The immensely popular pickup field is being electrified. Coming electric pickups from legacy automakers like Ford and GM are hugely important since pickups are among their most profitable models. And Tesla? Well, in its typical disruptive fashion, Tesla is introducing a wildly different take on pickups with the company’s signature performance and range characteristics built in. Even luxury electric vehicle maker Karma plans to join the party with an extended range electric pickup.
Names like Atlis, Bollinger, Lordstown, Nicola, and Rivian are new to the scene. These startups are in varying stages of development, some with a solid foundation of billions in investment, manufacturing facilities, and actual product in the works, and others a bit more aspirational. Will they succeed? Time will tell. Plus, we’ll have to see how some wishful launch schedules align with reality.
ATLIS MOTOR VEHICLES plans to offer its heavy-duty electric XT as a regular bed pickup, plus in flat-bed, service body, and dually configurations. Atlis says the truck will carry a 1,000 to 5,000 pound payload, tow 6,000 to 17,000 pounds with a conventional hitch, or 20,000 to 35,000 pounds with a fifth wheel or gooseneck hitch. The company claims a driving range of 300 to 500 miles. These capabilities depend on the battery capacity selected, which starts at 125 kWh. Rather than the lithium-ion batteries powering most EVs today, Atlis is using nickel-manganese-cobalt batteries. It says these batteries are fast-charge capable and can be charged in as little as 15 minutes.
ANALYSIS: The performance claimed by Atlis is quite ambitious, especially since it’s using a less mature battery chemistry and plans to offer a pickup starting at $45,000. This start-up has a concept model developed and is actively seeking investment.
BOLLINGER is looking at a late 2020 launch for its B2 electric pickup and B1 electric SUV. The B2 pickup will have a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) over 10,000 pounds, making it a Class 3 truck with a 5,000 pound payload capacity. It’s expected to offer a 7,500 tow capability and drive an estimated 200 miles with power from a 120 kWh battery pack. Portal axles mean excellent ground clearance for off-road duty. The Bollinger B2’s Class 3 rating and stark styling – flat glass, external door hinges, and aluminum body panels devoid of compound curves that can be formed by simple equipment – makes it clear the company is not aiming at buyers who want to make a fashion statement. Plus, prototypes shown to date have an austere interior without an infotainment system, surprising for a vehicle projected to have a $125,000 price tag. The cargo area’s unique pass-through into the cab makes the truck capable of handling a telephone pole.
ANALYSIS: With its substantial price, rudimentary styling, and austere interior, Bollinger’s B2 pickup appears aimed at commercial applications rather than mainstream pickup buyers. It looks like Bollinger recognizes this niche market role since the company is planning to make only 1500 vehicles in its first year.
FORD plans to offer as many as 16 pure electric vehicles by 2022 including an electric Ford F-Series pickup, which could appear later in 2021. Ford hasn’t released much information about the electric F-150, but it is expected that range, payload, and towing capability will be competitive with other electric pickups, and perhaps a bit better. That means a range of 250 to over 400 miles, at least a ton of payload, and the ability to tow 7,500 to 14,000 pounds. These numbers are based on battery kWh capacity and selected motors. Like options for conventional F-150s these will be items to be checked off by buyers.
ANALYSIS: Pickup buyers are a very loyal bunch, and if the electric F-150 doesn’t stray too far from the best-selling F-150 it should readily succeed with Ford pickup fans who want to go ‘green.’
GM will naturally have an electric pickup if its traditional competitor Ford has one, and in all likelihood, it will offer several. GMC will get a version that will be marketed as a Hummer, and a Chevrolet Silverado variant will surely emerge since this brand has such a huge pickup following. Both would be built on a similar platform with capabilities comparable to that of Tesla, Rivian, and Ford electric pickups. Again, buyers will be able to select battery/motor options. GM expects a 2021 launch for its electric GMC Hummer pickup. Rumor has it that a Chevrolet Silverado variant will be a more traditional pickup built on a smaller version of the platform, with the GMC Hummer pickup aimed at the off-road, adventure vehicle buyer.
