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January 2011 Archives

GM's Akerson Says Cadillac SRX Plug-In Hybrid 'Likely'

Late last year reports of a plug-in hybrid version of the Cadillac SRX surfaced, and though GM did not confirm them, neither did it deny such a vehicle was in the works. Today GM CEO Dan Akerson, while talking about future EV and extended-range EV (EREV) strategy, revealed that the SRX plug-in is, in fact, "likely."

The report, from the Detroit Free Press, puts the timeline in the 2012-2013 range. That mates well with previous reports, and it would fit with the need to give all of GM's brands more green sheen.

Even Electric Cars Get Recalled: 2011 Think City Safety Notices

Recall notices are now a standard part of the automotive landscape. Last year's recall of almost 10 million Toyota and Lexus models only highlighted the fact that most vehicles get called back to dealers for minor upgrades or inspections to fix or avert potential defects.

Despite their much smaller number of complex moving parts, there's no reason electric cars should be exempt.

think city ev motorauthority 005

And indeed, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has now issued its first recall notice for the 2011 Think City, the two-seater electric car assembled in Elkhart, Indiana.

2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio Coming Q2 2011, Abarth and EV In 2012

Fiat is poised to make its return to the United States, with the 500 Prima Edizione the forerunner of a flotilla of pint-sized hatches and convertibles. Already open for order and soon to start delivery, the manual-only Prima Edizione will be joined over the next year by the 500C Cabriolet, Abarth, and the all-electric 500 EV.

Starting at just $15,500, the Prima Edizione will set the standard for the models to follow, as well as the tone of Fiat's return. The first of the follow-ons will be the 500C Cabriolet, due in the second quarter of this year as a 2012 model. Around the same time the standard Fiat 500 hatch will become available with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Fiat 500 Abarth

The 500C Cabriolet is, as we've seen from the European version, a 500 hatch with the entire roof removed and replaced with a sliding soft top, though the C-pillar and door arches remain. Also like the hatch, the 500C will share the same engine, which in the U.S. means a 1.4-liter Multiair engine rated at 101 horsepower. The 500C will also be available with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.

Obama Doubles Down on Plug-In Cars, More Policy Tweaks Coming

Last night, in his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama reiterated his support for expanding U.S. production and sales of plug-in cars that run on grid power.

Today, according to the Detroit News, a slew of policy changes will be unveiled by Vice President Joe Biden to advance that goal. Among other initiatives, the Administration will propose to convert the present $7,500 income-tax credit for electric-car buyers to a direct purchase rebate.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Purchase rebates, effectively refund checks that arrive within weeks of the buyer taking delivery, are widely accepted to be more effective than income-tax credits. Not all buyers qualify for such credits, and they can take as long as 15 months to realize, since they can only be claimed when taxes are filed the next year.

Forget Hydrogen: Here They Are, The Two Fuels of The Future

Gas pump

Forget hydrogen. You can mostly ignore natural gas. Even diesel may not grow much.

The two fuels that will largely power us for the next 20, maybe 30, years are already here. They are gasoline (with some ethanol in it), and electricity.

That's it. That's all she wrote.

Question: How Do Electric Cars (Volt, Leaf) Heat Passengers?

Another in our irregular series of answering questions from readers, this one from John Q of Eugene, Oregon:

2011 Nissan Leaf

Question: I was wondering how an electric car provides heat and defrosting. Using batteries to generate the heat will drain them pretty fast. Maybe with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, the internal combustion engine is run for heat? But what about the battery-only 2011 Nissan Leaf?

Fisker Dealer Says Karma Production To Start In March

First shown at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, the Fisker Karma has led a typical life for a performance plug-in hybrid concept: delays followed by reassurances, followed by more delays. Originally to be in production and on sale by late 2009, the car will finally start rolling down the line in March according to an Orange County dealer.

Fisker of Orange County, based in Irvine, California, announced the production date this week. As the cars will be built by Valmet in Finland, the first deliveries won't arrive until about a month later, in April. According to Fisker OC, "improvements are still being produced for [the Karma's] public unveiling."

