Sharing drive components and integrated technology with Volvo’s XC90 T8, the latest rendition of the Swedish maker’s best-selling vehicle comes to market more powerful and smarter than ever. Volvo’s upscale 2018 XC60 T8 PHEV (plug-in-hybrid) presents a premium and rugged, yet refined, SUV where high performance meets advanced technology and comfort. It is the most powerful two-row SUV in Volvo history. The editors at Green Car Journal take a closer look.
How it works: Volvo’s XC60 T8 successfully follows in the footsteps of its larger XC90 T8 crossover sibling. Both upscale plug-in hybrids use a 313 horsepower, supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an eight-speed automatic transaxle and two permanent-magnet AC motors.
In this through-the-road AWD hybrid system, a 46-horsepower electric motor drives the front wheels while an 87 horsepower AC motor powers the rear wheels. This results in total system output of 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft torque. There is no mechanical connection between the two axles.
A lithium-ion battery pack is positioned in the center tunnel where a driveshaft would normally be located. This 10.4 kWh pack enables the 2018 Volvo XC60 T8 to travel about 18 miles on electricity alone. Total driving range on gas and electric power is 370 miles. The battery can be recharged in as little as three hours from a 240-volt source and six hours from a standard 120-volt outlet.
Regenerative braking, stop/start capability, and a Pure EV electric-only mode contribute to a 59 MPGe rating, quite good for a vehicle with a nearly 4,600-pound curb weight. The twin electric motors and 472 lb-ft torque bring impressive acceleration for a SUV that can carry five people, propelling the vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription versions of the XC60 T8 are available, offering similar standard and optional equipment to non-hybrid T6 models. Optional driver assistance packages are available including a Vision package that includes blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, automatic mirror dimming, power-retractable outside mirrors, and a parking-assist function.
The XC60’s Convenience package includes adaptive cruise control with Volvo's semi-autonomous Pilot Assist, a Level 2 partial-automation system that assists with driving tasks like remaining in a lane and matching traffic speed on the highway, while still relying on a driver as the primary monitor of the driving environment. Optional Steer Assist, which is linked with Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System and Oncoming Lane Mitigation, helps the driver steer around an obstacle if a collision is likely.
A 9.3-inch Sensus Connect screen in the dashboard center stack offers tablet-like swipe-and-pinch gestures. It’s large enough that it can be divided into four independent sections to provide quick and easy access to any controls needed. Sensus Connect provides 4G/LTE connectivity and offers its own suite of apps including Pandora, Spotify, Glympse, Local Search, Yelp, Weather, and Wiki Locations. The main Sensus screen interacts with 8-inch or 12.3-inch driver information displays and the optional head-up display showing navigation, infotainment, and basic information.\
Volvo’s XC60 T8 is offered at a base price of $52,900, about 10 grand more than its conventionally-powered sibling. It’s an exceptional compact crossover providing the luxury appointments and advanced technology we’ve come to expect from Volvo. It’s also a compelling option for new car buyers looking for an upscale crossover experience with the efficiency of plug-in hybrid power.
So what to do with old electric vehicle batteries? Here’s one approach: Toyota and Chubu Electric Power Co. will be constructing a large-capacity storage battery system that reuses recycled batteries from Toyota electric vehicles. This aims at addressing two key issues. It deals with ways to make use of aging EV batteries that have reached the end of their useful life for vehicle propulsion, while also enabling Chubu Electric to mitigate the effects of fluctuations in the utility’s energy supply-demand balance, a growing issue caused by the expanding use of renewable energy.
Initially, the focus will be on repurposing nickel-metal-hydride (Ni-MH) batteries since these have been used in large numbers of electric vehicles for nearly two decades. The focus will then expand to include lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries by 2030. Li-Ion batteries have generally powered the second generation of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in more recent years, and thus will not reach their end-of-use for electric propulsion for some time still.
The energy storage capabilities of EV batteries diminish over time and after continuous charging and discharging. Eventually they become insufficient for powering electric cars but can still store adequate energy for other purposes. Even with their diminished performance, combining them in large numbers makes them useful for utilities and their efforts to manage energy supply-demand.
