Friday, January 27, 2012

Day of the Hybrid?

Future of the Automobile Part II
2012 Toyota Prius Hybrid

As mentioned in my previous post, nearly two-thirds of the world’s petroleum is used in the transportation sector alone and demand continues to expand. The argument that the supply will last forever, can not even pass the common sense test, as has been reported in various reserve studies throughout the world the supply will surely fall short of the demand sooner or later. Reducing or eliminating our dependency on petroleum not only cuts back on harmful emission to our environment, but such an action will also build a stronger world wide economy. Fueling our autos with 100% electricity instead of petroleum is perhaps one of the most realistically obtainable options available and can only by described as a sound financial action for reaching such goals? However as we’ve determined, not only is such an objective extremely difficult, such a lofty goal has been described by many as an idealistic folly.

With this in mind, perhaps until such time that battery development and research reaches a higher standard we should be concentrating our efforts on reducing the typical automobile’s dependence on oil, rather than eliminating that need completely. After all such technology has been available for several years now.

Believe if or not, the average Miles Per Gallon number for the typical American vehicle has creped its way up to 20 during the past few years, but the city MPG for the 2012 Ford Fusion hybrid is a bit more than double that at 41 in city driving, and the Toyota Prius V hybrid which is a midsized station wagon is describes as reaching 51 MPG in the city. Both are comparably priced to non-hybrid vehicles.

These well-equipped hybrids operate as an electric car for their first 35 or so miles after a full charge and then they use gasoline to extend their range. The hybrid burns no gasoline during the first 40+ miles after a charge. When the battery is depleted, a small engine kicks in to power a generator that sustains the battery charge enough to give the car another 250 miles of range or more.

Plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) purchased in or after 2010 may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500. The credit amount will vary based on the capacity of the battery used to fuel the vehicle.
Perhaps research and development in the total electric automobile field may have a long difficult road ahead, but the era of the Hybrid Auto is here now, and vast improvements are sure to come.  For example instead of the hybrid simply sustaining / preserving the battery with a generator so as to allow a complete electric charge at a latter date, why not have a generator on board that has the capability of recharging the battery or power source in-stead of requiring that we park the vehicle and in turn plug-in to an outside power source such as the electric grid.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Automobile’s Future

Electric Autos & Hybrids:
2012 Ford Focus EV (above) all electric

2012 Nissan Leaf  all electric

2012 Tesla Model S all electric

2012 Chevy Volt Hybrid

As we all surely know, Petroleum is a limited resource. While the United States, for example, maintains nearly 2% of the world's petroleum reserves she consumes no less than 25% of the world’s supply; you should know that nearly two-thirds of world’s petroleum is used in the transportation sector and demand continues to expand. The supply will not last forever as has been reported by various reserve studies throughout the world. Reducing our dependence on petroleum not only cuts back on harmful emission released into the environment, but such an action will also build a stronger energy economy.

Fueling our autos with electricity instead of petroleum is perhaps one of the most realistically obtainable options available to us for a sound financial decision in reaching such goals. Depending on utility rates, costs are as little as $5 a full charge, which is equivalent to about $0.02 per mile. On the other hand, gasoline-powered cars rated to get 20 mpg, costs about $0.15 per mile.

A bit more than a hundred years has passed since any mode of transport not propelled by a horse, mule or oxen was considered an alternatively powered vehicle. The thought of being taken from place to place in any kind of mechanically powered vehicle was considered ridiculous by the majority of the public. However by the turn of the twentieth century (1900), vehicles powered by steam, electricity, and even petroleum based fuels had captured the imagination of those who constituted the buying public and as a result, such vehicles were soon being sold in escalating numbers.

As oil became more available, while showing the bright promise of profitability, gasoline fueled vehicles came to dominate the market place in all but a tiny number of those steam and electric powered vehicles which were destined to become little more than a foot note to history; in other words, the definition of the automotive propulsion system came to be extremely limited.

By about 1910, the typical auto was any car, truck, or motorcycle that was powered by a gasoline powered internal combustion engine, very much like the vast majority of vehicles seen in the market place today. The piston engine gained a reputation for power and reliability for that particular application, and therefore more and more capital resources were expended in an attempt at perfecting the chosen power source including the perfection of a complicated fuel refining and distributing system that was developed to support the engine which powered all of those automobiles.

