Sunday, May 4, 2008

Methane version of Fiat Grande Punto coming later this year

Fiat was recently named the lowest CO2-producing automaker in Europe. One reason if the brand's collection of small cars, some with alternative powertrains. Buried in an article about Fiat's low-CO2 win, reader Justin C. noticed that Fiat is readying a new version of its Grande Punto, one that can use methane for clean forward motion. Carpages says that the methane-petrol dual fuel system Grande Punto is supposed to be on sale by the end of this year. Other Fiat models that have this system include the Doblò, Doblò Cargo, Multipla, Panda and the Panda Van. Fiat says the Natural Power system is excellent for many Fiat users, especially trade customers. Fiat also offers a T-Jet version of the Grande Punto that gets 35 mpg on the combined EU cycle and emits 155 grams of CO2 per km. Thanks to Justin C. for the tip!

Apocalypse Preparation, Part Deux: Mega Track on the attack

We stand corrected. There's one more vehicle we want in our underground bunker when the Rapture hits: the Mega Track. Built in 1995 by the French Axiam Group, it's the answer to a question that only a few of us were daft enough to ask. With a Mercedes-sourced 394-hp V12 mounted amidships sending power to all four wheels, the Mega Track had the ability to ford streams by day and hit up Monte Carlo at night. The stock ride height was set at eight-inches, but flick a switch and the Mega Track would rise to 13 inches, ensuring that no curb, planter or small shrub could stand in its way. Unfortunately, only five were made, so finding one could be tricky. We're searching Craigslist now and hope to be Mega-equipped before things get really messy.

Ghosn: Nissan committed to becoming a "global leader" in affordable EVs

According to Nissan and Renault head Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has plans to become a global leader in affordable electric vehicles. Citing rising oil costs and environmental issues, especially in emerging markets, Ghosn is quoted as suggesting that it was a "very easy" decision when it comes to justifying Nissan's commitment to zero-emission vehicles. Ghosn says, "We are looking at a future of permanently high energy costs." He goes on, "That is why in our opinion it is time for zero-emissions cars, those that will be completely neutral to the environment." While much of Nissan's planned growth centers around emerging markets - oh, and the Middle East - those electric vehicles will most likely be offered here in the States as well, starting in 2011. Don't hold your breath for fuel cells, biofuel vehicles or more hybrids from Nissan, though. Nissan has partnered with NEC for the development of large-scale automotive batteries and believes that fully-electric vehicles are the way to go.

Plug-in Hybrid school bus gets 70% reduction in fuel consumption

Enova Systems has been collaborating with IC Bus for the past couple of years to build a series of plug-in hybrid school buses for testing purposes. Enova recently had an independent CARB-certified lab conduct dynamometer tests on a pair of PHEV school buses to compare the fuel consumption and emissions against conventional models. Enova's system is designed to be installed downstream of the transmission so that it can be easily adapted to buses and drivetrains from different manufacturers. One 2007 and one 2008 IC Bus Series CE bus with different engines and transmissions were tested on a West Virginia University Suburban Test Cycle designed to emulate a typical school bus duty cycle. In the tests, the PHEV buses saw a 70 percent reduction in diesel fuel consumption. Carbon dioxide emissions were cut by 40 percent while soot and NOx were reduced by 30 and 20 percent, respectively. IC Bus has also decided to cut the $200,000+ of the hybrid buses by $40,000. Currently there are 19 of the Enova equipped buses running in eleven states.

Audi R10 TDI to debut at Spa-Francorchamps running on GTL fuel

Two years after its racing debut at the 2006 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Audi R10 TDI is making its first ever visit to the classic Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium. The R10s are running in the European Le Mans Series for the first time this year and Spa will be a whole new challenge for Audi. The length of the Belgian track has been cut by more than half to 4.4miles from its original 9.3miles but it still remains one of the most challenging tracks in the world. The diesel-powered Audis will again be taking on the dominant Peugeot 908 HDis but the R10s are fueled by a GTL fuel supplied by technical partner Shell. GTL is a gas to liquid fuel produced from natural gas. GTL has an advantage over conventional petroleum diesel in that it is free of sulfur and produces less particulate emissions without any changes to the engine. The same processes used to produce the liquid fuel from natural gas can be used to produce fuel from a syngas derived from biomass. Audi's press release is after the jump.

