In the three decades the U.S. Department of Energy has sponsored Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) more than 27,000 students have participated. The vehicles have looked quite different over the years – from methanol-powered Chevrolet Corsicas in 1988 to hydrogen-powered Ford Explorers in the early 2000s, and performance hybrid-electric Camaros just a few years back. Every transformative stage of technology drives the need to attract new talent to the field, including engineers who fully understand the emerging fields of automotive engineering.
Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) has managed DOE’s AVTC program in partnership with the auto industry for more than 34 years. The program has evolved alongside the global auto industry, adding complexities and nuances to prepare the next generation of leaders to enter the workforce. DOE and ANL recently announced the latest AVTC, along with our partners General Motors and MathWorks, the EcoCAR Electric Vehicle (EV) Challenge starting in fall 2022.
The EcoCAR EV Challenge will build upon the program’s rich history to provide a hands-on educational experience that is empowering students to address the toughest mobility challenges facing our nation. The EV Challenge reflects the changing vehicle market. We need more EVs to overcome the climate crises we face. Transportation makes up the largest share of emissions in the U.S., and over half of those emissions come from passenger vehicles. EVs give us the means to eliminate those emissions. Last year, President Biden set a national goal of getting zero-emissions vehicles to make up half of new car and truck sales by 2030. These budding energy leaders are heeding the call. This challenge will help us build a diverse clean mobility workforce around this soon-to-skyrocket EV market.
The competition will challenge students to engineer a next-generation battery electric vehicle that deploys connected and automated vehicle (CAV) features to implement energy efficient and customer-pleasing features, while meeting the decarbonization needs of the automotive industry. General Motors will donate a 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ to each team, challenging them to design, build, refine, and demonstrate the potential of their advanced propulsion systems and CAV technologies over four competition years. Teams will be tasked with complex, real-world technical challenges including enhancing the propulsion system of their LYRIQ to optimize energy efficiency while maintaining consumer expectations for performance and driving experience. As students work on the LYRIQ, they are developing real-world knowledge and skills that will help accelerate the transformation of the auto industry.
More than $6 million from the competition sponsors will be provided to the 15 competing universities, including five Minority Serving Institutions, for students to pursue advanced mobility research and experiential learning. This investment supports the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students and faculty to help build an EV talent pipeline that reflects the diversity of America and makes room for more domestic manufacturing to strengthen our energy independence.
Teams will be challenged to identify and address specific equity and electrification issues in mobility through the application of innovative hardware and software solutions, conduct outreach to underserved communities and underrepresented youth to increase awareness about advanced mobility, and recruit underrepresented minorities into STEM fields.
At DOE, we are excited to see what these teams will accomplish in supporting the country’s transition to clean energy and electric vehicles. I encourage you to learn more about the 15 North American universities selected to join the EcoCAR EV Challenge by visiting ecocarevchallenge.org or discovering more about the rich history of AVTCs at avtcseries.org.
Michael Berube is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Plug-in electric vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell cars. Hybrids. Plug-in hybrids. All have come to the fore over the years, and we’ve noted their unique impact on the automotive landscape. While these technologies share similarities in that they all employ different ways of managing electricity to power electric motors, it’s been pretty easy to draw lines between them. But what if those lines were blurred in the interest of creating a new and possibly better answer, like maybe…a plug-in hydrogen hybrid?
Actually, that question was on the minds of creative souls at Ford some 15 years ago. Back then, the automaker explored new paths with its Ford Edge HySeries, a drivable demonstration vehicle unveiled at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show.
The HySeries combined power from the grid by plugging into an electrical outlet, just like an electric car or plug-in hybrid. It used a hydrogen-powered fuel cell to provide electricity, just like other fuel cell vehicles. And it managed its two power supplies via on-board battery storage, just like hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars do today.
Central to the HySeries Drive, both figuratively and physically, was a 336-volt lithium-ion battery pack that powered the electric motors at all times. Electricity from the grid and the fuel cell didn’t get to the wheels without first going through this battery pack. In this single-path flow of power, the power unit – the fuel cell – and the batteries were designed to act in series.
With the notable exception of a few models like the Chevrolet Volt, in most hybrids the batteries and engine operate in parallel. That is, the engine can still directly send power to the wheels with the battery stepping in to provide boost or take over as necessary. These hybrids do periodically act like a series configuration by using the engine to charge the batteries back up, for instance. The difference is that the HySeries Drive runs exclusively in series mode…thus, the name.
What’s the advantage? In a word, simplicity, according to Ford at the HySeries’ auto show debut. Operating in series streamlined the process by eliminating the extra hardware – and complex management software – of two propulsion systems in favor of a single power flow. By the same token, this made the HySeries Drive remarkably versatile.
In the Ford Edge prototype presented here, the fuel cell acted as a range extender, providing electrical power when the batteries ran low on their grid-sourced charge. But that range extender could just as well have been an engine powered by gasoline or some other alternative fuel. The thinking was that any new fuel or propulsion technology could be swapped in as it became available, with the underlying architecture of the HySeries Drive the same in any case.
The Ford Edge with HySeries Drive was designed to demonstrate the logic of this approach. According to Ford, the size, weight, cost, and complexity of this particular drivetrain was reduced by more than 50 percent compared to conventional fuel cell systems at the time. By relying more on the battery pack and the grid-sourced electricity, the demands on the fuel cell system were reduced as well. This meant the Ballard-supplied fuel cell would last longer and less hydrogen would need to be stored on-board.
Out on the road, the Edge was designed to drive 25 miles on battery power alone. When the battery pack was depleted to 40 percent charge, the fuel cell turned on and began generating electricity to replenish the batteries. The 4.5 kg of hydrogen stored in a 5,000 psi tank was enough to extend the range another 200 miles, for a total of 225 miles. Ford pointed out that range was highly dependent on driving conditions. In fact, it was also said that careful driving could potentially squeeze more than 400 miles from the fuel supply. Given that on-board hydrogen is now typically stored in 10,000 psi cylinders rather than the earlier 5,000 psi variants of the HySeries’ time, that driving range had the potential to be significantly greater.
Actual fuel economy would depend on the length of a trip. For those driving less than 50 miles a day, the Edge with HySeries Drive would be expected to return a miles-per-gallon equivalent of 80 mpg. Longer drives tapping further into the hydrogen supply would bring combined city/highway equivalent fuel economy down to 41 mpg, still respectable for a crossover SUV. Of course, while the fuel economy rating may have had a gasoline equivalent, the emissions did not. That is, there weren’t any emissions at all…at least not from the vehicle itself.
As innovative as Ford’s HySeries Drive was, it was not totally unique. Also in 2007, Chevrolet showcased its Volta concept using GM’s E-Flex System, which later evolved into the Chevrolet Volt powertrain. Both Ford and GM approaches relied on a large lithium-ion battery pack operating in series with a separate power source that charged batteries when they ran low. Notably, both systems offered plug-in capability. While the HySeries incorporated advanced hydrogen fuel cell power, the Chevy Volta did not, though GM did share this was a future possibility. Rather, the Volta, like the production Chevrolet Volt to come, used a 1.0-liter gasoline engine as its range-extender,
What we saw in the Ford Edge with HySeries, the Chevrolet Volta, and other concepts to follow was the underlying development of a drivetrain showcasing a new propulsion category carving its place into the mainstream – the plug-in hybrid vehicle. At the same time, both GM and Ford seemed eager to link their conception of the plug-in hybrid to the trek toward hydrogen-based transportation, which at the time was the official long-term goal of these two major automakers and others. In this sense, the plug-in hybrid would conceptually follow the conventional hybrid as another intermediary step on the path to hydrogen power.
