Tag Archive | "electric cars"

Porsche Panamera Gets Greener

Once known as the brand that supped from the cup of the yuppie culture a couple of decades back, the Porsche name has managed to get well past all that nonsense to enter a new phase of popularity. The latest 911 is a state-of-the-art masterpiece (if you can get beyond the divisive electric steering) and the Cayman is simply one of the best drives that money can buy. The Cayenne is hugely popular with customers worldwide but it is the Panamera that is the big surprise.

On first impressions the car is not a looker – at least that’s what the reviewers at the time of launch thought – but it is clear from sales that customers don’t agree. In the USA it is a best seller and is sought after elsewhere around the world. Various styling tweaks have since made the car more appealing and the latest version should finally silence the critics.

As with other manufacturers in the prestige car sector, Porsche have been working with hybrid technology and it was first introduced into the Panamera in 2011. Now there is going to be a new version – the S E-Hybrid -which will be formally announced at the Shanghai Motor Show later in April. The original was good, this new one (pictured) should be even better.

The S E-Hybrid is the first plug-in Porsche. The plug is in the front grill and the lithium-ion battery can charge from a domestic point in about four hours, less from a fast charger. A full charge will give twenty two miles on electric power alone. The battery is topped up in use via a regenerative braking system.

The 4.8L V8 has gone and is replaced by a three litre V6 bi-turbo which on its own will produce around 320bhp. Add in a further 95 from the electric motor and the car will whisk the person with the requisite £90k (est) to 62 miles per hour in a sparkling 5.5 seconds and on to 168mph in fairly short order.

The most amazing aspect of this – remember this is a Porsche – is that the company are claiming 91mpg! Owners won’t get this in the real world of course but even a more modest figure of, say, about 70mpg is a bit of a triumph in a car like this. Even more impressive is the road tax and congestion charge busting 71g/km.

All the usual goodies are there including bi-Xenon lights, climate, parking sensors and so on plus the added security benefit of the Porsche Vehicle Tracking System approved to Thatcham’s category 5 level. Buyers will even get a complimentary driving experience at  Silverstone to learn more about their car. If the funds are available this has got to be the premier eco-drive available. All the joy of Porsche ownership with pleasure of knowing that the very best green credentials are on show.

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UP! Goes Electric

The Volkswagen Up! is one of the best city cars money can buy. In typical VW fashion it offers a good level of refinement and an interior of very high quality for this price sector. Surprisingly roomy, the acceleration from the 1.0L engine is not going to pin you back in your seat but the car still delivers a lively drive around town and holds its own on the motorway.

Now, not being a company to rest on its laurels, VW have announced the arrival of an electric version that will be formally introduced to us at this Autumn’s Frankfurt Motor Show. It is called the e-Up! Leaving aside for a moment that this expression is a form of cheery greeting in the North of England, it should be more of the same but with the economy and climate friendliness associated with electric cars.

The range seems impressive when stated in kilometres – 150 – but when translated into proper English is 93 miles 361.99 yards. This is about normal for an EV so no major advances there. Never mind – this car will have the dependability we have come to expect from Volkswagen and will suit users who need a decent urban run-around that can carry four people. Usefully, it can be charged to eighty percent capacity in just a half hour.

Pretty much noiseless as you’d expect, power comes from a 60kW motor. Maximum torque is a sturdy 210Nm available from the first touch of the accelerator. The lithium-ion battery is under the floor and this must help handling and composure on the road. Charging is taken care of by a connection craftily hidden behind the ‘fuel-filler’ flap, and in a standard common to other manufacturers buyers can specify the Combined Charging System option which supports both AC and DC charging which enables a ‘fill-up’ at most stations regardless of the power source or charging rates. That’s worth having.

The body has been ‘aerodynamically optimised’ and features the now obligatory LED daylight running lights in the front bumper. The style is further embellished with a nice set of 15” alloys. The e-Up! will have its own special logos and grey/blue interior trim with leather and chrome accents.

The Up! Is a great car designed perfectly for the job. Comfort, economy and style in a package that can be parked on a postage stamp. The electric version is sure to catch on with town and city folk for whom range isn’t an issue. It has to be said – things are looking Up!

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The Alternative To Electric Cars?