Based on the results of their initial work, the plan is to provide power generation capacity of some 10,000 kW by 2020. In a related effort, Toyota and Chubu Electric will be exploring ways to ultimately recycle reused batteries by collecting and reusing their rare-earth metals. The automaker has explored battery recycling in the past including at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch field campus in Yellowstone National Park. Here, 208 used Toyota Camry Hybrid battery packs are used to store renewable electricity generated by solar panel arrays.
Chevrolet's second generation 2016 Volt features sportier styling, better performance, and a lighter and more powerful two-motor drive system than the generation that came before it. The five-passenger, extended range electric now drives up to 53 miles on batteries alone, with its 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine-generator creating electricity to deliver an overall 420 mile range. If range anxiety is one of your concerns with electric cars, that needn’t be even a distant thought here.
These are just a few of the many reasons why the 2016 Volt won Green Car Journal’s 2016 Green Car of the Year®, and not coincidentally why we’ve been living with the Volt during a year-long extended test to analyze what it’s like to experience this vehicle on a daily basis. After 8500 miles behind the wheel in urban, rural, and open-road driving, we have to say this is about as ideal an electric vehicle as one could want. Really...it's that good. Anyone who says otherwise has not spent enough time in the second-generation Volt.
During early drives, it was obvious that the all-new Volt would fulfill a diversity of missions without breaking a sweat. Typical commutes and drives around town? No problem, zero emissions all the way. A journey of a thousand miles for work or vacation? Also no issues with the Volt’s overall driving range and the benefit of an EPA estimated 106 MPGe when driving on batteries, and 42 combined mpg while operating on electricity from the Volt’s engine-generator.
While our Volt is typically used for daily zero-emission commuting duty, we’ve now pressed it into service on many extended road trips over the 8,500 miles it’s been in our long-term test fleet. Green Car Journal editors have found it an ideal vehicle for all possible uses.
The 2016 Volt is a pleasure to drive and exhibits satisfying levels of acceleration in both battery and extended-range modes. It’s loaded with advanced electronics and features most desired by drivers today. Among our favorite features is this electric’s adaptive cruise control that keeps pace with the car ahead, a feature used often on shorter hops on the interstate and always during extended journeys. Regen-on-Demand, first used in the Cadillac ELR, is a welcome addition that adds to driving fun and efficiency. Squeezing a steering-wheel paddle instantly engages aggressive regenerative braking that slows the car and generates electricity for the battery, while releasing the paddle immediately returns a normal driving state. Normal regenerative braking always works in the background.
Chevrolet did all this with the 2016 Volt, and more, at an entry point of $33,170 that goes considerably lower with federal and state incentives. We’ll be taking this one out from the test fleet every opportunity we get.
Chevrolet’s milestone Bolt EV will be coming to showrooms in late 2016 as a 2017 model, representing the first truly affordable battery electric vehicle with a sought-after 200 mile driving range. This is a big win for Chevrolet since the Bolt beats the 200 mile Tesla Model 3 to market, likely by a long shot. Unlike the Chevy Spark EV, an adaptation of a gasoline-powered model that’s been available in select markets since 2013, the Bolt EV was designed from the ground-up as an electric vehicle. Thus, there are no compromises along the way.
The heart of the Bolt EV is a nickel-rich lithium-ion battery pack developed with LG Electronics. The 200 mile range provided by this pack is about twice that of competitive EVs now on the market. New battery chemistry delivers desired levels of power, in this case 160 kW, and energy of 60 kWh. The chemistry also provides improved thermal performance that requires a smaller active thermal conditioning system to keep the battery operating at its optimum temperature, delivering longer battery life and maintaining peak performance under varying climates and driver demands.
The battery pack consists of 288 lithium-ion cells in a configuration that spans the entire floor to maximize interior space. The five-door Bolt EV seats five passengers and has 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. Thin-frame seats enhance rear-seat roominess.
A standard 7.2 kilowatt onboard charger allows overnight charging from a 240 volt wall charger. A typical commute of 50 miles requires a charge of less than two hours. The Bolt also features an optional SAE Combo DC fast charging connector so the battery can be charged to deliver up to 90 miles of range in just 30 minutes at a public fast charger, if one is available.