Of course, to expect such a simple, linear progression – gasoline, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, hydrogen – is, and was, naïve. But that’s the core challenge with predicting the future of any industry, or of life in general, for that matter. Emergent and divergent technologies, parallel paths, and new alternatives are guaranteed along the automobile’s evolutionary path. In particular, we have seen that in recent years with the breakout of all-electric vehicles into the automotive mainstream, in numbers that were not envisioned by most at the time the HySeries was revealed.
With the HySeries-equipped Edge, Ford presented a surprisingly realistic look at how HySeries Drive – or something like it – could one day take to the road. It sat on the cutting edge of a broad trend away from petroleum-burning internal combustion and toward electrically-powered transportation, a trend that is accelerating today.
A few years ago, my wife Shelly and I visited Greece. It filled me with wonder to think about how challenging life must have been, and yet the ancient Greeks built massive architectural structures without the modern tools and machines we have today.
When I think about the last 30 years of the biodiesel industry, I am reminded of the Greek God, Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, he pushed a giant boulder uphill for eternity. I’d say our industry, like other alternative fuels, has felt that way a number of times.
However, I’d say fuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel are better represented by Athena. She was known to represent wisdom and the virtues of justice, skill, and victory. We have never let the challenges overtake our spirits. Instead, we have held our heads high and strategized our next moves. At last, we’re reaching a point we had long dreamed of – perhaps even beyond what we initially envisioned. The tables have turned. Our fuels are in demand to help people meet their goals and help America reach a low-carbon future. We’re here and we’re making an impact now – not waiting until decades into the future.
As the biodiesel industry celebrates its 30th anniversary, I am reminded that the soybean farmers, the soybean checkoff, and leaders who founded our organization had great faith, foresight, and fortitude. These humble beginnings in 1992 and the small group of leaders and visionaries who started our industry are the reason our industry, even today, seems like a family – and now a growing family! In 1992, no biodiesel had been produced commercially yet, and today, we produce 3 billion gallons a year of biodiesel and renewable diesel.
The emphasis on carbon reduction across the globe has opened new doors. Net-zero commitments from governments and corporations have raised interest in low carbon fuels like never before. We are making great strides in markets like marine, rail, and aviation that previously had been, at best, neutral to us. Likewise, when considering options to help reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from their vehicles and equipment, Original Equipment Manufacturers and fleets are also taking a much deeper look at us.
While electric solutions are still under development, clean advanced biofuels such as biodiesel and renewable diesel are readily available now for use in existing diesel engines. Most OEMs, including Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, Cummins, and many others, currently support the use of 20 percent biodiesel blends in their diesel equipment. However, forward-looking fleets from coast to coast – including several in California, Chicago, Madison, Washington D.C., and New York City – are looking to higher blends of biodiesel, even up to B100, to lower their carbon footprint even more dramatically.
Our vision statement says that “biodiesel, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuel will be recognized as mainstream low carbon fuel options with superior performance and emission characteristics.” There is room for all these fuels at our industry’s family table. In that spirit, the National Biodiesel Board has added another leaf.
This January, we made it official: We are now Clean Fuels Alliance America.
This new brand will transform our image and position us as a proven, innovative part of America’s clean energy mix now and in the future. In the process, we’re inspiring America’s energy and transportation leaders to discover new sources of scalable, cleaner fuels.
Biodiesel remains a foundation of our association. Our country couldn’t be having real conversations about carbon reduction targets today if it weren’t for the work of those in biodiesel.
Athena was known as ‘one who fights in front.’ As Clean Fuels Alliance America, we move to the front, proudly blazing a new path forward in clean energy.
Donnell Rehagen serves as the CEO for Clean Fuels Alliance America, biomass-based diesel’s preeminent trade association. Clean Fuels Alliance America is funded in part by the United Soybean Board and state soybean board checkoff programs.
Around the nation, fleets are facing more scrutiny than ever before to reduce emissions. Headlines in recent months shout that it’s ‘now or never’ if we want any chance at slowing climate change. If we really want to make a difference on the environment, solutions need to be implemented immediately to start replacing dirty diesel and gasoline vehicles from the road as quickly as possible.
While fleet owners I talk to understand the significance of operating a clean fleet, I also continue to hear the same line, “I can’t be environmentally sustainable if I’m not financially sustainable.” Mistakenly, many fleet owners think that going green has to be an expensive endeavor. While that is true of some alternative fuel options, it’s not the reality for every energy source. Propane autogas is an affordable, clean, and available fuel that’s used by thousands of fleets around the country every day.
As we think about the larger decarbonization effort, it will take a diverse mix of clean energy sources to achieve this goal. Propane autogas’ role in the movement is to ensure energy equity by offering a low-carbon solution to medium-duty (class 3-7) fleet owners without cost-prohibitive barriers. When you factor in the cost of a new vehicle and the costs for fuel, fluids, maintenance, and repairs, propane autogas provides the lowest costs for the lifetime of the vehicle, providing a short return on investment.
Let’s consider just the cost of the fuel itself. As oil prices fluctuate, propane autogas can beat diesel on price per gallon by as much as 50 percent. In most cases, propane autogas suppliers will work with fleet owners to create a mutually beneficial fuel contract that allows fleets to lock in a set price per gallon for a period of time. This is another layer of protection against fluctuating fuel prices and is especially helpful during times of high gasoline or diesel prices like much of the country has experienced in recent weeks.
Plus, propane autogas infrastructure is also affordable. In most cases, propane suppliers will provide the infrastructure equipment to a fleet at no cost in exchange for a mutually beneficial fuel contract. The refueling infrastructure is also designed to scale and can easily adapt to the varying needs of any size fleet.
So, how clean is propane autogas? Today’s engines are 90 percent cleaner than mandated EPA standards, with effectively zero particulate matter emissions and 96 percent fewer NOx emissions than clean diesel engines. The latest propane autogas engine technology is classified as near-zero and has moved the fuel even closer to achieving zero emissions levels.
Not to mention, a recent study by the Propane Education & Research Council found propane-powered medium-duty vehicles provide a lower lifetime carbon footprint in the majority of U.S. states when compared to medium-duty EVs that are charged using those states’ electric grid. This is due to the amount of carbon that is produced from each state’s unique energy mix for electricity generation using coal, petroleum, or other primary sources.
While EVs may have zero tailpipe emissions, emissions are generated prior to the wheels turning on the road through the electric grid and the powertrain (chiefly battery manufacturing) production. When comparing the difference in lifecycle equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2eq) emissions of a single medium-duty vehicle, propane autogas on a national average emits 125 tons of CO2eq less than an electric medium-duty vehicle.
The study also reviewed the lifetime carbon emissions of a medium-duty vehicle operating on renewable propane – an energy source made from a mix of waste residues and sustainably sourced materials, including agricultural waste products, cooking oil, and meat fats. It has the same chemical structure and physical properties as conventional propane, but because it’s produced from renewable, raw materials, it has an even lower carbon intensity. As the study found, renewable propane medium-duty vehicles currently provide a lower carbon footprint solution than comparable EVs in every U.S. state except Vermont.
As we think about both the immediate need to start reducing emissions today and the long-term goal of providing a better environment for the next generation, propane autogas is a critical energy source that will help to move the needle in both situations. Decarbonization will not be solved overnight. But propane’s role as a clean energy source that can help fleets conquer their financial sustainability will set us on the path to one day reach better environmental sustainability.
Steve Whaley is the director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Research Council, Propane.com/Fleet-Vehicles
Paying today’s crazy-high gas prices bring on some pretty serious reactions and a certain amount of denial. Many wonder when this will end. Some get angry. Others suck it up and just pay the price, figuring it will return to a reasonable cost at some point. Many are considering electric cars for the first time. But what can you do about it right now to cut your gas bill, in real time, with the car you’re driving?
The thought of boycotting your local gas stations is a pleasant thought but won’t work unless you’re already driving electric. You still need to get the kids to school, go grocery shopping, and get business done. You need some real options that make sense and can be done pretty easily.
