March 31, 2009
Ford Introduces New Consumer Protection Program
Ford Motor Company introduced its own most comprehensive consumer confidence program, the “Ford Advantage Plan”. GM released its plan earlier today (earlier post), and Hyundai has had a consumer protection plan (Hyundai Assurance Plus) since mid-February.
Under the Ford Advantage Plan, Ford will cover payments for up to 12 months on any new Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicle if customers lose their jobs. All Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles are covered under the Ford Advantage Plan. The program runs from today through 1 June.
In addition to providing 12 months of payment protection of up to $700 per month, customers can take advantage of 0% financing on select Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles through Ford’s financing partner, Ford Motor Credit.
Ford will also introduce a program in partnership with its dealers throughout the country to assist local charities impacted by the economic downturn. Ford will announce complete details of this community outreach effort in April.
GM Unveils “Total Confidence” Customer Protection Package
General Motors announced the most comprehensive customer protection in the industry with “GM Total Confidence”. Elements of the plan include:
“Payment Protection” provides up to nine months of payments on vehicle loans or leases ($500 max/month) if a customer loses his or her job for economic reasons.
Once a buyer is halfway through a finance contract, he or she qualifies for “Vehicle Value Protection.” This helps protect customers against uncertainty in the future used car market. If a customer wants to buy another GM vehicle, he or she compares the principal loan balance (not including interest or any refunds on other products/services that were part of the vehicle loan) to the NADA clean retail price for your vehicle. If the buyer owes more than the vehicle is worth, Vehicle Value Protection will help make up the difference.
Under a trade-in to the dealer with a pay off the loan, VVP will recover the difference up to $5,000. Recovery in a private sale is up to $2,500.
5 year/100,000 mile transferable powertrain limited warranty (whichever comes first) plus roadside assistance and courtesy transportation.
One Year OnStar “Safety and Security” Package.
The GM Total Confidence plan is available for almost every GM vehicle purchased 1 April through 30 April 2009 (excluding Saab and medium-duty trucks). Further details are available on the www.gmconfidence.com website.
Plug In America Challenges Obama Auto Task Force Conclusion on GM Volt, Proposes Reduction in Warranty Terms to Reduce Manufacturer Cost
In response to the Presidential Auto Task Force Report that concluded that the plug-in Chevrolet Volt was unlikely to be commercially successful in the short-term due to its cost (earlier post), Plug In America is proposing a plan to make GM’s Chevy Volt and other plug-in cars more affordable. Plug In America also noted that most advanced new technologies are initially more costly.
California law requires that the Volt and other plug-in hybrids come with a 10-year warranty. To ensure this longer life, automakers are as much as doubling the size of the battery pack, increasing cost to manufacturer and consumer. But not a single production plug-in electric vehicle sold to date, from GM’s early EV1 to today’s Tesla, has had a warranty of more than five years, noted Plug In America advisory board member Chelsea Sexton.
To support early deployment, California should relax the warranty requirement for cars like the Volt to five years, phasing to 10 years over time. This alone could cut the number of batteries required by as much as half and reduce the cost of each vehicle by thousands of dollars. The minimum Volt warranty we’re asking for has historically been the maximum ever given for any plug-in car.—Chelsea Sexton
The warranty reduction would not impose added liability on GM or consumers, Sexton noted, because President Obama has said the federal government will guarantee the warranties of GM and Chrysler vehicles should they go bankrupt. And dealers can sell extended warranties, providing additional security for consumers who want it as well as revenue when auto companies need it most.
Plug In America's legislative director Jay Friedland further noted that the existing $7,500 Federal tax credit for plug-in vehicles would further reduce the Volt’s cost. Moreover, several states are implementing additional tax credits of up to $5,000 per vehicle.
We applaud the Obama Administration for its robust support for plug-in vehicle technology. But, this discouraging statement about the Volt’s early viability is counter-productive to the President’s own goal of 1 million plug-in vehicles by 2015.
It is unreasonable to expect the Volt and any similar new technology to be immediately profitable when other technologies that started with a price premium, such as the Toyota Prius, became wild successes. Even the first DVD player costs many times more than it does today.—Chelsea Sexton
Plug In America is a non-profit organization works to accelerate the shift to plug-in vehicles powered by clean, affordable, domestic electricity to reduce US dependence on petroleum and improve the global environment.
