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Friday, January 29, 2010

Tesla Motors




Tesla Motors files for IPO, seeking $100 million


LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- High-end electric-car company Tesla Motors filed for an initial public offering Friday, seeking $100 million in the public-financing arena as conventional auto makers are reeling from anemic sales and product recalls.


Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla filed documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but did not indicate in the filing when those shares would be sold on the public markets, nor what the initial price would be. Company executives could not be immediately reached for comment.


If successful, the IPO could help usher in a new era for the auto industry, which is steadily moving toward cleaner-burning engines.


Toyota's recall debacle

Japanese auto-maker Toyota may have to recall 8 million vehicles world-wide over safety fears that some analysts blame on cost-cutting measures.

The IPO is expected to be one of the most high-profile offerings in some time, and is the first by a U.S. automaker since Ford Motor Co. (entered the public markets in 1956.)

Whether Tesla can take advantage and shift public tastes more toward zero-emission cars is unclear. But the timing of the IPO could prove to be shrewd.

"We believe incumbent automobile manufacturers are at a crossroads and face significant industry-wide challenges," Tesla said in its filing, adding that "the legacy investments made by incumbent automobile manufacturers in manufacturing and technology related to the internal combustion engine have to date inhibited rapid innovation in alternative-fuel powertrain technologies."


While Ford has been prospering of late, rivals General Motors and Chrysler have been suffering from downtrodden sales, and were taken over by the federal government last year. Meanwhile, top foreign producer Toyota Motor Corp.  is having to recall millions of its automobiles around the globe due to a problem with sticking accelerator pedals.

The Tesla Model S.

Tesla first started selling its $100,000 all-electric sports car, the Roadster, in 2008 and followed that up last year with the Roadster 2. The company claims in its IPO filing that the car has a range of 236 miles on a single charge, and says it has sold 937 of the vehicles in 18 countries.

It is designing a sedan designed for family use, the Model S, which would run for $49,900 after a $7,500 federal tax credit, the company's IPO said. The sedan would have a range of 160 to 300 miles on a single charge. In addition, Tesla is negotiating with Daimler AG  to provide its electric powertrain and battery technology for Daimler's Smart fortwo car. One thousand Tesla battery packs and chargers are being used in a trial with Smart fortwo cars in five European cities.

Tesla said it has taken out a $465 million long-term loan with the Energy Department under its advanced-vehicles manufacturing program to build a facility that will manufacture the Model S. The company added that it has been given up to $31 million under similar California state programs.

In the filing, Tesla indicated its revenue will decrease substantially before the Model S is rolled out -- expected to be sometime in 2012. That is because Tesla will cease selling its roadsters in 2011 and won't resume production on a new model until at least 2013.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Toyota Electric



Toyota to Build All-Electric Car by 2012

Toyota promises to have a compact "Urban Commuter" car that runs entirely on electricity for sale by 2012. The automaker will also speed up the rollout of plug-in electric Prius models powered by lithium-ion batteries, and build a Lexus hybrid.




Toyota, the leader in hybrid car sales, plans to have a Battery Power compact car called the FT-EV on the market by 2012 – a lightweight four seat, model on its gasoline-powered IQ, that will have an all-electric range of 50 miles.

Toyota's move toward an all-electric car follows those by companies like Nissan, Mitsubishi, Think and several others aiming for the commuter market, where the shorter ranges of battery-powered vehicles are seen as less of a drawback.

As for its hybrid plans, Toyota said it will begin delivering Prius hybrids that can be plugged in to recharge their batteries in 2009, slightly earlier than a previously announced 2010 rollout date. About 500 of the plug-in hybrids will be used for market and engineering analysis by lease fleet customers.

Those plug-in Priuses will be powered by lithium-ion batteries built at a plant owned by Toyota and Panasonic EV Energy Co., the company announced. Current Prius models use nickel-metal hydride batteries.

Toyota showed off test models of the FT-EV and new versions of the hybrid third-generation Toyota Prius and Lexus HS250h at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this weekend. Startups Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, as well as financially troubled automaker Chrysler, are introducing all-electric sports cars at the show.

The push for more fuel-efficient vehicles comes amid a dire economic climate, with sales of new cars plummeting and American automakers General Motors and Chrysler tapping up to $17.4 billion in federal bailout funds to avoid bankruptcy.