ANALYSIS: Chevrolet and GMC, like Ford, have the advantage of decades of owner loyalty. An electric Chevy Silverado pickup will certainly find a strong following, while the Hummer will likely be a niche vehicle.
KARMA AUTOMOTIVE says it is developing an electric pickup that extends its battery range with electricity from an internal combustion engine-generator, similar to its existing electrified products. The electric pickup will be based on a newly developed all-wheel drive platform and cost less than the company’s $135,000 Revero GT, an extended range electric luxury sedan. A concept pickup is promised later in 2020. The new electric pickup will be built at the company’s existing manufacturing facility in Southern California.
ANALYSIS: A start-up that launched in 2015, Karma has shown it is committed to the electric vehicle market with several high-end models under its belt and others in the works. It has worked with Italy’s renowned car design and coachbuilder Pininfarina on a concept electric grand touring car with production potential, so we have yet to see if its coming electric pickup will be an entirely in-house project or involve others.
LORDSTOWN MOTORS says it plans a 2021 introduction for its Endurance electric pickup with a four-wheel-drive hub motor system. Limited information is available except that it will climb a 30 percent grade fully loaded, carry a 2200 pound payload, and tow 6000 pounds. Range is estimated at a minimum 250 miles. The company is now taking deposits for its 2021 Endurance pickup at a base price of $52,500. Its primary emphasis is on fleets, though private parties can also make a reservation.
ANALYSIS: Lordstown Motors has received a $40 million loan from General Motors and took over GM’s huge Lordstown Assembly Plant. GM is building a large battery factory nearby in partnership with LG Chem. Part of this effort might include taking up an option to lease space in the Lordstown Assembly Plant. In addition to its own manufacturing, Lordstown Motors hopes to provide overflow manufacturing capacity for Workhorse Group’s last-mile electric delivery vans.
NIKOLA MOTOR COMPANY has shown its Nikola Badger pickup that would presumably come in two models, one battery-electric and the other running on a combination of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell power. Battery electric propulsion is said to feature a 160 kWh battery and a 300 mile range. Adding fuel cell power to the battery electric powertrain would incorporate a 120 kW fuel cell and a total 600 mile range, when hydrogen is available. The Badger is engineered to deliver 906 peak and 455 continuous horsepower, with a massive 980 lb-ft torque. An 8,000 pound tow capability is claimed. In addition, the pickup will feature a 15 kW power outlet for tools, lights, and compressors. Nikola says it will partner with an established OEM to build the Badger and initially announced a late 2020 launch plan, while identifying a $60,000 to $90,000 price range.
ANALYSIS: Nikola is leveraging the technology and expertise developed for its Nikola One and Nikola Two electric and fuel cell semi tractor-trailer trucks. Given the capabilities of the Badger pickup and the likely high price tag of a combined battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, we would expect its target market to be primarily commercial operations. Nikola plans to build hydrogen filling stations along well-traveled truck routes to facilitate fuel cell use, a move that further underscores a focus on the commercial market.
RIVIAN plans to launch its R1T pickup in 2021. It will be available with 105, 135, and 180 kWh battery packs and corresponding ranges estimated at 230, 300, and 400 miles, starting at an estimated price of $69,000. All versions will have an 11,000 pound tow rating. The pickup features a ‘gear tunnel’ stowage space behind the rear seats and the ability to make a 360-degree turn in its own length, like a tank. In addition to the truck, Rivian will offer an R1S SUV using the same skateboard platform as the R1T truck.
ANALYSIS: While Rivian is a startup, it has billions in backing from the likes of Ford, Amazon, and T. Rowe Price. Amazon has placed an order with Rivian for 100,000 electric delivery vans, which will be built at Rivian’s manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois, a former Mitsubishi assembly plant acquired by Rivian in 2017.