Here are some strategies that come to mind. None involve dumping your car and getting a new one. We know that’s not always possible, especially today with unreasonably high car prices due to current conditions. You need to keep driving your everyday ride but just have to do something about the high gas costs that are wrecking your budget. So, consider giving these tips a shot.
YOUR ACTION PLAN
1. Start here: Don’t drive as much. Really, this isn’t as painful as it sounds. We’ve grown accustomed to our cars providing mobility on demand. That’s a good thing when it isn’t hurting our wallets or contributing to growing oil dependency. It’s not so good today. So plan ahead. Combining your day’s errands into sequential trips one after another is a great strategy. This is an easy way to save fuel, cut your gas bill, and lessen your carbon footprint. It will also decrease tailpipe emissions by eliminating unnecessary cold-starts when your car’s emissions control system is least effective.
2. Ease off on the pedal. Okay, maybe you’re not really hot rodding your way down the street. But chances are good you’re not thinking about taking it easy from one traffic light to the next. Light accelerator pressure and a conscious effort to avoid quick starts and stops do make a difference in fuel economy, sometimes a pretty big one. Give it a try. While you’re at it, smooth out your pedal pressure at highway speeds as well by using your cruise control whenever appropriate.
3. Feeling the need for speed? Let it go. It’s easy to creep past posted speed limits without thinking about it. That’s especially on urban highways where traffic often tends to move well beyond 65 mph. We’ve found some freeways regularly flowing at 80 mph and sometimes more. The problem is that fuel efficiency diminishes rapidly above 60 mph. The EPA points out that each 5 mph driven above that speed has the net effect of costing you about 20 cents more per gallon.
4. Do you need premium? If you’re filling up on mid-grade or premium fuel, check to see if you really need to do this. Some high-compression engines do require higher octane fuel to run properly. In fact, serious engine damage could result from using a lower grade fuel than is specified in your owner’s manual. But if you don’t need premium fuel you shouldn’t be filling up with it. Premium fuel costs about 20 to 40 cents more per gallon but doesn’t provide better performance in engines designed to run on regular. If you’re fueling up with premium and don’t need to, you’re essentially pumping cash out your tailpipe. Not a pleasant thought, is it?
MORE MONEY SAVING TIPS
5. Pressure can be a good thing. Check your tire pressure weekly and keep your tires aired up to the recommended psi. This is so simple you’d assume everyone does this regularly. Not so. And that’s too bad since tires with low pressure create greater rolling resistance that can cost you up to 3 percent in fuel efficiency. Tires heat up while you drive, so checking pressure while hot will give an artificially high reading. Make a habit of checking tire pressure before driving when your tires are cold. You might also consider buying more fuel efficient low rolling resistance tires the next time your car is ready for new treads.
6. Cash or card? This is an obvious one. Gas stations typically have prices posted for regular, mid-grade, and premium fuel. Two sets of prices are often shown, one for cash and one for credit/debit cards. You’ll often note that the cash price is significantly lower, often 20 cents per gallon less than if you use a card. So, you know what to do.
7. Shop around. Like any business, gas stations have competition. It’s often the case that gas prices can vary by as much as 50 cents per gallon, maybe more in a geographical area. We’re not suggesting that you waste gas by trolling for the lowest price, but do pay attention to posted prices as you go about your daily drives. You’ll see which stations tend to offer the lowest gas prices. One of the best ways to price shop is with a free service like GasBuddy that allows you to search online for your area’s lowest gas prices. Make the process even easier by downloading the app so you can check on price fluctuations on your phone whenever it’s convenient during your travels.
Driving electric is becoming increasingly important to a growing number of new car buyers today. While efficiency and zero-emission driving are high priorities, so is performance, especially in the view of those accustomed to brands like BMW that have long been noted for delivering a spirited driving experience. It’s no surprise that this automaker’s new 2022 BMW iX xDrive50 continues the tradition.
Performance is achieved through a combination of lightweight construction and BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive technology. The iX body is made up of an aluminum spaceframe overlaid with a body shell that combines carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP), thermoplastics, high-strength steel, and aluminum. Further weight reduction is found in the construction of the chassis, with extensive use of aluminum in suspension components and the front and rear axle subframes.
An all-wheel-drive powertrain positions an electric synchronous motor at each axle, fed by a 111.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack located low in the floor. EPA rates the iX at up to 86 combined MPGe with a driving range from 305 to 324 miles, with the best range achieved by the iX equipped with 20 inch wheels and tires. The 2023 iX M60 is not yet rated but BMW expects it to net up to 280 miles on a charge. Enhancing the iX’s range are several modes of regenerative braking selectable by the driver.
Power is impressive. The $83,200 iX features a combined 516 horsepower and electric all-wheel drive, plus exhilarating acceleration that delivers a 0-60 mph dash in 4.4 seconds. Performance is even better in the soon-to-come $105,100 iX M60, which combines 610 horsepower, a whopping 811 lb-ft torque, and launch control to compress the model’s 0-60 time to just 3.6 seconds.
The iX rides on suspension comprised of front control arms and a five-link rear, damped by lift-related shock absorbers that adjust firmness in relation to suspension travel. An optional adaptive suspension includes electronically controlled shocks and a two-axle air-suspension with automatic leveling that can be raised nearly an inch for extra ground clearance, or lowered almost a half-inch at higher speeds to improve aerodynamics and stability.
Inside, the iX interior features a hexagonal steering wheel and BMW’s new Curved Display, which groups driver information and infotainment screens behind a single panel of glass angled around the driver. The Curved Display, and many other iX features and amenities, is controlled by the new iDrive 8 operating system, “designed with a focus on dialog-based interaction using natural language and touch operation,” says BMW. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are integrated into the iX, as is 5G connectivity and the ability to receive over-the-air software updates.
The list of electronic amenities and advanced driver-assistance features aboard the BMW iX is extensive and ranges from cloud-based navigation to parking and back-up assist. Five cameras, five radar sensors, and 12 ultrasonic sensors provide data for the SAV’s safety systems, which include front collision warning, cross-traffic alert with braking, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, active cruise control, and lane keeping assistant.
Both AC and DC charging are available with the combined charging unit in the iX, which allows charging at 11 kW from an AC wall unit and up to 200 kW using a DC fast charger. Launched with the iX debut last month, BMW is offering 2022 BMW EV customers two years of free 30-minute charging sessions at 3,000 Electrify America public charging stations nationwide, a valuable addition to electric BMW ownership.
Green Car Journal’s Green Car Awards, the annual awards program honoring the year’s most standout new ‘green’ models, was presented at the Virtual Greenbuild Conference + Expo in November this year. The 2021 virtual awards program was an innovation during an unusual year, amid the postponement and cancellation of international auto shows where the Green Car Awards typically take place.
Over the years, these high-profile awards have grown along with the expanding field of ‘green’ cars on the road. They now recognize not only the magazine’s signature Green Car of the Year, but also exceptional models that speak to families, city dwellers, luxury buyers, pickup enthusiasts, and those requiring the functionality of an SUV. All provide the traditional touchstones of safety, quality, value, style, and performance, plus that fun-to-drive quality important to most drivers. What they add are greater efficiency, lower carbon and tailpipe emissions, petroleum reduction or displacement, or operation on battery electric power.
GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR
This year’s candidates for 2021 Green Car of the Year reflect the auto industry’s transition toward electrification, even as it continues to make internal combustion ever-more efficient. Three of this year’s finalists, the Mustang Mach-E, MINI Cooper SE, and Volkswagen ID.4, drive exclusively on zero-emission battery power. The BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid that drives up to 23 miles on battery power and hundreds more as a hybrid. The Hyundai Elantra is offered with either an efficient gasoline engine or a gas-electric hybrid achieving up to 50 miles per gallon.