On and off over the last one hundred years automobile manufacturers have tried to produce a viable electric car without commercial success. Thanks to the latest technology their attempts in the last few years have been reasonably good but, as far as the majority of the buying public are concerned despite all the hype, not nearly good enough for the reasons we all know. Word is that a couple of Japanese car makers have acknowledged the fact that EV’s are still not truly ready and may never be in the foreseeable future.

In the quest to turn away from fossil fuels attention seems to be turning to what the industry hope may be The Next Big Thing, and that is hydrogen power. Immediately the climate change lobby and other vested interests (in and out of government) have become excited without taking into account the scientific fact that hydrogen is volatile and difficult to store. Imagine trying to establish the infrastructure needed countrywide to fuel all the cars! Rush towards this technology too soon and sales could go through the roof – literally.

The lack of range, the lack of charging points and the time taken to charge an electric vehicle are not lost on the public. So much so that in the USA where they expected a massive take-up, the Obama administration has backed off from its over-ambitious EV targets. For now, it seems likely that the industry will concentrate on the much more sensible alternative of petrol/electric hybrids which overcome the shortcomings of purely electric cars.

Nevertheless companies like Nissan and Toyota are still intending to pursue fuel-cell technology which they hope will become the new green breakthrough. Cars that convert hydrogen to electricity. The stakes are high on this issue. Whomsoever comes up with a viable alternate fuel stand to make a mega-fortune but it has got to be a risky and costly enterprise.

It is not expected – considering the investment – that car companies will abandon electric vehicles altogether as a niche market does exist. It took six years for Toyota’s Prius to really establish itself in the USA but in 2012 they sold well over three hundred thousand hybrids in America and some 1.2 million worldwide.

One thing that is certain is that manufacturers have got to find some answer to the increasingly stringent regulations being set by governments for future years. If not electric cars then maybe fuel-cell vehicles are the alternative. They are certainly being talked up in certain quarters but a realistic car must still be a long way off. Or will it all prove to be a load of hot air?

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Turning Over A New Leaf

The Nissan Leaf was launched in 2011 and to date the company have sold over fifty thousand cars worldwide. In many ways it is a very good car but with the drawbacks that afflict all electric cars. Potential owners remain concerned about range as the cars arrived long before the introduction of any meaningful electric infrastructure around the nation. Never mind – the Leaf has a market and is an ideal vehicle for urban lifestyles.

Nissan have been listening to customers and have announced a wide range of improvements to the next generation EV, which will be built, along with its batteries, at the successful Sunderland plant in the North of England. Production begins in the Spring. This seems like an admirably perfect time for a new Leaf.

Crucially, the range has been extended. The original car could manage 109 miles at best. The new maximum is 124 miles. It’s not a lot if we’re honest but that extra bit could just give buyers peace of mind in knowing that 100 miles should be reliably feasible. This is aided by a new heat pump which reduces electrical consumption in cold weather thus boosting range.

In addition to the standard eight hour charging arrangement, customers can now opt for a 6.6kW charger which halves charging time. Additionally, the charger has now been relocated under the bonnet which has freed up additional luggage space at the back. An amount of judicious re-engineering has bought the car up fully to European driving standards which means handling has been improved.

To further enhance performance Nissan have made some styling changes to the car which will improve aero efficiency. In keeping with the green credentials the new Leaf is more recyclable than its predecessor, not that owners are likely to be thinking that far ahead. The company has listened and they say that there are over one hundred improvements and enhancements on the new model.

Battery life is another concern expressed by customers. It would be a hugely expensive fix and nobody really seems to know how long they will last and how much capacity they will lose over time. To counter this Nissan have a new comprehensive warranty plan. There’s a five year / 100,000 mile guarantee for workmanship and defects and, because lithium-ion batteries lose capacity over time, they will be covered by a ‘State of Health’ clause to cover this. Thus, if the batteries wear out earlier than expected they will be repaired or replaced.

The interior has been improved too with new colours, more supportive seats with environmentally friendly fabrics and more equipment including the Around View Monitor. Overall, Nissan have paid attention to the reaction to the original Leaf and acted accordingly. The new Nissan Leaf is an attractive proposition for a large percentage of car users.

