero percent SOC to avoid diminishing battery longevity.

Charging at home at a more convenient Level 2 rate requires special Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE). These wall or portable chargers cost between $200 to $1000, with wall chargers also requiring installation that can run from $800 to $1300. Most automakers offering EVs and PHEVs have a recommended EVSE provider, but there are many companies selling EVSEs.

In penciling out the financial benefit of a plug-in vehicle, your number crunching should include the cost of the EVSE. For example, if an EVSE costs $1500 installed and you plan to drive an EV 75,000 miles over a five year period, the EVSE’s amortized cost will be 2 cents per mile. Since most people will likely drive their EV for many more years, amortized EVSE cost could be much lower.

While the overall cost of driving electric can vary widely depending on vehicle purchase or lease cost, electricity rates, EVSE and installation cost, and the length of time an EV is driven, as a general rule owning and operating an EV will be less than that of an equivalent gasoline vehicle.

While there are many reasons why the alternative fuel vehicle field has radically changed in recent years, there’s no greater contributing factor to this tectonic shift than Tesla breaking the EV barrier with electric cars people really wanted. Now, with most other automakers going all-in with advanced electric models of their own, these other green technologies get precious little media focus.

Today it’s all about plug-in electric vehicles and hybrids. But why? Did these other alternatives fail, or were they so successful they became mainstream technologies? In short, the answer is that their technology has matured to the point where discussion of these alternative fuels simply generates little attention.

Their widespread use has also been limited by the lack of a fueling infrastructure. For the most part, electrified vehicles do a better job of meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals than alternative fuels that add CO2 to the atmosphere. Plus, the availability of affordable gasoline and diesel fuel hasn’t helped the case for these fossil fuel alternatives.

There are currently 3,561 E85 ethanol stations in the U.S. As might be expected, the majority of these stations are in Midwest corn growing states since ethanol is largely made from corn in this country. E85, also called flex-fuel, can contain 51% to 83% ethanol and the balance gasoline, depending on location. E85 can only be used in flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) that are specially designed to run on gasoline, E85, or any mixture of these two fuels in the same tank. Currently, only about two dozen FFV models are available. Over the past 30 years, automakers fitted a great many models with FFV-capable engines to earn bonus federal fuel efficiency credits at little cost. This did little to actually encourage alternative fuel use, though, since it’s estimated that less than 10 percent of the 21 million FFVs on U.S. highways actually use E85.

Most of the gasoline sold in the U.S. contains up to 10 percent ethanol (E10) to mitigate vehicle emissions, with the amount varying by region and season. All automakers approve blends up to E10 in their gasoline vehicles. As of 2011, EPA began allowing the use of E15 (10.5 to 15 percent ethanol) in model year 2001 and newer gasoline vehicles. While the amount of ethanol used per gallon of fuel is minimal, overall ethanol use is significant and growing due to the huge number of gasoline fueled vehicles on the road.

Far fewer biodiesel stations are available across the country, about 192 at last count. Biodiesel can be used in its pure form (B100) or blended with petroleum diesel fuel. Common blends include B2 (2 percent biodiesel), B5 (5 percent biodiesel), and B20 (20 percent biodiesel). Since most automakers only approve use of blends up to B5 and some up to B20 in their diesel models, and light-duty diesel vehicles are sold in small numbers in the U.S., biodiesel accounts for a small fraction of the country’s fuel use.

One of the big criticisms of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel is that they require the same resources –water, land, and fertilizer – that are used to grow food. According to researchers at the University of Virginia, about a third of the world’s malnourished population could be fed by using resources now used for biofuel production.

That said, things could be looking up for biofuels. Today there are hundreds of research projects worldwide – and even some near-ready production facilities – aimed at capturing CO2 and converting it into conventional fuels, biofuels, and carbon-based chemicals. This would effectively release agricultural resources to produce needed food rather than fuel. Plus, whether CO2 is converted to conventional fuels or biofuels, the result is the same since this serves to decrease fossil fuel use and reduce CO2 in our atmosphere.

Compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are niche fuels used mainly by government and private fleets, many with their own fueling facilities. A limited number of new CNG and LPG light-duty vehicles are available, mostly pickups and vans. There are also companies that specialize in aftermarket conversion of light-duty models to run on CNG and LPG that are suitable for varying fleet uses, from taxis and government vehicles to service trucks and vans. Combined, there are presently some 21 CNG models and 22 LPG models from which to choose.

These fuels are popularly used in heavier vehicles like transit and school buses, trucks, and vocational vehicles. Since these alternative fuel vehicles are typically owned by fleets where operating cost is a driving force in their decision making, it’s possible we may see trending toward electric propulsion in coming years as the cost of electrification comes down and driving range increases. At present, the U.S. Alternative Fuels Data Center estimates there are 884 CNG, 62 LNG, and 2844 LPG stations available for refueling these alternative fuel vehicles.

Even amid the frenetic activity and product introductions surrounding electrified vehicles, we know this: Alternative fuels beyond electrons remain in play and will continue offsetting petroleum use in their own way. Some may be suitable for commercial applications but not personal transportation. Others may find success only in niche markets. Still others – depending on further development and commercialization – may fuel vehicles while also achieving important societal objectives like removing carbon from our atmosphere. Plus, of course, there could be new ‘green’ or designer transportation fuels that emerge in the coming years. All this means it could be a fascinating ‘alternative’ road ahead.

Even amid the huge effort now underway to gain market share with new and coming battery electric vehicles, automakers show a continuing interest in keeping the potential of hydrogen vehicles alive. Indeed, the most high-profile players in this space are taking the next steps toward normalizing the way we look at zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, models that drive on electricity generated by an electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen.

One of the advantages of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has been its ability to refuel in five minutes and then deliver 300 or more miles of driving range. That’s about the same amount of time it takes to fill a gas tank, an important baseline. Electric vehicle batteries, on the other hand, typically take many hours to charge. Today’s electric vehicle fast-charging, and the potential for newly-developed extreme fast charging (XFC) technology, could diminish the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s rapid refueling advantage.

Still, high-profile players in the auto industry like Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota apparently feel strongly that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) may play an important part in our driving future. Honda currently leases the Clarity Fuel Cell sedan to California residents living or working in areas where hydrogen fueling stations are available. Hyundai also offers its NEXO hydrogen fuel cell crossover model and Toyota its Mirai fuel cell sedan. Since there are only 47 hydrogen stations in the U.S. with 42 of these in California, it’s really no surprise that all three automakers focus their fuel cell vehicle sales exclusively to limited areas with hydrogen fueling.

Underscoring hydrogen’s continuing momentum, Toyota will shortly release its second generation Mirai sedan. Introduced five years ago as the first fuel cell model offered for sale to retail customers, Toyota’s current Mirai is as notable for its styling as it is for its advanced zero-emission propulsion. Its swoopy, angular, and stylistically forward design does speak ‘future” – which, by the way, is what ‘Mirai’ actually means in Japanese – but that design has been a bit too much for most folks’ taste. The coming, all-new 2021 Mirai changes all that.

As shown by the new model’s concept, the second-generation Mirai is nicely sculpted with smooth-flowing lines, presenting as a stylish mainstream sedan with coupe-like design influences. Evolving from the front-drive first-generation Mirai, it uses a new rear-drive platform with a more rigid body structure that’s longer, lower, and wider than its predecessor, riding on a 114.9-inch wheelbase and featuring a length of 195.8-inches with a 74.2-inch width.

This new design is accompanied by a reimagined interior that’s more spacious and now allows for five passenger seating rather than four. Its multimedia system includes navigation and dynamic audio provided by a JBL sound system with 14 speakers. The Mirai’s handsomely sculpted dash features a 12.3-inch, high resolution TFT touchscreen. Drivetrain advancements are also part of the package. While full details have not yet been disclosed, the 2021 Mirai is expected to feature a more advanced fuel cell system featuring increased performance and up to 30 percent greater driving range. Like the model before it, the new Mirai is capable of filling up its hydrogen tank in just five minutes.

