Some of the brightest minds, and best ideas, come from the world of automotive design. We traveled to three mega-shows recently to seek out the coolest concept cars, and hear experts pontificate about how we’ll be moving in the decades to come. Read more
Visitors to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week likely were awe-struck, along with critics, at the sight of the new high-powered Acura NSX and the Ford GT.
But this might be the show where hydrogen-powered vehicles finally graduated from the drawing board to the public consciousness.
Much buzz was created in the Motor City when Honda unveiled its FCV (for fuel-cell vehicle) concept car, which is expected to go on sale in the United States in 2016. The car is an answer to Toyota’s Mirai FCV, which is expected to be available in the U.S. later this year (Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe became the first person in the world to get one last week.)
The cars join the Hyundai Tucson and the Mercedes F-Cell in the hydrogen ranks. Hyundai reportedly has decided to lower the price of its vehicle (said to be about $139,000) to increase its competitiveness with its rivals.
Cost could be a big issue with consumers: The Mirai costs about $62,000, roughly the same as the Honda FCV.
Refueling access is another issue: There are only 13 hydrogen stations in the U.S., 11 of them in California. But the state is investing more than $46 million to build 28 new stations.
FCVs combine hydrogen, from a tank or cell, with oxygen that powers an electric motor. The key benefit is the short refueling time: Honda said its FCV could be fueled in about 3 minutes (at about 10,00 pounds per square inch). The vehicle has a range of roughly 300 miles, an improvement over the 240 achieved by Honda’s first-generation fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity. The Mirai also has about a 300-mile range.
One person unimpressed with all the attention hydrogen-powered cars were getting in Detroit was Tesla founder Elon Musk. As MLive reported:
“I just think they’re extremely silly,” he told reporters at Automotive News’ annual World Congress.
Musk argued that hydrogen acts as an energy storage unit, not a source of it, making it impractical for powering vehicles. He called drawing hydrogen from water “an extremely inefficient” process.
“If you’re going to pick an energy storage mechanism, hydrogen is just an extremely dumb one to pick,” Musk said.
Toyota is undaunted, saying it will share the 5,680 patents that went into its hydrogen fuel cells. Musk announced last year that Tesla would make its patents available to other carmakers.
“Hopefully by sharing these patents with others, these new fuel systems can be refined and improved,” said Toyota Senior Vice President Bob Carter, “to attract a larger market of buyers.”
The Mirai is starting with a small batch of 700 vehicles in 2014 with the goal of growing to tens of thousands by the 2020s. “We believe hydrogen electric will be the primary fuel for the next 100 years,” Carter said.
(Photo: Honda FCV, via Honda.com)
General Motors CEO Mary Barra has sent a strong message to the auto industry: It’s serious about producing electric cars for the middle class.
One of the most talked-about vehicles unveiled Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was GM’s Bolt, an all-electric concept car that could go on sale in 2017, the Detroit Free Press reported. The company also officially unveiled its redesigned Volt, a plug-in electric-and-gasoline hybrid that got a first glimpse at CES in Las Vegas last week.
The Bolt’s price tag is $30,000, including the $7,500 federal tax incentive, GM North America president Alan Batey said. It would get about 200 miles on one battery charge.
As the Detroit News reported, GM is positioning the Bolt as an affordable EV option:
“This is truly an EV for everyone,” Barra said. “For most people, this can be their everyday driver.”
Batey said the Bolt isn’t aimed at Tesla, noting Tesla’s current average transaction prices are above $100,000.
“They are for the rich and famous. This is for the people,” Batey said of the Bolt. “I would probably counter and say I haven’t seen Tesla with anything like this.”
Despite what Batey said, Forbes took the unveiling as a direct challenge to Tesla:
The Bolt is a clear shot at upstart rival Tesla, which has said it is working on a less-expensive version of its $70,000+ Model S. Dubbed the “Model 3,” it would cost somewhere between $30,000-$40,000, a clear attack on the most popular segment of the automobile market.
Barra is clearly looking to meet the challenge. The Bolt, she said, would be an “all-electric vehicle for the real world.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk is scheduled to appear at a related auto industry conference in Detroit on Tuesday afternoon.
As for the revamped Volt (with a “V”), the biggest news is that the battery range has gone up to 50 miles. At that point, the gasoline engine, a 1.5-liter “range extender,” kicks in, pushing the limit to 400-some miles before the vehicle needs a charge or a fill-up. With the electricity and gas range combined, mpg on the highway is about 41. In all-electric mode, however, it’s 102 for a gallon-of-gasoline equivalent, thanks to the new 18.4-kilowatt-hour lithium battery.
Auto Blog notes:
To compare, today’s four-seat 2015 Volt has a 38-mile range from a 17.1-kWh battery in a powertrain that offers 37 mpg and 98 MPGe. So, across the board, there are notable improvements.
The blog has much more about the dashboard improvements, and the Verge has a bunch more photos.
The Volt is expected to be in showrooms in the second half of 2015 as a 2016 model.
(Photo: General Motors)