Rising to the top of the field is Green Car Journal’s 2021 Green Car of the Year, Ford’s all-new Mustang Mach-E, a model that boasts an instantly-recognizable name and heritage, while breaking new ground as an all-electric crossover featuring up to 300 miles of range. Performance is part of the package, as is unmistakable style and all the latest advanced electronics.
The 2021 Green Car of the Year® is selected by a highly-respected jury comprised of energy and environmental leaders including Mindy Lubber, president of CERES; Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Dr. Alan Lloyd, president emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation and senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University of Texas at Austin; Clay Nesler, interim president of the Alliance to Save Energy; and Matt Petersen, president and CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and advisory board chair of Climate Mayors. Rounding out the Green Car of the Year jury is celebrity auto enthusiast Jay Leno and Green Car Journal editors .
LUXURY GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR
At a more premium price point, 2021 Luxury Green Car of the Year finalists also illustrate the momentum achieved by electric drive in the new car vehicle field. Four of these premium vehicles are all-electric models – the Audi e-tron Sportback, Polestar 2, Tesla Model Y, and Volvo XC40 Recharge. The fifth, the Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring, is the plug-in hybrid variant of Lincoln’s Corsair compact crossover that combines gas-electric hybrid and all-electric driving.
Honored as this year’s Luxury Green Car of the Year is the Polestar 2, a groundbreaking model from Polestar on many levels. This all-new premium vehicle is only the second of this new auto brand’s model offerings, and the first to be all-electric. This zero-emission, two-door fastback looks to the future even as it foregoes futuristic styling, instead choosing to offer an understated yet elegant and sophisticated design, tasteful appointments, and a nearly 300 mile range on battery power.
URBAN GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR
Urban environments pose their own unique challenges – tight spaces, often crowded streets, and hard-to-find parking. Here, smaller vehicles with a compact physical footprint and easy maneuverability are always top choices. The 2021 Urban Green Car of the Year award recognizes vehicles especially well-suited for life in the city. Top choices for this year’s award are the Hyundai Venue, Kia Seltos, Kia Soul, MINI Cooper SE, and Nissan Versa. Four are conventionally-powered – three of them crossover SUVs and one a compact sedan – with the fourth, the MINI Cooper SE, an all-electric crossover.
Taking top honors for 2021 Urban Green Car of the Year is the all-electric MINI Cooper SE. Standing out as an ideal vehicle for the city, the Cooper SE is compact in stature and big on features. Its represents what this brand all about: An iconic look, great maneuverability, and driving fun wrapped in a small package. Plus, electric power means zero localized emissions and no trips venturing out to the gas station in a crowded urban environment.
FAMILY GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR
While any model can serve family duty, those offering extra versatility and thoughtful family-friendly features are high on many shopping lists. Today, driving ‘green’ has also become a priority. Minivans have always been a solid choice, but these days three-row crossover SUVs can also do the job as family hauler. Finalists for 2021 Family Green Car of the Year are the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sorrento Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Toyota Sienna. The Kia Sorrento Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid crossovers drive on efficient hybrid power. Honda’s Odyssey minivan features an efficient V-6 with variable cylinder management. The Toyota Sierra is exclusively a hybrid-powered minivan, while the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan also offers plug-in hybrid power.
Standing out as Family Green Car of the Year is the Toyota Sienna, a minivan that seeks to set the standard for modern family haulers. The stylish and fuel-efficient Sienna offers premium sedan-like style, admirable hybrid fuel efficiency, and a thoughtful blend of family-desired features along with driver-centric characteristics not always associated with minivans. It shows Toyota’s keen grasp of how to make a modern minivan that not only serves up family functionality, but also premium car style and appeal.
GREEN SUV OF THE YEAR
The hottest segment in the automotive field today is the SUV, either full-size or compact, traditional or crossover, two-row or three, conventional, hybrid, or plug-in. There are no shortage of choices, which makes narrowing the field to five outstanding finalists no small challenge. The top five finalists emerging this year for Green SUV of the Year are the Audi Q5 55 TFSI e, BMW X3 xDrive 30e, Jeep Wrangler 4xe, Toyota RAV4 Prime, and Toyota Venza. Four of these –from Audi, BMW, Jeep, and Toyota – are plug-in hybrids with an all-electric driving range from 18 to 42 miles, and additional hundreds of miles on hybrid power. Toyota’s Venza is an all-wheel drive, tech-rich hybrid with exceptional fuel efficiency.
Taking top honors for the 2021 Green SUV of the Year title is the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, an SUV that’s different in many ways from others in its class. To some, it’s an SUV in the traditional sense with high functionality and loads of versatility that’s perfect for the diversity of everyday life. But to others, it’s that, plus a means of escape, heading toward the city one day and then driving the path less taken on another, a path often rough, unpaved, and pointed towards adventure.
GREEN TRUCK OF THE YEAR
This year’s Green Truck of the Year finalists embody all the workhorse capabilities expected of a modern pickup while offering passenger car-like comfort, advanced on-board electronics, and levels of fuel efficiency unheard of in pickups of just a decade ago. Pickups honored as finalists for Green Truck of the Year are the Chevrolet Colorado, Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Jeep Gladiator EcoDiesel, and RAM 1500. All offer diverse powertrain choices, from gasoline and diesel internal combustion to variations of mild- and full-hybrid power.
Powering its way to well-deserved recognition as 2021 Green Truck of the Year is the Ford F-150, a pickup long distinguished as the best-selling model in the nation and a champion of innovation. Beyond its wide array of configurations, powertrain choices, payload capacities, and towing capabilities, it now adds such innovations as an efficient PowerBoost hybrid powerplant, fold-flat ‘sleeper’ seats, and an available Pro Power Onboard output system with outlets that allow the truck to function as a mobile generator at worksites or campsites.
The Green Car Awards™ program, presented annually since 2005, is an important part of Green Car Journal's mission to showcase environmental progress in the automotive field.
The driving range of electric vehicles is becoming less of an issue as they surpass 200 miles or greater, approaching the distance between fill-ups of some internal combustion engine vehicles…or maybe the bladder capacity of their drivers. However, the time it takes to recharge an EV is still a negative attribute.
Generally, EVs charge at a fairly slow rate. A 240-volt Level 2 home or public charger will charge a Chevy Bolt from depleted to full in about 4 1/2 hours, providing a range of about 238 miles. That’s a far cry from 5 minutes to fill a gas tank. It’s significantly slower when charging a Bolt with a Level 1 charger using a household’s standard 120-volt power since this adds only about 4 miles an hour!
Of course, charging companies and automakers are working together to expand the small-but-growing network of fast chargers in key areas of the country, allowing EVs to gain up to 90 miles of charge in around 30 minutes. Tesla claims that its Supercharger stations being upgraded to Version 3 can charge a Tesla Model 3 Long Range at the rate of about 15 miles a minute, or 225 miles in just over 15 minutes under best conditions.
If current technology EVs become popular for mid- to long-range travel, gasoline stations, truck stops, and public charging stations equipped with Level 2 and even somewhat faster chargers run the very real risk of becoming parking lots.
When it comes to charging EVs, charging times come down to kilowatts available. The best Tesla V3 charger is rated at 250 kilowatts peak charge rate. Now, much research is being done here and in other countries on what is called Extreme Fast Charging (XFC) involving charge rates of 350-400 kilowatts or more. The U.S. Department of Energy is sponsoring several projects aimed at reducing battery pack costs, increasing range, and reducing charging times.
There are several challenges for XFCs. First, when lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are fast charged, they can deteriorate and overheat. Tesla already limits the number of fast charges by its standard Superchargers because of battery degradation, and that’s only at 120-150 kilowatts. Also, when kilowatt charging rates increase voltage and/or amperage increases, which can have a detrimental effect on cables and electronics.