Beyond light-duty vehicles, where hydrogen could become a major transportation fuel is in over-the-road trucks that travel fixed routes, where hydrogen refueling stations are available. While adding larger and heavier batteries to increase the range of personal-use electric vehicles is not a big problem, every pound of battery capacity added to increase the range of commercial trucks means a pound less of payload, impacting the bottom line. Thus, fuel cells could prove to have a large advantage over electric trucks and be appealing in the commercial world.

While adding larger and heavier batteries to increase the range of personal-use electric vehicles is not a big problem, every pound of battery capacity added to increase the range of commercial trucks means a pound less of payload, impacting the bottom line. Thus, fuel cells could prove to have a large advantage over electric trucks and be appealing in the commercial world.

Supporting this notion is Anheuser-Busch, which has ordered up to 800 Nikola Two hydrogen fuel cell semi-tractor trucks for its operations. Two prototypes are already delivering Budweiser beer. On another front, Hyundai and big-rig producer Cummins may jointly develop and commercialize fuel cell powertrains by combining Hyundai’s fuel cell systems with Cummins’ electric powertrain, battery, and control technologies. Toyota and Kenworth are building 10 fuel cell semi tractors for use in and around the Port of Los Angeles and Port Heuneme, California, where decreasing port-related emissions is a significant challenge.

Where is this all leading? Toward the future, of course…one that continues to evolve with an as-yet unknown mix of conventional, electrified, and alternative fuel vehicles being developed by legacy and newly-launched auto and truck manufacturers. Each has its own vision of what our driving future will look like. Time will tell what role hydrogen will play in this unfolding transportation world.

These days, Henrik Fisker bringing to bear insights and lessons learned from his first effort at Fisker Automotive to his new company, Fisker Inc, with what looks like another groundbreaking vehicle – the Fisker Ocean. Most recently, the company has made moves to bolster the funding of its new electric vehicle launch with a $2.9 billion reverse merger with Spartan Energy Acquisition Corp. a move that’s taking Fisker public. Plus, there’s reportedly a deal in the works with VW to use that automaker’s MEB platform for Fisker’s new electric vehicle.

Fisker’s all-electric, five seat SUV is slated to begin manufacturing late in 2022 and feature several versions with two- or four-wheel-drive. The quickest variant will feature a 302 horsepower electric motor that will accelerate the Ocean from 0 to 60 mph in under 3 seconds, with power from an 80 kWh battery said to provide a range of 300 miles. A Combined Charging System (CCS) Type 2 Combo plug offers a 150 kW charging capability that Fisker says will allow the battery to be fast-charged to provide 200 miles of range in 30 minutes.

A state-of-the-art heads-up display integrated into the windshield is complemented by a 16-inch center touchscreen and a 9.8-inch cluster screen. Karaoke mode displays lyrics for your favorite song in the windshield so you can keep eyes on the road. A full-length solar roof provides electric energy. One-touch ‘California Mode’ simultaneously opens all side windows, rear hatch glass, and the solar roof to create an instant open-air feeling. This feature allows the rear hatch glass to roll down to handle carrying long items.

Over time Fisker has brought in some significant talent to help get the job done. One of these moves is bringing in Burkhard Huhnke, former vice president of e-mobility for Volkswagen America, as chief technology officer to lead Fisker’s R&D activities in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. Another member of Fisker’s executive team is senior vice president of Engineering Martin Welch, formerly with McLaren cars and Aston Martin.

Fisker says the Ocean will start at $37,449 and will be leased for $379 per month, allowing an impressive 30,000 miles per year with maintenance and service included. The company is currently accepting $250 deposits.

There are challenges ahead even as electric pickups are poised to enter a potentially enthusiastic market. Those challenges could mean a more gradual market trajectory than that of electric sedans and SUVs, which have already taken quite some time to gather momentum. For example, cars and SUVs used for commuting or running errands are typically driven less than 40 miles daily, with occasional trips of several hundred miles with passengers. That’s a reasonable and flexible duty cycle for electric passenger vehicles. It’s different for trucks.

With the exception of work trucks in urban areas, pickups in many rural areas travel hundreds of miles every day without refueling. That’s not an issue for conventionally powered pickups with their considerable driving range. It could be for coming electric pickups since their battery range is about half that of most full-size gas pickups. When conventional pickups do need to refuel, it takes but a few minutes to fill up with gasoline compared with the hours required for electrics. Realistically, it's difficult to see electric pickups meeting the duty cycles of work trucks like these until fast charging becomes widespread, especially in rural areas.

