MemeBox’s Garry Golden, Editor of The Energy Roadmap, just meme-blasted the minds of morning commuters across the country with his analysis of the near-term future of transportation and suggestions for our new President-elect. [Podcast of Interview]
Appearing on PRI’sThe Takeaway with John Hockenberry, Golden was asked how he would advise Congress and the upcoming Obama administration on the proposed U.S. multi-billion dollar auto industry bailout. He responded by unequivocally advocating the avoidance of “any further investments into the old combustion engine model” arguing that the country needs to quickly move past hybrids by leap-frogging “to an all-electric platform.”
Garry pointed out that “the electric vehicle is … going global quickly”, thus opening a market window to countries like China who are developing competencies in areas such as battery production. So it’s now incumbent upon U.S. companies like GM to successfully adapt to the new conditions, possibly by building out the new electrically powered chassis that will serve as platform for new transport structures.
General Motors is not afraid of the future. And it is not afraid to let go of the past.
On Tuesday the company released details of its production version of ‘Volt’ – the industry’s first Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) that will go into production in 2010.
And this is only the beginning.
GM’s plan to reinvent the auto industry starts with killing the combustion engine.
We believe the company has three strategies for the future:
#1 The Real Revolution is about Manufacturing
GM knows that in the next automobile revolution – it is not how you fuel a car that matters, it’s how you build it.
GM cares less about the price of oil, than it cares about the cost and complexities of building cars around the mechanical combustion engine. The Volt is important because the combustion engine is relegated to a new temporary task – recharge the batteries. The 21st century auto industry begins when we shift to modularity of electric motors (e.g. lower manufacturing costs, fewer factories).
#2 Design Matters
GM knows that design matters, and the bulky, mechanical combustion engine holds them back. If you eliminate the engine and regain 1/3rd of the vehicle chassis you can rethink how cars are built. Transition to ‘drive by wire’ systems for steering and braking – and you open up new potential for vehicle designs and upgrades.
#3 The breakthrough is Electric motors, not the batteries
GM knows auto-engineering. High performance electric motors have arrived. Now we need to develop systems to deliver the streams of electrons. The future of the automobile is not ‘all’ battery or ‘all’ fuel cell – it’s both.
The electric car is not an iPod. The battery is not our end game. It is merely one piece of the puzzle for electric propulsion. Batteries might have a short-term commercialization advantage, but the platform might struggle to evolve into the 21st century. The chemistry is bad. The costs are too high, and the performance is adequate at best. Future electric propulsion systems will integrate all three systems – batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Looking beyond the Chevy Volt
The GM Volt is big – because it is the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine. R.I.P.
In the sci-fi movie Minority
Report cars drive themselves, maneuvering unaided through
traffic. Though the film represents a more distant future, amazing
cars like these could be parked in your garage as early as 2020.
Imagine making the 270-mile trip from Los Angeles to Los Vegas
in tomorrow’s “smart” car. You hop in your car, tell it your
destination, and off you go. Traveling on an automated highway
system, sensors guide you in complete safety, at speeds up to 140
mph. You sit in the driver’s seat, but the car does the driving.
For your part, you kick back; read a newspaper, browse the
Internet, watch TV, or take a nap. In less than two hours, you
arrive in Las Vegas relaxed and ready for fun.
Some of the technology necessary to make this future happen is
already in our vehicles; cruise control, load-leveling, and
satellite navigation. The two steps that remain – allowing
computers to actually pilot the car, and developing the automated
highway system – are being tested now on a ten mile Interstate
highway strip near San Diego. Electronics in the roadway are
detected by sensors located in test cars, which feeds steering
information to the car’s computer.
In the wake of the computer and information revolutions, motor
vehicles are undergoing the most dramatic changes in capabilities
and how they interact with drivers since the early 1900s. The U.S.
Department of Transportation is spending more than $1 billion a
year to develop “human-centered” smart vehicles and intelligent
highway systems. The DOT believes this
technology is essential to handling the vast number of vehicles
expected on tomorrow’s roads. (cont.)
In the future, your car will detect danger possibilities and
protect you as you encounter other cars on the road. It will
automatically display a happy, sad, or angry look to convey
appropriate feelings to other drivers in response to their action.
This is the vision of four Toyota Motor employees in Japan who
recently patented this creative technology.
Car modifications include a hood with slits and designs that
resemble eyebrows, eyelids and tears, which glow with different
light shades and colors to reflect desired moods; an antenna that
wags like a puppy dog’s tail to show happiness; and a body that can
crouch low on its wheelbase when timid, or stand tall to express
By 2015 or before, “cars with feelings” could be arriving at
dealer showrooms everywhere. These cars can display a wide range of
expressions to help us interact with other drivers on the road.
