Google Receives the first Ford Focus Electric

Ford has been producing its Focus model since 1998. During the last two years the company has been showing different model variations to take advantage of power systems that don’t eat gallons of gas at the pumps, especially since the cost doubled recently. Their latest version, the 240 volt electric version, rolled off the production line just in time for Google to receive an early Christmas present: the first model off the line.

The customer demands a car that doesn’t take a week’s pay out of every month to fill the gas tank, but whether Ford (and its competitors) is responding to customer needs or customer wishes, the race is well and truly under way to produce a vehicle that is both low in fuel cost and drives like a superior auto.

The first item on most vehicle owners’ checklist isn’t how green the auto is, although that is the desired discussion after purchase. The running cost is now the main priority for most drivers, but the extra expense to buy a so called green vehicle will keep oil production booming for years to come.

What will it cost?
You will need $39,200 to purchase the vehicle, but you can deduct the $7,500 federal income tax credit. The regular Ford Focus usually arrives at between $16,000 and $22,000. Do the math. Once you know how much each recharge is going to cost you (including adding that 240 volt electric connection to your home) you will find that the extra cost is equal to around 3,000 gallon of gas at the pump.

If you previously managed 35 miles to the gallon, your new Ford Electric will need to run for just over 100,000 miles to reach the breakeven point. Is the standard vehicle owner going to wait that long just to purchase a green alternative? Are you expecting to sell the auto to make a new purchase before you reach 100,000 miles? If so, that negates the financial benefits?

No more gas station visits
If you can afford to buy this green car, you will be entering a world of many advantages. You won’t need to visit a gas station again, unless you run out of charge and electric charging stations increase around the US.

You will avoid buying that extra cola drink and chocolate bar that you can’t help collecting when you thought you were only paying for your gas.

You won’t need to discuss miles per gallon with your friends ever again, although Ford has been quick to bring you a display to show you the equivalent miles per gallon in its range view monitor, showing you how far you can drive on your electric charge.

On the plus side, charging the Ford will take 3-4 hours, less than the Chevrolet Volt. Included in the purchase price you will receive a cord which will plug into your 110 volt supply, but for a longer charging period.

A brake coach display will show you how to use your brakes to recharge your batteries as you drive. That piece of fun should keep your eyes off the road, just as miles per gallon displays do with gas powered autos when you accelerate hard.

For those who long for one of those fun start/stop buttons on the dashboard, this Ford gives you one. As long as you have the key fob in your pocket or close to the vehicle, you can press the start button to start the silent motor.

Top speed?
For those more interested in how the auto drives, you can run 100 miles on a fully charged battery pack reaching a maximum of 84 miles per hour top speed. That should aid a large amount of the population to get to work and back and remain inside the speed limits.

The new lithium-ion battery system is designed to reduce energy loss and heat generation while reducing your carbon footprint substantially. Finally Ford gets to the part we are really all interested in – what part can society play in reducing the high oil element of gas production just to move people and products around the country and how much are you prepared to pay for that privilege to stay within your confines of enjoying your auto drive?

The vehicle will be a real winner for all but the oil companies when the price becomes sensible. Until then, the real world of going green with your auto stays a myth for most Americans unless you are a celebrity and must be seen in your gas/electric Prius.

Olivia Lennox is an eco-conscious freelance writer based in London, UK, where electric cars are just starting to become practical. She travels by G-Wiz and sleeps on a tempurpedic mattress with organic linen – truly

The Electric Car Market: They’re Building It, But Is Anybody Coming?

Thanks to a small Israeli firm called, Better Place, charging stations for electric cars are being installed around the world by the thousands.

Global automotive battery production capacity is expanding; electrically-driven vehicles are being introduced by major auto manufacturers. But amid the progress is the realistic fear that consumers are not convinced.

A report by J.D. Power and Associates says:

Better Place

“Combined global sales of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are expected to total 5.2 million units in 2020, or just 7.3 percent of the 70.9 million passenger vehicles forecasted to be sold worldwide by that year. For comparison, global HEV and BEV sales in 2010 are forecasted to total 954,500 vehicles, or 2.2 percent of the 44.7 million vehicles projected to be sold through the end of 2010.”