Electricity is supplied to a 200 horsepower drive motor featuring 266 lb-ft torque that delivers 0-60 mph acceleration under 7 seconds and a top speed of 91 mph. Power delivery is controlled by Chevrolet’s first Electronic Precision Shift system. This shift and park-by-wire system sends electronic signals to the Bolt EV’s drive unit to manage precise feel and delivery of power and torque based on drive mode selection and accelerator inputs. A by-wire shifter requires less packaging space than a traditional mechanical shifter resulting in more interior space and improved interior layout.
Regenerative braking has become more than a means to boost range by recapturing energy. Now it can also can provide an improved EV driving experience. The Bolt EV has a new regenerative braking system that can provide one pedal driving through a combination of increased regenerative deceleration and software controls. When operating in Low mode or by holding the Regen-on-Demand paddle located on the back of the steering wheel, a driver can bring the vehicle to a complete stop under most circumstances by simply lifting their foot off the accelerator. However, the system does not eliminate the need to use the brake pedal altogether. Operating in Drive mode without pulling the paddle while decelerating requires using the brake pedal to stop.
he Bolt EV will offer connectivity and infotainment technologies that seamlessly integrate smartphones and other electronic devices. Low energy Bluetooth, designed specifically for the Bolt EV to minimize energy usage, seamlessly connects a smartphone to the car as an owner approaches the vehicle. Many of the Bolt’s technologies are supported by OnStar 4G LTE, which turns the Bolt EV into a Wi-Fi hotspot that provides easier access to apps and services via a high-speed wireless connection.
Additional connectivity and infotainment features include a 10.2-inch MyLink color touchscreen display, rear camera mirror, and Surround Vision that provides a bird’s-eye view around the Bolt for improved safety during low-speed driving and while parking. An all-new MyChevrolet Mobile App combines important owner and vehicle information and functions including battery charge status, OnStar Map service, remote start, cabin pre-conditioning, owner’s manual information, and dealer service scheduling. EV-specific navigation capability provides routes that maximize range and while identifying nearby charging locations. In the future an accurate driving range projection will be based on the time of day, topography, weather, and an owner’s driving habits.
The Bolt will be built at GM’s Orion, Michigan assembly facility while its battery pack, motor, and drive components will come from Korea. Its price is expected to be $37,500, a figure that dips below $30,000 after full federal tax credits.
Featuring design cues from the iconic VW Microbus, the BUDD-e is VW's first concept vehicle using the all-new Modular Electric Toolkit (MEB) designed specifically for plug-in vehicles. The MEB architecture represents a fundamental change in future electric-powered Volkswagens, from body and interior design to packaging and drive characteristics. An all-electric range of about 230 miles means a vehicle like the BUDD-e could serve a family's primary transportation needs. Options to keep batteries topped off include cordless inductive charging and the ability to be charged to 80 percent in about 30 minutes with an available rapid charger.
BUDD-e is probably more ‘connected’ than any car before it and thus gives a comprehensive look at the future of connectivity with the Internet of Things (IoT). Not only does the car’s completely new infotainment system make traveling more interactive and media more tangible, it also creates a seamless link between the car and the outside world. As an example of connectivity to a Smart Home, a driver or passengers could control air conditioning, turn lights on or off, determine if their kids are at home, or even put the whole house into energy-saving sleep mode. Plus, in the future the BUDD-e will automatically turn on lights in and around the house as soon as the car approaches.
For a decade, Green Car Journal has been recognizing vehicles that significantly raise the bar in environmental performance. With automakers stepping up to offer ever-more efficient and ‘greener’ vehicles in all classes, the magazine’s awards program has naturally expanded to include a greater number of awards for recognizing deserving vehicles.
This prompted the recent suite of Green Car Awards presented during Policy Day at the Washington Auto Show in the nation’s capital – the 2015 Green SUV of the Year™, 2015 Green Car Technology Award™, and 2015 Luxury Green Car of the Year™.
BMW’s gull-wing i8 earned the distinction as the 2015 Luxury Green Car of the Year, outshining competitors Audi A8 L TDI, Cadillac ELR, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and Tesla Model S. Aimed at aspirational buyers who value superb styling and exceptional performance combined with the efficiency of plug-in hybrid drive, the i8 is unique among its peers with an advanced carbon fiber passenger body shell. It also features a lightweight aluminum drive module with a gasoline engine, lithium-ion batteries, and electric motor. The i8 can drive on battery power for 22 miles and up to 310 miles on hybrid power.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel rose to the top as the magazine’s 2015 Green SUV of the Year, besting finalists Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, Lexus NX 300h, and Mazda CX-5. Offering excellent fuel efficiency for an SUV of its size, the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel’s 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 offers up to 30 highway mpg and is approved for B20 biodiesel use. An Eco Mode optimizes the 8-speed transmission’s shift schedule, cuts fuel feed while coasting, and directs the air suspension system to lower the vehicle at speed for aerodynamic efficiency.