Sexton, a former GM employee on the EV1 project, featured prominently in Chris Paine’s 2006 film, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and was a co-founder of Plug In America.
Volkswagen Opens New Plant in Pune, India
Volkswagen has officially opened a new plant in Pune, India on Tuesday in the presence of some 500 international guests. The Pune plant will begin building the Skoda Fabia compact car in May 2009. Production of a hatchback version of the Volkswagen Polo specially developed for the Indian market will be added from 2010.
With a total financial commitment in India amounting to €580 million (US$771 million), the Pune plant represents the largest investment to date by a German company in the country. The facility has a maximum annual production capacity of 110,000 vehicles destined for delivery to the Indian market.
Despite the impact of the financial and economic crisis the desire for individual mobility in India remains high. Experts predict that the Indian automobile market will grow from the present 1.2 million vehicles to more than 2 million vehicles by 2014. The Volkswagen Group has already been building Skoda, Volkswagen and Audi models at its plant in Aurangabad since 2001. In addition to expanding production capacity, the Group is also investing in an efficient Indian supplier industry and in expanding its dealer network across the country.
In 2008, the Volkswagen Group produced 6.347 million vehicles worldwide, some 66.2% (4.201 million) of which were built outside Germany. The Pune plant is the 61st in the worldwide production network of the nine-brand Group.
Diesel-Fueled Cyclone External Combustion Engine Shows Near-Zero NOx
Emission testing performed by Cyclone Power Technologies on its Mark II pre-production prototype 18 hp (13 kW) external combustion engine running on diesel fuel showed near-zero emissions of NOx: 16.20 parts per million (.0016%). (Earlier post.)
Cyclone compared these results from dyanamometer testing to summary results for conventional internal combustion diesel engines, provided by Bridge Analzyers, the manufacturer of the testing device Cyclone used. Cyclone found that today’s diesel engines typically emit between 30 and 80 times more NOx than the Cyclone Engine running the same fuel.
Unlike conventional diesels, Cyclone Engines do not require any exhaust after-treatment. The Cyclone Engine burns its fuel at approximately 2,000 °F (1,093 °C), whereas NOx forms at temperatures above 2,300 °F (1,260 °C)—ranges typical for both diesel and gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. Nor does the Cyclone Engine idle; when no power is required from the engine, it shuts off.
While it is difficult to compare these results with current EPA standards, we believe that future mass emission testing of our engines will demonstrate that we can exceed even the most stringent environmental standards without the need for costly exhaust treatment equipment.
With minor adjustments to our Mark II 18HP generator engine over the following months, we believe that our emissions readings will improve further. The external combustion engine is naturally cleaner than internal combustion engines, and we expect the Cyclone to set the standard for this class.—Frankie Fruge, Cyclone’s COO
The company performed the tests at its Pompano Beach, FL facility using a Bridge Model 9005-03 Gas Analyzer, which uses electro-chemical sensors to measure NOx.
Optare Introduces Battery-Electric Bus
|The Solo EV. Click to enlarge.|
UK-based Optare PLC has introduced the Solo EV, a full battery-electric bus. The Solo EV is a progression of the established Solo family of buses. The Solo EV is available in lengths of 8.1m, 8.8m and 9.5m and widths of either 2.3m or 2.5m.
Replacing the usual diesel engine is an all-new electric drive, featuring an Enova Systems P120 AC induction motor rated at 120 kW and powered by two banks of Valence Lithium Ion Phosphate batteries. The two packs work in parallel and provide 307V with a total capacity of 80 kWh. The batteries are housed in two steel crates set either side of the centrally mounted motor for excellent weight distribution.
|The Solo EV power pack. Click to enlarge.|
Behind the motor are the cooling radiator, electric power-assisted steering pump, motor controller unit and charger unit. On the right, above one battery crate, is the electric air compressor.
The motor controller contains the power inverter to drive the motor, two 8kW AC inverters for the power steering and air compressor drives, and a 24V DC-DC converter to charge the standard vehicle batteries. This is contained in one fully sealed and water-cooled unit.