TESLA’S Cybertruck is by far the most high-profile pickup introduction and the one most talked about today. Coming from the well-established electric car leader, the Cybertruck is a combination of edgy and disruptive styling one might expect on the set of a dystopic sci-fi thriller infused with some pretty impressive innovations. Among these are a motorized metal tonneau cover that completely retracts below the truck’s rear window and a built-in ramp for loading gear and recreational toys. Tesla claims its stainless steel Cybertruck will deliver a range of 250 to 500 miles, offer a 3500 pound payload, and will be capable of towing between 7500 to 14,000 pounds. The range of capabilities varies on battery capacity – 75 to 200 kWh – and motor configurations, including Tri Motor AWD, Dual Motor AWD, or Single Motor RWD. Prices are said to range from $39,990 to $69,900, though Tesla’s track record of rolling out high-spec editions first means the lower-end model won’t be seeing daylight any time soon.
ANALYSIS: Tesla, which arguably can be credited with making electric vehicles a serious option to combustion engine models, could be the first startup to achieve long term success. The company sold 367,500 cars in 2019 and has four current models in its stable with plans for more, which means it has transcended the traditional definition of a niche automaker. Like previous Tesla products, expect the Cybertruck to exhibit many changes before deliveries presumably start in late 2021.
A shift to electric pickups is tantalizing to many, but it’s no easy thing. It’s true that electric pickups require less maintenance than their gasoline or diesel counterparts. Still, there are times when EV-specific service will be required beyond the usual tire, brake, and fluid maintenance that can be performed by mainstream service providers. Electric pickup manufacturers must provide for this service. That’s not a significant issue for legacy automakers like Ford and GM that have a widespread dealer sales and service network, even in sparsely populated states. Service personnel at dealerships can be trained in EV-specific work. Fledgling and start-up electric pickup companies will certainly be at a disadvantage here.
Are there other electric pickups in the works beyond the brands mentioned here? That’s certainly likely considering the interest already developing and the intensively competitive nature of the auto industry, though details on additional players are unknown. With the advent of electric pickups on the near horizon, that may change sooner than you would expect.
The 2020 Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid, 2020 Ford Interceptor Utility Hybrid, and 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring will be the first Ford products to feature an efficient Modular Hybrid Transmission (MHT). Developed by Ford supplier Schaeffler, it was created by essentially inserting an electric motor and disconnect clutch between the engine and torque converter on Ford's 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission.
The addition of the motor unit adds just 6.3 inches to the transmission’s overall length, which is accommodated by shortening the driveshaft on rear- and four-wheel-drive vehicles. It uses the same lug spacing as the non-hybrid transmission. The MHT is built alongside the regular 10-speed automatic since it shares about 90 percent of its components.
Many hybrids do not use a torque converter since the torque of an electric motor is sufficient to get the vehicle moving and help smooth shifts. Ford kept the torque converter mainly to maintain the excellent towing, hauling, and maximum-performance capabilities found in its non-hybrid siblings. The MHT's electric motor provides low-speed torque, an extra boost of power, and regenerative braking with improved fuel economy.
The Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid uses a 44 horsepower electric motor with a 3.3-liter naturally-aspirated V-6. The electric motor can provide 221 lb-ft of additional torque. The MHT system's 1.5 kilowatt-hour liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery is about 33 percent smaller than the first generation battery that debuted in the 2005 Escape hybrid. It is packaged beneath the Explorer's second-row seats so it doesn't compromise cargo space.
Ford's Transit Connect, named Green Car Journal's 2019 Commercial Green Car of the Year™ at the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show, is available in both cargo van and wagon variations. This popular commercial vehicle emerges as an all-new generation in 2019, with changes in its overall appearance at both ends and inside, through changes were minor. It continues to be offered in both short and long wheelbase versions. The larger van has more cargo volume and an increased payload capability of an additional 60 pounds over the smaller van's 1510 pounds. There are rear-door options - liftgate and panel truck style – as well as dual side doors. It’s available in XL and XLT trim.
Three engine choices are available, two of them new. One new offering is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, direct-injected flex-fuel (gasoline/E85 ethanol) engine producing 160 horsepower and 144 lb-ft torque, featuring 24 city/27 highway mpg. Also new is a 1.5-liter EcoBlue four-cylinder turbodiesel slated to arrive later in the model year. Auto stop/start is standard on both new engines. Six-speed automatic and new eight-speed automatic transmissions are offered. The Transit Connect’s carryover 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder engine features 169 horsepower and 171 lb-ft torque, delivering 20 city/27 highway mpg fuel economy. Fleet buyers can get the 2.5-liter engine prepped for propane or compressed natural gas conversions. The family of EcoBlue engines was developed by Ford engineering teams in the U.K. and Germany to replace the current Duratorq diesel engines. They offer improved fuel economy as well as reduced CO2 and NOX emissions.