General Motors plans to have its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt on sale in 2010. Ford said it plans to be building an all-electric commercial van by 2010, an all-electric passenger car by 2011, and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2012.

The economic downturn and falling oil prices have hurt sales of hybrids along with broader auto sales. Toyota's hybrid car sales in the United States fell 53 percent in November from a year ago, and the company expects to post its first operating loss in 70 years for the fiscal year ending in March.

But Toyota's push toward electric and plug-in hybrid cars is part of the company's recognition that, despite currently falling oil and gasoline prices, "the inevitability of peak oil," or the coming peak and decline of production from the world's oil fields, will force automakers to make more fuel-efficient cars. Other automakers have also reported steeply declining sales. The poor economic climate has led seven automakers to scale down or cut their presence at the auto show, including Nissan, Mitsubishi, Rolls-Royce and Land Rover.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Best Hybrid



Test Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion is best gas-electric hybrid yet


OK, let's just get it out there: The 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid is the best gasoline-electric hybrid yet.
What makes it best is a top-drawer blend of an already very good midsize sedan with the industry's smoothest, best-integrated gas-electric power system. It's so well-done that you have to look to the $107,000 Lexus LS 600h hybrid to come close.


Fusion's $28,000 starting price is more or less in reach, the driving feel is good, and the interior has a premium look and feel.

There are three facets to consider in evaluating a gasoline-electric hybrid: the underlying vehicle itself, the hybrid system and the mileage.

Assuming the preproduction Fusion hybrid test car was representative — Ford says it was — the Fusion's scores in those three categories are good, great and adequate, but potentially, very good.

The Toyota Prius crowd will protest. Prius is lower-priced, has about the same room inside, has a handy hatchback configuration, gets better mileage — and most of those attributes could improve when the 2010 Prius goes on sale in a few months — so how could Fusion be the best hybrid?

Simple. Fusion drives better. A car is, after all, a driving machine. Brownie points for saving somewhat more fuel or offering a cargo-friendly hatchback, but driving feel is most important.

And there, Fusion is without equal among hybrids.

Here's a look:

•The car. A slick machine, regardless of power-plant. Smooth looks. Good manners. Adequate space. Comfortable accommodations. Above-average ambience.

Ford launched Fusion as a gasoline-only car in 2005 as a 2006 model.

It's getting a mid-cycle update for 2010, including a hybrid version for the first time, which will begin arriving at dealers mid-March.

The hood has a wide, demi-dome bulge, and the grille and rump are tweaked a bit.

The grille now looks as if it was done that way on purpose.

A commendable change: The turning circle is 2 feet narrower. No more back-and-forth getting into or out of a tight parking spot at the shopping mall. The change makes the car feel more nimble overall, not just when docking in a narrow slot.

•Hybrid system. The basic four-cylinder gasoline engine is a 2.5-liter, up from a 2.3-liter in previous Fusions. A little more oomph is the welcome result. The aural signature could be better — it comes down on the coarse side when spurred hard — but isn't a deal-breaker. The electric motor delivers more crank than you get from the gas engines in most small cars.

And the miracle is how Ford blends the two. There was no — none, nada, zip — vibration or shimmying in the test car when the gasoline kicked in to help the electric. No other hybrid — not even that $107,000 Lexus — can make that claim 100% of the time.

Fusion's main rivals, Camry and Nissan Altima hybrids, shake a lot when their gasoline engines join the party, Altima especially.

And no, it's not worth accepting the lack of refinement as a price for saving fuel. It'll make you bitter and crazy after a while, wincing in advance knowing that shudder is due any second.

One Ford trick: using the engine's electronic controls to halt the gasoline engine just at the point in the crankshaft rotation where a cylinder is ready to fire again.

There was a distant shudder when the Fusion's gasoline engine restarted after stopping at a red light, as all hybrids do to save fuel. But it was milder than in any other hybrid tested, so minor as to be inconsequential.

The other great thing about the Fusion hybrid is information delivery. You can pick how much hybrid-related data you want on the instrument panel. Regardless of how much you ask for, Fusion delivers it informatively, no scolding or overwhelming you, as other hybrids do.

