Volvo working hard on green vehicles

December 12th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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Volvo’s product development unit is still hard at work, even after Ford desperately put a price tag on the brand (click here to read news item). Volvo is busy developing more environmentally-friendly vehicles capable of meeting tough new  emissions regulations on the horizon, the Swedish automaker has been working on some new highly-efficient vehicles.

In addition to the DRIVe trio of ultra-efficient diesel-powered models, Volvo is working on an all-new micro-hybrid model. Set to join the lineup in 2011, the vehicle will be available in gas or diesel powered form, and a manual or automatic transmission. Fuel-saving technology will include a start-stop system plus brake-energy regeneration to cut consumption by nearly 5 percent. We’ll see a full hybrid (with the ability to run on electric power only) in 2012 with the D5 diesel engine. A plug-in electric is also expected to follow in the future.

Mercedes-Benz S 400 BlueHYBRID – petrol/electric luxury

September 18th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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Mercedes-Benz is launching its first passenger car model equipped with a hybrid drive system in mid-2009 – the S 400 BlueHYBRID. With a modified 3.5-litre, 220kW (299hp) V6 petrol engine and a compact hybrid module producing an extra 15kW (20hp) it’ll be one of the world’s most economical luxury saloons with a spark-ignition engine. The NEDC combined fuel consumption is 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres, which beats the V8-powered Lexus LS600hL’s 9.3l/100km. It also makes for the world’s lowest CO2 emissions in this vehicle and performance class – just 190 grams per kilometre. These exemplary figures go hand in hand with assured performance. The new S 400 BlueHYBRID is the first series-production model to be equipped with a particularly efficient lithium-ion battery specially developed for automotive use.

It is based on the S 350, and features an extensively modified drive train. This encompasses a further development of the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, an additional magneto-electric motor, the 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission specially configured for the hybrid module, the necessary operating and control electronics, the transformer and a high-voltage lithium-ion battery.

The compact hybrid module is a disc-shaped electric motor that also acts as a starter and generator. The system offers a double benefit, as it both helps to save fuel and increases driving enjoyment. This is partly due to the booster effect of the electric motor, as it powerfully backs up the petrol engine with a maximum additional torque of 160 newton metres during the high-consumption acceleration phase, giving a total of 385Nm of available torque.

The hybrid module also has a comfortable start/stop function, which switches the engine off when the vehicle is at a standstill – for example at traffic lights. When it’s time to move off again, the electric motor almost imperceptibly restarts the main power unit. This likewise makes a contribution to fuel economy and environmental protection: because the engine restarts first time, and practically instantly, emissions are also minimised during the starting phase.

When the vehicle is braked the electric motor acts as a generator, and is able to recover braking energy by a process known as recuperation. The electric motor supplements the braking effect of the petrol engine and the wheel brakes to deliver a smoothly progressive braking action. The recuperated energy is stored in a compact yet highly efficient lithium-ion battery in the engine compartment, and made available when required. This complex system is managed by a high-performance control unit, which is likewise located in the engine compartment.

Major advantages of the lithium ion battery over conventional nickel/metal hydride batteries include a higher energy density and better electrical efficiency, together with more compact dimensions and a lower weight.

The S 400 BlueHYBRID accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds, and reaches an electronically governed top speed of 250 km/h. The S 400 BlueHYBRID betters the NEDC fuel consumption of the conventionally powered S 350 by up to 2.2 litres per 100 kilometres. CO2 emissions are reduced by 21 percent.

Prius fighter: Honda shows its new Insight

September 5th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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Honda will reveal a concept version of its new small hybrid vehicle, to be named Insight, at the 2008 Paris International Auto Show, October 2. The new Insight Concept shares styling cues with the Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle and will provide an early look at the highly-anticipated five-passenger hybrid vehicle.

We don’t have a release date for New Zealand, but it will be on sale in the U.S. next spring most probably significantly below the price of current hybrids like the Toyota Prius.

The Insight Concept defines a new stage in the evolution of hybrid technology by utilising a more cost-efficient version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assistâ„¢ (IMAâ„¢) hybrid technology. Evoking the innovative styling cues first seen in the FCX Clarity, the Insight Concept is designed with a low centre of gravity and a generous five-passenger cabin. Aerodynamic design assists its fuel efficiency, and by all accounts it should be reasonably roomy and practical with five doors, a hatchback and a folding rear seat.

Numerous technologies, including a function to assist customers in achieving more fuel efficient driving habits, will be applied to achieve a further improvement in real world fuel efficiency. Along with the Civic Hybrid, the new vehicle will be produced at an expanded hybrid vehicle production line at the Suzuka factory in Japan.

The Insight is expected to have annual global sales of 200,000 units per year – approximately 100,000 in North America. Following the launch of the new Insight, Honda also plans to introduce another unique sporty hybrid vehicle based on the CR-Z, first shown at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show. All together, Honda’s global sales of hybrids should increase to approximately 500,000 units a year, or more than 10 percent of its total worldwide annual automobile sales.

