Autofield Blog

The Automotive Future Is Closer: Mirai Is Available for Order


By: Gary S. Vasilash 30. July 2015

The digital order book (i.e., you go through a website) for the hydrogen-fueled Toyota Mirai opened last week, and if you happen to be someone who qualifies to get the car (they are not planning on making a whole lot of them initially, so they want to make sure as much as possible that there is congruence between the buyer and the vehicle), then you’re going to be getting the future of automotive transportation at a fairly aggressive price for what is undoubtedly a vehicle that costs far, far more than it is stickered for. Let’s face it: the Mirai really is rocket science that has been mass productionized, and it is hard to imagine that that’s anything but, well, inexpensive.

Mirai

The future really is now

That is, the MSRP for the sedan is $57,500. Naturally, there is a delivery charge, $835. (While not an apples-to-apples comparison, know that SpaceX charges $61.2-million for a Falcon 9 launch.)

But the Mirai price gets you a car that has an estimated 312-mile range, based on an EPA estimated 67 mpge city/highway/combined, which is more useful than a space launch.

That range, according to Toyota, makes it the electric vehicle that can travel the furthest.

(“Electric vehicle?” you wonder. “I thought it was a hydrogen-powered car.” The hydrogen is used to create electricity, which powers a 113-kW AC synchronous electric generator.)

There are plenty of benefits to early adopters that Toyota is offering, ranging from financing support to free hydrogen for 3 years (or $15,000, whichever comes first).

And the state of California might offer you a $5,000 tax credit. Assuming you live in California.

Which you will need to in order to get a Mirai.

There are currently eight dealers who handle the Mirai. Four in southern California. Four in northern.

And right now there are eight public refueling stations.

No wonder Toyota is calling the early adopters “Trailblazers.”

(To be fair, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, there are an additional 48 stations under development.)

When you’re going to have someone discuss your new vehicle, who better than a theoretical physicist? Here is Dr. Michio Kaku at the 2015 CES discussing the future of transportation at a Toyota event:

Mirai 2

(Cue the Thomas Dolby music)


2015 Kia Soul EV+


By: Gary S. Vasilash 29. July 2015

The Kia Soul EV—as in “electric vehicle”—takes the already well-done Soul and provides a slightly different spin on it.

2016 Soul EV

The difference is not simply the fact that it has an AC synchronous electric motor that produces an equivalent 109-hp under the hood.

One pleasant difference is in the cabin, where there is the extensive use of bio-based plastics. Such things as the door panels, headliner, seat trim, and more—in all, 19 different parts—are made with plastics derived from cellulose and sugar cane. The result is an overall freshness and modernity. This may be a car that is “green” because it is a zero-emission vehicle, but it is not “green” in the sense that it is “frugal” in a way that makes the interior about as exciting as a bowl of oatmeal. Quite the contrary. It has all of amenities that you’d expect—maybe some that you don’t (e.g., heated seats). Overall, I like it better than the versions with the 1.6- or 2.0-liter internal combustion engine.

2016 Soul EV

The interior, that is.

There is an 8-inch capacitive touch screen display that provides an array of functions, one of which is navigation that provides a list of where one can get the 27-kWh air-cooled, 200-Watt-hour/kg lithium ion polymer battery, which is located under the floor so it is not truncating storage space, charged.

2016 Soul EV

Amusingly enough, however, while driving along it indicated a charging station that happened to be. . .at a Nissan dealership. Probably not where you want to go with your Kia.

The charging procedure is straight-forward. You release the lid on the charger ports that’s located in the center of the grille. There are two charging ports, a SAE J1772 port for Level 1 and Level 2 AC, and a CHAdeMO DC fast-charging port (480 V). Plug in and information as to how long it is likely to take to charge—according to Kia, “recharging times vary from 24 hours for a fully depleted battery using a standard 120-V outlet to under five hours when plugged into a 240-V outlet.  An 80-percent charge can be achieved from empty in as little as 33 minutes with a 50 kW-output DC fast charger”—is displayed on a 3.5-inch OLED screen.

And that screen may provide some surprising information.

The Soul EV has a EPA estimated range of 93 miles. That’s the combined number.