Since connectivity is important, especially for fleet managers who use it to enhance productivity, the Transit Connect has a standard 4G LTE modem capable of connecting 10 devices to the internet. A charger for wireless devices and two USB ports are also standard.
This compact van’s list of standard driver-assist features includes pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, rear view camera, and automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning. Available systems include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, driver impairment monitor, and lane-keeping aid with lane departure warning. Standard Ford MyKey technologies allow fleet managers to preset warnings, set speed limits, and restrict audio volume. Also standard is a rear view camera, curve control, torque vectoring control, trailer sway control, and side-wind mitigation.
Ford has unveiled its redesigned 2019 Transit Connect Wagon, a popular compact delivery van that's widely used by tradesmen, small businesses, and delivery services. The updated model features all-new powerplants to maximize efficiency and functionality, including a standard 2.0-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine with Auto Start-Stop connected to all-new 8-speed automatic. In addition, a class-exclusive 1.5-liter EcoBlue diesel engine and 8-speed automatic is available that’s expected to achieve a highway EPA rating of 30 mpg.
The new Transit Connect comes in two available wheelbases to handle five to seven passengers. Two sliding side doors make entering and exciting the vehicle very convenient. The seating can be easily reconfigured so the wagon can readily switch over to cargo duty,
Drivers will appreciate the Transit Connect’s handy suite of driver-assist technologies that includes standard Automatic Emergency Braking, Pre-Collision Assist, and Pedestrian Detection. Optionally available are a Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert plus a Lane Keeping System that alerts a driver if they are wandering outside of a lane and can gently provide steering input to stay in a lane. Available Adaptive Cruise Control enables detecting and pacing the car ahead while on cruise control, slowing as necessary so the car ahead is not overtaken.
Inside the Transit Connect, a new instrument panel features a digital driver information center in the cluster and an available 6.5-inch touch screen. Standard 4G LTE connectivity is provided that can connect up to 10 devices to the Internet, along with available SYNC 3 with Ford+Alexa functionality.
Ford’s popular Transit Connect, a European compact van model introduced to the U.S. in 2010, continues to find a ready market with tradesmen, delivery services, and fleets seeking an efficient and easily maneuverable van for urban and suburban use. It’s available as either a short- or long-wheelbase van, both with the same 1,620 pound payload capacity.
The long-wheelbase version adds an additional 25 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the front seats. Those operating in tight city environs may prefer the shorter model with its 36.1 foot turning diameter versus 40.0 feet for the longer variant. The Transit Connect is available in base XL and upscale XLT trim levels. Ford also offers short- and long-wheelbase wagons with that can accommodate up to seven.
Both wheelbase versions can be ordered with a traditional liftgate or split cargo doors that open up to 180 degrees. Twin sliding side doors are convenient for making sidewalk deliveries. A passenger-side power running board is available. Roof rails and a roof rack are now available options for both XL and XLT series vans. A perimeter alarm, which is included when optional remote start is ordered, detects security threats through impact and shock sensors and activates an alarm to help protect vehicle contents.
The Transit Connect cargo van is available with optional second-row seating to increase versatility beyond cargo. The wagon version also features a versatile approach by delivering cargo capabilities along with five to seven passenger seating. It features more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded on the long-wheelbase model. All Transit Connect models feature first-row front and side airbags, first-row side curtain airbags, and a tire pressure monitoring system. A low-profile center console option is available on all Transit variants for making it easier to install computer equipment in the center console area and to walk from the cab to the back of the vehicle.
SYNC 3 is optional on Transit Connect XLT cargo van and Transit Connect Wagon XLT. The system features faster performance, more conversational voice recognition, and a more innovative smartphone-like touch screen and easier-to-understand graphical interface. Ford Telematics is also available to enable fleets to simultaneously monitor several Transit Connects in real time, including location, speed, and excess idle duration to help track productivity and efficiency.
