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US diesel vehicle sales are up 25% this year

07/19/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Diesel, MPG, USA

Going against popular perception, diesel vehicles are showing some pretty good pickup. The context, of course, is US sales of oil-burners. And those sales are on the rise as more Americans look to cut refueling costs via more fuel-efficient vehicles.

US clean-diesel sales through June have jumped 25 percent from a year earlier, outpacing the 4.2 percent increase of total vehicle sales, says Diesel Technology Forum, citing research from HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates. In fact, diesels, which account for about three percent of US vehicle sales now, may double that marketshare by 2018, as more Americans are attracted to a powertrain that on average delivers about 30 percent better fuel economy than similar gas-powered engines. In all, there are 46 diesel models in the US, including 27 cars and SUVs, so it's not just all about big torquey rumbling pickup trucks anymore.

Oddly, Volkswagen - a leader in the US clean diesel initiative - saw a sales decrease of about eight percent from a year earlier to about 42,000 units. That said, sister company Audi boosted diesel sales almost fourfold to more than 8,100 units. And the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel has moved almost 3,000 units through June. Check out the Diesel Technology Forum's press release, below.

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What's this, a bipartisan proposal to increase the US gas tax?

06/25/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Legislation and Policy, USA

Summer Gasoline Prices

It would be the first federal hike in gas taxes since 1993.

One Democrat and one Republican senator are reaching across the aisle to try to solve an upcoming funding shortfall for US road improvements. Of course, it involves raising taxes, so this first step might also be the last in the journey. Early reviews are naturally mixed.

The issue is the federal road-improvement fund that's slated to go insolvent this summer. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) want to address this by proposing the first federal hike in gas taxes since 1993, Reuters reports. Specifically, the proposal is to increase per-gallon taxes on both gasoline and diesel fuel by six cents for two consecutive years. That'd bring federal gas taxes to 30.4 cents a gallon and diesel to 36.4 cents per gallon. After that, the gas tax would be tied to inflation.

Given that mid-term elections are taking place in November, there may not be much of a chance of such taxes being endorsed. Still, sources for the US Highway Trust fund have become progressively more of an issue because fleetwide fuel economy is at an all-time high. With nationwide driving plateauing, it's getting increasingly difficult for the feds to collect their pennies per gallon.

This spring, the Obama Administration sent a bill to Congress that would free up about $87 billion during the next four years for highway repairs. Late last year, a Democratic representative from Oregon, Earl Blumenauer, proposed a 15-cent gas tax increase. There is broad support outside of political circles for an increase, but his proposal went nowhere.

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Black Zombie electric Mustang launches Blood Shed Motors [w/videos]

06/20/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Ford, USA

Blood Shed Motors Black Zombie

As patient zero of Blood Shed Motors, the classic pony car has received a powerful electric transplant.

Lightning repeatedly vanquished the darkness like the angriest of strobe lights and thunder shook the building, punctuating the clatter of a heavy Texas rain on the metal roof as the clock ticked away the initial seconds of a rare full moon Friday the 13th. It was then that the Black Zombie came to life for the first time.

Beneath the hood of this rust-free 1968 Mustang fastback, a 289-cubic-inch V8 no longer turns gasoline into heat, noise and pollution. As patient zero of Blood Shed Motors, the classic pony car has received a powerful electric transplant, and now boasts twinned Warp 11 DC motors and a pair of fresh Zilla controllers that will serve as the basic blueprint for future vehicles. Dubbed the Zombie 222 drivetrain, the setup will be limited to 750 horsepower in customer's cars to keep the maintenance experience low, and eventually will draw power from a 40-kWh battery pack. In this first example, though, the output is bit more extreme. For one day, at least, they have the 1,500-kW-capable pack that powers the record-setting Swamp Rat 37 racer belonging to Don Garlits and a brief window of opportunity to try it out on a track.

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Hyundai-Kia claims 'greenest' title from Honda, Big Three still big losers

05/28/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, USA

Union of Concerned Scientists greenest automaker ranking infographic

Let's start with the good news. On average, any new car you buy in the US today will be 43 percent cleaner than any average new car in 1998. Here's some more good news, for Korea anyway, Hyundai-Kia has been named the cleanest automaker in the latest study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which looked at 2013 model year vehicles sold between October 2012 and September 2013 from the top eight automakers (by volume). The bad news? The big three Detroit automakers are, on average, still making the dirtiest cars in the showroom.

The big three Detroit automakers are, on average, still making the dirtiest cars in the showroom.

