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Local News / Automotive

Monday, 18 October, 2010 1:57 AM

Electric vehicles are coming to dealers; more charging stations to become available

Wrap-up of the 2nd Annual Business of Plugging In Conference in Detroit

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm test drives the Chevrolet Volt at the Business of Plugging In conference in Detroit on Oct. 12, 2010.

 

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

DETROIT -- Most people agree that the 1914 Detroit Electric was the first electric vehicle. Since them, automakers have spent almost 100 years perfecting the internal combustion engine. With the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it became clear that now is the time to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. The solution is the battery-electric vehicle, which runs completely on electricity. In December, the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan LEAF will hit showrooms. Thousands of charging stations are being installed right now across the country to make driving these new vehicles possible.

Many electric vehicles (EVs) that are already on the road were manufactured by start-up companies. Here's a short list of some EVs that are currently available: 2008 Tesla Roadster, 2008 ZAP Xebra, 2008 Phoenix SUT, 2008 eviLightTruck, 2009 Fisker Karma, 2009 MINI E, 2009 Aptera 2e, 2009 Lightning GT and the 2009 Miles XS500.

About 600 engineers, designers, EV manufacturers, battery manufacturers, charging station employees and members of the media descended on the Motor City for the 2nd Annual Business of Plugging In Conference. It all took place at the GM Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit from October 12 to 14. The conference was hosted by the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

The Chevrolet Volt will be on one of the first practical electric vehicles that will be affordable to middle-class America. It is considered an extended-range electric vehicle because it runs on electricity, but also features a gasoline-powered on-board charger. Some call it a hybrid vehicle since it runs on both electricity on gasoline. However, it removes the need to worry about getting stuck somewhere that there is no charging station. Just fill up the tank and the vehicle keeps going.

"You can charge it either way by just plugging it into a 120-volt household outlet that's got three prongs in it, it will charge in about 10 hours," said Britta Gross, GM's Director of Global Energy Systems and Infrastructure Commercialization. "If you want to do it a little bit faster, you can have a charging station, 240-volt ,installed in your driveway or in your garage or wherever, the vehicle charges in about four hours if its completely empty. Our calculations are one quarter or one sixth of the cost to drive on electricity rather than gasoline. The first year, the production is going to be 10,000 vehicles. The second year production is 45,000 Chevy Volts by the end of calendar 2012."

Gross added: "There are seven initial launch markets, this fall we start. Then, they expand over the next few months. The first seven markets are California, Texas, New York, D.C., Michigan, Connecticut and New Jersey. About four of them are going to be parallel. The sale price on this vehicle is $41,000. There is a $7,500 federal tax credit that comes from this vehicle. At the end of the year, you just take that off the bottom line of your taxes. Whatever you owe, just subtract out $7,500. That makes the effective price of this vehicle $33,500. There's also a very, very competitive lease price on this vehicle $350 a month after a $2,500 down."

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm had the opportunity to test drive the Chevrolet Volt and other electric vehicles on Tuesday afternoon during the conference.

"It's as though you're in a Cadillac or a BMW, it's quiet and powerful," Granholm explained. "I just think that people don't know yet, they have to come down and experience it. How much power and luxury that there is in these vehicles. It's very exciting because so many of them are going to be made here in Michigan. The guts of them are going to be made here in Michigan. I'm completely predicting a hit. This is the third time or so I've been in a Volt. Everytime I get in, it reinforces how I think these cars are going to take off. Once the battery price is comparable to the internal combustion engine, I think they are going to be the vehicle of choice."

The Nissan LEAF is a 100 percent electric vehicle that is more affordable than the Volt. However, it does not come with an on-board charger for when the battery power runs out. It requires the driver to find the nearest charging station or it could become stuck. The LEAF is better for the environment than the Volt, since it produces zero emissions and requires zero gasoline.

"It seats five, it's a compact size, it has 100 mile range, that's based on the LA4EPA test cycle," said Brian Verprauskus, Nissan's Senior Manager of Corporate Planning. "It charges three ways: 110-volt, 240-volt or a DC fast charge. Charging times under 240-volt, which is what we recommend, is an 8-hour charge. The DC fast charge will charge it 80 percent in about 30 minutes. It will also come with a cord set so you can charge it with a 110-volt, that's more of a trickle charge, that would be about an 18-hour charge. You could get anywhere from 120 to 130 miles, if you're doing all freeway driving, your not getting used to the regenerative braking, you'll get less, 70-80 mile range."

Verprauskus added: "We have 50,000 global production capacity in the first model year vehicle. The first model year vehicle is going to be shared by three markets: the U.S., Europe and Japan. We did take reservations. We have 20,000 people in the U.S. who have put down a $100 deposit on the car. You can buy or lease it. The MSRP for the base trim is $32,780, you can also lease $349 a month. The upper level trim adds a couple of features: the fog lamps, universal garage door opener, solar panel on rear spoiler and rear back-up camera. It qualifies for the full $7,500 U.S. federal tax credit. That brings the price from the $32,780 down to the $25,000 range."

ALTe is a start-up company that manufactures electric vehicle powertrains and can turn any commercial truck or SUV into a hybrid vehicle. It will increase fuel efficiency and lower emissions. A hybrid version of the Ford F-150 pickup truck was available for test drives at the Business of Plugging In conference.

"This is a battery-powered electric vehicle with an on-board generator for extended range or charge sustain," said Henrik Bonutti, ALTe's Director of Technology and Materials. "The range of the vehicle is about 30 to 40 miles in pure EV mode off the batteries. At that point, the generator will kick in to restore and maintain the charge level in the battery. With the 12-gallon fuel tank that's on board, it works out to a total range of 350 miles to 400 miles. For the battery charging, I would imagine three to four hours depending on what your incoming power source is."