The Transit Connect’s 169 horsepower 2.5-liter Duratec engine delivers up to 27 highway mpg and can be ordered with a gaseous prep package to run on compressed natural gas or liquid propane. This engine is also capable of running on E85 ethanol. It connects to a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. The optional 1.6-liter EcoBoost I-4 turbocharged engine available in previous years has been discontinued.
This compact van’s affordable $23,020 entry point make it an appealing option for delivery services and tradesmen, with 20 city/27 highway mpg an important bonus for those with an eye on operating costs and the bottom line.
Ford’s aluminum bodied F-150, an all-new generation that debuted in the 2015 model year, is revolutionary. It is also distinguished as Green Car Journal’s 2016 Green Truck of the Year™, an honor bestowed at the recent San Antonio Auto & Truck Show in Texas.
Besides this new generation's more refined look and improvements across the board, use of an all-aluminum body has allowed Ford to decrease the pickup’s body weight by 630 pounds, with a high-strength steel frame reducing weight by another 70 pounds. This lightweighting contributes toward higher fuel efficiency without sacrificing the durability and all-around functionality F-150 buyers have come to expect from their pickups over many decades.
For 2016, Ford expanded the F-150 lineup with a new Limited edition for discerning high-end truck buyers, plus special edition appearance packages available for XLT and Lariat models. An all-new aluminum-bodied F-250 has now joined the Ford pickup lineup and this heavy-duty variant will be detailed in a future article.
The F-150’s weight reduction brings the added benefit of better performance. Simply, it takes less power to propel the truck when empty so acceleration is noticeably improved. With less mass working on the chassis, the truck has a lighter feel and handles better than the previous model generation. Braking is also improved since there is less weight to bring to a halt. Cargo bed payload capacity and gross combined vehicle weight ratings (GCVWR) remain similar on the new truck compared to the previous generation, so the lighter aluminum F-150 can haul and tow hundreds heavier loads.
Ford offers F-150 buyers four engine choices to fit varying requirements including a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V-6, and a 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V-8. The 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine should be of particular interest to drivers seeking a balance of power, functionality, and efficiency. This engine allows the F-150 to achieve up to 26 highway and 19 city mpg while also enabling towing up to 8,500 pounds. Other powertrain choices allow towing up to 12,100 pounds. Ford has integrated the sport mode feature found in the Mustang that changes the frequency of gearshifts, thus enabling drivers to keep the F-150 in the ‘sweet’ spot of the powerband while holding lower gears longer for a more engaging driving experience.
A gaseous-fuel prep option is now available with the F-150‘s 5.0-liter V-8 engine. This positions the F-150 as the only light-duty pickup capable of running on compressed natural gas or propane to help further reduce operating costs and CO2 emissions.
The 2016 F-150 features SYNC 3, Ford’s newest communications and entertainment system that delivers enhanced voice recognition and a capacitive touch screen. Plus, the F-150’s segment-first Pro Trailer Backup Assist technology makes it easier to back a trailer up to launch a boat or park in a driveway. Using the F-150’s advanced camera technology, a driver steers a trailer instinctively by turning a knob left or right to indicate direction, then backs up as the truck controls its steering and limits vehicle speed.
Pickup buyers have a wide choice of F-150 engine, cab configuration, and trim levels in either two- or four-wheel drive, at a starting cost of $26,540.
It used to be that light-duty commercial vans were all pretty much alike – boxy, unexciting, and devoid of the kind of features we expect in our everyday vehicles. That all changed six years ago when Ford brought its European Transit Connect panel van to the States as an all-new offering on our shores. Thus began a trend that now finds compact commercial vans one of the hottest trends in the industry.
Starting at an approachable $22,675, today’s Ford Transit Connect is offered in cargo or wagon configurations and in both short- and long-wheelbase. Both carry a 1,620 pound payload capacity and tow up to 2,000 pounds when properly equipped. The longer wheelbase model increases cargo capacity from the standard 104 cubic feet to 129 cubic feet. A choice of split rear cargo doors or a traditional rear liftgate is offered, with the split doors opening to 180 degrees. Twin sliding side doors are standard to enhance loading and unloading cargo or passengers. Needless to say, these are important features for delivery services and small business that must negotiate tight urban environs.