This begs the question: Is the current electrical infrastructure capable of supporting widespread use of EVs? Then, the larger question is whether the infrastructure is capable of handling XFC with charging rates of 350 kilowatts or more. This is most critical in urban areas with large numbers of EVs and in rural areas with limited electric infrastructure.
The answer is no. Modern grid infrastructures are not designed to supply electricity at a 350+ kilowatt rate, so costly grid upgrades would be required. Additionally, communities would be disrupted when new cables and substations have to be installed. There would be a need for costly and time-consuming environmental studies.
One approach being is XFC technology being developed by Zap&Go in the UK and Charlotte, North Carolina. The heart of Zap&Go's XFC is carbon-ion (C-Ion) energy storage cells using nanostructured carbons and ionic liquid-based electrolytes. C-Ion cells provide higher energy densities than conventional supercapacitors with charging rates 10 times faster than current superchargers. Supercapacitors and superchargers are several technologies being considered for XFCs.
According to Zap&Go, the C-Ion cells do not overheat and since they do not use lithium, cobalt, or any materials that can catch fire, there is no fire danger. Plus, they can be recycled at the end of their life, which is about 30 years. Zap&Go's business model would use its chargers to store electric energy at night and at off-peak times, so the current grid could still be used. Electrical energy would be stored in underground reservoirs similar to how gasoline and diesel fuels are now stored at filling stations. EVs would then be charged from the stored energy, not directly from the grid, in about the same time it takes to refuel with gasoline.
The fastest charging would work best if C-Ion cell batteries are installed in an EV, replacing Li-ion batteries. EVs with Li-ion batteries could also be charged, but not as quickly. Alternatively, on-board XFC cells could be charged in about five minutes, then they would charge an EV’s Li-ion batteries at a slower rate while the vehicle is driven, thereby preserving the life of the Li-ion battery. The downside is that this would add weight, consume more room, and add complexity. Zap&Go plans to set up a network of 500 ultrafast-charge charging points at filling stations across the UK.
General Motors is partnering with Delta Electronics, DOE, and others to develop XFSs using solid-state transformer technology. Providing up to 400 kilowatts of power, the system would let properly equipped electric vehicles add 180 miles of range in about 10 minutes. Since the average American drives less than 30 miles a day, a single charge could provide a week’s worth of driving.
The extreme charging time issue might be partly solved by something already available: Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). As governments around the world consider banning or restricting new gasoline vehicles in favor of electric vehicles, they should not exclude PHEVs. Perhaps PHEVs could be designed so their internal combustion engines could not operate until their batteries were depleted, or their navigation system determines where they could legally operate on electric or combustion power.
The Kona, Hyundai’s newest and smallest crossover, serves up a pleasing design and welcome functionality. It is offered with a choice two gasoline engines that net up to 33 highway mpg, and also as a battery electric vehicle.
Styling cues are a bit different on the Kona Electric, but subtle except for its distinctive closed grille. Silver side sills, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, and badging also differentiate the electric variant. Kona Electric sales are initially being focused on California and select states that have adopted California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program.
The Kona is available in three trim levels – SEL, Limited, and Ultimate. Kona SE and SEL models are powered by a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. This combo achieves an EPA rating of 28 city/32 highway mpg. Kona Limited and Ultimate trim levels are powered by a 175-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Here, EPA numbers are 27 city/33 highway mpg. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive an option for both powerplants.
Powering the Kona Electric is a 201 horsepower, permanent-magnet electric motor driving the front wheels. Energy is provided by a 64 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery that delivers an impressive EPA estimated 258 mile range. Offshore markets also get a base electric version with a smaller 39.2 kWh battery that’s good for about 186 miles, but that configuration is not offered in North America. The Kona Electric earns a combined EPA efficiency rating of 120 MPGe. Acceleration is quite good with a 0-60 mph sprint taking 7.6 seconds. Kona Electric’s top speed is electronically limited at 104 mph.
When connected to a fast-charge 10 kW Combined Charging System, the battery pack can be recharged from a depleted state in about 54 minutes. It takes 75 minutes to recharge with a more common 50 kW CCS fast-charge system. With more readily-available Level 2 (240-volt AC) public or home charging and the Kona’s onboard 7.2 kW charger, replenishing a depleted battery takes about 10 hours. The charge port is located in the front fascia just below the driver’s side headlight.
There are a host of driver assist features available. Hyundai SmartSense safety technologies standard on all trim levels include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Driver Attention Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist. Optionally available are Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, Blind Spot Collision Warning, High Beam Assist, Rear View Monitor, and Smart Cruise Control.
The gasoline-powered Kona has an MSRP of $19,990, while the Kona Electric is offered at a base price of $36,450.
Part of Honda’s Clarity triple-play – along with the hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell and more mainstream Clarity Plug-In Hybrid – the Clarity Electric is a model that clearly cuts its own path.
It does not aim to be part of the ‘200 mile club,’ the latest generation of uber-electrics that claim a battery electric driving range greater than 200 miles between charges. It also does not cultivate efficiencies through a compact form designed to eke the most from every electron. Nor is it exceptionally lightweight, another common nod to the need for making the most of the battery power carried on board. In fact, there is little about the Clarity Electric that makes us think of other all-electric vehicles…save for the fact that it runs exclusively on zero-emission battery power, of course. This mid-size, five-passenger battery electric vehicle aims to be in a league of its own.
First of all, let’s discuss driving range, which is EPA rated at 89 miles between charges while delivering a combined 114 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent). Yes, that’s more limiting than that of the 200+ mile club, but there’s a reason. Honda designed the Clarity Electric with the needs of commuters in mind…those who want their daily drive to be in a highly-efficient, zero-emission electric car with a sophisticated look and premium feel. And they designed it so it was significantly more affordable than premium competitors offering higher-end electric models with features similar to those of the Clarity. Currently, the Clarity Electric is offered at a $199 monthly lease in California and Oregon where this battery-powered model is available.
Honda figures that an approach focused on commuters is a sweet spot for the Clarity Electric. Its range fits the needs of most commutes and its price is certainly justifiable for a commuter car, and a luxurious one at that, with fuel costs substantially less than conventionally-powered models. Plus, most households have two cars at their disposal, sometimes more. Having a Clarity Electric as a primary commuter car with a conventional gasoline or hybrid vehicle also in a household’s stable covers all bases.
Honda gave a lot of thought to the cabin design with welcome touches throughout. We especially like the ‘floating’ design of the center console with its array of integrated controls and flat storage tray beneath, with 12-volt and USB outlets. The dash features a handsome suede-like material and an 8-inch touchscreen display elegantly integrated into the dash. Deep cupholders feature flip-up stays for holding smaller drinks. Side door pockets are large enough to accommodate water bottles. The trunk offers plenty of room and is illuminated when the trunk lid is remotely or manually unlatched. At night this allows you to immediately note what’s inside through the trunk lid’s clear back panel before opening…something we’ve really come to appreciate over time.
Driving the Clarity Electric is a satisfying experience, with this sedan both well-mannered and responsive. Power is delivered by a 161 horsepower electric motor energized by a 25.5 kWh lithium-ion battery that can be charged in about three hours with a 240 volt charger, or in as little as 30 minutes with a public DC fast-charge system to an 80 percent state-of-charge. While its primary job may well be to handle everyday driving needs and negotiate traffic, it also delivers plenty of fun on twisty canyon roads with flat cornering and confident steering. It’s quick, like almost all electrics are because of instant torque delivered at launch, providing very satisfying acceleration.
Also appreciated is the Clarity’s handy Apple CarPlay integration and its Honda Sensing suite of driver-assist technologies. Among these are important features like adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, and road departure mitigation.