The original Honda Insight was introduced in December 1999 as America’s first gas-electric hybrid car. The first vehicle to break the 70-mpg (3.36l/100km) fuel economy barrier, Insight was designed from the ground up to demonstrate the ultimate potential for fuel-economy in a two-seater subcompact automobile.

A leader in the development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient mobility products, Honda introduced the first low-emission gasoline vehicles; America’s first gas-electric hybrid car and the world’s first EPA-certified hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX. In 2007, Honda was named “greenest automaker” by the Union of Concerned Scientists for the fourth straight time.

Revised Honda Civic for 2009

August 22nd, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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Honda has unveiled a slightly facelifted Civic for 2009 with enhancements inside and out including new exterior styling, colours and features like Bluetooth, HandsFreeLink® and a USB Audio Interface 1. An exclusively-equipped Civic LX-S Sedan debuts with alloy wheels and sportier interior styling. A new Civic DX Value Package (DX-VP) Sedan builds on the Civic DX Sedan’s standard features by adding air conditioning and an audio system.

All 2009 Civic sedan and coupe models boast redesigned exterior styling features, including a new front bumper cover and grille design and new headlight and taillight color combinations, featuring clear turn indicator lenses with amber bulbs. New alloy wheel designs are introduced on the Civic EX, Civic EX-L and Civic Si models, along with the addition of fog lamps for the Civic Si model.

Interior enhancements come by way of technology-friendly additions. Bluetooth, HandsFreeLink is added to Navigation-equipped models and a USB Audio Interface added to Civic EX, EX-L, Hybrid and Si models. The Civic Hybrid gains the option of leather-trimmed seating surfaces with heated front seats and side mirrors. Additionally, new cloth materials and patterns on seats, door linings and armrests (when equipped) have been updated to further enhance the interior’s look and feel.

Peugeot RC concept to be named at Paris could see production

August 21st, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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The ‘RC¦’ whose full name will be revealed at the Paris Motor Show, is a hybrid concept car created by Peugeot’s stylists and engineers.

It is a ‘GT’ coupe which provides the missing link between the RC and concept cars revealed in 2002 and the 908 RC, one of the stars of the 2006 Paris Motor Show. It’s a working laboratory of many future ideas and brings together numerous stylistic, engineering and technological ideas all in a single vehicle.

The ‘RC¦’ is also an accessible and versatile car, with four doors, four seats and highly innovative hybrid architecture.

Its aim: a very high level of efficiency both in terms of performance (with its potential maximum power output of 313 bhp) and minimal impact on the environment (CO2 emissions of 109 g/km in the combined cycle or ZERO in electric mode).

It is an exciting, eco-efficient vehicle which has all the characteristics that also ensure great driving enjoyment; a synthesis of ideas which demonstrates that respect for the environment and driving pleasure can be compatible.

Chery shows off ‘mild’ hybrids in Olympic bid

August 8th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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As a part of the transportation arrangements for the Beijing Olympics, a 50-unit fleet of hybrid vehicles co-developed with Ricardo is being provided by Chery Automobile Company Ltd. Known as the “Olympics Green Messengers”, these vehicles are some of China’s first hybrid vehicles and will go into full production in the months following the games.

With its expertise in hybrid electric vehicles and its wide-ranging skills in systems integration and vehicle control and electronics, Ricardo was a natural choice of engineering partner for Chery when the Chinese automaker decided to develop its first hybrid products. Two new vehicles, both based on its existing A5 sedan model, were identified by Chery. The first is a stop-start hybrid based on a 12-volt Belt Starter-Generator (BSG) linked to 1.6 litre gasoline engine, itself linked to a 5-speed manual transmission. The second is a more comprehensive mild-hybrid based on the same baseline vehicle but instead equipped with a 1.3 litre gasoline engine and a 12 kW crankshaft-mounted 151-volt Integrated Starter-Generator (ISG). These technologies have been configured to be capable of providing significant fuel savings through the use of advanced powertrain control and energy management strategies.

Key Ricardo responsibilities for the BSG programme included full architecture, sub-system and components requirements definition, hybrid control unit design, vehicle and communications interface development, system design — including detailed thermal analysis — and powertrain control strategy for safety and efficient operation. The focus of the engineering programme and the efficiency of the development programme were such that the first prototype vehicle was run with production-intent hardware and complete with hybrid strategy and application software, just ten months from programme start. The final fuel economy results are no less impressive: in tests over the ECE Urban drive cycle, the BSG vehicle achieves approximately a 7 per cent improvement in fuel consumption over the baseline product, and it is expected that the improvement will be greater than 10 per cent in real-world urban driving.