The cooling system is non-pressurized and cools the motor, motor controller and battery charger. A single electric fan draws air from the inside of the engine bay and blows it out of the underside. The water pump is controlled so that it is used during normal driving and also during overnight charging. The pneumatic system is supplied from a rotary vane compressor which couples to a standard Solo air-dryer allowing the normal service items to be carried over.
Effective heating for the driver and passengers is achieved using an Eberspacher Hydronic M12 auxiliary heater, housed in the area normally occupied by the diesel fuel tank and connected into the standard Solo heating circuit. The heater, header tank and pump are easily accessed for servicing. The installation ensures that the front circuit is prioritized for rapid screen demisting but also has sufficient capacity to maintain the cabin at a comfortable temperature of 21 °C (70 °F).
Vehicle top speed is limited to 90 km/h (56 mph) although this can be further restricted for in service requirements.
The vehicle controls are the same as for a diesel powered Solo apart from amendments to the driver display to accommodate a battery ‘fuel’ gauge and warning lights. The familiar driving experience is retained with overrun braking set to mimic the driving characteristics of the conventional vehicle.
The vehicle has regenerative braking with the drive motor being used to slow the vehicle and recover energy to the batteries. This increases vehicle range and reduces brake component wear. This system is supplemented by the Solo’s foundation brakes.
No retarder is required as the motor is used as a generator under braking conditions to achieve retardation and provide power to the batteries. Lifting off the throttle automatically signals the motor control system to produce a small amount of regeneration to mimic normal diesel engine braking. First pressure on the brake pedal starts to increase the level of regeneration up to its maximum, just prior to the service brakes coming into play. This recovers up to 60 kW of energy back into the batteries during deceleration and gives the same retardation as the electromagnetic retarder fitted to the diesel Solo.
An on-board charger can be plugged into a standard 3 phase outlet at the depot; a full charge can be achieved in less than 8 hours. Optional boost charging can be undertaken through the day either at the depot or using a suitable power outlet. The charger is programmed to match the specific charge routine of the batteries and also equalizes the batteries at the end of the procedure. This latter phase gives improved battery life and charge utilization.
The battery charger is water cooled to improve thermal management and communicates with the motor controller unit so that the water pump and 24V DC-DC converter are switched on during charging. The unit shuts all systems down at the end of the cycle. The charging process is fully automated and the vehicle can be left connected without risk of overcharge.
Optare is investigating range extension, achieved by adding a third set of batteries under the floor or on the roof. Due to the design of the Solo this can be accommodated within the axle weight limitations, and could improve the range by nearly 150%. When introduced, this could be made available as an optional upgrade to existing vehicles.
Roy Stanley, the founder and currently chairman of the Tanfield Group Plc, parent of Smith Electric Vehicles, is a Non-Executive Director of the Optare Group. As of 15 July 2008, Stanley held 28.4% of Optare Group shares.
(A hat-tip to John!)
Innas and NOAX to Show Hydraulic Series Hybrid Drivetrain at Hannover Messe
|The Hydrid drivetrain. Click to enlarge.|
At the Hannover Messe, 20-24 April, Innas BV and NOAX BV will introduce the latest design of the Innas hydraulic transformer (IHT) and the “Hydrid”, a hydraulic series hybrid drive train for passenger cars and off-road equipment. With this new design, the fuel consumption of a vehicle can be more than halved, with a corresponding reduction in CO2 emissions of 50%, without compromise on weight, size, traction or top speed, according to the companies.
In a Hydrid, the complete mechanical drive train of a car is replaced by a full hydrostatic transmission, allowing energy recuperation and more efficient operation of the engine operation. The backbone of the Hydrid is the hydraulic common pressure rail (CPR) system, which collects and distributes the power inside the vehicle. The accumulators determine the pressure levels in the system. On the high pressure side, the pressure varies between 200 and 400 bar (20 to 40 MPa).
The internal combustion engine powers a constant displacement pump. The engine torque is directly related to the pressure in the high pressure accumulator and can consequently only vary between 50% (at 200 bar) and 100% (at 400 bar) of the maximum torque. Operation of the engine at low loads is therefore completely avoided.