A base 169 horsepower, 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder engine powers the Transit Connect, with this engine now offering standard E85 flex-fuel capability in all but California emissions states. The flexible-fuel variant is capable of running on E85 (85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline), unleaded gasoline, or any blend of the two fuels. This engine can also be ordered for use with natural gas or LPG.
An optional 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine offers nine additional horsepower plus one additional mpg. The EcoBoost engine requires 93 octane fuel for peak performance. Both engines are coupled with a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. Depending on configuration and engine choice, city fuel economy is rated at 19-22 city mpg and 27-29 mpg on the highway.
The Transit Connect cargo van is available with optional second-row seating to increase versatility beyond cargo. The wagon version also features a versatile approach by delivering cargo capabilities along with five to seven passenger seating. It features more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded on the long-wheelbase model, plus the ability to carry a maximum 1,270 pound payload. All Transit Connect models feature first-row front and side airbags, first-row side curtain airbags, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Desired options are available including a rearview camera, 6.5-inch touch screen display with navigation, and SYNC with MyFord Touch, Ford’s voice-activated mobile communications and entertainment system. A perimeter alarm is included at no additional charge when available remote start is ordered. The perimeter alarm detects security threats through impact and shock sensors, activating an alarm to help protect vehicle contents. For fleets, Ford Telematics is also available to enable simultaneously monitoring several Transit Connects in real time, including location, speed, and excess idle duration to help track productivity and efficiency.
We are heading toward self-driving cars quicker than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. While it will clearly be some time before our highways are packed with driverless cars making their way to work, home, and parts beyond, there are glimpses of the future driving alongside us now.
It may be the Honda Civic self-aligned in the fast lane beside you, or the Ford Fusion Energi in your rear view mirror that stopped without driver assistance as traffic ground to a halt, then automatically paced your car as your lane began moving again. Or maybe the driver of the nearby Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid who misjudged how quickly traffic would stop, but escaped incident because of on-board systems that sensed a collision and automatically initiated emergency braking. And what about that Tesla Model S ahead that signaled and changed lanes seemingly on its own as its driver focused on something else?
These are real capabilities of vehicles on the road today. Not all models with autonomous technologies are ‘green’ cars, but assuredly many of them will be since there’s a natural convergence of autonomous driving technology and more efficient cars unfolding before us. This is only gathering momentum as a growing number of vehicles begin to feature systems like these.
Already, cars are increasingly equipped with an array of sensors, radar, and cameras to facilitate driver assistance systems that help deal with mundane chores like backing up safely and parallel parking. These same sensors and systems provide a foundation for even more sophisticated autonomous driving capabilities.
Several automakers are striving mightily to lead the field. Tesla is one of these, not only with the ability for its Model S to autonomously stay in its lane and with traffic flow, but automatically and safely change lanes with the flick of a turn signal when Autosteer is engaged. Cadillac is another with its upcoming Super Cruise.
Volvo is also at the forefront of this race to an autonomous driving future, in part because autonomous cars are considered much safer ‘drivers’ than humans and this aligns well with Volvo’s ambitious goal to eliminate traffic fatalities in its vehicles by 2020. Its XC90 plug-in hybrid already features some of the most advanced autonomous systems out there including Sensus Connect, Intersection Auto Brake, and Pilot Assist. Volvo has also created its Concept 26 autonomous driving interior for the XC90, the first such autonomous-focused concept interior built on a vehicle platform sold today. Volvo is taking a lead role in the world’s first large-scale autonomous driving pilot project that will find 100 self-driving Volvos negotiating everyday driving tasks on 30 miles of public roads around Gothenburg, Sweden.
The specter of life with self-driving cars presents its challenges, not the least of which is consumer distrust of such systems and the concern we will lose the driving enjoyment and sense of freedom that automobiles have brought us since their invention. While we may be in a new era that finds technology impacting most facets of daily life – with this technology increasingly making its way to our cars – the love of driving remains a priority for many.
