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Somewhat smaller than Lincoln’s first plug-in SUV, the Aviator Grand Touring, the Corsair is a luxury-oriented, two-row crossover that injects comfort and class into a compact premium crossover segment dominated by European offerings. It's offered in both conventional gas- and plug-in hybrid-powered variants.

When one looks to Corsair, its distinguishing characteristics and luxury appointments mean there’s no mistaking it for anything other than a Lincoln. Its attractive design features creased and organic dynamic bodylines, a Lincoln-esque diamond patterned grille, and oversized alloy wheels. Inside is a premium leather-upholstered, wood-accented, and tech-rich cabin. The compact Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring lives large enough for four to five well-sized adults and a complement of weekend luggage.

At the heart of 2021 Corsair Grand Touring beats a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder, Atkinson cycle gas engine and a twin electric motor planetary drive system. A constant variable transmission transfers torque to the front wheels. A third motor producing 110 lb-ft torque is dedicated to driving the rear wheels, bringing the confident traction of all-wheel drive. Combined, this powertrain delivers an estimated 266 horsepower.

EPA fuel efficiency is rated at 33 combined mpg and 78 MPGe when running on battery power. It will drive 28 miles on its lithium-ion batteries with a total range of 430 miles. Conventionally-powered Corsairs net an estimated 22 city and 29 highway mpg, and 25 mpg combined .

A driver-centric cockpit offers infinitely adjustable and heated leather seating surrounded by wood and burnished metal accents. A comprehensive dash and infotainment display, back-up dashcam, pushbutton drive commands, head-up display, parking assist, and smartphone keyless access are standard or available. Top-of-the-line Co-Pilot 360 driver assist, electronic safety, and personal connectivity features are offered. Corsair Grand Touring’s 14.4 kWh battery module is located beneath the model’s body pan, resulting in a lower center of gravity and unobstructed rear deck cargo space.

The Corsair Grand Touring has an MSRP of $50,390, about fourteen grand more than the conventionally-powered base model. It's expected to make its way to Lincoln showrooms sometime this spring.


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Along with models like the 2019 Jaguar I-PACE, Audi e-tron, and upcoming Porsche Taycan, we're seeing a new generation of high-tech battery-powered vehicles that bring an exciting new direction to legacy automakers. These models also have something important in common: They aim to disrupt Tesla, the industry’s de-facto electric car leader.

Disruption is a word thrown about with abandon these days as veritable institutions of business and commerce fall from grace, or at least profitability, at the hands of an ever-changing and disruptive world. Think Sears, Borders, and Kodak. The list of major companies disrupted – either gone, a shadow of their former self, or on the ropes – continues to grow. While the auto industry has largely escaped this same fate, change is definitely in the wind. And its bogeyman in recent years has clearly been Tesla.

tesla-model-x-actionPREVIOUS DISRUPTION: We’ve seen the auto industry disrupted before, not by innovators but rather by geo-politics, circumstance, and a lack of long-term vision. The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and the 1979 Oil Crisis that brought serious gas shortages were a result of political disruption. It was a time when stations ran out of gas, lines of cars snaked for blocks as drivers tried desperately to keep their tanks full and their car-dependent lives on track, and consumers looked for more fuel-efficient vehicles to ease their pain. The problem, however, was there were few fuel-efficient models being produced since there had been no particular demand for them. The auto industry had to adapt, but with typically long product cycles it would take years to adequately fill this need.

Segue to 2003 and the launch of Tesla Motors, an occurrence that seemed interesting but hardly a threat to legacy automakers. Its high-tech Tesla Roadster introduced in 2008 – based on engineless ‘gliders’ produced by Lotus – proved that electric cars could be sporty, fun, and go the distance in ways that all other electrics before it could not, to the tune of 250 miles of battery electric driving on a single charge. Then came the Tesla designed-and-built Model S, Model X, and the new-to-the-scene Model 3. Clearly, the battle for leadership in electric cars was underway.

jaguar-ipace-rolling-chassisA HISTORY OF INNOVATION: The auto industry’s penchant for innovation has always characterized its giants. Over its long history, this is an industry that brought us the three-point safety belt, airbags, anti-lock braking, cruise control, direct fuel injection, electronic ignition, and near-zero emission gasoline engines. And let us not forget Kettering’s invention of the electric starter that first saw use in 1912 Cadillacs, an innovation that tipped the scales – and history – in favor of internal combustion over electric cars of the era and helped lead to the combustion engine’s dominance to this day.