Each wheel has its own hydraulic motor. These motors act as a pump when braking. The recuperated brake energy is stored in the high pressure accumulator. The torque of the in-wheel motors is controlled with the hydraulic transformers, one for each axis. The system has a variable traction control for the front and rear axis. The Hydrid uses floating cup type pumps, motors and hydraulic transformers developed by Innas.
The Floating Cup is an axial piston principle for hydrostatic pumps, motors and transformers. “Floating Cup” refers to the cylinders—each piston gets its own cup-like cylinder, which are free-floating on a barrel plate. Floating cup machines typically have 24 pistons, compared to the 7 or 9 pistons of other axial piston pumps and motors. The pistons are pressed into a central rotor in a double, mirrored configuration.
|Components of a floating cup machine.
Click to enlarge.
|The new Innas variable floating cup pump.|
Click to enlarge.
The floating cup principle has an extremely high torque efficiency, even at low speed—more than 95% at 0.1 rpm and 350 bar. The principle has almost no torque losses at low-speed driving or during start-up when accelerating from standstill. The multi-piston design creates a smooth, almost constant torque output which is necessary for low noise, vibrations and harshness (NVH).
Compared to electric machines, or even to other hydraulic pumps and motors, the floating cup principle has a very high power and torque density. This is especially important for the in-wheel motors in order to minimize the unsuspended weight of the wheels.
The floating cup principle is designed for deep drawing, sintering and other production technologies which are familiar in the automotive world but relatively new for the production of hydrostatic machines, Innas says.
|Comparing transmission efficiencies. Click to enlarge.|
Transmission efficiency. The German Institute for Fluid Power Drives and Controls (IFAS) at RWTH Aachen University has built a simulation model of the Hydrid. In this model, the efficiencies of the hydrostatic components are derived from measurements on existing floating cup machines. Although the cycle analysis shows that the hydraulic components themselves create more losses than a comparable mechanical transmission applied in a mid-sized sedan, these losses are more than compensated for by the energy which is recuperated during braking.
Including the recuperated brake energy, the total efficiency of the Hydrid transmission is in the end somewhat better than the estimated efficiency of an all-wheel drive mechanical transmission.
|Engine efficiency. Click to enlarge.|
Engine efficiency. Comparing a conventional diesel-engined car with a hydrid car using the same engine (100 kW), the Hydrid delivered a specific fuel consumption of 3.1 L/100km (76 mpg US)—less than half the fuel consumption of the conventional vehicle.
For some 80% of the NEDC, the power demand of the vehicle is less than 10 kW. At these low power conditions, the engine coupled to a conventional mechanical drivetrain can only run in an area with poor efficiency. In the vehicle with the Hydrid transmission, the high-pressure accumulator forces the engine to run between the loads Tmin and Tmax (diagram at right). In this area the engine has the highest efficiency.
The engine is now in on/off operation and is only in operation during 11% of the cycle. For the other 89%, the engine is switched off, thereby completely eliminating idle losses. The hydraulic pump can be used as a starter to enable the frequent on-off operation of the engine.
Innas is an independent engineering company specializing in the fields of hydraulic components, hydraulic drives and combustion engines. Key technologies are the Floating Cup technology for hydraulic pumps and motors, the Innas hydraulic transformer, the Chiron free piston engine and the Hydraulic Common Pressure Rail. NOAX is responsible for the marketing and further development of the Innas technology. NOAX has the exclusive right to exploit the industrial rights and know-how of the Chiron Free Piston Engine, the Innas Hydraulic Transformer and the Floating Cup technology.
Presidential Auto Task Force Concluded Plug-In GM Volt Likely “Too Expensive To Be Commercially Successful in the Short-Term”
Following the short address on Monday during which President Barack Obama outlined the next steps for GM and Chrysler (earlier post), the White House posted summaries of the Presidential Auto Task Force’s assessment of the business plans provided by the two struggling automakers, which led to the terms that are currently unfolding.
Among the highlights of the brief summaries was the conclusion that while the Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle holds promise, “it will likely be too expensive to be commercially successful in the short-term.”