There are several reasons why gasoline-powered vehicles became so popular and those reasons are not too terribly difficult to appreciate. Gasoline, after all is energy intense, can be transferred quickly when refueling, and became readily available in America and the world thanks in large part to the discovery of oil at Spindletop near Beaumont, Texas in 1901, such happy circumstances were recognized as a sign for great things to come.

In the opinions of most design engineers, these qualities outweighed the few drawbacks such as the excessive racket or noise generated by the internal combustion engine, its difficulty in starting, its unpleasant odors, and its often “dirty” operation.

As a result, gasoline-powered vehicles flourished for almost a hundred years before concerns arose in regard to the petroleum based fuel source of choice, specifically, gasoline. Fortunately there remained a small, but persistent group of free-thinking engineers and enthusiasts that never stopped considering alternative methods for powering automobiles.

Recent concerns about the environment, such as global warming, and peak oil, along with the high price and the uncertainty of oil from abroad, have undoubtedly impacted the recent spikes in gasoline prices. Regardless, such factors have brought about renewed interest in visions of alternative forms of vehicle power.

The earliest method of vehicle propulsion, and one of the first to be discarded by modern engineers, was steam power. Steam power was introduced by a French Army engineer in 1769, so, believe it or not, the world’s first automobile was propelled by steam. This propulsion system however proved to be impractically large and ponderous.

The Stanley brothers and numerous other manufacturers engineered practical and affordable light steam powered vehicles prior to the turn of the twentieth century, but the fundamental problems with cold starting, special maintenance requirements, and high fuel consumption were never overcome.

The last production steam car made in America was the California built 1931 ‘Doble’, however, steam powered trucks were made in England up until the early 1950s. Even though there are still a tiny number of engineers tinkering with steam power, it is not generally regarded as being feasible for main stream automobile propulsion.

On the other hand, electricity was first used to power an automobile as early as 1832 by Robert Anderson of Scotland. In fact, the majority of women of the late 1800s and early 1900s favored electric vehicles because they were quiet, clean running, and easier to operate, in comparison to other types of automobiles.

They lacked a complicated starting procedure that typically involved raising the hood to prime cylinders with gasoline, bending over to turn a hand crank, or soiling one’s gloves to make some mechanical adjustment. Their reasonably efficient motors delivered a constant supply of torque, but battery technology was so limited that they could only travel about 40 or 50 miles on one charge, which typically required that a vehicle be plugged in for at least six to eight hours. These limitations were not overcome and as a result the last mass produced American electric car ended with the 1939 Detroit Electric.   World War II fostered a brief revival of electric vehicles in Europe due to the shortage of petroleum based fuel available for civilian consumption, but they were phased out shortly after the war.

Before the introduction of the General Motors EV1 in 1996, the makers of electric vehicles after World War II were typically small companies, usually run by enthusiastic optimists but with little background in finance or manufacturing. Add to the obvious handicap of inexperience, the fact that battery technology was still not sufficiently advanced; the result that these vehicles proved to be no more practical than their counterparts fifty years earlier came as little surprise to no one.

Throughout the last 15 years or so battery research and development has began to show promise, as is shown by the new and much improved all electric cars available in today’s marketplace.

A few examples include:
The Ford 2012 Focus EV is the first electric car designed for the general show-case aisle in today’s dealerships. Ford says the company is focused on addressing the biggest obstacle between EVs and the mainstream: 'cost', so this design starts a just, under $40,000.00 not including the Federal Tax Credit of $7,500.00. (A Tax Credit helps only if you owe taxes) The Ford Focus EV is targeted to have a range of 100 miles between charges, a top speed of 84 MPH, with 4 doors making it a reasonable option for a family of 4 or perhaps 5.

Mitsubishi began delivering the all-electric iMiev to Japanese customers in 2009. Production numbers are slowly ramping up from the current target of a few thousand per year. The 4 door EV will yield about 60 miles of range per charge with a top speed of 80 miles per hour. The vehicle is advertised as the cheapest Electric Vehicle in the US at $29,125.00 not accounting for the $7,500.00 Federal Tax Credit. In addition, a 100,000 / 8 year limited warranty is offered for the battery.