Breaking down those numbers further:

“Of the 5.2 million HEVs and BEVs forecasted to be sold worldwide in 2020, some 3.9 million units are expected to be HEVs, according to the J.D. Power and Associates global forecast numbers for the third-quarter of 2010. The leading markets for HEVs are the United States (1.7 million units), Europe (977,000 units), and Japan (875,000 units). China is expected to sell fewer than 100,000 HEVs in 2020.”

“Of the 1.3 million BEVs projected to be sold worldwide in 2020, sales in Europe will account for 742,000 units; sales in China will account for 332,000 units; and the United States and Japan should each account for sales of approximately 100,000 BEVs in 2020.”

The truth is that 100,000 pure battery-electric vehicles expected to be sold in 2020 is a pathetic number.

Two main hurdles the industry needs to climb before it changes the world is weaning consumers from their pathetic oil dependence, and producing effective lithium batteries, ones which can match, if not out run a tank of gas.

Until then, we’ll have our fingers crossed.

Raising Gas Taxes Will Speed-Up Electric Cars

In Thomas L. Friedman’s latest New York Times column he proposed that the United States of America is way behind China, laying out the infrastructure for a green globe future.

Recalling the plans Shai Agassi has for Israel and Denmark next year he cites:

Thomas L. Friedman

“The auto industry was the foundation for America’s manufacturing middle class” thus warning that “the country that replaces gasoline-powered vehicles with electric-powered vehicles — in an age of steadily rising oil prices and steadily falling battery prices — will have a huge cost advantage and independence from imported oil.”

Here are the facts as Mr. Friedman spat them:

“Europe is using $7-a-gallon gasoline to stimulate the market for electric cars; China is using $5-a-gallon and naming electric cars as one of the industrial pillars for its five-year growth plan. And America?”

Here it comes…

“President Obama has directed stimulus money at electric cars, but he is unwilling to do the one thing that would create the sustained consumer pull required to grow an electric car industry here: raise taxes on gasoline.”

While Friedman may be correct about Chinese and European business models laying out the green carpet for the electric car industry – this is what the Obama administration is doing while ignoring the gas tax issue: as Friedman acknowledges, they’ve begun building plants which manufacture electric cars, batteries and all of the other accessories

Actually, the United States is now set to produce 40% of the world’s advanced batteries by 2015. And by “advanced” I hope American manufacturers come up with something that will actually make the electric car dream, a pragmatic reality.

Jason Forcier, vice president for automotive solutions at A123Systems Inc. said during a July conference:

“Can we export our batteries to China? The answer is no. You have to build them in-country. And China’s making sure that it happens by the way that they’re structuring incentives…”

Last year, the Department of Energy gave A123, based in Watertown, Massachusetts with a Chinese joint-venture, $250m to expand battery manufacturing in the United States.

And speaking of which…

Coda Automotive will have 14,000 electric cars on California roads by next year. Costing $37,000, these can travel 100 miles on just one overnight charge. They are a hybrid amalgam of Chinese-made batteries and “complex American-system electronics — all final-assembled in Oakland.”

Gotta run guys, my car is almost done charging!

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Call it range anxiety – call it what you want. Electric car drivers worry time and again that they won’t have enough juice to make those long trips. And so, as is too often the case, the question of pragmatism becomes a hurdle for greensters and those on the fence.

As they continue to push to sell more battery-powered cars, it’s a fear that automakers must overcome.

Due out late this year, Nissan’s all-electric Leaf can travel just 100 miles on a single charge. That’s perfect for a commuter but not the Jack Kerouac cross-country sojourner type.

One guy who once owned an electric car, Mr. Bob Shafron said:

“I think the Leaf is a beautifully designed vehicle, but 50 miles in one direction is just not enough…I think they are going to run into problems in markets like L.A., where things are spread out.”