The GM Viability Determination notes that the company is in the early stages of an operational turnaround in which it has made material progress in a number of areas, including purchasing, product design, manufacturing, brand rationalization and its dealer network.
Despite these steps, a great deal more progress needs to be made, and GM’s plan contemplates initiatives that will take many years to complete. In the end, GM’s plan is based on a number of assumptions that will be very challenging to meet without a more dramatic restructuring in which many of its planned changes are accelerated.
In short, while the Company has made meaningful progress in its turnaround plan over the last few years, the progress has been far too slow, allowing the Company to continue to lag the best-in-class competitors. As a result, the President’s Designee has found that General Motors’ plan is not viable as it is currently structured. However, because of GM’s scale, franchise and progress to date, we believe that there could be a viable business within GM if the Company and its stakeholders engage in a substantially more aggressive restructuring plan.
The assessment concluded that GM’s plan is based on fairly optimistic assumptions that will be challenging in the absence of a more aggressive restructuring. On the product side, the summary asserted that:
GM earns a disproportionate share of its profits from high-margin trucks and SUVs and is thus vulnerable to energy cost-driven shifts in consumer demand. For example, of its top 20 profit contributors in 2008, nine were cars.
GM is at least one generation behind Toyota on advanced, “green” powertrain development. In an attempt to leapfrog Toyota, GM has devoted significant resources to the Chevy Volt. While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable.
(The Volt is an extended range electric vehicle—i.e., plug-in series hybrid—featuring a 16 kWh battery pack and a 40-mile all-electric range.)
Absent the successful introduction of a number of new-generation nameplates, as described in the Company’s plan, GM’s product portfolio is more vulnerable to CAFE standard increases than the portfolios of many of its competitors (although GM is in compliance today with current standards).
Even under the Company’s optimistic assumptions, the Company remains breakeven, at best, on a free cash flow basis throughout the projection period, thus failing the fundamental test of viability.
The Chrysler Viability Determination concluded that while the plan reflects some progress that has been made under current management, that progress will ultimately be insufficient due to several structural issues that Chrysler, as a standalone entity, is highly unlikely to overcome.
In particular, Chrysler’s limited scale in an increasingly capital-intensive global business, the inferior quality of its existing product portfolio and its heavy truck mix leave the Company poorly positioned. Chrysler’s plan to address these issues is based on overly optimistic assumptions that are inconsistent with its current products and its resources.
The assessment noted that Chrysler’s smaller scale limits its product development budget overall, and particularly limits the amount it can spend developing each platform. Chrysler currently dedicates only 50% as many engineers to each platform, on average, as GM does. The report also notes that Chrysler’s products have also historically underperformed in terms of quality, which remains a significant challenge.
On the product side, the report concludes that:
Chrysler does not have a product pipeline to cover the smaller car segments which are projected to grow in share of the overall car market. Chrysler’s shares of the small and medium car markets are 3% and 7%, respectively (while each category represents 21% and 25% of the market, respectively), and has been declining in each segment.
In the near term, Chrysler is planning to lift profitability by focusing on its more profitable truck and SUV segments. Given the potential variability in fuel prices, Chrysler’s volume assumptions for these cars may be at risk.
Chrysler’s product strength is in the pickup, SUV, and minivan segments—all of which are relatively low in fuel efficiency. On a standalone basis, Chrysler will struggle to comply with increasing fuel efficiency standards, and it may even have to restrict the sale of certain models to make sure it is in accordance with proposed standards.
While Chrysler is investing in newer powertrain development, as are all the OEMs, its limited resources lead it to project spending just over 3% of revenue on R&D over the next five years, versus 4-5% for General Motors, Toyota and Honda.
Chrysler’s standalone plan does not provide for a substantial entrance into the small car segments – an area that will be increasingly important to automotive manufacturer profitability if potential gasoline price hikes meaningfully increase demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and as CAFE standards demand a higher mix of small cars.
While the Company has made meaningful changes to its cost structure in the last few years, the combination of a fundamentally disadvantaged operating structure and a limited set of desirable products make standalone viability for the business highly challenging. As a result, the President’s Designee has found that Chrysler’s plan is not viable as currently structured. However, a partnership with another automotive company, such as Fiat or another prospective partner, which addresses many of these issues could lead to a path to viability for Chrysler.