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Silent But Deadly

Over the English Channel at that bastion of frugality and common sense known as the European Parliament they have recently had an actual vote. Yes – that’s right. Amazingly, the members signed off their expenses, poured out of the nightclubs and bars and headed to work to cast their opinions on the noise electric cars should make. They didn’t come up with any viable ideas obviously but all agreed that a new rule was needed. This is likely to come into force by the end of next year.

It is a much belated victory for the various campaign groups who long ago realised that the new quiet cars coming onto the market were a threat to life, particularly at low speeds. The Guide Dogs For The Blind Association have been saying this for years so any legislation is not before time; after all, cyclists have been encouraged to fit and use a bell or warning device for a long time now and even the heftiest biker can’t compete with a tonne or so of car.

The USA and Japan already have laws in place to cover this issue. In Europe it was first thought that an artificial noise should be voluntary – like bikes – but it seems, quite rightly, that this policy needs to be strengthened in law. It makes sense that vulnerable others be protected -the blind and partially sighted who have to be acutely aware of noises, obviously, but also children and pedestrians on speed restricted streets, the elderly and the infirm.

Current statistics show that there are some 2700 electric cars and nearly one hundred and fifty thousand hybrids and plug-ins on UK roads. This number is expected to rapidly double within the next two years or so. Even the biggest of them is virtually silent when running on electric power alone. Research has apparently already shown that a pedestrian is more likely to be struck by an EV than a petrol-powered vehicle.

A couple of years ago some entitled wag in the House of Lords suggested a cow-bell as being appropriate. That’s the sort of blue-sky thinking that our Nation needs, isn’t it? Meanwhile car makers have got to come up with a solution, bearing in mind that the vulnerable need to be able to hear it over background noise and that different people hear at different decibel levels. It has also got to be non-aggravating for the driver. A graduated noise that sounds like a car might be a good idea.

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New Cars At 2013 The Geneva Motor Show

Ah, Geneva! Nestling on the banks of its eponymous lake, snug in the surrounding Alpine scenery. There’s a lot to recommend Switzerland (although from experience the Swiss authorities can be a bit bossy) but one thing is for sure – when they do something, they do it properly. Which is why every year all the manufacturers crowd into the Geneva Motor Show to display their latest new cars and some exciting new concept vehicles. This March is no exception. The auto list is enormous; so just as a bit of a mouth-watering appetiser, here’s a selection of some choice morsels from the menu.

There’s arguably the most awaited car for years, the Alfa Romeo 4C. How long you’ll have to wait for yours is debateable because this will be the car that parent company Fiat will use to re-launch the Alfa brand in the USA. It will be in the vanguard for a range of new Alfa Romeo’s over the next few years.

For those with a slightly larger budget, the closely guarded and mysterious Rolls Royce Wraith will finally be revealed in all its glory. Word is that the car will be a two-door coupé version of the Ghost. According to the CEO of the company, “Expect the boldest design, the most dramatic performance and the most powerful Rolls-Royce that has ever played host to the famous Spirit of Ecstasy figurine.” Wow, you can’t say fairer than that, can you? Let us hope that it lives up to the superlatives.

Having debuted the Chevrolet Spark all-electric car in the USA last year, the company are giving it a major plug at the Geneva show. This city car is reported to have the most advanced electric motor and battery system so far from General Motors.

The power comes from a lithium-ion pack that, in order to extend useful life, features liquid cooling and heating and a fast charging arrangement that will boost the pack to 80% in twenty minutes. Impressively, this little motor punches above its weight with 128bhp and a frankly astonishing 400lb/ft of torque; enough to hustle this little car to 62mph in just 8.5 seconds. Range is yet to be discovered.

VW have decided that the Up! obviously needs to man up a bit because they are introducing the rugged Cross Up!, although its chances of making it to market are only 50/50. Rather than just being a short-tempered car they are aiming to give this city car a bit of stature. It has a body kit and a trim pack and very attractive 16” wheels but no power boost. Big wheels always look good on a car but on an urban vehicle it seems to be a tad pointless.

There’s plenty to look forward to. New concepts from Mitsubishi and Ssangyong, an SUV from Bentley and the Citroen C4 Technospace to name but a few. The star of the show however is likely to be Ferrari’s new flagship hypercar, codenamed the F150 (pictured in disguise). With a V12 working in conjunction with a KERS based hybrid system it is sure to be something very special indeed. Watch this space.