Nissan is calling its new all electric car—the Nissan Leaf. It was unveiled on Aug. 2, 2009, the Leaf is a medium-size all-electric hatchback that seats five adults and has a range of 73 miles. This vehicle is typically priced at $35,200, less the US Federal Tax incentive of $7,500.00, with a basic 3 year / 36,000 mile warranty.  

If you’re looking for a pricey all electric automobile that’s loaded with power and options, you may be interested in the Tesla Model S sedan or perhaps the sporty Tesla Roadster. What makes the Model S and the Roadster so cool? First of all, the visual designs are gorgeous. Second, the Model S seats five (The Roadster seats 2) or seven if you decide count the two side-facing rear seats for small children. Both have killer features, like the 17-inch touch screen that provides all of the vehicle’s interface components such as climate control and entertainment, but also offers 3G or wireless connectivity. You can expect more than 250 mile of range between charges, and a top speed of 125 miles per hour.  The Model S is a lot more affordable than the company’s pricy $109,000 Tesla Roadster. The current price range for the Tesla Model S starts at $57,900 less a $7,500 Federal Tax credit, but you can expect the Model S price to be a little more than $77,000.00 with all the available options included, less of course the $7,500.00 tax credit.

Although, all electric sounds like a great idea in terms of safeguarding the environment and therefore reducing our unholy dependence upon petroleum based fuels, other options are also available.

Technically a plug-in hybrid, like the Volt currently being offered by Chevrolet or perhaps the Prius, that is being manufactured by Toyota rather than an electric car is an excellent option. The well-equipped, five-door, four-seat hatchback Volt operates as an electric car for its first 35 or so miles after a full charge and then switches to a gasoline powered engine to effectively extend the vehicles overall range. It burns no gasoline during the first 35 miles after a charge. When the battery is depleted, a 1.4 liter engine kicks in to power a generator that sustains the battery charge enough to give the car another 260 miles of range.

A second option for reducing our petroleum based dependency is Bio-diesel Fuel that can easily be made from such products as used vegetable oil.

In drafting this critique or post, I’m not suggesting that you should run right out and purchase an all electric car or in the alternative a hybrid vehicle, nor am I suggesting that you should invest un-necessarily in converting to bio-diesel fuels for all of your transportation needs. ...   But on the other hand, at some point in your future it is very likely that you will up-grade or “trade-in” your current automobile; at which time you should most definitely select from the ever growing and improving number of vehicles that will ultimate sever that petroleum dependency that the vast majority of us now have.

In the not so distant future, expect to see some version of a coin operated “Charging Station” (these contraptions will likely be debit card friendly) located at every rest stop on a typical high-way system and stationed like wise with easy access at each parking zone / spot that we now use at restaurants and shopping malls.

In fact the individual or company that first distributes such a functional or  ‘portable’ design, will un-doubly end up with all the money, and in doing so will make today’s  big oil companies  appear to have been no more that a “flash in the pan”.

For your convenience I offer you quick links to related topics that I have previously posted: OPEC; Peak Oil; and Bio-diesel Fuel.

Sources:                                                                                                       |2270093909|885524931

Post Script:                                                                                                           OK, all of these EV and Hybrid automobile improvements sound great, but the fact remains that such vehicles are still much too expensive for most of us to consider in the short term. The trouble is not that the manufactures are unable to build electric cars that are comparably priced to traditional autos with a gasoline power source.   Beginning in 2012 Toyota has plans to begin selling an electric RAV4 crossover, Chrysler has plans for an electric Fiat 500 mini-car and Honda will offer an electric version of the Fit subcompact. So the lack in interest in the finished product is not the problem either.

Research and Development for ‘automobiles of the future’ requires huge capital outlay, and in order to reduce the sales price, volume production and volume sales are essential for each manufacturer to remain in the marketplace.  Ford, Chevy, Honda and Toyota alike must produce in volume in order to reduce price.   The simple fact is we as consumers must step-up demand for these automobiles; other wise the manufacturing companies will be long gone before the pump price for gasoline surpasses the equivalent price of $50.00 per gallon or perhaps worse.

It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but if we plan to overcome or defeat our addiction to oil, the task is nothing short of a World War III effort. The alternative is not pretty!