The problem for Ford, General Motors and Chrysler lies in their trucks, which sell well but tend to have pretty bad fuel economy (compared to sedans, at least). The UCS calculates its list by averaging "the per-mile emissions for each light-duty vehicle sold by each automaker" and then factors in "the fuel economy, fuel type, and sales volume of each type of vehicle sold by each automaker" and "the upstream global warming emissions from producing and distributing the fuel used by each vehicle, as well as emissions from the vehicles themselves." That all means that, the more trucks you sell, the worse you're gonna do. Then again, the more trucks you sell with 18 mpg, the more you're helping drivers put CO2 into the air, so the UCS is doing a fair comparison of the things that this study is trying to track. More details on the methodology are available on page six of the study PDF.

In case you were wondering (we were), UCS did make sure to use the revised mpg numbers for Hyundai and Kia models that were originally overstated. Hyundai has apologized for and fixed those figures and even with the new, corrected numbers, Hyundai's total emissions are dropping at a rate of about three percent a year, enough for it to take the greenest company title for the first time.

In fact, this is the first time that an automaker other than Honda has come out on top in the UCS ranking, which has been released six times now, including the first one in 2000 (which looked at 1998 model year data). In 2010, Honda was almost knocked off the winner's perch by both Hyundai and Toyota, but managed to hold on. Chrysler, on the other hand, came in dead last (again) in the ranking of the top eight automakers, snagging the "dirtiest tailpipe" award once (again). Read the UCS' press release below.

We asked study author Dave Cooke what an automaker could do to improve its score, and he told AutoblogGreen in an email that:

Improving the fuel economy of a manufacturer's biggest sellers should be a top priority. However, boosting sales of a very green vehicle can help as well. For a good example of how both strategies would be helpful, you can look at Nissan-less than two percent of Nissan's sales are the Leaf, but since it performs so much better than the average vehicle, it is able to improve Nissan's score by one percent just by being sold. However, if you improved Nissan's top-selling vehicle, the Altima (~25 percent of sales), by about five percent, this would also give a similar level of improvement. By focusing on both improving its existing, popular vehicles and developing a "green" halo car, Nissan was able to make the most gains in reducing global warming emissions from its fleet since the last rankings.

Chrysler, you know what to do.

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Why are all US-bound BMW i3 EVs with range extenders stuck at port?

05/20/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, BMW, Legislation and Policy, USA

BMW i3 for delivery

The first BMW i3 EVs have been delivered in the US, but in a quirk of the rules, none of them have been the range-extended versions. Long-time BMW electric vehicle driver Tom Moloughney discovered this fact the hard way. His i3 REx has been sitting at a New Jersey port for over a week and he's getting impatient.

The problem is something Moloughney calls a "Monroney Hold."

So, instead of sitting there fuming, Moloughney did a bit of research and discovered that the problem is something he calls a "Monroney Hold." He says that "the EPA certification has not been completed so BMW doesn't have a Monroney label (window sticker) to post in the window before the car leaves the port, which is required by law. The range extender option changes (shortens) the car's electric range, and also requires an official MPG rating so BMW couldn't use the same Monroney label as they did for the all electric i3." You can read more on his website, but it turns out that the story isn't so simple.

For one thing, the EPA testing has been finished. Washington State representative Chad Magendaz told Moloughney that he asked the EPA for an official statement and got the following from Linc Wehrly, Director of the Light-Duty Vehicle Center Compliance Division: "EPA tested the i3 REx and provided the results of that testing to BMW on May 13th. EPA is not aware of anything that would prevent BMW from importing the vehicles since May 13th."

Then there's the official word from BMW. Spokesman Dave Buchko told AutoblogGreen that:

We are moving as quickly as possible to release the first BMW i3 Range-Extender models to BMW i Centers. Receipt of test data from the EPA is one step, but not the final step, in the process of receiving certification from the EPA. Rules do not permit the release of vehicles for sale until EPA labels are finalized, produced and affixed to any vehicle. Barring any unforeseen delays, we expect that to happen by the end of this week.

We have never certified a vehicle like this before. We are taking every precaution to make sure that everything is done in a timely, but more importantly correct manner. In that Monroney labels cannot be produced until the EPA certification process is complete, the characterization [of a "Monroney Hold"] is not technically incorrect, but there is more to it than that, as is often true in life.

On a lighter note, BMW donated a loaded i3 to Brad Pitt's Make It Right charity foundation as a fundraiser. Read about that below.

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BMW i3 officially gets EPA-rated 81-mile range, delivered to first US customer

05/03/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, BMW, USA

Charles Rabie takes deilvery of first BMW i3 in U.S..