The Ford F-150 was honored with the 2015 Green Car Technology Award for its milestone use of an all-aluminum body. Competing for the award were advanced powertrains in the BMW i3, BMW i8, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, Ford F-150, Honda Fit, Kia Soul EV, Tesla Model S, VW e-Golf, and Volvo Drive-E models. The F-150’s aluminum body enables the all-new 2015 pickup model to shed up to 700 pounds for greater efficiency and performance.
While the Green Car Technology Award has a history at the Washington Auto Show, the first-time Green SUV of the Year and Luxury Green Car of the Year awards could not have existed just a short time ago. Simply, SUVs and luxury vehicles were seldom considered ‘green,’ and for good reason. An SUV/crossover’s mission was to provide family transport and recreational capabilities, while aspirational/luxury vehicles were expected to deliver the finest driving experience combined with high-end appointments and exceptional design. Both categories held few environmental champions and ‘green’ was hardly an afterthought.
The evolving nature of ‘green’ cars has brought about a fundamental shift in which environmental performance is now important in SUVs and luxury vehicles. Even so, not all models in these classes are created equal. The challenge has been finding the right balance – the ‘sweet spot’ – that finds SUVs and luxury vehicles delivering the efficiency and environmental qualities desired without sacrificing the conventional touchstones – quality, safety, luxury, value, performance and functionality – that consumers demand. This year’s winners of the 2015 Green Car Awards clearly achieve this balance.
Presenting these important awards at the Washington Auto Show is compelling considering its reputation as the ‘Policy Show,’ a result of the show’s proximity to Capitol Hill and the influence that Washington DC has in driving a more efficient generation of vehicles to market. The 2015 Washington Auto Show has also expanded in recent years, receiving accreditation from the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles (OICA) as one of the five top tier auto shows in America. This year’s Washington Auto Show featured more than 700 vehicles from over 42 domestic and import auto manufacturers, plus a Green Car Awards exhibit showcasing 15 finalist vehicles within the show’s Advanced Technology Superhighway exhibit area.
Expanding the driving range capabilities of electric cars through fast charging is of growing interest. Tesla has keyed in on this with its high-profile Supercharger network of fast chargers along major transportation corridors. While this is great for Tesla owners, it’s not a comfort to drivers of other EVs since the SuperCharger network is not compatible with their cars.
Enter ChargePoint, VW, and BMW, which have joined together to offer similar capabilities for other electric vehicle models. The three are developing express electric vehicle charging corridors with fast charging stations that allow EV drivers to recapture up to an 80 percent charge in just 20 minutes. Fast charging sites will be strategically spaced no more than 50 miles apart to make longer trips possible for EVs that incorporate a DC fast charging capability.
Initial efforts will focus on heavily-traveled routes on the East and West Coasts, providing 100 DC fast chargers at existing ChargePoint sites. The aim is to expand fast charging capabilities to other sites within the ChargePoint network, which already offers more than 20,000 charging spots in North America. EV drivers can access the network with a ChargePoint or ChargeNow card or with the ChargePoint mobile app.
Over the 10 year history of Green Car Journal’s Green Car of the Year award program, there has never been a battery electric car that has been compelling enough to be recognized as the best-of-the-best in an ever-expanding field of ‘green’ cars. That has changed with the groundbreaking BMW i3, Green Car Journal’s 2015 Green Car of the Year®.
The BMW i3 came out on top of a field of finalists that included the Audi A3 TDI, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, Honda Fit, and VW Golf. The array of technologies and fuels represented included high efficiency gasoline, electric drive, clean diesel, and natural gas.
BMW’s i3 stands out as one of the most innovative vehicles ever to be introduced by any major automaker. It breaks the mold – literally – with a strong and lightweight body using materials and technology at home on the race track, and now used for the first time to construct a mainstream production car. It is a milestone, forward-thinking approach.