For the more complex ISG product, Ricardo carried full system design authority including specification and integration of the ISG system, high-voltage battery pack and battery management system, and developed an integrated hybrid control unit that incorporates the motor drive power electronics, DC to DC converter, and hybrid supervisory and safety functions into one compact package. The safety-critical application strategies and software were defined, engineered and validated including extensive vehicle and hardware-in-the-loop testing. With its comprehensive mild-hybrid functionality, the ISG-equipped sedan provides a significant increase in performance over the equivalent baseline A5 vehicle fitted with a 1.3 litre engine; peak power and torque of the ISG-equipped vehicle are comparable with that of a larger 1.6 litre engine.  Final production calibration and testing of the vehicle systems are still taking place, but the fuel consumption improvement over the NEDC cycle is expected to approach 15 per cent compared to the 1.6 litre benchmark vehicle. In addition, the system enables engine restart within 200 milliseconds, thus allowing stop-start functionality to be included in the hybrid control strategy.

The new BSG and ISG powertrain equipped A5 models of Chery Automobile Co. Ltd underscore the position of this fast-growing Chinese automaker as one of China’s automotive technology leaders. Engineered to exacting European emissions requirements, these new vehicles are due to enter full production shortly and will be available for both domestic Chinese and export markets.

Nissan unveils EV and hybrid prototypes

August 7th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

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Nissan has unveiled all-electric and original hybrid electric prototype vehicles, both powered by advanced lithium-ion batteries. Under the NISSAN GT 2012 business plan, the company has committed to zero-emission vehicle leadership, and has announced plans to introduce an all-electric vehicle in 2010 and mass market globally in 2012.

Powered by advanced lithium-ion batteries, the EV prototype is part of Nissan’s substantial research and development programme on zero emission vehicles. This latest generation vehicle features a front-wheel drive layout and uses a newly developed 80kW motor and inverter. The advanced laminated compact lithium-ion batteries are installed under the floor, without sacrificing either cabin or cargo space.

Nissan say the production vehicle to be introduced in 2010 will have a unique bodystyle and is not based on any existing Nissan model.

The Nissan original HEV delivers two breakthrough technologies — a high-performance rear-wheel drive hybrid system and parallel-powertrain hybrid system. The hybrid employs Nissan’s own originally developed hybrid technology and its first rear-wheel drive hybrid powertrain.

The parallel-powertrain system comprises an energy-optimising system with two clutches, where one motor is directly connected to an engine and transmission via two separate clutches. Under changing driving conditions, the motor switches between the two clutches to optimise and conserve energy utilisation as well as improve fuel-efficiency.

The parallel-powertrain hybrid system eliminates the need for conventional torque converters, contributing to higher responsiveness and linear acceleration for improved driving feel.

The dynamic characteristics of the clutches are as follows:

* Idle-stop: The battery is used to power the motor to save on fuel.
* Regular driving: The engine is used to power the motor as well as regenerate the battery.
* Acceleration: Both the engine and battery (power assist) is used to power the motor to achieve smooth acceleration.
* Deceleration: Energy from braking is conserved and re-routed back to regenerate the battery.

The advanced lithium-ion batteries used in both prototypes are sourced from the Nissan-NEC joint-venture, AESC (Automotive Energy Supply Corporation). These advanced batteries offer superior performance, reliability, safety, versatility and cost competitiveness, compared to the conventional nickel metal-hydride batteries. Its compact laminated configuration delivers twice the electric power compared to conventional nickel-metal hydride batteries with a cylindrical configuration. The compact batteries also allow for improved vehicle packaging and a wide range of applications.

Nissan has long experience in electric-powered vehicle development, commencing from the first EV “Tama Electric Vehicle” back in 1947.  The company introduced the world’s first application of lithium-ion batteries to the Prarie Joy EV in 1996, followed by the ultra-compact electric vehicle, Hypermini, released in 2000.  Nissan also introduced its first original hybrid vehicle Tino Hybrid back in 1999 in Japan. In 2006, the Altima Hybrid was introduced in North America using licensed technology.

Under the Nissan Green Program 2010 environmental plan, the company aims to develop new technologies, products and services that can lead to real-world reductions in vehicle CO2 emissions, cleaner emissions, and recycling of resources. Nissan continues to invest substantially in a wide range of technologies including CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift), clean diesels, biofuels and fuel cell vehicles.

Majority of UK drivers want ‘green cars’

August 4th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

New figures out today reveal that almost three quarters (71 per cent) of British motorists would consider driving an electric car to help combat ‘green’ issues, according to research by esure car insurance.

Younger motorists are more likely to buy environmentally-friendly cars such as electric, hybrid or bio-fuel; a huge 81 per cent of under 25’s would contemplate driving an electric car.  This may be due to the associated lower costs of motoring – freedom from high petrol prices, road tax and congestion charges plus access to cut-price parking(2) — in addition to a general empathy towards environmental issues.

However, the over 55’s appear more set in their ways with a significantly lower number of those surveyed (66 per cent) considering to make such a change to their regular car buying decision-making.

According to the poll, 65 per cent of motorists questioned have changed their attitude towards driving because of the credit crunch and a general tightening of the nation’s purse strings.  Nearly one in five (17 per cent) are thinking about changing their car to one that is more fuel-efficient.  A further 14 per cent of those surveyed said they would consider making a change if the current level of inflation persisted and fuel prices continued to rocket.