Sergio Marchionne: Hybrid Minivan Will Join Chrysler 300 Hybrid In 2013

Earlier this week we heard from Sergio Marchionne, the demanding CEO of Fiat-Chrysler, that a hybrid version of the new 2011 Chrysler 300 sedan would arrive sometime in 2013. Now, at Chrysler's Windsor plant in Canada, Marchionne has revealed that the hybrid 300 will be joined in 2013 by a new hybrid minivan model.

Marchionne was on hand at the Windsor plant to celebrate the production launch of the new 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, the latter being the most likely recipient for Chrysler's latest hybrid technology.

Now We Know: This Will Be The New 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid

Ford was clearly one of the stars of last week's Detroit Auto Show, launching green vehicles and concepts across a wide range of fuel-saving technologies.

The company unveiled just a single concept, the Vertrek crossover, but it's an important one. The production version of the Vertrek will be the replacement for both the Escape crossover in the U.S. and the similarly-sized Kuga crossover in Europe.

We don't yet know if it'll keep the Escape name for the U.S., shift to a new name--Vertrek, perhaps?--or even convert over to the European Kuga label. Regardless, this is the hybrid crossover that Ford will offer, along with a raft of other non-hybrid fuel-saving technologies.

Partying like 1999, no more

The 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid is the last year of a model whose basic design dates back more than a decade to the launch of the original 1999 Ford Escape. The hybrid model, added in October 2004, was both the first hybrid sport utility and the first U.S.-built hybrid of any kind.

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

Now we know what the 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid will look like: Imagine a Vertrek with slightly smaller wheels, and with door handles added.

Add or subtract a few of the flashier trim elements and design cues, and there you have it: a fully modern Escape, with the company's MyFord Touch audio control system and all the electronic goodies you could want.

Washington State Pioneers Electric-Car Scenic Tourism Route

The Pacific Northwest is a remarkably scenic corner of the continental United States. The striking coastal ranges of Washington and Oregon offer dramatic vistas, temperature (if often damp) weather, and dozens of outdoor activities within a few hours' drive.

Now those drives can be done in electric cars, courtesy of the country's first scenic byway and tourism route designed specifically for electric cars.

2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station

Washington State and several businesses together plan to install a series of charging stations along U.S. Route 2, starting in Everett (just outside Seattle) and reaching 120 miles over the Cascade Mountains to Wenatchee, in the north central area of the state.

Video: 2012 Ford Focus Electric Live Unveiling At 2011 Detroit Auto Show

Ford's Volt and Leaf rival has been revealed, making its world debut last week at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and then reappearing again this week at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show. We are, of course, talking about the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, the Blue Oval's first mass-produced electric car and possibly the pick of the bunch out of the Ford-GM-Nissan trio.

After the jump is a video of the new model's unveiling in Detroit this week, with Ford's product chief Derrick Kuzak and chairman Bill Ford touting all of its benefits.  

Electric Car Crashes? Just As Safe As Any Other Volvo

Despite thousands of automotive gasoline fires in the U.S. every year, we've pretty much normalized the risks of the highly explosive liquid that we use to fuel our cars.

But for electric cars, there's a whole new set of potential fears. One may be driving through water--it's not like tossing a toaster into a bathtub--and another may be the possibility of accidents, a concern particularly top-of-mind for emergency first responders.

Volvo C30 electric car after crash testing, shown at 2011 Detroit Auto Show

Volvo, of all automakers, may be best positioned to alleviate any fears of errant electricity in crashes involving electric cars.

2011 Detroit Auto Show: Toyota Prius C Compact Hybrid Concept

As part of the family of four Toyota Prius hybrids that the carmaker unveiled at the today's Detroit Auto Show, it showed a concept for a new, compact Prius hatchback.

Low, edgy, and relatively sleek for a highly aerodynamic Kamm-tailed car, the Prius C concept is actually Toyota's second concept on the compact hybrid theme, the first being the lime-green FT-CH Concept that was unveiled at the same show last year.

Toyota FT-CH hybrid concept car, 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Ford Learning From Fiesta In Upcoming Small-Car And EV Launches

Ford press conference, 2011 Detroit Auto ShowFord's U.S. lineup is about to change in a very significant way. And as the automaker emphasized in its Detroit Auto Show press conference, with several high-volume small car models expected to arrive this year and next, you'll soon see plenty of smaller and greener alternatives in Ford's lineup.

But to dealerships that have long subsisted on heavy sales of pickups and SUVs, it might take a change in sales attitude--and some new training.