Meeting both near-term and far-reaching goals is no easy thing. The challenge is to design and build cars that offer meaningful environmental achievement while delivering the traditional touchstones desired by new car buyers, among them comfort, safety, convenience, connectivity, performance, and value. Also important in the world of advanced vehicles like battery electric cars is a significant commitment to the manufacturing and sale of these vehicles that goes beyond a few thousand units sold in select geographical areas. BMW’s commitment with the i3 is focused not only nationally in the U.S., but globally as well.
Offering a lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body on an aluminum space frame, BMW’s innovative i3 brings environment-conscious drivers all-electric drive with an optional internal combustion range extender. The most unique aspect of the i3 is the car’s body structure, which incorporates the first-ever use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) to form the body and passenger cabin of a mass-production vehicle. CFRP is as strong as steel and 50 percent lighter. It is also 30 percent lighter than aluminum.
This BMW’s drive module includes an electric drivetrain, 5-link rear suspension, and an aluminum structure. Its lithium-ion battery pack is mounted mid-ship beneath the floor. Strategic placement of the 450 pound battery pack and drive components provides a very balanced 50-50 weight distribution to enhance handling and performance.
Acceleration is crisp, with a 0-60 elapsed time of 7.2 seconds provided by an electric motor producing 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft torque. With a curb weight of just 2,700 pounds, the i3 has is sprightly even at highway speeds. Strong regenerative braking characteristics often allow the i3 to be driven with just the accelerator pedal in city driving. When a driver lets off the accelerator, regen slows the car quickly and allows it to come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal.
Charging at home with an available 220 volt charger delivers a full charge in about three hours. Where available, public DC fast charging can bring an i3 to 80 percent state-of-charge in 20 minutes and a full charge in 30 minutes. The i3 BEV features an 81 mile EPA estimated range on batteries. The i3 REx, equipped with an internal combustion range extender that creates on-board electricity as needed to help keep batteries charged, features a 72 mile battery driving range and 150 miles total with the range extender.
Efficiency is a given. EPA rates the i3’s city fuel economy at 137 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) and 111 MPGe on the highway, with a combined 124 MPGe. For the REx-equipped model, EPA rates mileage at 117 MPGe combined.
The 2015 Green Car of the Year® is selected by a majority vote of an award jury comprised of Green Car Journal staff and invited jurors, including TV personality and car aficionado Jay Leno plus leaders of the nation’s most high-profile environmental and efficiency organizations. These jurors include Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, board member of Global Green USA; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy; and Dr. Alan Lloyd, President emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation.
The diversity of new car models at showrooms today reflects an evolving and sophisticated market in which a growing number of new car buyers have decided that environmental performance must meet their needs and expectations, on their terms. As it happens, 2015 Green Car of the Year jurors have clearly decided that this year, the electric BMW i3 does it best.
It is an exciting time to be involved with the auto industry, or to be in the market for a new car. The auto industry has responded splendidly to the challenge of new emission, fuel economy, and safety standards. The public is offered a greater than ever selection of vehicles with different powertrains, lightweight materials, hybrids, and electric drive vehicles across many platforms. We see increasing numbers of clean diesel vehicles and natural gas is making a resurgence, especially in the heavy-duty sector.
The positive response by the auto industry to the ever-tightening pollutant emission and fuel economy standards includes tactics such as the use of aluminum in the Ford F-150 and the increased use of carbon fiber by BMW, among many innovations introduced across many models and drivetrains. These evolutionary changes are a major tribute to the automobile engineers who are wringing out the most they can in efficiency and reduced emissions from gasoline and diesel engines. I view this evolutionary change as necessary, but not sufficient to meet our greenhouse gas goals by 2050.
New car ownership is currently down in Europe and is leveling off in the U.S. For global automotive manufacturers, however, this trend is offset by the dramatic growth in places like China and India. The potential for dramatic growth in the developing world is clearly evident: In the U.S., there are about 500 cars per thousand people, compared to about 60 and 20 in China and India, respectively.
How can these trends be reconciled with the environmental and health concerns due to climate change and adverse air quality in the developing world? The evidence for climate change accumulates by the day. Hazardous air quality in many major cities in China has drawn global attention, providing a visual reminder of how far the developed world has come and how much environmental protection needs to be accelerated in the developing world. Damaging air pollution is increasingly seen as a regional and even worldwide challenge. Dramatic economic growth in many developing countries is generating pollution that knows no boundaries. Air pollution from China, for example, fumigates Korea and Japan and is even transported across the Pacific to impact air quality in California and other Western states.