While Tesla may have established its role as the industry’s electric car innovator, that’s not to say that legacy automakers haven’t made tremendous progress. GM’s short-lived EV1 electric car of the 1990s proved that exciting and fun electric cars were possible, but not necessarily affordable to make at the time. The technologies developed by GM through the EV1 program live on to this day with evolutionary electric-drive technology found in its acclaimed Chevrolet Bolt EV and other electrified models. Advanced battery electric production vehicles have also been a focus at Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Smart, and VW, with others like Porsche set to enter the market with long-range battery EVs.

jaguar-ipace-and-model-x-1So here’s the lesson of the day: If a business model no longer works, as was the case with General Motors and Chrysler during the financial meltdown in the late 1990s, you restructure. A brand no longer resonates with consumers? You drop it, like GM did with Oldsmobile. And if a class of vehicles is falling out of favor in lieu of more desired ones, you move on, as Ford is doing by phasing out almost all of its passenger cars in coming years in favor of more desired crossover/SUVs and pickups.

THE AGE OF ELECTRIFICATION: A paradigm shift is also occurring as automakers grapple with changing consumer preferences, regulatory requirements, and the projected demand for future vehicles and technologies. Enter the age of electrification. Over the past decade, Tesla has set the bar for innovative battery electric propulsion, advancements in near-autonomous driving technology, over-the-air vehicle software updates, and more. It has achieved a real or perceived leadership position in these areas and that’s a threat to legacy automakers. Now automakers are responding in a serious way and Tesla itself is under siege.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EVGM fired the first volley with its 2017 Bolt EV, beating Tesla’s long-touted Model 3 to market with an affordable long-range EV capable of traveling 238 miles on battery power. While Tesla is now delivering its well-received Model 3 in increasing numbers after a series of production challenges, the race with GM to produce an ‘affordable’ mainstream EV with 200-plus mile range was not much of a race to affordability at all. GM won that one handily, holding the line with a $37,500 price (after destination charges), while Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3 has yet to materialize. As Tesla did with its earlier model launches, the automaker is delivering uplevel, high-content, and higher-performance versions first, in the case of the Model 3 from a recently-lowered base price of $42,900 to $60,900, depending on configuration. The Bolt EV’s MSRP has moved in the other direction, dropping slightly to $36,620 for the 2019 model.

Nissan’s all-new, next-generation LEAF that debuted in 2018 improved its range to 150 miles, with a recently-announced LEAF PLUS model joining the lineup with a bigger battery and a range of 226 miles. Hyundai’s 2019 Kona Electric and Kia’s 2019 Niro Electric offer a battery range of about 250 miles, although these offer availability only in California and perhaps a few other ‘green’ states.

nissan-leafEXCITING NEW ENTRIES: Jaguar’s 2019 I-PACE, a fast and sporty crossover with a 234 mile battery electric range, is now available and priced to compete with Tesla’s Model S and X. We'll soon be seeing Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan long-range electrics on U.S. highways, with others like Aston Martin and Maserati developing high-end electric models as well.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the coming months and years. To be sure, legacy automakers will not cede their leadership positions and market share without a terrific fight… and that fight is intensifying. Tesla doesn’t fear risk and has shown it will go in new directions that others will not, unless they must.

Audi e-tronBut Tesla doesn’t operate like legacy automakers that have been around for a long time, some more than a century. Those companies have mastered mass production, fielded extensive model lineups, developed widespread and convenient service networks, and have a history of successful worldwide distribution. Tesla is still learning this game, although it is making headway with its intense and successful efforts to deliver increasing numbers of its Model 3 to customers.

Importantly, legacy automakers are immensely profitable, while Tesla has had but a few profitable quarters since its launch and its losses have been in the billions. Tesla’s well-documented difficulties in ramping up mass production of the company’s 'entry-level' Model 3 – and its initial deliveries of only up-level Model 3 examples at significantly higher cost than its widely-publicized $35,000 base price – have added to its challenges.

tesla-model-3That said, it would be a mistake to count Tesla out for the long haul based on its current and historic challenges including missed financial and vehicle delivery targets, serious Model 3 production challenges, and a number of high-profile Tesla crashes while driving on its much-touted Autopilot. Regardless of all this, in 2018 Tesla’s Model 3 was the best-selling luxury model in the U.S.

Legacy automakers will have Tesla directly in their sights and Tesla will continue to innovate. A veritable race-to-the-finish!