Taiwan Automotive Research Consortium introduces light-electric vehicle

James Wang, director of the Intelligent Mobility Technology division of the Taiwan Automotive Research Consortium (TARC), believes that Taiwan is the perfect testing ground for small, low-speed electric vehicles. The fact that huge numbers of people live centered around large urban areas means that most people don't need to travel long distances to get what they need. Additionally, Taiwan's warm weather is favorable for batteries. So, TARC has created what it is referring to as a light-electric-vehicle (LEV). TARC envisions these two-seat vehicles, with their odd wheel arrangement of three in the rear and one in front, zipping around the urban Mecca's that make up emerging countries.

TARC's goal is to reach a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles) and a top speed of 40 miles per hour. Those targets shouldn't be too difficult to reach. The LEV is powered by four removable lithium ion batteries which can either be recharged in the vehicle or replaced when discharged. We think that the specifications are fine, but question why the design of their LEV is superior to a more conventional arrangement (Remember the Ecooter?). Regardless, the vehicle is currently being tested in in rural areas, and plans are in the works to bring it into urban settings shortly.

Hybrid sales at GM looking slightly less barren in April

A month ago during GM's monthly sales conference call, it was revealed that the company had sold a measly 843 hybrid vehicles in the first three months of 2008. Although I don't partake in the most recent sales call, one of the readers over at TTAC did listen in this month and someone specifically posed the question of how many hybrids GM managed to move off dealer lots in April. As usual GM didn't break out hybrid sales in the overall numbers but when questioned, Marketing boss Mark LaNeve did acknowledge "over 1,100" sales with over 500 being the Tahoe and Yukon hybrids. The remainder were assorted mild hybrids of the Malibu, Aura and Vue varieties. That's still nothing to get particularly excited about, but it's a move in the right direction - unless, of course, profitability is the desired outcome. GM is undoubtedly loosing a significant number of dollars on every two-mode hybrid and selling more will only make things worse financially. It will be interesting to see if GM actually makes more of a push to sell the two-modes when the Escalade hybrid launches later this year at a significantly higher price.

Monterey metro to be propelled using biogas

The city of Monterey, Mexico, will have its subway system, called Metrorrey, propelled with electricity obtained from biogas. Simeprode, the company that manages the city waste system, is finishing a 5.3 MW power plant that will produce electricity for the two subway lines. This plant will allow Monterrey not only to run its mass transit system with bioenergy but also to expand the subway networks in the near future. The remaining power will be used for public lightning. The technology was imported from Germany, and the total cost of the project was about $6.5 million.

Nissan to get more electric by 2010

The media has given a lot of attention to Toyota and GM in the race for automotive electrification. After all, many of the other current players in the game license their technology from the likes of these two. Nissan has remained relatively quiet in the competition though, sitting behind its Hypermini small electric vehicle and Hybrid Altima, the latter of which happens to be the result of one of those previously mentioned licensing deals. The recent 2008 New York Auto Show saw Nissan taking things a step further, however, with the unveiling of an electric Cube concept that's expected to hit production by 2010. According to Carlos Ghosn, it's just the beginning of a worldwide full electric lineup for Nissan and its alliance partner Renault. The run up of oil prices and, of course, the current marketing trend that makes being environmentally aware the hip thing for squares, makes the future market for electrified vehicles a more viable prospect. Technological advances, especially in batteries, have also made an electric venture more economical. Mr. Ghosn expects a global mass market for electric vehicles by 2012 and fully anticipates that Nissan will be a part of that band wagon. The Chief Executive also hopes to push demand through the creation of government tax incentives for zero-emission vehicles, making their lifetime cost to consumers below that of any gasoline chugger. Good luck, Ghosn!