It will take a revolutionary change to provide personal mobility without unacceptable energy and environmental consequences. As a recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) document states, it is likely that a major shift to electric drive vehicles would be required in the next 20 to 30 years. Electric drive vehicles, coupled with renewable energy, can achieve essentially zero carbon and conventional pollutant emissions. The NAS report also predicted that the costs of both battery and fuel-cell electric vehicles would be less than advanced conventional vehicles in the 2035-2040 timeframe.
This transition will not occur overnight and we will be driving advanced conventional vehicles for many years to come. In a study for the International Council on Clean Transportation, Dr. David Greene calculated that the transition could take 10 to 15 years, requiring sustained investment in infrastructure and incentives in order to achieve sustained penetration. While this investment is not inexpensive, it is projected that the benefits of this investment will be 10 times greater than the costs.
So where do we stand today on electric vehicles? We are seeing an unprecedented number of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles across many drivetrains and models. There were about 96,000 plug-in electric vehicles sold or leased in the U.S. last year and more than 10 new PEV models are expected this year. While the sales fall short of some optimistic projections, it is an encouraging start after many years of more hope than delivery. The FC EV is expected to see significant growth after the initial limited introduction of fuel cells in the 2015-2017 timeframe by five major automobile companies.
It will take many years of sustained increasing penetration into new car sales to make this revolution a success. It is indeed a marathon and not a sprint. The challenge is how to ensure sustained sales of electric drive vehicles in the face of the many attributes of advanced technology conventional vehicles. Electric drive vehicle drivetrains have an affinity with the increasing amount of electronics on board the vehicle, which might ultimately yield very interesting, capable, and competitive vehicles.
I have little doubt that if we are serious about our energy, environmental, and greenhouse gas goals the revolution in technology will occur. All the major automobile companies seem to recognize this in their technology roadmap, which includes advanced conventional vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, battery and fuel cell electric vehicles.
In conclusion, the next 20 years promise to be equally as challenging and exciting as the last 20 years. I have little doubt that the automobile engineers are up to the task ahead, but whether we have the political fortitude to stay the course to achieve the necessary air pollution and GHG reductions is far less certain.
Dr. Alan Lloyd is President Emeritus of the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). He formerly served as Secretary of CalEPA and Chairman of the California Air Resources Board.
Illuminating the road ahead is a crucial element in driving. It’s also one that has long benefitted from technological innovation. To this end, Audi celebrates the evolution of automotive lighting with its Sport quattro laserlight concept car. The high performance, two-door, Plasma Red coupe harkens back to the iconic 1983 Sport quattro even as it’s abundant advanced technology and design cues point to the future.
The laserlight concept is named for its future lighting technologies. Two low-profile trapezoidal elements are visible within the headlights. An outer one generates low beam light using matrix LEDs and an aperture mask, while an inner element produces laser light for the high-beam.
Laser diodes are significantly smaller than LED diodes, only a few microns in diameter. They can illuminate the road for a distance of nearly 1,640 feet, approximately twice the lighting range with three times the luminosity of LED high beam lights. This technology is finding use in the 2014 R18 e-tron quattro for track duty.
Motivating the laserlight concept is a 4.0-liter, bi-turbo V-8 TSFI (turbo stratified fuel injection) engine and a disc-shaped electric motor located between the engine and transmission. The V-8 produces 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet torque, with the electric motor contributing an additional 148 horsepower and 295 pound-feet torque. A modified eight-speed Tiptronic transmission is mated to the quattro drivetrain with a sport differential at the rear axle.
Electrical energy is stored in a 14.1 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, sufficient for 31 miles of all-electric driving. When the V-8 and electric motor are working together, the Audi Sport quattro laserlight concept can accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds. Top speed is 189 mph. This impressive performance comes with an equally impressive 94 US mpg fuel economy. This is achieved in part through its electric plug-in operation in addition to a cylinder on demand system that deactivates four cylinders of the V-8 under partial load. Also helping is a start-stop system and several levels of regen braking to enhance driving dynamics.