Mission E Cross TurismoPorsche says it plans to invest more than $7 billion (six billion euro) in electrified vehicles over the next four years. As part of this, the automaker will be devoting some $600 million toward the development of is coming Mission E electric sports car and other electrified variants. About $1.25 billion will be dedicated to hybrid and electric powertrains for existing Porsche models

“We are doubling our expenditure on electromobility from around three billion euro to more than six billion euro”, said Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG. “Alongside development of our models with combustion engines, we are setting an important course for the future with this decision.”

Porsche’s stunning battery electric Mission E sports car will boast an output of 600 horsepower and deliver quick 0-60 mph sprints in less than 3.5 seconds. Driving range is claimed to be over 300 miles between charges. It will be fast-charge capable.

In addition to its investment in electrification, Porsche will invest some $250 million on manufacturing sites and facilities plus an additional $850 million on smart mobility, charging infrastructure, and new technologies.

2017-chevy-bolt-ev-front-3General Motors has been at work electrifying cars for decades, from the EV1, Spark EV, and an array of ‘mild’ hybrids to the acclaimed Volt extended-range electric that’s seen on highways across America. Volt owners interviewed universally respond with positive accolades, which means GM has done this car right. Now, the automaker’s 5-door, crossover-like Bolt EV hatchback aims to deliver a similarly satisfying ownership experience while providing even greater battery electric driving range.

The measurably fun-to-drive, imagination expanding Bolt EV features an EPA estimated 238 miles between charge cycles. That’s a groundbreaking figure in the realm of affordable electric cars for the masses, at an MSRP starting at $37,495 (before federal and state incentives). And that’s cool, but not what this gearhead finds most compelling when considering the purchase of a very viable, full-drive-time electric.

2017-chevy-bolt-ev-underhood-1In short, the all-new Chevy Bolt EV is the first stand-alone electric plug-in that I could justify purchasing as my sole mode of transportation. The price is right and proven component and battery module reliability is a given, backed by an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty. Importantly, I discovered the Chevy Bolt to drive, ride, and handle well during our travels on country roads and city streets in the San Francisco Bay Area’s urban expanse.

Dropping into the driver’s seat of the Bolt EV not only leaves an impression of a comfortable and spacious cabin, but also proof of how effectively GM has ‘normalized’ the EV experience. Truthfully, one forgets it’s an electric vehicle being driven within minutes of taking the wheel. And that’s precisely what GM engineers had in mind when designing the Bolt EV – it’s that good.

2017-chevy-bolt-ev-rear-1Driving the Bolt EV is enlightening. The car’s low center of gravity delivers minimal side roll, excellent hill-climbing, on-tap torque, and quick sprint speeds. Satisfying power is delivered by a 200 horsepower electric motor powered by a 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Chevy specs peg 0 to 60 mph acceleration at 6.8 seconds, and that seems about right. Steering response is better than anticipated and the regenerative braking system offers a familiar hydraulic-like feel.

Transitioning from driving the environs of Half Moon Bay to the more urban streets of San Francisco, the Bolt EV’s in-city maneuverability and ease of parking proved to be exceptional. Little to no electric motor noise was noted while wind and tire-to-pavement noise transmitted to the cabin was minimal, all thanks to advanced glass and considerable noise damping provisions. Keep in mind that these sounds are normally masked by the background sound of internal combustion in conventionally-powered cars, and thus magnified in vehicles with silent electric propulsion. Delivering a quiet driving experience in a battery electric vehicle is no small accomplishment, and the Bolt EV does this well.

2017-chevy-bolt-ev-rear-seat-1The Bolt EV’s compact gel foam front seats are unusually comfortable for a subcompact car, providing ease of adjustment and good driver-to-control positioning. Rear seats accommodate taller passengers without compromises in comfort or position due to the car’s relatively high bodyline.

It took just a few minutes for the learning curve in operating the Bolt EV’s center stack and segmented digital instrument cluster. Features are near-intuitive to operate and driver-to-car personal electronics connectivity is straightforward. In dash navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and your preferred personal entertainment device will all pair and display effortlessly through Bolt’s easy-to-view and manipulate 10.2 inch, center stack color touchscreen monitor.

2017-chevy-bolt-ev-display-1Pushing the Bolt EV to levels that would be considered near-redline in a conventionally-powered car was no problem. After 2 1/2 hours of speeds up to 75 mph over variable terrain and road conditions, our test car still showed 130 miles remaining on the range-minder. That’s just a bit of a mind blower! In fact, real-world driving indicates understated range and we have no doubt the Bolt EV could do better than its rated 238 mile battery electric driving range, given a more reasonable pressure on the accelerator pedal.