Bonutti added: "We're targeting to build certainly 50,000-90,000 per year. These are kits that will be retrofitted to vehicles in the field by whoever owns them. We're targeting commercial fleets. They'll have our partners installers, take these kits that we've engineered and retrofit their vehicles with it. Whether its a Chevy, Ford, truck, van and so on. We do have target for taxicab fleet, things like that. The F-150 conversion we're targeting to be available certainly by 2012. The target price is in the $24,000-$25,000 range including installation."

Other vehicles that were available for test drives at the conference include the 2011 Ford Transit Connect Electric, AMP Chevrolet Equinox, BMW MINI Electric Vehicle, Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid, Ford Focus Electric, Protean Electric's Ford F-150 Battery Electric Test Vehicle, smart fortwo electric drive and the Toyota Plug-In Hybrid.

"One of the challenges that we face is moving electric vehicles from a niche market to an affordable alternative for most American families," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "There's another problem, the $7,500 tax credit applies to only the first 200,000 sales from each manufacture and it expires entirely in 2014. That creates an uncertainty that is hampering our ability to move EVs to the mainstream. We're pointed in the right direction. What we need is a high-tech white water raft, something to carry us with confidence towards that ultimate goal, affordable alternatives to the internal combustion engine."

Thousands of charging stations are being installed to eliminate 'range anxiety'

For people who are considering to purchase an electric vehicle, don't be held back by "range anxiety" or worrying that you will get stuck in the middle of nowhere in your EV. New charging stations are being installed across the country right now.

General Motors revealed the first charging stations for the Chevrolet Volt in front of the circular drive at the entrance to the Renaissance Center, just off Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. There will be a total of 18 charging stations on the property of the RenCen alone. GM employees and retirees will get a special card that will allow them to charge their Volt for free.

GM also announced that it will install 350 charging stations at its factories, offices, dealerships and other properties in Michigan. Some of these stations are already installed while the others should all be complete and ready for use in 2011.

"We believe the most important way to make communities plug-in ready is by enabling residential charging," said Tom Stephens, GM's Vice Chairman of Global Product Operations. "We're very pleased that 4,400 early buyers of the Volt nationwide will receive free home chargers provided by ECOtality and Coulomb Technologies through a program that's funded by the Department of Energy. In Michigan, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy have both announced that they'll each provide free home charging stations for 2,500 electric vehicle buyers. In Lansing, the Board of Water and Light is providing another 25 free chargers."

ChargePoint and Aker Wade Power Technologies worked together to create the first DC Fast Charge station. The unit resembles a gas pump, but is to be used to charge electric vehicles. It has the capability to charge an electric vehicle fully in under 30 minutes. The DC Fast Charge will work on most battery-electric vehicles like the LEAF or the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and others, but it will not work on the Volt at this time. It is designed to be placed outside commercial businesses such as gas stations, hotels, workplaces and retail stores.

"It uses a 480-volt commercial grade power electronic set inside," said Owen Resh, Director of Marketing for Aker Wade Power Technologies. "You first have to have a battery-electric vehicle that can accommodate a fast charge. Something like the Volt, which is more a hybrid, you would probably never have that. You can pull in for a few minutes, maybe one or two, get about 10-miles of range on your battery, then go home and charge there. There's no reason to thank that you have to stand around for 30 minutes looking for something to do. It really makes recharging an EV as convenient as with petrol or gasoline."

Resh added: "This is the first networked DC fast charger. If you were on the ChargePoint network, you'd have a pass like this or a credit card. You'd swipe it here, authorizing, just like any kind of credit credit. Plug your car in, you'd get to see your available voltage is, your battery state of charge, the amperage you could draw. It shows you exactly how much time you have left until your charge is complete. From ChargePoint, I get my receipt in an e-mail and I go home."

"I want these charging stations at the federal offices so we can brag about these automobiles," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "This isn't just the future, this is now. As you know, we passed a $7,500 tax credit for purchasing one of these beautiful new vehicles. I'm trying to do and I have legislation to front load that so when you go to the dealership, it would come off the price of the vehicle. I would love to see that happen and we need your support to get that going. We need to make sure the tax credits for charging stations are there. Once we get beyond the ones that are being given out initially, the tax credit will be important. That expires at the end of the year. We need to enhance that as well."

Best Buy recently announced that it has teamed up with ECOtality to provide charging stations at 12 of its store locations. There will be three charging stations at each of these stores. The stores are located in the western United States in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson and Seattle, among others. If the program is successful, it will be expanded to other states.

Costco is partnered with Clipper Creek and already has 90 charging stations at 64 of its store locations. The stores are mostly in California, Arizona, New York and Georgia. The state of California approved $1.9 million for a company called EV Connect to update 600 of these charging stations.

In Michigan, there are already charging stations in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Lansing, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Traverse City and Troy. More are being installed as you are reading this article.

Electric vehicles are here and they will be the mode of transportation for the future. The prices of these vehicles are expected to decrease as the battery costs go down. More charging stations are being installed all over the country to eliminate "range anxiety" or the worry of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere.

For more information on the Business of Plugging In Conference, visit www.bpiconference.com.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

A row of electric vehicles (EVs) at the Business of Plugging In conference in Detroit.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

A journalist test drives the Nissan LEAF.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Gov. Granholm speaks with a representative from Ford Motor Company regarding the battery in the Transit Connect Electric vehicle.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Charging stations for electric vehicles

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

GM's Tom Stephens poses for a photo next to the Chevrolet Volt and the new charging station in front of the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

 

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