Drivers can switch between three different modes. In EV mode, just the electric motor operates with sufficient high torque power, even outside the city. The active accelerator pedal indicates the transition by a change in pedal resistance so a driver can intentionally influence the mode selection. The Hybrid mode provides optimal interplay between the V-8 and the electric motor for best fuel-savings, and additionally incorporates environmental and route data. A driver can choose the Hold and Charge modes to ensure sufficient electrical energy is available for electric-only driving at their destination. There are different levels of regenerative braking to enhance the driving experience.
The laserlight’s multifunction sport steering wheel has buttons to control the hybrid drive, start-stop function, vehicle handling system, and the car’s virtual cockpit. Key information is shown on the large Audi TFT display in high-resolution 3D graphics. A cutting-edge Nvidia Tegra 30 processor handles the graphics.
Nearly all functions can be controlled from the further-developed MMI mounted on the center console. Its large rotary pushbutton, which also serves as a touchpad, can be pushed in four directions. It’s surrounded on three sides by four buttons that control the main menu, submenus, options, and a back function. The intuitive layout is similar to a smart phone with all frequently used functions accessed lightning fast.
Lightweight design plays a major role in the Audi laserlight concept’s dynamic performance. A combination of ultra high-strength steel sheet and structural elements of cast aluminum is used in the occupant cell. The doors and fenders are made of aluminum, with the roof, engine hood, and rear hatch and other components made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). Thus, the concept weighs 4,079 pounds including the weight of the large battery pack.
Do extended range electric cars and plug-in hybrids really save energy and make an environmental difference like all-electric vehicles? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ if enough zero-emission miles are driven. To that end, the latest news from Chevrolet is encouraging: Since Chevy’s Volt extended range electric was introduced in 2010, Volt owners have reportedly driven more than a half a billion all-electric miles, resulting in no localized emissions over those miles and a pretty huge petroleum offset. In fact, Volt owners are spending some 63 percent of their time in EV mode.
All electric miles are even higher in an independent study managed by Idaho National Labs and conducted during the last half of 2013. Volt drivers participating in the Department of Energy’s EV Project totaled 1,198,114 vehicle trips during the six month period from July through December, 2013, with 81.4 percent of these trips completed without use of the Volt’s gasoline-powered generator.
Battery-only driving range is also proving to be better than projected. A GM study conducted over 30 months that focused on more than 300 Volts in California shows many Volt owners are exceeding EPA’s estimates of 35 miles of EV range per full charge. About 15 percent are surpassing 40 miles of all-electric range. GM data also illustrates that Volt owners who charge regularly typically drive more than 970 miles between fill-ups and visit the gas station less than once a month. The 2014 Volt features EPA estimated 98 MPGe fuel economy when running in electric mode and 35 city/40 highway on gasoline power.
Some interesting trivia: Since the Volt’s launch in 2010, more than 25 million gallons of gasoline have been saved by Volt drivers. Chevy also likes to point out that 69 percent of those buying a Volt are new to the GM brand and of those trading in a vehicle during purchase, the most frequent trade-in is a Toyota Prius. The Volt was named Green Car Journal’s 2011 Green Car of the Year®.
Electric 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.
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.
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.
Tesla, the upstart Silicon Valley company that’s proved an entrepreneurial automaker far from Detroit can make an exceptional and aspirational electric car, is embroiled in yet another fire controversy. Even as the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) continues its investigation into two crash-related Model S fires in the U.S. (but not a third fire in Mexico that’s out of its jurisdiction), this advanced electric car’s safety continues to raise questions.
The latest is the subject of media reports involving a fire in Toronto, Canada earlier this month, in which a Model S is involved while reportedly parked in a garage and unplugged. While conclusions have not yet been reached by Canadian authorities, a Tesla statement says the company has identified that the fire did not originate in the car’s battery or any components involved in charging.
Tesla maintains that the Model S has no battery issues and has an exceptional safety track record, and indeed the model achieved top five star crash testing scores across the board in NHTSA test protocols. However, what remains unexplained is whether there are specific issues that must be addressed to prevent further crash-related fires, thus NHTSA’s ongoing investigation.
This is a topic of sometimes passionate debate as Tesla proponents vigorously defend the model while others point to unintended consequences of battery power. It will be interesting to watch reactions and commentary once the NHTSA investigation is complete.