With its impressive driving range, driver and passenger convenience features, comfort, quality of construction, and available electronic active safety features. Chevy’s 2017 Bolt EV requires no sacrifices to drive electric. It effectively “normalizes” the electric car while firing a warning shot across the bow of the auto industry. The future of personal transportation seems ever more likely to be an electric one and the tech-rich Bolt EV delivers this message in the strongest way possible, at a price affordable to the masses.

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2017 IONIQ HEVHyundai's  soon-to-come 2017 Ioniq comes in three flavors – hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric. All use the same dedicated platform but with distinctly different electrified powertrains, styling cues, and characters.

The Ioniq Hybrid combines a new Kappa 1.6 liter, direct-injected, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with a 43 horsepower electric motor and 1.56 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery. The engine, specifically designed for hybrid application, has an impressive 40 percent thermal efficiency and provides 104 horsepower. Engine and motor together produce a total of 139 horsepower. The Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid also uses the Kappa engine but substitutes a  more powerful 60 horsepower electric motor and more substantial 8.9 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery, the latter to provide an all-electric range of over 25 miles.

2017 IONIQ HEVBoth hybrids use a six-speed double-clutch transmission. The highly-efficient DCT uses low-friction bearings and low-viscosity transmission oil to achieve both excellent performance and fuel efficiency. Enhancing efficiency and dynamic driving are selectable SPORT or ECO modes. SPORT holds lower gears longer and combines power from the engine and electric motor for maximum performance. In ECO mode, the DCT optimizes gear selection for efficiency, upshifting earlier to achieve fuel economy.

The battery electric variant features a 120 horsepower electric motor, 28 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery, and a single-speed transmission. This brings an estimated range of 110 miles and expected 125 MPGe rating. An integrated In-Cable Control Box allows charging from a household electric socket and quicker charging from a 220-volt wall charger is optional. If a public SAE Combo Level 3 DC 100 kilowatt fast-charger is available then battery charging up to 80 percent capacity takes only about 20 minutes.

2017 IONIQ HEVThe sporty hatchback's fluid exterior shape and natural air flow channels emphasize aerodynamic body lines that achieve a 0.24 coefficient of drag. Features like front wheel air curtains, a rear spoiler and diffuser, side sill moldings, floor undercover, and closed-wheel design all contribute to the model’s high aerodynamic efficiency. The Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid have a three-stage active air flap in the front grille as well.

Unique details provide each of the three models with own identities. The Hybrid's Bi-Xenon HID headlights are surrounded by C-shaped LED positioning lamps that complement Hyundai’s signature hexagonal grille and vertical C-shaped LED daytime running lights. The Plug-In also features low-beam LED headlamps and specially-designed 16-inch alloy wheels. Differentiating the Electric is a sleek, closed front fascia since it has no need for extensive powertrain cooling, plus unique eco-spoke alloy wheels and LED low-beam front headlamps/rear combination lamps sporting a unique pattern.

Weight reduction also contributes to low fuel usage and dynamic handling. The aluminum hood and tailgate reduce weight by 27 pound, lithium-ion polymer battery packs are 20 percent lighter than non-polymer lithium-ion variants. Eliminating the lead-acid auxiliary 12 volt battery in hybrid models saves about 26 pounds.

2017 IONIQ HEVPlacing the battery system beneath the Ioniq’s rear seats results in a low center of gravity and an uncompromised cargo area in the Hybrid. Even the Plug-In and Electric variants, despite larger batteries, offer generous interior volumes. All three use permanent magnet synchronous motors optimized by reducing the thickness of core components up to 10 percent and adopting rectangular-section copper wire to decrease core and copper loss.

Ioniq’s light-yet-rigid body features 53 percent advanced high strength steel. The chassis benefits from superior rigidity for responsive handling and safety, with high impact-energy absorption and minimized cabin distortion to protect passengers in the event of a collision. This rigid structure also includes 475 feet of advanced structural adhesives, which provide both light weight and rigidity benefits.

2017 IONIQ HEVThe hybrid and plug-in use a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension system with dual lower control arms that minimize ride and handling compromises often associated with less sophisticated geometry. Extensive use of aluminum in front and rear suspensions saves about 26 pounds. The Electric uses a torsion-beam rear axle to provide more space for the larger batteries, again placed below the rear seats.