This is supported by a recent Volvo survey in which a vast majority of those asked said autonomous car technology should respect the love of driving and, in fact, autonomous cars should include a steering wheel even if they are capable of driving themselves. At the same time, most felt that technology in autonomous cars would make their travel time more productive. In other words, we want these worlds to coexist. There’s a lot to read into that …perhaps from the driver’s seat at 65 mph, no?
Ford aims to have one of the largest automotive research teams in Silicon Valley with the establishment of its Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto, California. The center’s focus is to accelerate development of technologies and experiments in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience, and big data…in other words, the touchstones that may well define the future of personal transportation. As part of its activities, Ford has formed a research alliance with Stanford and will be delivering a Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle to university engineers for next-phase testing.
The new center expands the automaker’s global network of research and innovation centers that include its center in Dearborn, Michigan that focuses on advanced electronics, human-machine interface, materials science, big data, and analytics; plus its Aachen, Germany-based facility that focuses on next-generation powertrain research, driver-assist technologies, and active safety systems.
The thought of vehicle-integrated solar cells taking an active role in powering an electric car remains a tantalizing prospect. In fact, the use of solar panels on the roof of a vehicle is not a new idea. It’s been shown that ultra-lightweight solar race cars with solar-packed body shells can actually drive exclusively on the power of the sun. In real life, though, this doesn’t work with production cars weighing thousands of pounds that need to carry varying numbers of passengers and weight, provide the acceleration needed for safe motoring, and in general perform all the functions required of a modern car.
Disappointing to some, car-mounted solar panels typically generate just enough electricity to operate a fan to keep the interior of a parked car cool on a hot day, falling fall far short of providing the kind of energy needed for drive motors. Lowering cabin temperatures in a parked EV does serve a purpose since less energy is needed to cool the passenger space during the early part of a drive. That means less of a drain on batteries needed to power an electric vehicle. In this case, every little bit helps.
There are other answers and solar charging does take different forms. Plenty of EV owners offset their car’s use of electricity through large solar panels on their homes. Many public charging stations also make use of solar arrays to provide at least part of the power needed for charging electric vehicles. These have been the most logical examples of solar charging to date. Still, efforts toward creating the true solar car continue.
The latest example comes from Ford. Working in a collaborative project with long-time solar technology partner SunPower and Georgia Institute of Technology, Ford’s C-MAX Solar Energi Concept embraces an innovative approach that could potentially deliver the same amount of electrical power as plugging a C-MAX Energi PHEV into the electrical grid. The goal is no less than creating a logical stepping stone toward making a solar-powered hybrid feasible for daily use.
Ford’s C-MAX Solar Energi Concept benefits from amplifying the sunlight that enables the car’s already-efficient SunPower solar cells to create electricity. A huge jump in solar energy conversion is accomplished with a special solar concentrator lens that directs intense solar rays to the solar panels on the vehicle's roof. The off-vehicle solar concentrator uses a special Fresnel lens of the type originally invented for use in lighthouses, boosting the impact of sunlight by a factor of eight. Similar in concept to a magnifying glass, the patent-pending system tracks the sun as it moves from east to west.
With the aid of the concentrator, the system can collect enough energy from the sun each day to equal a four-hour battery charge for the C-MAX Energi, about 8 kilowatt-hours. Ford says this is sufficient to deliver the same performance as a conventional C-MAX Energi plugged into the electrical grid. The Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept would also have the same total range as a conventional C-MAX Energi of up to 620 miles, including up to 21 electric-only miles. Since the sun isn't always shining, there is still a charge port so this solar Energi variant t can be charged conventionally from the grid.
The special solar concentrator carport used with the C-MAX Solar Energi is conceptualized in a way that maximizes capturing solar energy as the sun moves throughout the day. This requires an east-west carport orientation and also the ability for the car to autonomously move forward and backward beneath the canopy during daylight hours, thus enabling its solar cells to make the most of sunlight directed by the concentrator. As Consumer Reports posits, not only does this require buying into the concept of an unattended car moving all by itself during the day, but also the potential liability issues that could come with it.