The Monrovia-based maker of unmanned surveillance planes and quick-charge systems for electric vehicles and wind turbines, AeroVironment, secured a contract to install and provide home-charging systems for Nissan’s Leaf:

“When a customer goes to Nissan they will be able to schedule a home assessment with a licensed electrical contractor that will be part of our nationwide network”

said Steven Gitlin, AV’s vice president of marketing strategy.

Car Charging Group, Inc an owner and provider of electric vehicle charging stations with a mission to build a nationwide infrastructure, compliments California regulators who voted to make it easier for electric car charging companies to resell power in California at the California Public Utilities Commission Meeting held recently:

“For years, California has set the standard in green technology. It is great to see the state pave the way for electric vehicle charging companies and allow them to sell power in the state,” Car Charging Group CEO Michael D. Farkas said, “This opens up the gateway to bring revenue from EV charging stations and helps our company fulfill its mission. Furthermore, if other states follow in California’s footsteps, the national initiative would allow our company to price the cost of our services competitively benefiting property owners and consumers.”

Slightly more expensive and also hitting show room floors soon is GM’s $41,000 Volt. President Barack Obama was recently photographed driving in one.

Meanwhile, another fine example has been set by the Israeli company, Shai Agassi’s Better Place is opening a visitor center in a Tel Aviv suburb, situated in a renovated oil tank at the Pi Glilot fuel depot.
The center invites the public to hear about the Better Place vision (electric cars and charging stations, already setup in Jerusalem and parts of Europe), learn how the system will work, and test drive the cars.

Agassi had this to say:

“With the Better Place project, for the first time, we in Israel are providing a solution for one of the biggest global problems…By a happy coincidence, the Israeli government announced today that it was calling for a national plan to reduce Israel’s dependence on fossil fuels. I promise you that we had nothing to do with it, but we are happy about it because it shows where we’re going.”

Better Place Israel CEO Moshe Kaplinsky, a former deputy chief of the IDF General Staff, said that the company has signed agreements with 92 different Israeli companies who have agreed to convert a portion of their fleets to electric vehicles.

Motorola, Strauss and Netvision are among these companies.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Rockin’ Down to Electric Avenue, Part II

Shai Agassi closed a deal, financing his company Better Place, two days before the World Economic Forum‘s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. They closed at $350 million, pricing the firm at $1.25 billion.

Agassi became inspired to enter the electric car market at the World Economic Forum meeting three years ago, when he left software giant SAP.

Their biggest investor was HSBC, which took 10% of the company for a $125 million. Other investors included Morgan Stanley, as well as investors from the first round of financing, led by the Israel Corporation, which now has 30% of the company.

When asked how a company which has no revenues, hasn’t begun operating and has no proven business model, can round up that much worth from investors, Agassi said:

“The round indeed reflects a valuation of $1.25 billion, which is three to four times more than the valuation during our last round two years ago. … In terms of the speed with which the value was created – there haven’t been any companies like this. This is the largest investment since the crash in 2008 and the largest investment ever in clean-tech.”

Ok, but THAT kind of valuation?

“That’s a very interesting question. Look … we’re selling kilometers. The people selling kilometers until now were the oil companies.”

What’s selling kilometers? What does that mean?

“When you go to a gas station nowadays, you buy kilometers. It looks like a model whereby someone fills up the tank and pays, but ultimately, it’s a purchase of kilometers, 500 to 600 kilometers. It’s the same business, an energy distribution network, which is currently called oil companies or gas companies. The global kilometer market is currently worth $3 trillion a year, and [gas stations are] living on profit margins of 1% to 2%… Now, we’re buying the raw goods at a price that’s constantly decreasing … and we’re starting at very high profit margins, much more than 1%.”

Explain again about that valuation, what with no revenues and all?

“The total value of the Israeli kilometer market is about $10 billion. It’s being sold in servings of NIS 6.5 per liter – for us, the market share is 500,000 cars that get a lot of mileage – half of the distance traveled in Israel. These are leased cars, and the cars of people who drive 30,000 to 40,000 kilometers a year. That’s worth $5 billion …. We can get to that market share with profit margins of 40% to 50%.”

How do you get to profit margins of 40% to 50%? What about returning the investment, what about operations?