Today, we can only honk horns, tap brakes, flash headlights, or use
turn signals. It’s difficult to thank another driver for letting us
enter the lane, or to show disapproval at someone who cuts us
The intelligence system on these new cars with personalities
calculate road and vehicle conditions such as steering angle,
braking, and speed. It also correlates driver reactions, road and
car conditions, and automatically creates correct color and
position for the eyebrows, antenna, lights and vehicle height.
If a pre-set number of points indicate an approaching careless
or hostile driver, the system creates an anger reaction. The
headlights glow red, the eyebrows light up, but the antenna and
height remains in a standard “cool” position. A happy, satisfied
look is displayed to reward a courteous driver. A friendly “wink”
shows that you agree with a driver’s action, or it could also be an
attempt at flirting. (cont.)
reports that beleaguered auto manufacturer Chrysler LLC will begin offering wifi aboard their
vehicles later this year. As the first major auto producer to
provide internet access, this will give the company a big brand and
gadgetry edge, though its vehicles will no doubt continue to lag
in mileage and quality construction.
The feature will be added to existing vehicles by dealers
beginning this year and later be installed on the assembly line,
Frank Klegon, Executive Vice President—Product Development, said.
The Wi-Fi port, initially to be sold as a separate device, will
eventually be built into the vehicle’s radio system and coordinated
with other audio and video technologies to allow such things as
transferring music files from the user’s home computer.
Users will need a subscription to a wireless carrier in order to
connect to the internet, which will likely limit access to areas
within range of cell towers. Nevertheless, it marks a fresh start
for a desperate company sorely in need of compelling consumer
offerings, allowing a variety of applications, such as basic
navigation systems and music downloads, and eventually a much
broader suite of networked add-ons.
Somewhat surprisingly, it appears that the future of auto-web
connectivity will first be championed by an American
What if we are being too cynical about China’s eco-future in the transportation sector?
Imagine a future in which China is the secret to moving the world’s auto fleet beyond liquid fuels and the combustion engine.
If they can master electron storage systems of advanced batteries, fuel cells and capacitors- they might surprise the world!
Warren Buffet thinks so. The Oracle of Omaha recently invested $233 into Chinese battery and electric vehicle maker BYD.
Now, we are hearing a similar message from other electrical storage system giants who are needed to transform our global auto fleet. A recent Economic Times article China seen as potential electric car hub describes a vision of Johnson Controls where China changes its course to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Buffet and Johnson Controls see China’s natural advantages:
-Fewer ‘legacy’ issues of existing infrastructure and embedded interests
-Top down policy control to accelerate changes around infrastructure
-Chinese leaders see cleantech as a growth industry, especially around energy storage and electric motor propulsion systems
-Small cars & scooters are the most likely candidates for electric propulsion systems. China (and India) are prime candidates
- A geopolitical desire to avoid issues of oil’s biggest problem. Lack of substitutability. Oil is the perfect fuel, but you can’t put coal or solar or nuclear into a liquid gas tank*. Electricity and hydrogen can be produced by any energy resource.
Of course, electric vehicles are not entirely ‘clean’ and certainly lead to suburban expansion and loss of rural lands. But the trade offs and consequences of doing nothing are hard to challenge. China’s urban areas would benefit from the removal of millions of uncontrolled polluting vehicles.
Even if electricity production came from coal, it is easier to control carbon emissions at a single point power plant rather than individual cars. And China’s industrial strength is powerful enough to change the direction of electric storage companies as well as automakers.
General Motors (GM) and OnStar have successfully demonstrated a prototype technology called Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, which does exactly that – it allows OnStar advisors working with law enforcement to send a signal to a subscriber’s stolen vehicle to reduce engine power, slowing the vehicle down gradually.
The exact process for Stolen Vehicle Slowdown (at right) goes as follows:
- Once the vehicle has been reported stolen to law enforcement, the subscriber can call OnStar and request Stolen Vehicle Assistance. OnStar will confirm the subscriber has not opted out of the Stolen Vehicle Slowdown service.
- OnStar uses real-time GPS technology to attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the stolen vehicle and provide this information to law enforcement to help them recover the vehicle.
- When law enforcement has established a clear line of sight of the stolen vehicle, law enforcement may request OnStar to slow it down remotely.
- OnStar then sends a remote signal to the vehicle that interacts with the Powertrain system to reduce engine power which will slow the vehicle down gradually.
Worried that the wrong car might be targeted? OnStar insists that “Safeguards will be in place to ensure that the correct vehicle is slowed down.”
Stolen Vehicle Slowdown comes along just as more people are installing automobile kill switches to protect their property, bring down insurance rates and protect innocent bystanders in the event of a high speed chase.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, about 30,000 police chases occur yearly and approximately 300 deaths occur as a result of those chases. Kill switches could have a major impact on these casualties.
With fuel prices rising with no end in sight, both consumers and
automobile companies have become more and more concerned with
fuel-consumption. While drivers attempt to cut down their gasoline
usage, automobile companies are researching and producing more
fuel-efficient cars, some to come out as early as next year.
