The Elephant in the Room for Tesla Selling: Daimler

Electric car company Tesla might say publicly that it wants to remain an independent company for growth purposes, but another reason is that auto maker Daimler basically has the right of first refusal when it comes to acquiring the company.

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Let’s start the day with a retraction — thankfully, not my own. Japan’s Nikkei newspaper may have to walk back a Monday story claiming that Toyota would make plug-in recharging a standard feature on all its new Priuses. “We don’t see (plug-ins) as a car for everybody,” Toyota spokesperson John Hanson told AOLAuto, and further confirmation has come out since then. Why not make every car plug-in? Well, it will probably cost a lot more, even though Toyota has declined to say just how much more. It turns out that plug-in cars have to come with a lot of hardware and software to manage recharging from grid-linked power sources, for accurate pricing as much as for the technical challenges in fast-charging and other emerging fixes to the EV range anxiety problem. For a sense of how complicated the car-charging world is, please refer to the mildly corrective comment at the bottom of this story I wrote in January — thanks, Nick Chambers — which lays out the AC and DC charging regimes, and just how certain standards may win out.

Today in Cleantech

With the Shanghai Auto Show underway, it’s a good time to recap the critical role that China will be playing in the electric vehicle and green transportation industries — both as a manufacturer and as a market. On the manufacturing side, Honda reports that it plans to start making electric vehicles in China as early as next year, and Toyota said it would make low-emission vehicles and their parts in China, partly as a way to diversify the production base for its Prius line of hybrid cars away from quake-stricken plants in Japan. Both will be building vehicles for export, but also for China’s own market, which is now the world’s largest by volume. It’s also quite receptive to the idea of electric vehicles, according to a recent survey from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd.’s global manufacturing group, which found that up to 50 percent of Chinese considered themselves potential “first-movers” in buying an electric vehicle, compared to only 16 percent in Europe, 12 percent in the United States and a surprisingly low 4 percent in Japan.

Today in Cleantech

Green car spotters of the world, unite. The North American International Auto Show has plenty of actual and would-be models to salivate over in Detroit this week. Toyota is showing off three new Prius models to arrive in 2012 — the smaller Prius C, the family-sized Prius V and the first plug-in Prius, which will have a much shorter all-electric range in exchange for much shorter charging time. In the meantime, Ford announced plans to make the world’s first mass-production plug-in hybrid minivan, the C-Max, for 2012 launch, and said that electric drive vehicles could account for up to one-quarter of global sales by 2015. On the theme of family-sized plug-ins, Johnson Controls-Saft showed off a new battery pack in a so-called ie:3 electric concept vehicle — actually a Kia Soul — that combined 100 miles of all-electric range with lots of passenger and cargo space. On the price competition front, Chinese-based, Warren Buffet-backed automaker BYD unveiled a 2012 U.S. launch date for its low-price electric and hybrid car offerings. And on the definite-maybe front, Li-Ion Motors is promising a mid-2011 launch for its long-delayed Inizio electric sports car and has taken five orders for its Automotive X-Prize-winning Wave EV.

Today in Cleantech

The EPA has issued its sticker for the Nissan LEAF all-electric sedan — let’s break down the numbers. First, the LEAF scored big with its 99 miles per gallon “equivalent,” or MPGe, based on the assumption that 33.7 kilowatt hours of electricity equals one gallon of gasoline. The EPA hasn’t issued its sticker for the LEAF’s big rival, the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt — but GM has said that the Volt gets about 100 MPGe when it’s in all-electric mode, but about 30MPG when the battery-charging motor kicks in. What about the cost of fuel? EPA pegs the LEAF’s annual electricity cost at $561, though that number will vary depending on regional power pricing differences — but it’s still better than EPA’s annual fuel cost of $867 for the Toyota Prius hybrid. The LEAF’s $561-per-year power cost also brings up useful figures to measure against NRG Energy’s new car charging business in Houston. While it has more expensive public charging options, NRG’s program at the low end promises to install Level 2 car chargers at the homes of new LEAF buyers, and provide all the power they need for three years, at a fixed rate of $49 per month — or $588 per year.

Smart Grids Go Island Hopping in Europe

IBM (s IBM) said today it joined a smart grid project in Denmark that’s aiming to upgrade the country’s electric transmission grid to handle the large-scale adoption of electric vehicles. The project will start off with test work on a small Danish island before tackling the whole nation.

better_place_plug

The Denmark smart grid group, partly backed by the government, is called the EDISON project, a really long (and kind of silly) acronym for “Electric Vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated Market using Sustainable Energy and Open Networks.” IBM didn’t release a timeline for the project, and details on exactly what will be installed were scarce, but the 40,000 people that live on the Danish island of Bornholm will be the first to plug into the new smart grid.

IBM said creating a testbed on the island, which gets a big part of its energy from wind power, will allow the EDISON team to look at how the grid functions as more electric cars are plugged in. The company said its researchers plan to work on technologies that can synchronize the charging of electric cars with the availability of wind power in the system. It has also sent a hardware platform to the Technical University of Denmark for use in large-scale, real-time simulations of electric cars plugging into the grid.
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Coulomb’s Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Are Live in San Jose

smartlet-cityhallA future in which you can charge an electric vehicle during a downtown shopping trip is getting a little bit closer today. Electric vehicle charging station startup Coulomb Technologies is having a media event this afternoon in San Jose, Calif., at which the company plans to show off three live electric vehicle charging stations in the downtown San Jose area — for those of you familiar with the area that’s one station on Santa Clara Street and two stations at the Fourth Street garage.

OK, so three live stations doesn’t exactly set up San Jose as a major electric vehicle hub, but Coulomb says it will be adding more stations in the coming weeks. And let’s face it, there just aren’t that many plug-in vehicles on the roads yet, either in California or the U.S. Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.org, estimates there are around 250 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the US.

What’s interesting, though, is how Coulomb intends to sell — and market — vehicle charging power to those early adopters that do have plug-in cars. Like another electric vehicle infrastructure company Better Place, Coulomb plans to offer subscription plans. That includes a limited-time “Basic Access” subscription offer, which the company says includes free charging through 2009.
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Reva to Boost Range with Lithium-Ion Battery

It’s about time Indian electric car company Reva, which has one of the best-selling electric vehicles in the world, opted for a few higher-end, better-performance options. According to a press release posted on the G-Wiz Owners Club forums (hat tip Autoblog Green) Reva is launching a lithium-ion-battery-powered electric vehicle for the European market, along with a fast-charging station that can charge the lithium-ion battery 90 percent in one hour.

Up until now, Reva has been selling a relatively low-cost version ($9,000) of its electric vehicle that uses a lead-acid battery and has a range of about 50 miles per battery charge. Throughout 2008 Reva had been pretty open about the fact that it had been researching lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries to extend range and increase performance. The new vehicle — dubbed the REVA L-ion — will have a range of about 75 miles per charge and a max speed of 50 miles per hour, according to the press release.
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UK Electric Car Distributors on the Brink as EV Sales Plummet

UK Electric Car Distributors on the Brink as EV Sales Plummet. NICE Car Company, one of London’s two electric-vehicle distributors, entered administration yesterday. That’s akin to filing for bankruptcy, a term that does not apply to companies in Britain. Going Green, which distributes the G-Wiz, a popular electric two-seater, is struggling to stay afloat.