Recycled or ecologically-sensitive materials are used in the Ioniq for less reliance on oil-based products. For instance, interior door covers are made of plastic combined with powdered wood and volcanic stone, headliner and carpets feature raw materials extracted from sugar cane, and paint uses renewable ingredients extracted from soybean oil.

2017 IONIQ HEVHyundai’s Blue Link connected car system provides enhanced safety, diagnostics, remote, and guidance services. Blue Link connectivity includes remote start with climate control, destination search powered by Google, remote door lock/unlock, car finder, enhanced roadside assistance, and stolen vehicle recovery. Blue Link features can be accessed via buttons on the rearview mirror, the MyHyundai.com website, or Hyundai’s Blue Link smartphone app. Some features can also be controlled via Android Wear and Apple Watch smartwatch apps. Plug-In and Electric Ioniq drivers will also be able manage and monitor charging schedules remotely via the Blue Link smartphone app.

Innovative active and passive safety features help protect drivers and passengers. These include blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and a lane departure warning system. The Ioniq is also fitted with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Smart cruise control allows a constant speed and following distance to be maintained from the vehicle ahead without depressing the accelerator or brake pedals. It’s automatically cancelled when speed drops to 5 mph or below. The electric Ioniq takes it a step further by providing advanced smart cruise control offering fully automatic stop/start function as well.

2017 IONIQ HEV

ron-cogan-test-driver-1Electric drive vehicles of all types are increasingly in the news, often led by a near-nonstop focus on Tesla and its Model S, Model X, and planned Model 3 battery electric vehicles. People want electric cars. Some feel they need them, or more accurately, that we all need them. It has been so for quite some time.

I was one of those pushing hard for electric vehicles in the 1990s, driving prototypes on test tracks and limited production models on the highway as I shared their benefits on the pages of Green Car Journal and Motor Trend before that. It was an exciting time filled with hope that battery breakthroughs would come, bringing full-function EVs offering the same driving range as conventional vehicles.

Expectations were high that a public charging infrastructure would expand to make topping off batteries convenient. New ideas like 15-minute rapid charging and battery swap stations would allow drivers of all model EVs the ability to renew on-board energy in the time it takes to enjoy a cup of coffee, enabling them to head back on the road in short order with a full battery charge. Importantly, there was an expectation that EVs would be affordable, both to manufacture and to buy.

If only this unfolded as expected, automakers would commit to developing battery electric vehicles of all types to meet the needs of an emerging market. But things have not unfolded as expected.

California’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate drove the electric car surge in the 1990s and it’s a huge influence today. While less refined than electric models we have now, electrics of the 1990s like the Toyota RAV4 EV, Nissan Altra minivan, and Honda EV Plus were quite well engineered. Then there was GM’s EV1. Sleek, sexy, and fun, it provided a daily driving experience unparalleled in the field, something I came to appreciate well during the year I drove an EV1.

The challenge then was the same as now: cost. The EV1 was so costly to build with such massive losses there was no business case for it to continue, and so it ended, as all other electric vehicle programs of the 1990s ended, for the same reason.

volvo-ecc-powerplant

Early on, Volvo had the foresight to challenge the status quo. While evaluating ways to meet California’s impending ZEV mandate, the automaker concluded there was no way to do this realistically with a vehicle powered exclusively by batteries. In 1993, I test drove Volvo’s answer – its high-tech Environmental Concept Car (ECC) that added a high-speed turbine-generator to an electric drivetrain, thus creating what we now call a range-extended electric vehicle (think Chevy Volt). Sadly, the ECC’s high cost turbine-generator meant this innovative car never saw production. But it was at the leading edge of a movement that brought us hybrids and range-extended electric cars. Today, even BMW – a high-profile champion of electrics with its innovative  i3 – understands the importance of offering a range-extended variant with a gas engine-generator for those who prefer the convenience of longer range.

In answer to the chorus of Tesla enthusiasts sure to raise their voices, I am aware that Tesla is committed to all-electric vehicles and the range of the $70,000-$95,000 Model S (before the addition of popular options) is substantially greater than its competitors. The coming Model X electric crossover is expected to be in the same aspirational category as the Model S with a price suitable for premium buyers. The company's planned Model 3, presumably a vehicle accessible to the masses at a price Tesla says will be about $35,000, is said to be three years away. That's a good thing since significant battery cost reductions will be required to make this Tesla-for-the-masses electric an affordable reality. Will three years be enough? Achieving battery cost reductions of the magnitude required is no sure bet and, as history has proved, battery technology advances move at their own pace.