The Clarity Electric has served us well on our daily drives over the course of Green Car Journal’s ongoing long-term test. Its use supports what Honda envisioned for this efficient electric car. It has been ideal for around-town duty, area trips within its range, and daily commutes. Its thoughtful and sophisticated – dare we say futuristic – design and very satisfying drive experience are appreciated every day we’re behind the wheel.
With the growing market acceptance of electric vehicles in the U.S. comes an unprecedented auto industry focus on delivering these vehicles to consumers. Today nearly all major auto manufacturers and a handful of boutique automakers offer a growing lineup of electrified models.
When considering the purchase of an electric vehicle, the task of home charging is second in importance only to an electric’s driving range. How long will a charge take, and how often will it be needed? The cost associated with enabling home charging is also top-of-mind since using public or workplace chargers is a plus, but nothing beats the conveniences of overnight charging at home.
There’s an affordable and easy answer to these home EV charging concerns with the AV TurboCord Dual, developed by AeroVironment and available as part of Webasto’s EV Solutions product line. TurboCord Dual presents a portable transformable solution that aims to promote convenient electric vehicle charging using the two most common electrical outlets found in homes.
AV TurboCord Dual is a portable EV charging solution enabling both 120 or significantly faster 240 volt charging as needed through a quick clip-release adapter interface. It does not require hardwired installation to facilitate dual voltage charging, but rather connects to a standard 120 volt household outlet or 240 volt outlet.
While there is much competition in the home charging segment, there’s a lot to like about the AV TurboCord for its compact size, portability, and ease of operation. TurboCord Dual will look familiar to anyone who has used AV public charging stations in much of the U.S. Simply open the charge port on your EV of choice, look for the pulsing light on the business end of the TurboCord, and you’re charging. When the unit stops blinking, you’re done.
TurboCord Dual delivers a great solution for battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles alike, either at home or on the road. A handy carrying case easily stores the charger, power cord, and chargeport connector. AV TurboCord is available online or from your local building center.
Volvo’s smallest crossover features an aggressive design that’s a bit of a departure for the automaker, even as it retains the fundamental styling cues that say ‘Volvo.’ The first model built on the automaker’s Compact Modular Architecture, the new XC40 is offered as either a T4 front-wheel drive or T5 all-wheel drive and in three trim levels. The XC40 looks deceptively small but has plenty of cargo and passenger capacity for longer trips. A plug-in hybrid and possibly an all-electric model are likely in the future.
Inside, the stylish cabin aims for an uncluttered look while still providing all the amenities SUV buyers desire. Functionality is a top priority, which the XC40 provides in intelligent ways with features like spacious door bins that accommodate a laptop or tablet, easily accessible under-seat drawers for stashing wallets or other necessities, and even a trash bin for cleaning up clutter. The front storage compartment holds a wireless charge pad for smartphones. Other welcome features include a standard 9-inch Sensus Connect touchscreen and an available panoramic sunroof that provides loads of available light.
All XC40s are powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder Drive-E engine. In the T4 this engine is rated at 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft torque. Engine output increases to 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque in the all-wheel drive T5. Both connect to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Manual gear shifts are possible with the Volvo’s shift lever or, alternatively, via steering wheel shift paddles on the R-Design model.
Standard on all XC40s are Automated Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Forward-Collision Warning, Lane-Keeping Assist with Lane-Departure Warning, Automatic High-Beam Headlamps, Driver-Attention Monitor, and Traffic-Sign Detection. A self-parking feature, front and rear parking sensors, and Blind-Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert can be added as part of the Vision package.
Volvo offers Pilot Assist as a part of a Premium package. This is essentially adaptive cruise control with a semi-autonomous driving mode. It keeps the XC40 within its own lane and maintains a set speed and distance behind the vehicle ahead. Unlike some other near-self-driving systems, Pilot Assist requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times…perhaps not a surprise considering Volvo’s longstanding focus on safety.
The 2019 XC40 serves up 23 city and 33 highway mpg, at a starting cost of $33,700. Another option is Care by Volvo, an innovative subscription service that includes use of a new XC40 Momentum ($600 per month) or R-Design ($700 per month) for a maximum of 15,000 miles per year. Insurance, maintenance, and road-hazard protection are included, plus the opportunity for the lessee to upgrade to a new XC40 each year for the same all-inclusive monthly payment. A subscription lasts for 24 months.
Nissan's all-new, sixth-generation Altima has been extensively redesigned with greater refinement and efficiency, along with a more aerodynamic body boasting an impressive 0.26 drag coefficient. Distinctive styling cues include a more aggressive front facia with a V-motion grille and streamlined boomerang lights.
Inside there is a standard 7-inch driver display and a NASA-inspired zero gravity seat that enhances comfort and fights fatigue. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. Every 2019 Altima also comes equipped with a standard 8-inch multi-touch color display, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, streaming audio via Bluetooth, hands-free text messaging assistant, and Siri eyes free voice recognition. Some remote features are also accessible through NissanConnect Services’ Amazon Alexa Skill and Google Assistant Action.
Power is provided by a naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 188 horsepower. There’s also an all-new, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 248 horsepower on tap. The world’s first production variable compression engine, this 2.0-liter powerplant enables compression ratio to adjust from 8:1 to 14:1 by continuously raising or lowering piston reach for performance or greater efficiency. Both engines connect to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Paddle shifters are available with the SR grade.
Every 2.5-liter Altima is now available with Intelligent All-Wheel Drive with a 50:50 torque split in most situations, a first for a Nissan sedan and something that remains a relative rarity in this segment. Front-wheel drive 2.5-liter models are rated at 28 city/39 highway mpg.
Unique in the class, Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist helps drivers stay centered in the lane, navigate stop-and-go traffic, maintain a set vehicle speed, and maintain a set distance to the vehicle ahead. To activate the system, a driver simply pushes the blue ProPILOT Assist ON button, then sets the Intelligent Cruise Control when the desired speed is reached, similar to a conventional advanced cruise control system. It uses a forward-facing camera, forward-facing radar, sensors, and an electronic control module.
Along with ProPILOT Assist, also new for 2019 is Rear Automatic Braking that helps a driver by detecting and warning of objects while backing up, and if necessary applying brakes to help avoid a collision. Other safety and convenience features include standard Automatic Emergency Braking, Intelligent Forward Collision Warning, and Intelligent Driver Alertness 3 on all grades.
Intelligent Around View Monitor is standard on the Altima Platinum. Safety Shield 360 includes Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Rear Automatic Braking, Lane Departure Warning, radar-based Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and High Beam Assist (HBA). A new Traffic Sign Recognition system provides the most recent speed limit information.
The 2019 Nissan Altima offers a base cost of $23,900, a point of entry approachable for a great many buyers seeking a fun-do-drive, stylish vehicle offering laudable fuel efficiency and some of the most advanced technology available in its class.
Our drive of the 2019 Lexus ES 300h, the hybrid variant of this automaker’s all-new, seventh-generation ES sedan, was accommodating as expected from this luxury brand with welcome performance. During our drives we found turn-in sharp and precise. Considering front-to-rear weight distribution is heavy over the front wheels, the suspension compensates well and the car feels well-balanced.
Built on Lexus’ new Global Architecture-K platform, the ES enjoys a 2.6-inch increase in length, 1.8-inch increase in width, and wider front and rear tracks compared to the model it replaces. It also offers a two-inch longer wheelbase at 113 inches and a more spacious rear compartment.
The luxury sedan’s most striking angle is its profile that shows low hood and roof lines. From the front it’s the automaker’s unmistakable spindle grill that dominates, enhanced by slim L-shaped LED projector headlights.
The ES 300h layout is front engine, front wheel drive with power derived from a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, plus an electric motor mated to an all new hybrid transaxle. This delivers 215 total system horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is electronically controlled and continuously variable.