Solutions range from hybrids, fuel-efficient engines, pure
electric, plug-ins, solar panels, and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Even with all these seemingly promising solutions, will we have
fuel efficient cars available for consumers at an affordable price
To help us imagine just what the market has in store for us over
the next 5 years here’s a timeline based on the self-reported
release dates of various major auto manufacturers (visual
first, followed by extensive text):
- Released by General Motors late 2008, early 2009, is the
Saturn Vue 2-Mode hybrid. Touted as the world’s most
fuel-efficient V-6 SUV, the Vue 2-Mode
hybrid has up to a 50% fuel economy increase for urban driving and
an overall 30% increase through the use technology such as
low-speed, electric only propulsion and regenerative breaking. It
will be classified as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.
- In February, Shelby SuperCars will be releasing the
Ultimate Aero EV, which will be the world’s fastest electric
car. SSC is known for the EV’s
predecessor, the Ultimate Aero, the world’s fastest gas-powered
car. The Ultimate Aero EV will have twin 500 hp electric motors
powered by a battery. Other details regarding its production have
not been disclosed.
- Sometime in the Spring, the next generation of Toyota
Prius will be released, equipped with solar panels that will
provide a portion of the energy to run the air-conditioning unit.
Toyota is planning on bringing 450,000 of these solar-power capable
vehicles to the market.
- Audi will be bringing out their 2009
A2, a compact, fuel-efficient car that manages to feature more
cabin space than Minis. The A2 will have 1.2 to 1.8 liter engines,
as well as diesels and will have a lowered amount of CO2 emissions, due to the European CAFE regulations.
Call it a man bites dog story for the clean energy era. German solar cell manufacturer SolarWorld recently made a bid for Opel, GM’s European car company.
Not that Opel was for sale. But it does show that at least one solar manufacturer is looking for a way to make a solar powered car.
What This Means for the Future of Energy
SolarWorld Chairman Frank H. Asbeck insists the offer is in good faith. SolarWorld is betting that GM is in bad enough shape that they’d have to sell off assets, such as European brands, making an easier entry into the automotive market for SolarWorld than having to create a car company from scratch.
More importantly, it shows that the electric vehicle market is up for grabs. SolarWorld wanted to buy a car manufacturer so that they could get a leg up on bringing an electric vehicle to market; then, they could sell the solar panels that could be used to charge it up. One solar installer consulted for the reality of solar panels powering an electric vehicle quoted an installation costing $12,000 to $15,000 to be adequate to charge up a typical electric vehicle.
Could this be a signal that cleantech could lead the way in many business deals in the future? What’s next, a bid from First Solar for Chrysler?
As sensors and computers continue to spread throughout the world they quantify our environment and offer the opportunity of real-time feedback. Case in point is Honda's new "Ecological Drive Assist System for Enhanced Real World Fuel Economy", a sensor/display system that learns your driving style and conditions you to become a more ecologically conscious driver.
Here's what the interface will look like:
And here's Honda's description of the new system:
TOKYO, Japan, November 20, 2008– Honda Motor Co., Ltd. announced the development of the Ecological Drive Assist System, which combines three functions to enhance fuel economy: the ECON Mode utilizes harmonized control of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and engine to support more fuel-efficient driving; the guidance function uses speedometer color to provide real-time guidance on fuel-efficient driving; and thescoring function provides feedback about current driving practices, as well as feedback on cumulative, long-term fuel-efficient driving.
The German automaker BMW, in
introducing its new “Light Visionary Model” prototype – which it
dubs GINA (Geometry and Functions “N”
Adaptions”) – writes this: “The key to affecting the development
of tomorrow’s mobility lies in our readiness to challenge what is
established and in the ability to present new options.”
I encourage you to watch the short video below. Notice how the
doors and hoods no longer open – they fold and zip open – and how
the lights do open but they “blink” open (much like the human eye),
and I think you’ll agree that BMW’s
innovative thinking could be providing us a glimpse into the future
of what automobiles might look and feel like.
Imagine standing in front of global auto executives in 1999 and presenting a forecast that within ten years an Indian Automaker would be planning to build and sell electric vehicles in Europe. You might have walked away with that negative ‘futurist’ stereotype of a fringe corporate strategic thinker thinking way too far ahead!
Now India’s Tata Motors has announced plans to build an electric vehicle for European markets in 2009.
The company’s UK subsidiary has acquired a 50.3% holding in Miljø Grenland/Innovasjon of Norway to advance solutions for electric vehicles. The move brings Tata closer to realizing its vision of building affordable, clean electric motor vehicles powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
The first generation of Miljø produced electric vehicles will use Electrovaya Lithium Ion SuperPolymer® batteries. Tata plans to launch Indica EV in Europe during 2009 as a 4 person vehicle with a predicted battery charge range of up to 200 km (125 miles) with an acceleration of 0-60 kmph (40 mph) in under 10 seconds.