Towing presents additional food for thought. It’s well-known that fuel economy, and thus range, is reduced when conventional vehicles tow trailers, boats, or any load. Range is impacted more dramatically in electric vehicles, a fact that could make electric pickups less desirable for towing a boat or heavy load any significant distance since charging would likely be required every couple hundred miles. Illustrating the challenge is that towing a 5000 pound trailer with a Tesla Model X or Audi e-tron has been shown to result in a range reduction of up to 40 percent. Increasing range by adding batteries in an electric pickup may bring longer range, but it also means reducing payload and towing capacity pound for pound.

Looking at the demographics of pickup owners and comparing this with available charging stations presents a stark reality. The 13 states where pickups represent 25 percent or more of new vehicle sales have about 2600 public charging stations, less than 10 percent of all public charging stations in the country. That’s quite a disconnect. These are typically large states where long distance travel is the rule. This underscores the importance of charging opportunities and the formidable challenges electric pickups may face in areas where charging infrastructure is behind the curve.

Another challenge is maintenance. Even though electric pickups require significantly less maintenance than their gasoline or diesel counterparts, there are times when EV-specific service will be required. While the usual tire, brake, and fluid maintenance can be performed by mainstream service providers, electric pickup manufacturers must provide for other potential servicing involving an electric drivetrain, on-board electronics, and the many other controls and systems unique to an electric vehicle. That’s not a significant issue for legacy automakers like Ford and GM that have a widespread dealer sales and service network, even in sparsely populated states. Service personnel at dealerships can be trained in EV-specific work. Fledgling and start-up electric pickup companies will certainly be at a disadvantage here.

Will electric pickups succeed? Time will tell. Plus, we’ll have to see how some wishful launch schedules align with reality since COVID-19 has caused auto manufacturing delays and shutdowns. Plus, with today’s extraordinarily low gas prices, the value equation for electrics of any kind is skewed, at least for the present time. That doesn’t mean there won’t be demand for electric pickups…just that expectations for timing and market penetration should be tempered.

We’ve spent plenty of time now behind the wheel of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT as part of our long-term test of this highly functional vehicle. We can tell you this: It’s obvious to the Green Car Journal staff why the Outlander PHEV was named the magazine’s 2019 Green SUV of the Year™ and now the 2020 Family Green Car of the Year™.

First of all, it’s a joy to drive. The Outlander PHEV is spacious, well-appointed with an upscale leather interior, and reasonably priced for a plug-in hybrid crossover in today’s market, at $36,295 for the SEL S-AWC and $41,695 for the GT S-AWC. It’s rated at 74 MPGe on electricity and 25 combined mpg on gas, so it’s quite thrifty when driven as intended – as an electric vehicle for around-town driving and as an intelligent hybrid when the need calls for longer distance travels.

This is what we do on a daily basis. We plug in at night with a 240-volt wall charger, top off the batteries while parked, and start the day off with a full charge. Most of our driving, which is likely a reflection of what most folks will experience, is daily use for commuting and running errands within this vehicle’s EPA rated 22 miles of battery-powered driving range. That means if we’re diligent about charging every night – happily, at our utility’s discounted electric vehicle rate – we won’t be visiting a gas station anytime soon.

Of course, if circumstances dictate a daily commute that’s longer than the Outlander PHEV’s rated range and there is on-site charging available at the workplace, it’s possible to effectively double all-electric range by plugging in at work for the drive home. Four hours at 240-volt Level 2 charging at work or at a public charger brings the Outlander PHEV’s pack back to a full charge from a depleted state. If a rapid charger is available, then the battery can be energized to 80 percent capacity in just 25 minutes.

The importance of plug-in hybrid power is that regardless of battery state-of-charge, there’s never anxiety about range. While this Mitsubishi crossover’s battery range is suitable for zero-emission motoring around-town, the Outlander PHEV itself is geared for any transportation needs required. It offers a 310 mile overall driving range that we’ve found very workable and convenient for longer drives and road trips when we do travel beyond those 22 electric miles.