Challenges with advanced batteries have cropped up with automakers, aircraft manufacturers, and laptop companies alike in recent years. One of the most notable has been thermal runaway issues with lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries, the most advanced battery technology now in widespread use in transportation and consumer electronics. While appropriate engineering fixes have been made to move advanced battery power forward and ensure safety, problems still occasionally occur.
The latest involves Zero Motorcycles, which is recalling certain 2013 FX electric motorcycles manufactured from January 28 through May 21 of this year, plus 2013 XU motorcycles manufactured form January 16 through May 20 of this year. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), a manufacturing defect with the sealant material in the battery may allow water to penetrate the battery and contact the cells.
NHTSA says this may lead to corrosion of the cells, possibly resulting in a rapid temperature increase and off-gassing of the cells’ electrolyte that may cause a burn to the rider. Zero is remedying this by replacing the battery modules in affected models free-of-charge. This follows a recall of certain 2012 model Zero electric motorcycles last year due to insufficient weatherproofing, which the agency reported may short circuit the battery management system when subjected to wet conditions and possibly cause the motorcycle to inadvertently lose power.
It should be pointed out that conventional gasoline powerplants and fuel systems have suffered their share of recalls over the decades involving cars, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles. Alternative fuel vehicles have also had the occasional challenge, such as natural gas storage issues in GM’s natural gas pickups in the early 1990s. As always, the importance is in identifying the problem, effecting an engineering remedy, and moving on.
I am an electric car fan, always have been since I drove my first electric car – the experimental Sears XDH-1 – back in the mid-1970s.
Over the years I’ve driven many battery electric vehicle prototypes and all production EVs in the U.S., spending a year living with a GM EV1. I have also spent time behind the wheel of many electric car conversions from small and hopeful new EV companies ranging from U.S. ElectriCar to those founded by entrepreneurs like Malcolm Bricklin and Miles Rubin. Test drives took place on highways and test tracks on multiple continents, sometimes for short drives out of necessity and sometimes for weeks at a time. Electric cars were my beat as feature editor at Motor Trend in the 1990s, by choice. I’ve been a vocal advocate for electric cars since the first issue of Green Car Journal 20 years ago…sometimes very vocal.
Time has a way of tempering not only perspective but expectations. One example: Over two decades of following battery development, I recall clearly the high expectations many have had that battery breakthroughs would come. Affordable and energy-dense batteries would be the enabling technology that could encourage full-function battery electric cars to market, making them cost competitive with internal combustion and readily displacing cars that for 100-plus years have relied on petroleum, a commodity that has grown costlier and in tighter supply.
That battery breakthrough has yet to occur. Yes, we have batteries with better chemistry and advanced designs. But they don’t represent the breakthrough that’s been widely anticipated and they remain quite expensive, so much so that battery electric cars must still be federally subsidized because of their high battery cost and retail price. In a normal world, a compact electric SUV should not cost $50,000, nor should a four-door electric sedan be $40,000, or a small electric hatchback priced over $30,000. Yet they are. And yes, there are a few electrics priced under $30,000, but as internal combustion models they would typically be priced $10,000 to $15,000 less while offering greater functionality.
It’s understandable why electric cars are being pushed so hard. Historically, EVs have spoken to a lot of needs. States have included them in State Implementation Plans as a way to show how their state would meet air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. Electric utilities see them as a pathway to selling electricity as a motor fuel. Government agencies often view electric vehicles as a panacea for (you choose) improving air pollution, mitigating petroleum use, decreasing CO2 emissions, and enhancing energy security. Automakers realize the dramatic impact that electric propulsion can have in helping achieve increasingly higher fleet fuel economy averages in coming years. Thrifty and eco-minded consumers understand the value of a smaller environmental impact by driving oil- and emissions-free, at a low cost per mile.
I remain an electric car enthusiast. But as a seasoned auto writer and industry analyst I’m also obliged to focus on reality. Today’s reality is that if we’re to make a real difference in petroleum reduction and environmental impact, battery EVs are not the short-term answer. While important and deserving of continuing development and sales, they are just one part of the solution, along with advanced gasoline, clean diesel, alternative fuel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and extended-range electric vehicles that create on-board electricity to provide full functionality. That’s the way forward.
Ron Cogan is editor and publisher of the Green Car Journal and editor of CarsOfChange.com