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Save Petrol By Changing Your Driving Style

There are many ways to be economical and save petrol. Most manufacturers will tell you to purchase their latest model that has clever technology to improve the fuel consumption but what else can you do?

Other advice may come in the form of expensive modification for your existing vehicle that will only improve the consumption by 1 or 2 miles per gallon. The best way to improve your fuel consumption is very simple and will not require you to modify your car or force you to buy a new model that has greener credentials. It simply requires you to change your driving style. If you are a commercial driver, why not sign up to CPC driver training courses and start saving your company money at the pumps?

Bad habits

The majority of drivers tend to keep their foot on the accelerator right up until it is time to brake. Then straight back on the throttle once the manoeuvre that required braking is complete. Both acceleration and braking use fuel and the more aggressively you use the pedals the less fuel efficient the vehicle will be.

The best way to be more environmentally friendly is to adopt a more relaxed driving style. By slowing down gradually, for example at traffic lights, instead of remaining on the throttle until it is time to brake. Simply release the throttle and allow the vehicle to stop gradually until you finally have to brake to come to a complete stop.

The same applies for driving down steep hills. Instead of using the accelerator at all, simply pick up speed naturally on the banked road and use the brakes sparingly to avoid your velocity from becoming unsafe.

Constant speed

Maintaining a constant speed on the highways and motorways is also a good way to reduce the amount of petrol being used. In high gear, the accelerator should only need to be pressed approximately half to three quarters of the way to the floor to achieve the national speed limit depending on the vehicle you drive.

Some drivers will use their brakes when they are exceeding the limit and then accelerate again to build back up to the desired speed. However by releasing the accelerator and gradually losing speed when it looks likely that you will overrun the limit, your driving will be more environmentally friendly.

By constantly applying small adjustments to the throttle, your speed will maintained where you want it and there will be no need to use the brakes and burn more fuel than necessary. Combine these practices with the skills learnt on training courses and you’ll soon reap the benefits.

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Car News Updates

Last year Motor Blogger reported on news from the motoring world and for some of these reports things have moved on. For instance, over the last couple of years there’s been a bit of a buzz (sorry) about electric cars. They were thought to be the coming thing but now they are not going anywhere. New car buyers are all very aware of the drawbacks of this technology and now it seems that this has begun to sink in with the car makers.

Nissan had high hopes for its Leaf EV yet it has failed to achieve a planned sales figure worldwide of 20,000 Leafs (or should that be Leaves?). In the UK, less than 1500 electric cars were registered in 2012. Meanwhile Audi have had a bit of a think and have pulled the plug (sorry) on the A2 EV that was planned for 2015. Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen are all scaling back their electric plans. Renault – trying a slightly different approach whereby they lease batteries – are sticking with it for now and hope to turn on (sorry) buyers with the new Zoe (pictured), but even that has been delayed. Electric cars are a great idea but unfortunately the science isn’t there yet and the customers know it.

Another trend that is rather more worrying is the recent rise in accidents. Broadly speaking, statistics show that car accidents have been slowly reducing over the years as new car technology improves safety but now they are on the up again. Despite what you might hear officially this has at least got to be due in part to the drop in the policing of our roads as forces cut back. The number of traffic cops has dropped significantly.

The other reason for it as we have previously mentioned is that car owners are cutting back on servicing. The number of fatal road accidents caused by defective vehicles has risen for the first time in ten years. There were over 1600 accidents in 2011 that involved fatalities, of which some 52 were proven to have been caused by faults on cars. That’s only a small percentage now but the figure is going up. Worn tyres and bad brakes were predominately to blame.

The reason for this seems to be that motorists are cutting back on car costs without considering the ramifications. It’s a form of desperation caused by our dire national financial situation. As garage prices have risen so it appears that some cars never get serviced at all which means that defects are even less likely to be discovered until it is too late. A sorry state of affairs for which, right now, there doesn‘t seem to be an answer.

For sure new car buyers are increasingly looking at small inexpensive cars with low running costs in order to save money on motoring expense; but they aren‘t buying electric vehicles – preferring to go for frugal diesels and hybrids. We’ll have to wait and see how the industry responds.