2016 Soul EV

Just as in your gasoline-fueled car, there are a lot of factors that come into play regarding the vehicle’s range. For example, as it was summer when I was driving the car, I had no need to activate the aforementioned heated seats. The air conditioning is another story.

And when I turned the air conditioning on, I saw that the mileage range immediately dropped by two miles.

While on a theoretical basis I am completely in favor of things like EVs, I must admit that the whole time I had the car I was thinking about the amount of juice in the battery.

When you think about buying a car, changes are—and these chances are high, given the exceedingly small number of electric vehicles sold in the U.S.—that refueling is not something that you think about. An exception might be if you are contemplating purchase of a diesel vehicle. But absent that, you take for granted that the Shell or BP or Whatever station is seemingly everywhere so that if you think about fuel at all vis-à-vis a new car purchase, it is probably only in the context of fuel economy.

That is not the case for an EV. Not by a long shot. While 120-V plugs are certainly common, they tend to be inside of buildings, which makes them ideal for charging phones on the go but not so much for EVs. And while there is a growing number of recharging station in the parking lots of malls, colleges and office complexes, the number is still small, and those that I found in the western suburbs of Detroit were Level 2 chargers, which means 220 V. That’s better than what you have at home (with the exception of the outlets for your major appliances, and this whole thing might take us to the description of a car as an appliance in a very tangible way). But 220 V is still something that requires hours of plug-in time. If I happen to go to a charging station at a mall, plug in and then go to a movie and you drive up in need of a charge, you’re going to be out of luck. While this may not be a problem right now (I went to five different charging spots over the weekend in in all cases I had the only car there), what happens if EVs become very popular?

2016 Soul EV

Even if you use an EV for short hops around town, those short hops add up quickly, especially if you have the HVAC system activated. When your range is on the order of – miles, those runs to school and the grocery store make the range numbers fall precipitously.

And recharging an EV is not as quick and convenient as going to the Shell or BP or Whatever station.

This is the proverbial Achilles’ heel for the Soul EV and its brethren in this space, with the exception of a Tesla Model S, as it has a range of 230 miles. But then it has a starting MSRP of $70,000, so you could buy (almost) two Soul EV+s for that money (MSRP: $35,700).

Yes, I know there are statistics that indicate the average driver travels fewer than 40 miles per day, but it is the notion of not having the ability to plug in somewhere that’s concerning. At least for me.

The car itself is one thing. A good thing. But the infrastructure and the battery (i.e., recharging) are something else, entirely.

Selected specs

Motor: AC synchronous permanent magnet electric

Horsepower: 109 hp

Torque: 210 lb-ft

Transmission: One-speed gear reduction

Battery: 27 kWh lithium ion polymer

Steering: Electric power assist rack-and-pinion

Wheelbase: 101.2 in.

Length: 163 in.

Width 70.9 in.

Height: 63 in.

Passenger volume: 97.1 cu. ft.

Curb weight: 3,289 lb.

EPA estimated range: 93 miles


GM Investing $5-Billion Outside of Mature Markets


By: Gary S. Vasilash 28. July 2015

When General Motors was going through its Troubles a few years ago, when it was making plans to shed divisions like leaves from a maple tree in October, there were some people who made an argument on behalf of keeping Buick in the fold for one simple, enormous reason: China.

Buick has had a storied history in the world’s largest auto market from early on in the 20th century. According to Buick, Pu Yi, the last emperor of the kingdom, rolled in a Buick, as did subsequent leaders including Dr. Sun Yat-Sen and Zhou Enlai.

And a whole lot of regular people, too.

But when you think of “regular people” in the context of General Motors, it is probably of Chevrolet, not Buick. After all, if we go to Alfred Sloan’s hierarchy of brands, the starting place is Chevy. And now it goes to Buick and/or GMC, then to Cadillac.

Chevrolet Find New Roads

New roads in places like in Brazil, India, Mexico. . .and China

Chevy is what regular people drive. The other brands are driven by regular people who have achieved an aspirational position. Even if it isn’t emperor.

So it comes as not an enormous surprise that today General Motors president Dan Ammann announced, “With a significant majority of anticipated automotive industry grown in 2015 to 2030 outside of mature markets”—as in the United States and western Europe—“Chevrolet is taking steps to capitalize on that growth.”

