How electric vehicles are paving the way for better telematics

This is the year of the electric vehicle rollout. Offerings in the EV space will explode with everything from a long-awaited plug-in Prius to the first all-electric SUV, from Tesla. And the most innovative aspect of this flurry may not be that the vehicles are electric but that they are ushering in the era of the connected car and an entirely new relationship between a driver and his vehicle.

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Microsoft’s move to create a global cloud-based management platform for plug-in vehicle chargers seems to be moving forward in Japan, where its partnership with Toyota has yielded a new Internet-capable charger expected to go on sale next month. The “G-Station” charger announced this week will allow plug-in electric and hybrid vehicle owners to use their smart cards to authorize billing for the charging they’re about to receive, as well as receive personalized information at the point of charge. (The stations work for both Toyota and non-Toyota vehicles, by the way — a good thing, considering Toyota’s rather small contribution to the plug-in field). Customers can also connect to Toyota’s Smart Center via Internet-enabled smart phones or mobile devices, to do such things as check on the charging status of their vehicle or find locations of charging stations elsewhere. Sounds like a pretty typical set of smart charging capabilities. Microsoft wants to make a global network based on its Azure cloud computing platform, and has deals with Ford Motor Co. as well to deliver car charging connectivity, though those projects seem more based on transforming Microsoft’s Hohm home energy Web platform to serve the needs of home-based car charging. We’ll see how fast this global network emerges — and how it interacts with both plug-in car specific rollouts, or the national car charging infrastructure efforts underway.

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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.

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I’m going to lean pretty heavily on the New York Times this morning, since it just released an energy special edition covering a lot of important ground (and we won’t be able to read it for free for much longer). First, there’s a recap of President Barack Obama’s energy speech yesterday, complete with an assessment of the Administration’s shrinking green energy goals, all the way from comprehensive climate change regulations (now off the table) to a watered-down proposal for a federal clean energy standard. We’ve also got a lot of stories about green transportation, including coverage of the latest work on electric vehicle batteries, another article citing the barriers to more widespread adoption of plug-in vehicles (the infrastructure isn’t there yet), and the concurrent work on building more efficient internal combustion engines. We’ll need them all, and then some, to meet Obama’s call for the U.S. to drastically cut its dependence on imported oil  — a Presidential promise we’ve been hearing since Nixon. On a side note, there’s also an article on the latest data about cellphone radiation and human brain activity, which may inform debate on the question of wireless smart meters and whether or not they present risks to human health.

Plug-In Cars Meet Smart Grid, Courtesy of OnStar, Comverge

General Motors has been talking for years about using its OnStar system to hook up the plug-in Chevy Volt to the smart grid and this week gave a peek into how that might happen in partnership with demand response player Comverge.

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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.

Why Fast-Charging EVs Won’t Be Just Like Filling the Gas Tank

Fast-charging stations could be a major boon to the nascent electric vehicle industry, but don’t expect them to become as common or as easy to use as gas stations anytime soon. Plenty of obstacles remain, and businesses might want to wait until the standards issues have been settled before placing any big bets.

Fast EV Charging’s Long and Bumpy Road to Success

Cutting electric vehicle charging time from hours to minutes is a holy grail of the car charging industry. But plenty of bumps lie ahead for the dream of a gas station equivalent for the EV market.

WiTricity Lands Delphi as Wireless Car Charging Partner

MIT spinout WiTricity wants to make charging electric vehicles plug-free, by simply parking them on top of wireless charging systems set into garages or parking spots — and it has landed auto parts giant Delphi as a partner.