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What Next For The Motor Industry?

To the casual observer at least, it seems to have gone a bit quiet on the electric car front – no pun intended. Most car makers have at least one on their books or in development, but all the hoo-ha that surrounded their introduction has died down to an almost inaudible hum.

The problem is well known and seemingly insurmountable – at least for now. Range anxiety. Elsewhere on these pages Motor Blogger has discussed the pro’s and con’s of battery vehicles; it’s old news now. However, a recent proposal from the EU (a group of people who call the shots whilst only having a tenuous grasp of the real world) that by the year 2020, new vehicle emissions must be reduced by a further thirty per cent. It remains to be seen if this is actually enforced – no doubt manufacturers will have something to say about it.

Nevertheless, the pressure is on to effectively eliminate the use of fossil fuels in cars as soon as is technically possible before the Earth starts to look like a child’s deflated football that’s been left in the garden during the winter. The snag is that battery technology is still only in its formative years.

Certainly electric cars are fine in the city but out there in the boondocks where the wild things live, petrol is still the king. Despite sterling efforts from car designers around the world the Euro-whingeing continues and meantime boffins are beavering away to solve the battery power issue. It’s not really safe to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel just yet but there may just be a faint glimmer, like a struck match in a thunderstorm.

The American Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other interested parties are working on – oh, how they love their acronyms – CAEBAT, which apparently stands for Computer Aided Engineering For Electric Drive Vehicle Batteries.

This is software that ‘simulates spirally wound lithium-ion batteries battery cells’. It’s an aid to speed up the testing of new technologies. Through this the scientists hope to develop improved battery performance and life whilst making them more cost effective. If you’re thirsty for more of this stuff then it’s locatable on the web.

So where does this leave the manufacturers? Basically, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. To comply with regulation they’ve made some spectacular improvements to internal combustion engine technology for which society should be thankful and yet they are obliged to listen to and obey people who bludgeon them with new demands but have no idea how difficult and costly this cutting edge alternative energy stuff is. Or don’t care. Here’s a thought. We once saw a Brougham carriage being pulled by a couple of llamas. Maybe we’re onto something here…it’s certainly alternative and drivers could put the exhaust on the garden!

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Tesla Perseverance Might Pay Off

Here we go again. Another electric car that is said to move the technology forward by another couple of notches. It’s from the American manufacturer Tesla who have, to be fair, persevered with electricity – even when most car makers worldwide are showing EV sales that are flatter than the West Siberian Plain – and are producing a new vehicle which goes on sale over the pond this year. The really irritating thing is that they might just have cracked the basic problem – a bit.

As ever, it’s range anxiety that puts British buyers off. That and the prices. Nevertheless, Tesla in America have received 13000 advance orders for their new Model S premium four door saloon. In the USA the asking price is expected to be priced from around $85000 (depending on the model) which in real money is about £54000, although you can bet your life that in the UK we will actually pay the dollar equivalent in pounds when the time comes.

The Model S is marketed to rival the BMW 5 Series or the Mercedes E-Class so it’s no shrinking violet. It certainly looks the part – it is a very nice design. The platform is laid out like a skateboard with a flat lithium-ion battery under the floor. In the top-of-the-range model this powers the 416bhp electric motor between the rear wheels.

Tesla reckon that this car will go for an impressive 300 miles between charges and shoots it to 60mph in a mere 4.4 seconds. It is probable though that those two figures aren’t really compatible and it is be expected that to achieve 300 miles will require some frugal driving without lights or air-con. We’ll see.

Because there is no proper engine there is masses of boot space front and rear. The principal feature inside is the massive 17-inch tablet style computer in the dash which drivers can use for the popular media functions as well as some car controls. There are few switches.

Early testers report that this physically big car handles well thanks to its low-slung ride on air suspension. The only drawback seems to be the amount of lateral grip provided by the seats. Apparently they could do with more bolstering when cornering. This oversight is probably because the Americans don’t really understand the concept of corners.

The overall impression is so far pretty favourable. To cater for all tastes the company will be produce a less powerful model that will have a more restricted range but it’s likely that the top version will be the one to buy. Does this car finally raise the EV bar or is it another false dawn of hope? No doubt all will become clear in the next couple of years.

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