Beyond its electric capability, we’ve found many reasons to appreciate our time in the Outlander PHEV. It’s right-sized for a family of five and it’s comfortable, with loads of room up front and plenty of room afforded by the rear seats. The rear seats three, but with only two in the back there’s a handy pull-down center console and armrest to deploy with cupholders and storage. A 120-volt AC outlet is located at the back of the center console for plugging in a laptop or other device that requires household power. USB power is also available front and rear.

We also appreciate the driving experience. Acceleration is brisk and handling confident, with excellent steering input. The Outlander PHEV offers a smooth ride and is well isolated from road noise. Its series-parallel hybrid drivetrain intelligently balances power from its 2.0-liter engine and twin electric motors under most driving circumstances, providing optimum performance and efficiency. Transitions between electric and combustion power are seamless and virtually unnoticeable, even if you’re looking for them. An EV Drive mode is also driver selectable via a console-mounted switch to allow traveling exclusively in electric mode, with the engine kicking in only when additional acceleration is needed. Steering wheel paddles can be used to control the vehicle’s level of regenerative braking force.

As is the case with most drivers today, we’ve come to appreciate the many sophisticated on-board systems working behind the scene to ensure our safety, and the safety of others. We fortunately haven’t had the need for forward collision mitigation, but we know the system is there in the background. The Outlander PHEV’s many driver assist systems – from adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams to rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning – inspire that extra level of driving confidence. Particularly helpful every day is the center display’s birds-eye view of the vehicle’s surroundings as we’re backing up.

It's not lost on us that we enjoy a measure of exclusivity while driving this long-term tester. While the Outlander PHEV has been sold worldwide for years – achieving the distinction as the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid – it has only been here in the U.S. since the 2018 model year. Plus, the Mitsubishi brand’s presence in the U.S. market is significantly smaller than competitors like Honda and Toyota, so you won’t see as many Outlanders on the road as you will CR-Vs or RAV4s. But that’s a good thing if you’re looking to drive something that stands apart from the crowd…which our stylish, PHEV-badged Outlander PHEV GT certainly does.

The MINI E was a pretty cool car based on the MINI Cooper two-door hardtop, fun to drive and pretty attention-getting with its unique, yellow electric plug graphics. We were sorry to see it go and really expected to see a production version introduced shortly after the MINI-E’s 2009/2010 field trials came to an end…but that wasn’t to be.

More recently, MINI has been offering its Cooper SE Countryman ALL-4, a plug-in hybrid model featuring gasoline engine power and 18 miles of all-electric driving. It’s not all-electric, but does champion MINI’s continuing interest in electrification. Now, after a long wait by MINI fans, the follow-up all-electric 2020 MINI Cooper SE has arrived.

The earlier Mini E’s battery pack replaced the rear seat, making it a two-seater. Contrasting this is the T-shaped battery pack in the new MINI Cooper SE that’s located beneath the rear seat and runs between the front seats. Thus, the Cooper SE remains a four-seater without compromising passenger or luggage space. While the MINI E had a range of about 100 miles on its 35 kWh lithium-ion battery, the Cooper S E improves on this a bit with an EPA estimated range of 110 miles with power from a smaller 32.6 kWh battery. It’s also energy efficient with an EPA rated 108 combined MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).

Powering  the Cooper SE is a synchronous electric motor featuring 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft torque.  Since maximum torque is available from standstill, the front-drive Cooper SE accelerates from zero to 60 mph in a brisk 7.3 seconds. To prevent slip during launch, the electric traction control system was integrated into the MINI’s primary electronic control unit (ECU), enabling computer control to shorten the time between wheel slippage and system response.

Four driving modes are offered. The default MID setting brings comfort-oriented steering characteristics, while a GREEN mode results in greater efficiency to increase range. GREEN+ disables features like heating, air conditioning, and seat heating to further increase range. SPORT mode, as you would expect, provides more sporty driving.