Yes, there's the "atta way" pictograph of leaves growing into a wreath if you drive just so. But you can shut that off.

• Mileage. Mediocre for a hybrid in the test, but the mileage numbers were continuing to climb even as the test ended. And the car registered 40-plus miles per gallon in a couple of short trips that usually return crummy, not outstanding, mileage.

Best guess: Moderate, but not mileage-obsessed, drivers could get 35 mpg or so in suburban settings. Not the 41 government rating, but impressive for a 3,720-pound midsizer.

Fusion's city mileage rating is better than Camry's 33 mpg, but does it get more in real life? Probably depends more on the driver than the car.

Even if the Fusion gets lower real-world results, it's still much smoother and a whole lot nicer to drive.

More about the 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid

What? Gasoline-electric hybrid version of midsize, four-door, front-drive Fusion that's been updated for 2010 model year. Ford's Mercury brand sells the nearly identical Milan.

When? Hybrid and gasoline versions begin arriving at dealers in March.

Where? Made at Hermosillo, Mexico.

Why? Pirate some sales from Toyota's Camry hybrid. And burnish Ford's "green" credentials.

How much? Starts at $27,995 ($3,295 more than most similar gas model). With all factory options: $32,435. Midlevel test car: $29,590 (no leather or navigation system). Gasoline model starts at $19,995.

How many? About 20,000 a year, including a few Milans; more if Mikey likes it.

How powerful? Modestly — punch not being the key issue in a hybrid: 2.5-liter gasoline engine rated 156 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 136 pounds-feet of torque at 2,250 rpm. Electric motor: 106 hp at 6,500 rpm, 166 lbs.-ft. the moment it begins to turn (an appealing attribute of electric motors). Ford says net combined hp is 191, but declines (like most hybrid makers) to specify net combined torque.

Continuously variable automatic transmission blends power from the gas, electric powerplants.

How fancy? Lots standard, including expected bags, belts, stability and traction controls and power accessories, plus the unexpected: Free six-month satellite radio service (Sirius), 110-volt outlet, six-CD stereo (instead of the typical single setup), dual-zone climate control, auto on-off headlights, auto-dimming mirror, backup alarm. In other words, you actually could abide the base Fusion hybrid.

How big? On the small end of the midsize scale. Fractionally bigger outside than Toyota Camry hybrid, slightly smaller inside, but has a bigger trunk.

Fusion hybrid is 190.6 inches long, 72.2 in. wide, 56.9 in. tall on a 107.4-in. wheelbase.

Passenger space is listed as 99.8 cubic feet, trunk as 11.8 cu. ft. Weight listed as 3,720 lbs. Turning diameter is 37.5 ft.

How thirsty? Rated 41 miles per gallon in town, 36 on the highway, 39 in combined driving.

Test car trip computer showed 27.2 mpg (but was continuing to climb when test period ended) in 300 miles of suburban driving. Registered a remarkable 41.4 mpg in one 5.1-mile suburban trip, 44 mpg in a 3.1-mile hop, driven normally, no nursing.

Tank holds 17 gallons. Regular (87 octane) gasoline is specified.

Overall:  Best hybrid.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gas Electric Hybrid



Fisker Preps Its Production Car

The Karma will cost $87,900, a little more than expected, but the gas-electric hybrid is coming next November, the company says.


Fisker Automotive says it will be ready to deliver cars to customers this coming November, and will show off its production models to the public this January.
The startup, which has designed an upscale series hybrid car called the Karma, plans to show off the production version of its car at the North American International Auto Show, which starts Jan. 11 in Detroit.

The production model largely resembles the prototype that Fisker showed off at the show last year and at subsequent events. The company, though, has begun to refine the details on the price and performance of its car. As with Tesla Motors, the big question is whether Fisker can market and mass produce what will essentially be an electric car for a price that will appeal to customers and let the company also make money. The automotive world is a harsh place. You have to go back to the 1910s and 1920s to find the last time that there were successful crops of startup automakers.

The Karma will be released at a base price of $87,900, which is nearly 10 percent higher than the $80,000 price estimate given by the company earlier. The four-door car will be powered by a lithium-ion battery from an unnamed vendor and the Q-Drive power-train initially conceived by Quantum Technologies, which has worked with General Motors on a number of projects. The car will be delivered in November, a refinement from the "fourth quarter" statements earlier.