“I buy a battery and electricity, and I sell kilometers. On the way I’ve laid a lot of infrastructure in order to translate one into the other …. And my profit margins are constantly improving and eventually become very large because batteries keep getting cheaper and electricity keeps getting cheaper, while the price of a kilometer increases since there isn’t much cheap fuel left in the world.”

With Agassi’s plan, drivers will need to recharge every 150 kilometers – they’ll come to a recharging station, where a robot will remove the empty battery and insert a full one. The entire process takes two minutes, and most drivers won’t need to recharge more than once every two weeks.

When the project launches, hopefully in the second half of 2011, Israel will have 70 recharging stations. The infrastructure, that is the recharging stations, plus setting up chargers at customers’ homes, will cost the company $150 million. That being said, the company hopes to return the investment within 18 months.

It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to set up a charger at a customer’s house. Customers will not pay for electricity usage. They’ll pay a flat cost.

The charging stations will recognize cars based on a SIM-card-like device.

“The program that manages electricity consumption is amazing, because this is essentially the first time that cars will have a computer running Windows 7 inside them and a constant cellular Internet connection…This changes the complete driving experience. You can do things like navigation with other cars.”

Will the drivers like it? Will the masses get used to it?

“These changes happen in all fields. The large [car manufacturing] companies are looking at the changes and not moving. They’re like deer caught in the headlights. Look at the newspapers versus Google, look at pharma versus biotech, at the music industry.”

While the driver may lose due to the inconvenience of having to charge every 150 kilometers Plus, the up side is that electric cars will be less expensive: around NIS 100,000, he cites as an example, or NIS 20,000 to NIS 30,000 less than current car prices in Israel.

What is the word from Amdocs, Nice or Comverse?

“They see a decrease in costs, they see a fixed price for car maintenance. Remember that a year and a half ago, the price of gas suddenly jumped. And they also see a marketing opportunity for their company – an opportunity to be innovative leaders.”

And how will they sell it?

“First of all, the worker will benefit from the lower valuation of the car for income tax purposes.”

Agassi also said that Gas stations have no reason to fear the new business model – at this point, most of their revenues come from

“selling sandwiches and ice cream.”

If they become recharging stations, they shall maintain the traffic that powers their stores.

What about oil refineries? The company’s main investors are Sammy, Idan and Eyal Ofer. They also control the oil refinery in Haifa.

“Idan told me during our first meeting: ‘You told me that the days of the refineries are numbered, so why should I let someone else kill them? I want to be the person who kills them, because if this works, electric cars will be more profitable for me than refining oil.'”

Effectively Replacing Petroleum

oil drillingI need not strain myself by explaining that people and governments are both stubborn when it comes to going green. Global warming is nearly an impossible sell and as for energy, well, “if it ain’t cheap, it won’t compete.” Governments, worldwide apparently do not have the cajones to legislate a significant cut in oil consumption. And while the global oil supply is not actually running out, it is getting harder to find. Drill drill drill, that’s been the motto for as far back as we can remember. Now oil companies are anxious to begin drilling in the North Pole, the only untouched continent in the world.

Given the global aloofness to environmental concern, oil will only disappear as a necessity for transportation fuel when someone replaces it with a power-packed, cheap, stored energy alternative, which is easy to handle and quick to refuel with. These, my friends, are the facts.

As far as energy cost goes, the one obvious choice for replacing diesel and gasoline is pure battery electricity. Electric vehicles can be recharged from the grid for much less than the cost of gasoline or diesel from the pump. However electric vehicles and their batteries ARE expensive.

Currently lithium-based rechargeable batteries are used. And they cost an arm and a leg. They are costly because of the combination of using a rare, expensive metal combined with an involved production process. So what’s the cost solution? How about, Rechargeable Zinc-Air batteries!

It has long been thought that zinc battery chemistries could not be electrochemically recharged. ReVolt Technologies of Norway, proudly denies this myth. They have developed zinc-air technology which is indeed rechargeable. They have developed a technology which may be used to power anything from cars to cellular phones. ReVolt claims that their zinc-air chemistry has twice the amount of stored energy than conventional Lithium-ion batteries.