Powering the electric motor is a nickel-metal-hydride battery that's more power dense and compact than its predecessor, allowing it to be relocated from the trunk to beneath the rear seat, thus adding welcome trunk space. This fourth-generation Hybrid Drive System enables accelerating from 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds and provides a nearly 600-mile driving range, plus excellent combined 44 mpg fuel economy.
Inside is a well-appointed cabin that’s tranquil and free of exterior noise. New suction-type ventilated cooling seats kept us as comfortable and entertained as any in the new movie theaters. There are lots of choices for interior personalization with three color schemes available, four trims, and three material options for the seats. The car’s standard audio has 10 speakers, and to please audiophiles there’s the optional Mark Levinson audio with 1800 watts and 17 speakers.
Of course, the ES 300h offers all the latest driver assistance systems plus an array of convenience features like Apple CarPlay, and it will be Amazon Alexa-enabled for Android phones and iPhones. Outstanding fuel consumption, a striking design, and first-class amenities make the new Lexus ES 300h a real contender for today’s premium car buyers.
The price of entry for the conventionally powered 2019 Lexus ES is $39,500, with the ES 300h hybrid just $1,810 more at $41,310.
First off, this is not the LEAF we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the road since the model’s introduction in 2010. Our drive of the new generation 2018 Nissan LEAF quickly reinforced this is a whole-new animal, a new generation of the venerable electric car intended to capture the imagination and, not coincidentally, market share in the increasingly competitive electric vehicle field.
We have history with the LEAF. Green Car Journal first experienced the original LEAF’s capabilities in a technology demonstrator designed to share what Nissan had in mind for its groundbreaking, soon-to-come production electric vehicle. At Nissan’s behest, we tested the automaker’s LEAF-destined electric drivetrain in its EV-12 test mule back in 2009 at Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan. We later witnessed the LEAF’s unveiling, clearly showing Nissan’s willingness to push the envelope for electric cars with an edgy design.
We were impressed. So much so, in fact, that Green Car Journal honored the LEAF with the magazine’s 2010 Green Car Vision Award™ in Washington DC, ahead of its introduction to the market. Nissan’s insight into what electric vehicle buyers desired has indeed proved visionary over the years. Testament to this is the LEAF’s standing as the world’s leading affordable, mass production EV since its launch.
The all-new generation Nissan LEAF aims to expand on this success with new styling and a 50-percent increase in driving range. It also features a full suite of Nissan Intelligent Mobility technologies. This all-electric model is more attractive with excellent aerodynamics that result in a low 0.28 drag coefficient. Improved aerodynamics not only means a quieter ride but also contributes to greater range. That’s an important consideration in electric cars with near-silent drivetrains that don’t mask outside noise.
The new Leaf features a 150-mile driving range between charges compared to the previous generation’s 100 miles. This is an important milestone that serves to overcome potential ‘range anxiety.’ Why 150 miles rather than shooting for the 200+ mile range like the Chevy Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3? It’s all about balancing price with functionality. Simply, Nissan aimed at providing an affordable price point under $30,000 for the LEAF. That meant delivering the range it figured would fit the driving needs of most drivers while keeping battery costs within reason. It’s a sound strategy.
A more powerful 40 kWh lithium-ion battery pack features improvements and revised chemistry that bring a 67 percent increase in energy density. Nissan designers have located the low-slung battery pack and other heavy components to the middle of the chassis to enhance the car’s center of gravity and handling. Fun fact: Using vehicle-to-home systems, the LEAF’s battery can store a home’s surplus solar energy while parked during the daytime and use it to help power a home in the evening.
LEAF’s electric powertrain features a 147-horsepower electric motor that’s well-suited to the model. It provides 38 percent more horsepower than the previous version with 26 greater torque for improved acceleration. Acceleration is crisp with more than enough power at the ready for all the driving situations we encountered on twisty roads and Interstates. Intelligent Ride Control delivers more precise motor torque control during cornering. This also reduces vibration while improving ride quality and steering control. Electric power steering software has been tweaked for improved steering feel. The LEAF’s steering torsion bar is also stiffer for better feedback and more linear response to steering inputs.
Nissan’s e-Pedal slows down the car via regenerative and friction braking when a driver’s foot lifts off the accelerator. This delivers electricity to the battery while essentially providing braking force without using the car’s brake pedal. It even brings the car to a complete stop. We found that driving with e-Pedal kept our LEAF tester in place while stopped on a steep hill without requiring a foot on the brake pedal. Notably, e-Pedal allows drivers to go without using the brake pedal 90 percent of the time.
LEAF’s ProPILOT cruise control conveniently maintains a constant distance to the vehicle ahead. If that vehicle stops, ProPILOT automatically applies brakes to also bring the LEAF to a full stop. It remains stopped even with your foot off the brake. Driving resumes when ProPILOT is activated with the touch of a switch or light pressure on the accelerator. The system also helps keep the LEAF centered in its lane at speeds between 19 and 62 mph. Other LEAF driver-assist technologies include Intelligent Lane Intervention, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Intelligent Around View Monitor with moving object detection.
The new LEAF’s interior has a more luxurious and high-end look. Its dashboard is dominated by a seven-inch display for infotainment and the navigation system, if so equipped, plus Nissan's Safety Shield state-of-charge and power gauge. Another seven-inch screen faces the driver in place of conventional dials. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included on LEAFs with the higher-spec infotainment/navigation system.
Today’s electric car market is different than that of the past. There are more choices in a growing number of vehicle classes and this makes it tougher for automakers to compete. Nissan aims to not only compete in the electric car field but dominate globally as it has in recent years.
The LEAF’s status as a true world car is underscored by widespread availability like the previous-generation LEAF. It’s also reinforced by Nissan’s global manufacturing capabilities with assembly plants in Japan, England, and in Smyrna, Tennessee. Offering the all-new LEAF at a base price of $29,990 here in the U.S. is a strategy that should bode well for Nissan in today’s increasingly competitive electric vehicle market.
Volkswagen added its 4MOTION all-wheel drive and a few other tweaks to the Golf SportWagen to create the Golf Alltrack, a five-seat hatchback with off-road capability. Available in S, SE, and SEL trim levels, it features a full suite of connectivity and driver assistance systems, either as standard or optional equipment.
Like the Golf SportWagen, the Golf Alltrack is powered by VW's 1.8 liter DOHC four-cylinder TSI engine. This turbocharged and intercooled, 16-valve direct fuel-injected powerplant is rated at 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft torque. A six-speed manual is standard on the S and SE, with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode and available steering wheel paddle shifters optional, but standard on the top SEL model. EPA rates the Alltrack at 22 city/32 highway mpg, a few mpg less than the SportWagen that comes with 4MOTION.
VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system normally delivers power to the front wheels and can also sends torque to the rear wheels when needed, with the system automatically adapting to varying road conditions for additional traction. Drivers can select between Normal, Sport, Custom, and Off-Road modes. All-wheel-drive also works in conjunction with other active stability systems like Electronic Differential Lock (EDL). Hill Descent Control actively helps control brake application when descending steep inclines, a feature that’s especially helpful in slippery conditions to maintain a constant, controlled speed. An available three-gauge Off-Road Monitor provides information about altitude, steering wheel angle, compass heading, and more.
The Alltrack is 2.1 inches taller than the SportWagen with an increased ground clearance of 6.9 inches. It also features rugged bumpers for tough conditions. Bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights are available on the SEL. The model’s optional adaptive front-lighting system turns the headlights slightly with steering at certain speeds. A power tilting/sliding panoramic sunroof is available along with roof rails that work with VW accessories for carrying outdoor equipment.
Car-Net App-Connect allows the use of select apps from a compatible smartphone on the dash, providing information, support, and assistance to make this the center of a driver’s mobile universe. The system’s Guide & Inform features handy items like enhanced navigation with traffic updates, sports scores, weather information, and more. VW Car-Net Security & Service allows a smartphone to locate the car’s last parked location, check to see if doors are locked, or call for help in an emergency.