Capstone Turbine Successfully Demonstrates EPA and CARB 2010 Diesel Engine Emissions
Capstone Turbine Corporation has demonstrated with its 30 kW microturbine emission levels compliant with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) 2010 requirements for Heavy Duty Diesel Engine (HDDE). Tests were conducted at Capstone’s development test facilities in Van Nuys, California.
Internal combustion diesel engine manufacturers have been challenged for the last several years to develop technology improvements that reduce emissions to levels specified by the EPA and CARB 2010 standards—e.g., a more than 80% NOx reduction from the current EPA and CARB 2007 standards.
Capstone microturbines incorporate lean premix combustion technology which offers clean burning exhaust emissions operating on gaseous and liquid fuels. To achieve the emissions improvements, Capstone’s team of engineers developed new fuel injection methods that resulted in significantly lower emissions. Testing demonstrated compliant NOx and CO emissions from part load to full load operation.
The resulting system requires no fuel pretreatment or exhaust aftertreatment to meet the more stringent standards.
Honda, ATR and Shimadzu Jointly Develop Non-Invasive Brain-Machine Interface Technology Enabling Control of a Robot by Human Thought Alone
|The test process for Honda’s Brain-Machine Interface technology including conceptual diagram of the brain activity measuring device, example of obtained data, and example of distinguishing results. Click to enlarge.|
Honda Research Institute Japan Co., Ltd. (HRI-JP), a subsidiary of Honda R&D Co., Ltd., Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) and Shimadzu Corporation have collaboratively developed what they believe is the world’s first Brain Machine Interface (BMI) technology that uses electroencephalography (EEG) and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) along with newly developed information extraction technology to enable control of a robot by human thought alone.
It does not require any physical movement such as pressing buttons. This technology will be further developed for the application to human-friendly products in the future by integrating it with intelligent technologies and/or robotic technologies.
|Brain activity measuring device. Click to enlarge.|
During the human thought process, slight electrical current and blood flow change occur in the brain. The most important factor in the development of the BMI technology is the accuracy of measuring and analyzing these changes. The newly developed BMI technology uses EEG, which measures changes in electrical potential on the scalp, and NIRS, which measures changes in cerebral blood flow, with a newly developed information extraction technology which enables statistical processing of the complex information from these two types of sensors. As a result, it became possible to distinguish brain activities with high precision without any physical motion, but just human thought alone.
The BMI technology announced by HRI-JP and ATR in 2006 used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to measure brain activities. The large size and powerful magnetic field generated by the fMRI scanner limited the locations and conditions where it can be used. As the newly developed measuring device uses EEG and NIRS sensors, it can be transported to and used in various locations.
First, EEG and NIRS sensors are placed on the head of the user. Then, one of four pre-determined body part options is provided to the user. For this particular research experiment, the four options were left hand, right hand, tongue and feet. The user creates a mental image of moving the selected body part.
The user imagines moving that body part without making any physical movement. Changes in both brain waves and cerebral blood flow triggered by the brain activity are measured simultaneously. The data obtained are analyzed on a real-time basis to distinguish what the user imagined. Upon receiving the result, Honda’s ASIMO humanoid robot makes corresponding movements such as raising its arm or leg. The world’s highest level accuracy rate, according to Honda and ATR in-house research, of more than 90% was achieved in the tests.
Since 2005, Honda and ATR have been conducting research and development of BMI technology exploring the potential of a new interface which connects people and machines. Honda is looking into the possibility of applying this technology to a people-friendly human interface through integration with other technologies such as artificial intelligence technologies and/or robotics technologies.
In May 2006, Honda and ATR successfully developed a BMI technology which utilizes a fMRI scanner and achieved the first success in the world to control a robot hand by decoding brain activities without electrode array implants or special training of the user.
While conventional machine-interface uses devices such as switches which need to be operated by a user’s hands or feet, BMI uses brain activity data measured by various devices and enables non-contact control of the machines (such as robots). Invasive BMI, which is widely studied by US and European researchers, requires the surgical implant of electrode arrays, whereas non-invasive BMI uses sensors touching the user’s scalp.