A cadence to focus on one at a time

Ford press conference, 2011 Detroit Auto Show"Really, we have a nice cadence of rollout this year," said Jim Farley, Ford's vice president for global marketing, sales and service. There's plenty of time, Farley says, to fine-tune the message, and get dealerships ready for these new products.

First, later this month Ford will launch the Focus sedan and 5-door hatchback; deliveries of the 2012 Focus Electric will begin by end-of-year, with high volume ramping up next year; and C-Max models will join the lineup early next year, along with the high-performance Ford Focus ST.

The Fiesta was treated as the beginning of a Ford car line rejuvenation, said Farley, and the automaker treated the model's launch this past year as a test case for the many other small cars and electrified vehicles to follow.

2011 Detroit Auto Show: Ford C-Max Hybrid & Energi Plug-In Concepts

While Toyota dominates global hybrid production, Ford was the first company to launch a hybrid SUV: the Ford Escape Hybrid, in 2004.

Now, Ford is pioneering another hybrid model: the small minivan, or as Europeans call it, the people carrier.

Hybrid mini-minivan

Between 10 and 10:30 am today at the Detroit Auto Show, Ford will pull the wraps off a pair of hybrid 5-seat small minivans: the C-Max Hybrid, and the plug-in hybrid C-Max Energi.

They will be launched roughly three hours ahead of another hybrid small minivan, the Toyota Prius V, which will be unveiled shortly after 1 pm the same day.

Ford C-Max Energi, first revealed at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show

GM To Use Argonne National Lab Advances In Next-Gen Volt Battery

Mock-up of LG Chem battery for 2011 Chevrolet VoltGeneral Motors announced today that it has licensed lithium-ion battery technology developed at Argonne National Laboratories, the research institution that's funded largely by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The agreement allows GM to use the technology throughout its supply chain, and covers a suite of patents that includes and builds on the technology used in the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

"The Argonne license is going to allow GM to continue to work on next-generation battery systems, to reduce cost, and improve performance of those systems," said Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures. "And you have to go back to the basic chemistry of battery cells to get those kind of improvements--and that's what makes the Argonne intellectual property so valuable."

Obama Signs 'Bell Bill' To Make Electric Cars Better Heard

2011 Nissan Leaf A couple of years from now, it's likely there will be a lot more electric vehicles and hybrids on the road. And while the typical EV might not be making the sound of a vuvuzela or a Tie-Fighter, you're going to hear it coming--perhaps with just a little more wow and flutter.

Today President Obama signed the Pedestrian Safety Act (S. 841), which aims to help protect the blind and other pedestrians from "silent vehicle technology," as it was worded in a press release from the National Federation of the Blind.

Heart Set On A Chinese Electric Car? Get Ready To Wait Awhile

BYD e6 concept

If you're in the habit of reading obscure press releases, you might have seen one recently announcing that Dallas-based Green Automotive Co. had signed an extension to its agreement with China's Zotye Auto.

Green Automotive now has rights for 10 more years to distribute Zotye's electric sport utility vehicles in the U.S. market.

Researchers: Heat From Exhaust Could Be Harnessed For Improved MPG

Porsche 911 Sport ExhaustIf you've ever crept along in gridlock and noticed the floor of your car getting a little warm, or 'seen' all the heat energy escaping from a hot exhaust pipe on a cold day, you know that exhaust systems send a lot of heat right out the tailpipe--heat that could potentially be put to use.

What if you could recapture that energy and turn it back into electricity that could be used by vehicle accessories?

As automakers look for incremental improvements in fuel economy, that's one of the potential uses of an advanced thermoelectric material that's being researched by physicists and engineers at the University of Michigan. They've studied the material that could potentially be wrapped around a vehicle's exhaust system and would produce energy that could supplement the vehicle's electrical system--therefore allowing higher mpg.

Good News: 7 Auto Trends And Headlines We Were Glad To See In 2010

cash It's the end of another year--in this case, a year when we've slogged through countless recall updates, worrisome issues like driver distraction in the spotlight, and confirmed the demise of several major automotive brands, hundreds of dealerships, and overall, some of the worst-ever economic conditions.

That said, it's not worth dwelling on these. There's been a lot of good news, too. Page through the following and celebrate some of the positive headlines of 2010:


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