A driver can control the car’s degree of regenerative braking to increase or decrease deceleration intensity. A stronger regen setting can be selected if one-pedal driving is preferred. With aggressive regen, a Cooper SE begins decelerating as soon as a driver’s foot is lifted from the accelerator, enabling the car to be slowed at low speeds without using the hydraulic brakes. The softer regen setting is available for those who prefer a more conventional driving and braking feel.

Cabin heating is provided by an energy-efficient heat pump system that collects waste heat from the motor, drive controller, high-voltage battery, and outside temperatures. The result is 75 percent less energy use than a conventional electric heating system, thus saving all-important battery power to gain additional driving range. On hot or cold days, cabin temperature can be pre-conditioned by activating heating or cooling through the MINI Connected Remote App on a smartphone. The app also displays battery state-of-charge, available range, and energy consumption statistics. A map shows nearby public charging stations.

Standard equipment includes either Connected Navigation or Connected Navigation Plus, depending on the trim level. Connected Navigation includes a 6.5-inch central touchscreen. It enables Real Time Traffic Information to help a driver navigate around traffic congestion, along with Apple CarPlay and the internet platform MINI Online. Connected Navigation Plus includes an 8.8-inch color screen and adds wireless cellphone charging.

Speed, remaining range, battery charge level, and power demand are shown on a 5.5-inch digital instrument cluster screen behind the steering wheel. Also shown are navigation directions, selected MINI driving modes, status of driver assistance systems, and traffic sign detection.

The Cooper SE can be charged with a 120 volt AC household outlet or quicker with a 240 volt Level 2 wall or public charger, the latter taking about 3 1/2 hours from depleted to full charge. When 50 kW Level 3 fast-charging is available, the Cooper SE can be charged to 80 percent battery capacity in only 35 minutes. Charging is via a charge port above the right-hand rear wheel, the same location where you refuel a conventional MINI.

MINI’s Cooper SE is what fans of the marque have been waiting for. It’s packed with technology and promises a fun driving experience, at a reasonable base price of $29,900. Sign us up!

The 2020 Karma Revero GT is a major remake that delivers a new model substantially more refined than the original Karma Revero, which evolved from an existing series hybrid sedan. Externally, all of the Revero GT’s body panels have been restyled, including the doors. Most noticeable are the new grille and front fascia that present quite a departure from the Revero’s original and rather massive grillework.

Besides a more modern look, weight has been reduced by more than 500 pounds, an important move since this is one heavy grand touring car weighing in at some 5,050 pounds total. Optional carbon fiber wheels shave off an additional 55 pounds. Inside, there are new seats, center console, and an all-new infotainment system.

There are also big changes in the drivetrain. A turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine, sourced from the BMW i8, replaces the previous GM-sourced 2.0 liter engine originally used in the Revero series hybrid. Two electric motors drive the rear wheels through a single speed transmission. Combined power output has noticeably increased from 403 to 535 horsepower, with a beefy dose of 550 lb-ft torque at the ready. All this brings an impressive 0-60 mph sprint in just 4.5 seconds. In a departure from the norm, the exhaust for the Karma GT’s three-cylinder engine is located behind the front wheels.

A lighter 28-kWh battery pack is configured to run down the spine of the car. This nickel-manganese-cobalt lithium-ion pack provides a battery electric range of up to 80 miles, an impressive gain over that offered by the 2019 Revero. With the 280 mile range afforded by electricity from the car’s gasoline engine-generator, overall driving range comes in at 360 miles. EPA rates the 2020 Karma Revero GT at 26 combined mpg and 70 MPGe when driving exclusively on battery power.

Drivers can choose between Stealth, Sustain, and Sport modes to tailor the driving experience. Stealth is for all-electric driving. Sustain mode uses the BMW range-extender engine to supply electricity to the rear motors, preserving power from the battery pack for later use. Sport mode maximizes performance by combining the power from both the engine-generator and battery pack. Three levels of regenerative braking can be selected using steering wheel paddles.

A Karma Revero GTS is planned for introduction later in 2020. Here, torque will be increased to a massive 635 lb-ft for even greater performance. The GTS variant will also feature electronic torque vectoring and Launch Control to handle all that torque. In addition, a planned battery upgrade is expected to provide up to 80 miles of all-electric driving.