It's official. The first U.S. BMW i3 customer is now happily zipping along somewhere in his new car. Or possibly staring lovingly at it in his garage - we're not sure which. That man, Tufts University professor and electric vehicle aficionado Charles Rabie, was handed the keys at the BMW of Boston dealership earlier today, thus beginning a flood of upcoming deliveries from the pool of hundreds currently awaiting for their owners at the Port Jersey Vehicle Distribution Center in Jersey City, NJ.

And now, when Mr. Rabie sets off in his spiffy electric Bimmer, he'll know exactly how far the EPA thinks he can go on a full charge of its 22-kWh battery. Speaking with Dave Buchko from BMW Corporate Communications, we learned the government agency has given the i3 an official range rating of 81 miles. Efficiency-wise, that breaks down to 138 MPGe city, 111 hwy, and 124 combined for the city car.

Of course, we don't expect the good professor to experience any difficulties dealing with the sub-100 mile range. As a former BMW ActiveE driver, he's had plenty of opportunity to become accustomed to the foibles (and advantages) of piloting a battery-powered vehicle. You can read our First Drive impression of the BMW i3 here. Scroll down for the official press release.

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Factory Five Racing 818 Electric ushers in new era of EV builds [w/video]

04/29/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, USA

Factory Five 818 EV

"It's the most fun car I've ever driven!" Michael Bream's enthusiasm about a particular Factory Five 818 came through the phone loud and clear, despite the several thousand miles separating us. It's a pretty big statement too, considering the co-founder of EV West - an electric conversion shop located in San Marcos, CA - has a battery-operated BMW M3 race car that puts out 420 horsepower and a very scary 850 pound-feet of torque. Naturally, we hoped there was video taken of the newly built kit car in action to back up the gushing. There was.

"It's the most fun car I've ever driven!" - Michael Bream

Now, there was a time when America was littered with kit car companies offering the DIY crowd the opportunity to drive 1952 MG TD and Ford GT40 replicas built on the bones of VW Beetles. That era has mostly passed and the somewhat meager component car industry, as it prefers to be called, is now dominated by one firm: Factory Five Racing.

This outfit has come to the fore by offering not only a select group of standard classics, but also a couple designs of its own. The most recent in that latter category is the performance-oriented 818, and it's turning out to be a blank canvas upon which electric vehicle enthusiasts can work their black arts. Of the several builds that we know of in the works, the one Bream was boasting of is the only example that has its wheels turning. And by turning, we mean sliding around asphalt, plastering broad smiles across the faces of the select few that have driven her (keep following below to see a video of what we mean).

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EPA says automakers ahead of schedule for 54.5 MPG by 2025

04/27/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Legislation and Policy, USA

Worst Traffic

Remember, the target is 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Today, the CAFE level is a little over 30. How we get from here to there is something the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is monitoring closely. Thus, the EPA just released an annual flash report on how the auto industry is progressing towards meeting the nation's fuel economy goals.

Overall, the industry is doing almost 10 grams per mile (equivalent) better than the rules require.

The good news is that the industry is a bit ahead of schedule. In the report (see page iii), the EPA breaks things down by automaker based only on MY12 numbers. Tesla is at the top of the list (which is ranked by over-compliance with 2012MY CO2 standards), but for our money, the real leader is Toyota. The Japanese automaker built the second-highest number of vehicles (2,020,248, after General Motors' 2,364,374) but racked up the most net 2012 over-compliance credits (13,163,009 metric tons). That's an average of over 6.5 metric tons per vehicle. The next closest is Honda, with just over five metric tons of credits per vehicle. Given the MPG fiasco with Hyundai and Kia, the EPA says, "we are excluding Hyundai and Kia data because of the ongoing investigation into their testing methods," but overall, the rest of the industry has credits worth 25,053,168 metric tons of CO2, which means it's doing almost 10 grams per mile (equivalent) better than the rules require. Go team.

For now, the numbers in this report (and there are a lot more of them - get the 59-page PDF for yourself here), can't really be used to understand everything from the first year of the new CAFE program. The EPA writes, "Because the program allows credits and deficits to be carried into future years, at the close of the 2012 model year no manufacturer is considered to be out of compliance with the program. ... Compliance with the 2012 model year standards can't be fully assessed until the end of the 2015 model year."

There are a more interesting tidbits in the report, such as the fact that Fisker produced 1,415 model year 2012 vehicles, Tesla made 2,952. Remember, too, that CAFE numbers don't equal the fuel economy you see in your daily drives. In the real world, the 54.5 CAFE level will be about 40 mpg, and the average fuel economy today is around 25 mpg, so we have a ways to go, no matter how you measure it.