VW provides desired driver assistance systems that include a rearview camera system and much more. Front Assist, which includes Forward Collision Warning with front sensors, helps monitor traffic and warn of a potential collision. If a collision is imminent, Front Assist’s autonomous emergency braking helps brake the car. Adaptive Cruise Control helps maintain a preset distance from the car in front. If the car in front speeds up or slows down, sensors detect the change and respond by slowing or stopping the Alltrack automatically. Lane Departure Warning senses when an Alltrack driver is drifting into another lane without a turn signal activated and provides steering input to keep the car in its correct lane.
Park Distance Control uses sensors that help a driver drive into or back out of a parking spot. Audible signals and an optical parking system function in the display indicate how much space is available behind or in front while parking. An alert sounds as a warning if you get too close. The display provides additional support for a driver by showing the position of obstacles. Park Assist determines if a parking spot is big enough, then helps steer the vehicle into the space while a driver operates the accelerator, brake, and shifter.
Those looking to get into a handsome and versatile wagon with off-road capabilities should give the VW Alltrack a close look. It features VW’s expected attention to detail and quality while delivering a fun-to-drive nature and capabilities that allow heading for roads less traveled, at a reasonable MSRP of $25,850 that fits a lot of budgets.
In the late 1960s, many VW Beetle sedans and convertibles were converted into Baja Bugs for desert or beach duty, or just to look cool. Like the iconic dune buggies conceived by Bruce Meyers, the Baja Bug originated in Southern California. Unlike dune buggies that had completely new fiberglass bodies on a shortened Beetle chassis like the Meyers Manx, Baja Bugs retained most of the Beetle's sheetmetal and chassis modifications were not required. Conversions were often done by individual owners. There was a shortened fiberglass front and an abbreviated rear that left the engine mostly exposed, plus tubular steel cage-type front and rear bumpers and shorter fiberglass front and rear fenders.
For 2017, the Beetle Dune Convertible joins the Dune Coupe that first appeared as a 2016 VW model following its debut as a concept car at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show. Though much more sophisticated, VW says the Dune was inspired by the original Baja. While based on the third-generation New Beetle, the bolder Dunes gets a raised ride height of 0.4 inches and a 0.6-inch wider track for a more rugged appearing stance.
Front and rear facias of the VW Dune Convertible are more aggressive looking than the standard model and feature black 0.6 inch wheel arch extensions that flow into the bumper. The front bumper integrates a large central air intake with a black honeycomb screen and aluminum-looking surround that morphs into the front skid plate. Foglights are located on either side of the intake in two black honeycomb vents. An available Lighting Package adds Bi-Xenon headlights with LED Daytime Running Lights and LED rear license plate lighting.
The sides of the Dune are characterized by the contrast between polished aluminum sills black trim strips that remind you of the running boards on the original Beetle. At the rear is a large spoiler on both coupe and convertible variants, standard LED taillights, and a rear bumper design with matte black and aluminum elements that mimic the front facia. The rear diffuser also acts as a skid plate. Dune rides on 18-inch Canyon aluminum-alloy wheels fitted with 235/45 all-season tires.
Like other Beetle 1.8T models, the Dune is powered by a 1.8-liter, direct-injected and turbocharged TSI four-cylinder engine that delivers 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy numbers are 24 mpg city/31 mpg for both Dune models. During our drives on backroads and interstates we found the Beetle Dune
The top on the Dune Convertible is operated by a header-mounted switch and can be opened in 9.5 seconds. Closing takes 11 seconds, and both can be done at speeds up to 31 mph…just in case a up/down decision comes just before a traffic light turns green. The Dune’s 50/50 rear seat accommodates two. Its trunk can hold 7.0 cubic feet of cargo regardless of the top’s position.
Beetle Dunes are available in three exterior colors include Sandstorm Yellow, Pure White, or Deep Black Pearl. Sandstorm Yellow cars have an interior that features body-color upper door trims and dash pads, with the Pure White and Black Pearl cars featuring black door and dash pad trim.
While original Bajas were very spartan with few creature comforts, the Dune presents quite a departure. It’s filled with the latest technologies like a standard MIB II infotainment system ready for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink smartphone platforms via Volkswagen’s Car-Net system. Its 6.3-inch touchscreen has a capacitive touch sensor like smartphones and tablets for gesture controls like swiping and pinch-zooming. MIB II also features a proximity sensor that detects when a hand is nearby and automatically switches its display to allow an array of features. A rearview camera and Park Distance Control are standard. A Technology package is available that adds dual-zone automatic climate control, a premium audio system, KESSY keyless access with push-button start, and a tilt-and-slide sunroof.
Just like the rest of the Beetle line-up, Dunes are fitted with the automaker’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking System. This takes into account that a collision is rarely a single, instantaneous action, but a series of events that follow the initial impact – the most significant of which can cause additional collisions. The system helps address this by applying brakes when a primary collision is detected by the airbag sensors, thus helping reduce residual kinetic energy and the chance of additional damage.
The VW Beetle Dune coupe is available at an approachable $23,995 with the convertible upping the ante to $29,395. Cool-looking with a bit of nostalgia built in, the techie Dune is fun, eye-catching, and efficient…a great combination for fans of the iconic Beetle.
Green Car Journal has named the all-electric 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV its 2017 Green Car of the Year® during AutoMobility LA at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The Bolt EV emerged the winner over fellow finalists BMW 330e iPerformance, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Optima, and Toyota Prius Prime. Widely recognized as the auto industry’s most prestigious environmental honor, the award was presented by Green Car Journal editor and publisher Ron Cogan and accepted by Chevrolet Cars & Crossovers marketing director Steve Majoros.
The Green Car of the Year jury selected the 2017 Bolt EV for its milestone 238 mile battery electric driving range, stylish design, pleasing driving dynamics, and welcome suite of advanced and connected technologies. Along with its distinction as the first production battery electric vehicle to achieve a 200-plus mile driving range, the 2017 Bolt EV offers an array of features that provide a unique and catered ride to the driver.
Editors and jurors note that Chevrolet’s all-new 2017 Bolt EV is a breakthrough vehicle in every sense, sending a clear signal that an electric car’s environmental achievement is well-suited to the mass market. From the time modern electric vehicles emerged in the 1990s, limited driving range has presented a core challenge to the commercialization of electric cars affordable to everyday drivers. Bolt EV overcomes this with its 238-mile battery electric driving range and approachable price, the first production electric car to achieve this milestone.
Each year, an expanding number of environmentally positive vehicle models are considered for the Green Car of the Year® program, an illustration that the auto industry is continuing to expand its efforts in offering new vehicles with higher efficiency and improved environmental impact. The Green Car of the Year® is selected through a majority vote by a jury that includes celebrity auto enthusiast Jay Leno, as well as leaders of noted environmental and efficiency organizations including Jean-Michel Cousteau, President of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, Board Member of Global Green USA; Dr. Alan Lloyd, President Emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; and Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy.
Staff jurors include Cam Benty, Ron Cogan, Drew Hardin, Jeff Karr, Todd Kaho, and Dr. Bill Siuru, all veteran auto writers and editors with decades-long careers in the auto industry. Their deep understanding of the importance and nuances of vehicles includes their time spent as editors of such noted legacy auto publications as Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Truck Trends, Popular Hot Rodding, and others.
During the award’s vetting process, Green Car Journal editors consider all vehicles, fuels and technologies as an expansive field of potential candidates is narrowed down to the final five. Finalists are selected for their achievements in raising the bar in environmental performance. Many factors are considered including efficiency, performance characteristics, ‘newness,’ affordability and overall environmental achievement. Availability to the mass market is important to ensure honored models have the potential to make a real difference in environmental impact, and finalists must be available for sale by January 1 of the award year.