The car is a series hybrid like the Chevy Volt, which has been delayed until 2010. This type of hybrid, the car drives on an electric motor powered by batteries. When the batteries are about to give out, the gas generator fires up, and charges the batteries. The gas engine can also propel the car. The Karma itself will drive 50 miles on electricity and then drive on a combination of gas and electric power. This gives the car an estimated mileage of 100 miles per gallon, according to the company.

The car can hit a top speed of 125 miles per hour and Fisker says it can go from zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds. It also has different driving modes-Stealth, Sport, HEV and Fuel Economy, giving drivers different degrees of fuel economy and power.

Fisker and Tesla in many ways have similar strategies. Both will enter the market with high-end cars and then try to trickle into the mainstream with sedans as the underlying technology in their vehicles becomes cheaper. (CORRECTION: Tesla has already produced and sold "nearly 100" cars according to a spokeswoman. Fisker won't start until November.) The main difference is the gas generator. Fisker makes hybrids. Tesla earlier had planned to make a series hybrid but now says it will make only all-electric cars. All-electrics can cost more than regular cars because of the inordinate expense of batteries.

On the other hand, the series hybrid concept hasn't been tried in mass production cars yet. Some, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and UC Davis Professor Andy Frank, claim that the concept is tougher to pull off than it sounds. Toyota's Prius and the other hybrids on the road are parallel hybrids. In these, the gas motor propels the car and doesn't exist to charge the battery.

As previously stated, the Karma will be assembled by Valmet Automotive, which also produces the Porsche Boxster and Porsche Cayman. The Yearly volume is anticipated to reach 15,000 cars per year.

A total of 40 retailers for the U.S. market will be established by October 2009. Fisker Automotive will announce 20 of its Retailers in January 2009. European pricing will be announced at the International Geneva Motor Show in March.


Hybrid Chevy Volt



GM's Chevy Volt: A Work in Progress

Chevy Volt co-creator Jon Lauckner says that GM's first plug-in hybrid won't have swappable or leasable batteries, but he passes on saying how much it might cost.


Fresh out of bankruptcy, General Motors promises its plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, will go on sale in late 2010. What else does GM want to tell the world about it?
Jon Lauckner, Volt co-creator and GM's vice president of global program management, didn't offer too many hard answers to the dozens of questions he fielded in an online question and answer session Wednesday. But he did clarify some roads the Volt wasn't planning to travel down.

For example, GM doesn't plan to lease the Volt's batteries to customers. That's a business model being considered by some, including battery charging and swapping station, startup Better Place, since batteries can make up a significant portion of the cost of plug-in hybrid or pure electric vehicle.

Neither does GM intend to make the Volt's batteries easily removed and exchanged, Lauckner wrote. That means the Volt will not be a candidate for Better Place's switch-the-battery business model – not surprising, since Better Place is aiming more at serving all-electric vehicles.

The Volt's battery pack – being designed by GM with battery cells from a consortium headed by LG Chem. is expected to retain enough of a charge to deliver 40 miles of electric-powered range over 10 years and 150,000 miles of service, Lauckner wrote. GM will guarantee that performance and repair or replace batteries that don't meet it.

Afterwards, the battery packs should have enough energy storage capacity for stationary applications. The semi-depleted car batteries will find second homes storing energy at homes or businesses, or utility substations.

GM still isn't talking about a price for the Volt, and likely won't until three to six months before it will start production, Lauckner wrote.

The European version of the Volt, the Ampera, is still on track for a 2011 launch, but GM will also sell the regular Volt in Europe, Lauckner wrote. That was in response to a question about the future of Opel, GM's troubled European division.

And GM doesn't see much point in putting solar panels on the roof of the Volt, Lauckner wrote – unlike Toyota, which will offer buyers of the new Prius hybrid the option of rooftop solar panels made by Kyocera.

"The amount of solar energy you can get by covering the Volt's roof with solar cells is only enough to run a small fan motor," he wrote. "You aren't going to recharge the battery on solar power in a reasonable amount of time."

Toyota expects to start mass-producing a plug-in version of the Prius in 2012.