One stock analyst recently quoted in a major newspaper article shared that Tesla has the ability to reduce battery costs by nearly half in the coming three to five years. Of course, the backstory is that this ‘ability’ is really but a ‘potential’ based on batteries that do not yet commercially exist. The past 25 years are replete with examples of major government and industry efforts aimed at developing energy-dense, safe, and affordable electric car batteries that deliver the range and cost expectations of auto manufacturers and consumers. Over these years there have been many incremental improvements in battery design and chemistry, a slew of failures, and pending ‘breakthroughs’ that have often been promoted only to have expectations and actual production sidelined for a plethora of  reasons du jour.

tesla-store-rolling-chassis

As just one recent example, Panasonic's 2009 announcement of a lithium-ion battery breakthrough using a silicon alloy cathode was accompanied with a claim it would be manufactured in 2012. Many positive reports on electric vehicles take into account this very ‘breakthrough’ and others like it, with the considerable cost reductions that would follow. Yet, Panasonic did not begin mass production of this battery technology in 2012. According to a Panasonic spokesman, the company’s work on developing high-capacity battery cells using a silicon-based negative electrode is ongoing. Hopefully,  developments like these will lead to the kind of mass production that could bring long-hoped-for battery performance and cost reductions. Perhaps this will come to pass with a mass effort by Tesla through its proposed $5 billion battery ‘Giga Factory,’ and perhaps not. But after 25 years of following battery development I have learned not to count on claims or development, but rather actual production and availability in the real world.

Tesla continues to develop its Supercharger quick-charge network and has potential plans for a battery swap system, both exclusively compatible with its own vehicles. An innovative and expanding infrastructure for battery electrics will be required for their ultimate success and these are very positive moves, although only for those with a Tesla product and not electric vehicle owners as a whole.

Battery electric vehicles priced at levels accessible to everyday buyers will continue to grapple with cost and marketing challenges until a battery breakthrough comes. This is illustrated by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne's comment earlier this year that the company is losing $14,000 on every one of the Fiat 500e electric cars it sells. Is it so different for other automakers also selling EVs in limited numbers and in constrained geographic locations? Not inconsequentially, to bolster the market battery electric cars will also require continuing federal and state incentives that combined typically total $10,000 or more. Hopefully, innovative thinking and real technology and cost breakthroughs will emerge in the years ahead.

In the meantime, gasoline-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrid models, plus range-extended electric vehicles that combine all-electric drive with an on-board electric generator, are providing functionality for everyone even as battery-only electric cars fight hard to establish their place in the automotive market. Let's hope that mass-market, nationally-available models like BMW's innovative i3 electric car change this dynamic sooner than later.

It’s interesting to chart the growing sales of hybrids and other clean vehicles today. What’s really enlightening, though, is to understand how these vehicles are being used and what their implications are for our driving future.

That’s where cutting-edge demonstration projects like Austin’s Pecan Street bring great value to urban and transportation planners, by providing a real-life example of how far we can take sustainable, low-, or no-carbon transportation and daily living with currently available technology.

Austin’s Pecan Street, Inc, the country's first non-profit research and development consortia focused on energy, wireless, and consumer electronics technology, recently joined with GM subsidiary OnStar to collect and analyze real-world energy consumption through driving and charging data patterns. Thanks to the GM/OnStar partnership, the Pecan Street project now includes the Chevy Volt for gaining critical real-life usage data for the use and charging of extended-range electric vehicles. Chevrolet made 100 Volts available for priority purchase to residents participating in the project last September.

Among the grid-relieving solutions developed by OnStar are charging with renewable energy, energy demand response, time-of-use-rates, and home energy management. The partnership with Pecan Street is enabling OnStar to test these smart grid services in realistic, everyday scenarios. Additional partner companies like Sony, Whirlpool, Oncor, and Intel are also providing residents with smart grid and clean energy products and services, such as photovoltaic panels for generating power, batteries to store energy, and smart grid tools to help make everything work in unison.

The final goal of the project is to help consumers make the best possible use of energy for daily life, and specifically for charging their plug-in hybrids and other electric vehicles. The hope is that research resulting from the project will help speed up the innovation cycle around smart grid and consumer electronics technology. This is important since electric vehicles add significantly to a home’s energy profile. Understanding how, and when, consumers use their electric vehicles and keep them charged is critical information.