Ford studies suggest that the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle. Solar charging could be especially valuable in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable, or expensive to use. In addition, use of a C-MAX Solar Energi could reduce yearly CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from the average U.S. car owner by as much as four metric tons – the equivalent of what a U.S. home produces in four months. If all light-duty vehicles in the United States were to adopt Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept technology, annual greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by approximately 1 billion metric tons.
Next up: Ford and Georgia Tech will be testing the concept under real-world conditions. The outcome of those tests will help determine if the concept is feasible as a production vehicle.
Ford unveiled its automated Ford Fusion Hybrid research vehicle last month, a technology-packed vehicle intended to help pave the way toward autonomous driving. Now Ford is expanding its research efforts with the high-tech Fusion through new collaborations with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. This work will support Ford’s Blueprint for Mobility, which envisions a future of autonomous functionality in the years ahead.
While the automated Fusion Hybrid research vehicle uses many of the same technologies already found in the standard model, it also adds such high-tech features as four LiDAR sensors to generate a real-time 3D map of the car’s surrounding environment. Research with MIT will use advanced algorithms to help predict where moving vehicles and pedestrians could be in the future, thus providing a better sense of surrounding risks and enabling the vehicle to plan a path to avoid these risks. Ford’s work with Stanford will explore how the car’s sensors could see around obstacles. The goal of its multi-faceted collaborative work, Ford says, is to provide automated vehicles with ‘common sense.’
Ford’s 3.7-liter V-6 equipped-150 pickup is now available with a factory-installed, gaseous-fuel prep package, making Ford the only manufacturer offering a CNG/LPG-capable half-ton pickup. The $315 engine prep package includes hardened valves, valve seats, pistons, and rings so it can operate on either natural gas or gasoline through separate fuel systems.
The light-duty Ford CNG pickup is now being offered as a ship-thru option by Michigan-based Venchurs Vehicle Systems, the first of several Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifiers (QVMs) that will be marketing the 2014 F-150 as a natural gas vehicle. QVMs supply the fuel tanks, fuel lines, and unique fuel injectors. Ford has a rigorous QVM qualification program to help modifiers achieve greater levels of customer satisfaction and product acceptance through the manufacture of high-quality alternative fuel vehicles. Conversions can be financed through Ford Credit.
According to Ford, upfitting to gaseous fuel operation costs approximately $7,500 to $9,500. Ford maintains the engine and powertrain limited warranty (five years or 60,000 miles) while the modifier is responsible for the system component warranty.
Conversions can provide stability against fluctuating fuel prices as well as lower operating costs. CNG sells for an average of $2.11 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, and as low as $1 in some parts of the country. The F-150 CNG/LPG can travel up to 750+ miles on one tank of gas.
Since reintroducing the option in 2009, Ford has established itself as the leader in CNG/LPG engine sales. It is on track to sell over 15,000 CNG/LPG-prepped vehicles this year, an increase of over 25 percent from 2012.
With the F-150, Ford will have eight vehicles running on CNG/LPG. These range from Transit and E-Series vans, wagons, cutaways, and chassis cabs to F-Series Super Duty pickups and chassis cabs.
Batteries remain the electric car’s most pervasive challenge. After decades of research and development plus billions of dollars of investment, an energy-dense and affordable electric car battery remains elusive. Automakers are acutely aware of this as high battery costs can mean significant losses on every unit sold.
Ford is aiming to meet the challenge head-on with a new $8 million battery lab that’s now operating at the University of Michigan. The goal is to develop smaller and lighter batteries that are also less expensive to produce, resulting in more efficient and affordable battery electric vehicles with greater driving range.
The automaker’s existing battery labs focus on testing and validating production-ready batteries. This new effort will address batteries earlier in the development process, serving as a stepping-stone between the research lab and the production environment. The new lab includes a battery manufacturing facility supporting pilot projects, testing, and state-of-the-art manufacturing to make test batteries that replicates the performance of full-scale batteries.
Battery development is in its infancy and this kind of research is critical, says Ford, as is the need for new chemistries to be assessed in small-scale battery cells that can be tested in place of full-scale production batteries, without compromising test results. The automaker points out that in the span of 15 years, the industry has gone from lead-acid to nickel-metal-hydride to lithium-ion batteries, and it’s too early in the battery race to commit to one type of battery chemistry.