And to make money you have to spend money, as the saying goes, so Chevrolet is going to be investing (well, GM, really) $5-billion to develop a new vehicle family for growth markets—as in Brazil, India, Mexico. . .and China.

In fact, this program includes joint development of the core architecture and engine with Shanghai-based SAIC Motor. (Once “SAIC” stood for “Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation”; now it is just a group of letters.)

The vehicle family is going to be specifically developed to meet the specific needs of specific locales. Meaning, this isn’t going to be a case of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain (a title that is something of a trifecta, given that in order for developed products to be executed, purchasing and supply chain play significant roles), said, “The new vehicle family will feature advanced customer-facing technologies focused on connectivity, safety and fuel efficiency delivered at a compelling value.”

Of course. Internet. Safety. Fuel economy. Which is pretty much of interest everywhere.

But here’s the more pertinent quote: “It will be a combination of content and value not offered previously by any automaker in these markets that are poised for growth.”

Bingo.

In order to be successful in Brazil, India, Mexico. . .and China, they’re going to be creating appropriate combinations, not a one-size-fits all (although the physical size of the vehicles will probably be pretty much the same) approach to content.

Ammann said, “This growth initiative is the next important step toward our goal of building the world’s most-valued automotive company.”

And he’s putting GM’s money where its mouth is.


Concept Car Winners & the Concours d’Elegance of America


By: Gary S. Vasilash 27. July 2015

This past weekend the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s was held in Plymouth, Michigan. That’s over, obviously.

But one thing that occurred at the venue where more than 300 cars were on display in some magnificent glory—not only the likely suspects like Duesenberg, Auburn, Pierce Arrow, and Bentley, but also Muscle Cars, Drag Cars, and Bonneville Streamliners—was the awarding of the 2015 North American Concept Car of the Year Awards.

(Full disclosure: I’m a judge.)

And this year’s awardees are nothing short of conceptually impressive.

The 2015 Production Preview Concept of the Year went to the Ford GT:

Ford GT at NAIAS

The 2015 Concept Car of the Year was awarded to the Mercedes F 015:

Mercedes-Benz F015 - Luxury in Motion

And the 2015 Concept Truck of the Year was bestowed on the Hyundai Santa Cruz:

Santa Cruz Crossover Truck Concept

(Here’s an interesting thing to note: While the Mercedes was unveiled at the 2015 CES in Las Vegas, the other two had their debuts at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.)

However. . .

If you’re interested in learning about what goes into a concurs in general and the Concours d’Elegance of America in particular, then you will be want to watch this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” where Larry Moss, chairman of the event, talks about how the event is orchestrated every year.

Moss, in conversation with host John McElroy, Edward Niedermeyer of the Daily Kanban, and me, describes how it isn’t merely a car show, but actually includes aspects of fashion, art and education.

In addition to which, McElroy, Niedermeyer and I discuss a range of topics including Tesla’s battery swap station in Harris Ranch, California, and the hacking of the Cherokee and its implications for the auto industry.

And you can see it all here:

 


VW Hits 500,000 in Chattanooga


By: Gary S. Vasilash 24. July 2015

The Volkswagen Plant in Chattanooga went into production in April 2011. Its initial objective was to produce the Passat sedan that was developed specifically for the North American market (as in other global markets have a different Passat).

Passat 2015

When the car first hit the roads, it gained plenty of favor, such as being named the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year, among other accolades.

Unfortunately, the Passat hasn’t been performing particularly well in the U.S. market. Through June 2015, sales of the car were off 15.2% from the same period in 2014. And if we look back to how it fared in the first half of 2014, it was down 11.3% from the first half of 2013.

Not good.

Anyway, the men and women at Volkswagen Chattanooga deserve a tip of the proverbial hat because on Wednesday of this week they produced the 500,000th Passat.

VW plant

Very good.

Volkswagen Group knows that they’ve got a fine manufacturing facility there in southeastern Tennessee because they are investing $900-million to expand the plant to build a seven-seat midsize SUV. The start of production is planned for late 2016.

There are some 2,400 people working in the plant. The expansion will add 2,000 more.




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