ReVolt is trying to break into the U.S. electric vehicle market; they are opening up a U.S. headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Currently the company is applying for $30 million in grants from the US Department of Energy (DOE) under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), in order to speed up the commercialization process of its large format zinc-air batteries for energy storage and electric vehicle applications.

“We Gonna Rock Down To Electric Avenue”

shai aggasiA U.S. firm, California-based, Better Place, is building electric car chargers, in Jerusalem of all places and has installed a network in Tel Aviv.

By 2011, roughly 100 charging stations will be found on the streets of Jerusalem. In the same year Israel plans to have electric cars available for mass consumption. Twenty of the stations are already in place.
Better Place, CEO, Shai Agassi calls Israel, “a leader in the road to sustainable mobility.”

In a recent statement, a Better Place spokesperson said that:

Electric car batteries used in Israel will have a range of 160-200 km (100-125 miles), sufficient to cover the distances among most of the small country’s main urban centers. They would take 3-4 hours to charge.

flash charge spotsBetter Place, is a brand new $200-million venture-backed company. They plan to add electric car charging stations in Denmark after the project in Israel; and is working with Renault and Nissan, to develop electric car infrastructure.

According to Reuters:

The firm has also announced partnerships with Australia, California and Hawaii, worth about $2 billion in total, to expand its network in the coming years as markets search for alternatives to cut carbon emissions and pricey fuel imports.

Electric, Hybrid, AND Diesel? BMW Technological Orgy

bmw concept carWe know, we know, electric cars use too much rare earth metals. We just wrote about it below. But that’s not going to stop us from covering the next ultra cool electric triple hybrid diesel plugin etc. tour de force vehicle.

That’s just what we need. All these companies coming out with zero emission stuff that runs on one thing or another, that’s either a hybrid or it’s not, that’s hydrogen and nothing else, that’s plug in and that’s it, and now BMW comes with this technological orgy that combines EVERYTHING and then actually succeeds in sticking the entire mess under one hood. How the HECK does this thing even exist?

The car has a top speed of 155mph and can go from 0-60 in less than five seconds. All with only 3 cylinders, because the electric engines are what’s giving this thing its power. The final fuel economy is 63 mpg. Unless, of course, you can get to work using only the batteries, which will get you about 31 miles on a charge, which can be done in 2.5 hours in a standard 220 volt outlet (like the ones on your washing machine or AC. Changing that to a 380 volt line cuts the charge time to 44 minutes. Overall range including gasoline – 400 miles.

Sophisticated software surrounds every system, which takes readings and interprets the data to enable more efficient operation.

Cost? HA! It’s a concept car. Go build your own.

230 Miles per Gallon a Cinch

If you’re an avid Naturalbuy reader, you’ll remember our post on the Nissan Leaf, a fully electric car that can go about 100 miles on one charge. The kicker is, what if you have to go more? The answer for that is the Chevrolet Volt.

This is going on sale late next year for about $40,000 (minus probably tax credits up to $7,500), which is pretty expensive, though it’s not undoable. The fuel savings should pay it off in about a decade of use. The car is expected to make it about 230 miles per gallon in city driving, and surprisingly less on the highway.

Chevy VoltHow it works: For the first 40 miles of a trip, the car is entirely electrical. Afterwards, a small gasoline motor starts working to recharge the battery, giving the car a range of 300 miles, which is three times the Leaf’s. It plugs into any outlet.

40 miles means two good pieces of news. One, if your daily round trip commute it less than 40 miles, you don’t have to use any gas whatsoever. Two, if you’re round trip commute is less than 80 and you have an outlet to plug into while you’re at work, you still don’t have to use any gas whatsoever.

What about the electricity costs? GM said it expected the Volt to consume as little as 25 kilowatt-hours of electricity per 100 miles of city driving, or about 3 cents a mile on average. Probably a bit more, but still way, way cheaper than gas.

I wonder who’s next in the electric car game? We’ll keep you on your toes and find the next one for you when it comes out.