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Horse-drawn EVs for carriages? NYC may say 'neigh'

04/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Green Culture, New York Auto Show, USA

NYCLASS Horseless e-carriage

For more than a century, horse-drawn carriages have been iconic fixtures in New York City. But the Big Apple's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, has been on a crusade to put an end to the nostalgic rides, saying the carriages are cruel to the horses and a common source of traffic congestion. Amid this simmering controversy, a possible replacement for the horses emerged Thursday at the New York Auto Show. That's when Jason Wenig, an automotive restoration expert and Brooklyn native, unveiled the Horseless eCarriage, a battery-powered creation that took six years to plan and build.

On display in the lobby of the Jacob Javits Center, the antique-looking vehicle is at once a throwback to an earlier era in automotive history and a model of current electric-car technology. It can carry eight passengers, reach a top speed of 30 miles per hour and travel about 100 miles on a single charge. The 46-kWh battery feeds into a variable speed AV motor that produces - no pun intended - 84 horsepower. It's also huge, with a 158-inch wheelbase, a width of 88 inches and a height (to the top of the windshield, without the convertible hardtop) of 86 inches. It also weighs 7,500 pounds with driver and eight passengers.

"If you're going to do something, it's got to be big, bold and daring" - Jason Wenig

Perhaps most importantly, it seeks to retain the charm of the horse-drawn carriage. "I said to them, 'If you're going to do something, it's got to be big, bold and daring,'" Wenig said of his first conversations about the car. "If people are about to lose the brand they understand, this has got to fill that vacuum powerfully."

Not everyone is enamored with the idea. Traditionalists in the city say the carriages comprise a romantic part of the city's fabric, and they oppose the mayor's efforts to end the horse-drawn carriage era. So do carriage operators, who depend on the rides for their livelihoods.

A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University showed that 64 percent of New Yorkers support the carriages pulled by the actual equines. Actor Liam Neeson has been a vocal opponent of the mayor, and wrote an editorial supporting continued use of the horses this week in The New York Times. "An entire way of life and a historic industry are under threat," he wrote. "We should ask whether this is the New York we want to live in: a sanitized metropolis, where local color and grit are thrown out in favor of sleek futuristic buildings and careening self-driving cars?"

The Horseless eCarriage project was commissioned by NYCLASS, an animal-rights organization that is seeking more humane treatment of the horses. The group approached Wenig about six years ago to ask about the project, and as a native New Yorker an animal lover, it was a natural fit. "I'm not necessarily an activist, but I am an animal lover, so I understood where they were coming from," he said. "All of the sudden, I'm in the barn, trying to hammer out steel."

Sixty-eight carriages would be needed to replace the current stable of horses. Although it took Wenig the past six months to construct the first (and so far only) eCarriage prototype, he believes he could construct the entire fleet in a matter of months, should the project go forward. His current operation is located in Dania Beach, FL, but he says he may open another shop back in his hometown, to help complete the project quickly. In a Google Hangout last week, de Blasio said he expects to take action on the horse issue within the year, so you've got time to peruse the official press release below.

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DOE ready for more AVTMP loans, now focusing on suppliers

04/03/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Emerging Technologies, EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, Legislation and Policy, USA

IHS CERAWeek

The Department of Energy handed out four big loans in the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program (ATVM): Fisker got $528.7 million (then went bankrupt) Nissan got $1.4 billion, Ford got $5.9 billion (both are repaying on schedule, as far as anyone knows) and Tesla got $465 milion, which was quickly repaid. When it was created under the Bush Administration in September 2008, the ATVM loan program had a budget of $25 billion. The four loans only add up to around $8.3 billion, so the DOE has some money (around $16 billion) to spare. For a number of reasons - funding requests that didn't meet expectations and political pressures, mostly from Republicans - the DOE has not handed out any money since 2011.

That will likely change, since DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz announced today that the ATVM loan program is being improved with an eye towards suppliers, as you can read in the DOE's letter to the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (PDF). The overall drive to get cleaner cars on the roads remains the driving force behind the ATVM program, but instead of giving money directly to automakers, the new plan is to look at companies that help make fuel-efficient technologies possible. This "may include, but are not limited to, advanced engines and powertrains, light-weighting materials, advanced electronics, and fuel-efficient tires." Interested applicants can start an application here.

Last fall, the DOE announced it would start an "active outreach campaign" to generate more interest in the loan program. Now, the DOE wants to "improve the program, clarify eligibility requirements and increase responsiveness to applicants." It makes sense that the DOE is striving to make the program better, since some now-defunct automakers laid part of the blame for their failure on the "unmitigated disaster" of the loan program.

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