The atmosphere’s electric as EV competition hots up

This year’s Frankfurt motor show was dominated by electric cars, and not just expensive concept ideas but production-ready cars with on-sale dates in 2010 and 2011. This is the time when the car industry announces that the alternative to the combustion engine is here. Manufacturers have certainly dipped into alternative power during the last thirty years but have never been under the pressure they are now, as the governments of the world set ever more demanding targets for CO2 reductions.

As a response, developed countries will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 85% by 2050 whilst US President Obama is about to steer a climate change bill through the Senate. With government incentives to blunt the high costs of new technology along with local governments and energy companies’ collaborating on the vital refuelling infrastructure, the reality of electric powered cars in the showrooms is less than a year away.
To cover the surge, London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has pledged to install 25,000 electric sockets in the city, while the Government has earmarked £20m for the recharging infrastructure. Across the globe, Israel will have 500,000 recharging points by 2011 whilst EDF Energy will develop France’s network with Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland, Ireland, Monaco, China and some key US states forging electric vehicle partnerships with Renault-Nissan.

On August 2, Nissan unveiled the Leaf, a battery electric hatchback that goes on sale in the US and Japan next year. At Frankfurt, Renault showed four purely electric vehicles: the Fluence saloon and Kangoo van, both on sale in 2011 – plus a tandem-seat city car and a supermini to follow in 2012.

“We are preparing cars that will be neutral to the environment – transportation without guilt” says Renault-Nissan president, Carlos Ghosn.

By 2015, Renault predicts electric vehicles (EV’s) will account for 30% of its sales and by 2020; Ghosn estimates 10% of all car sales could be purely electric.

“We have responded to global demands not only with our products but are infrastructure such as our factories and manufacturing processes” Ghosn told MTI at the Frankfurt motorshow.

“The technology to power our EV’s has put us in a position much greater than our nearest competitors and as a result, we are securing the patent and intellectual property around the battery. We want to make sure that Renault and Nissan will become the first and be leaders in a very promising technology” he went on to tell us.
Although the combustion engine hardly had a look-in at Frankfurt, Toyota showed its plug-in hybrid Prius with an extended electric range, and two 2010 models and the Auris hatch with the Prius’s drivetrain and Lexus’s hybrid hatch to rival BMW’s 1-series.

With their internal combustion engine back-up, hybrids will remain the choice for inter-city travel, along with increasingly frugal petrol and diesel cars, and the EV, therefore, must overcome consumers’ fear of being stranded. With an average of a 100-mile range on most EV’s a new terminology seemed to be buzzing around Frankfurt – ‘range anxiety’. Petrol-gauge-lottery seems to becoming a thing of the past. Nevertheless, Renault has developed a mechanism for switching battery packs in fuel stations.

Lexus on the other hand, pioneer of hybrid executive cars, has quietly dropped petrol-only versions of the GS, LS and RX from its regular price list. You’ll now have to specifically ask for petrol-power otherwise you’ll get the regular hybrid. The same applies to its new LF-Ch, the companies first take on a concept premium hatch pitched squarely against the BMW 1-series and the Audi A3.

Lexus LF-Ch

Similar to its Prius cousin, the LF-Ch will seamlessly switch between battery power and its 1.8-litre combustion engine. Both Audi and BMW have been slow to respond, although its Bavarian rival has been forging ahead with ‘Efficient Dynamics’ and Stop-Start technology for over a year but in no way is it a serious, greener contender to Lexus’s cleaner hybrid powertrain.

Ford also showed off its battery-powered Focus boasting a 75-mile range. It’s powered by a 23kWh lithium ion battery pack and a 100kW electric motor co-developed with Magna. Ford is expected to build 15 prototypes for a trial in London to gauge public reaction. But with Ford still three years away with a full hybrid, Vauxhall will launch its Ampera – the American Chevrolet Volt – in 2012.

Vauxhall Ampera

Driven by its 150bhp electric motor, it can run electrically for up 40 miles once its lithium-ion battery has had a full three-hour charge. After that a 1.4-litre petrol engine cuts in purely to charge the battery, operating at constant revs and allowing it to drive on for up to 300 miles before its 15-litre tank needs filling. GM says that 80% of European drivers do less than 30 miles each day, so they’ll drive on electric power at a fifth of the cost of petrol. But with an estimated price of £35,000 the Toyota Prius seems almost sensible at over £12,000 less.

Other eco manufacturers such as Smart are already planning ahead. Due to co-develop the next generation of Smarts with Renault-Nissan, different versions will be marketed under the French and Japanese monikers by 2014. This will give Renault-Nissan a platform sharing opportunity that will strengthen its global domination for hybrid and all-electric cars.

Twenty years ago it was inconceivable that almost every Westerner would own a mobile phone and technology powered by lithium ion batteries could be charged overnight providing greater convenience.

Twenty years from now electric cars will be common place.

On that note I need to stop writing as my laptop is about to run out of power.

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