Amazon Patents EV Recharging by Drone

Amazon, the same company which will gladly sell you everything from barbells to a 1.5-ton belt sander, has received a patent for technology allowing EVs to be recharged by drone.

Environmental tech blog GreenTechMedia first noticed the filing, issued on Oct. 3 of this year. Patent number 9,778,653 is described as an “uncrewed autonomous vehicle” and is depicted in the filing as a six-rotor drone peppered with electrical contacts and docking connectors.

In a document that may simply be securing a patent for technology which hasn’t been invented yet, a retractable drone-docking mechanism is shown on top of a car extending to meet the drone, locking it in place with two clamps. Once enough juice is transferred to the EV batteries, the patent describes the drone unlocking itself from the vehicle and flying away.

There are a litany of issues with this concept, not the least of which is the inability of current battery technology to pack enough juice in a small drone to charge an EV in any meaningful amount.

The filing goes on to explain that the car itself could send an “energy request” to the drone network once it realizes the on-board batteries do not have enough range to make it to the intended destination.

Wording of the patent leaves the door open for this technology to be used on the fly and not restricted to recharging the nation’s EV fleet, with the filing referencing many other type of electric transportation such as bicycles and boats. Page 13 of the filing suggests the drone may have a range of about 35 miles, weigh about 2 pounds, and have a maximum altitude of nearly 2 miles.

The drone’s estimated weight should be cause for pause, given present-day battery technology. Such a diminutive source of electrons attempting to recharge an EV would be like charging one’s car with their laptop which might provide enough power for only the next 30 feet or 30 seconds of travel. There is also the matter of charging speed, as current fast-chargers are the size of large refrigerators.

Amazon’s patent has the potential to solve persistent question marks in the EV market, namely range anxiety and charging infrastructure. Charging points in urban areas have popped up like umbrellas during a rainstorm but rural connectivity remains lacking in many areas. Buried in the patent are suggestions that the drone could also be used for ferrying packages, something Amazon has longed to do for many years.

The thought of fully charged unmanned drone zipping about the sky puts this author slightly on edge, especially with Amazon’s patent filled with words like “target” and “execute.” I simply hope this future technology will transfer electricity more smoothly than when Harrison Ford tried to refuel his plane mid-flight in Air Force One.

The patent, all 32 pages of it, can be found here.

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Mazda Could Bring Back the Rotary Engine … as a Range Extender

Within the next two years, Mazda may reintroduce a rotary engine to its lineup as a range extender for an upcoming electric vehicle.

The Hiroshima-based company is well known for being one of the last companies to deploy the Wankel engine in a road-going car. Compact dimensions, diminutive displacement, and a raucous exhaust note made the engine a darling of the Fast & Furious set.

This time, Mazda is strongly considering the feasibility of taking the key advantages of a rotary engine – namely, its small footprint – and pair it with the powertrain of a new battery-powered car. In an interview with Automotive News at the carmaker’s proving grounds in Japan, Mazda’s global powertrain boss hinted strongly at the likely direction of a new Wankel engine.

“I think that’s probably what it will be,” Mitsuo Hitomi said, speaking to the potential application of a rotary engine in an electric car. With its small size, this type of engine could be placed in many different locations in an EV, freeing up designers to be creative with passenger and cargo space.

Mazda will likely introduce an electric car in 2019, first as a pure EV and followed shortly by the model with a range extender. It’s believed the range extender could be a rotary, but Mazda has not made it official at this stage. BMW recently introduced a similar powertrain combination in its i3, using a two-cylinder gas engine that powers up only when the car’s batteries are crying for additional electrons.

READ MORE: Toyota, Mazda, Denso form Partnership to Build EVs

Alert readers will recall the Mazda2 RE, an electric vehicle concept with a rotary range extender shown in 2013. That car had a 0.33-liter engine paired with the electric motor for a total range of over 200 miles. For comparison, the RX-8 – the last Mazda to use a rotary engine in America – had an engine displacement of 1.3 liters. It departed our showrooms in 2012.

Mazda has a lot of brand equity in the words ‘rotary engine’ and it would be a smart play in the increasingly crowded EV market if they leverage that unique advantage.

This year’s Tokyo Motor Show will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cosmo 110S sports car, the sleek beauty which was Mazda’s first rotary-powered car. It would not be a stretch to speculate that Mazda will take the opportunity to show off its new rotary technology at that time. The Tokyo Motor Show begins next Wednesday, Oct 25.

Automotive News

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Hundreds of Workers Fired at Tesla

Tesla has drastically thinned the ranks of its workforce, shedding hundreds of employees even as production of the Model 3 is ramping up.

Usually when we report on job losses at an automaker, they are layoffs due to excess plant capacity. In this case, however, Tesla has taken the unusual step of firing several hundred people based on a company-wide annual performance review.

The Mercury News, a publication in San Jose, interviewed several former and current employees who estimated the mass exodus ranged somewhere between 400 and 700 people. Among the freshly jettisoned workers are production engineers, design personnel, and folks from the factory floor.

Despite the housecleaning, Tesla is still advertising hundreds of jobs in the Careers section of its website, many of them in California.

In a recent investor call, Musk said the company is concentrating on production of the Model 3, expecting to eventually build 10,000 cars a week. Yet, in a report from the Wall Street Journal, it is said that some Model 3 parts are being made by hand by workers at the Fremont facility, thanks to an assembly line that is not yet fully operational.

READ MORE: Tesla Model 3 Production Volume

Firing hundreds of people during “production hell”, a term Musk used during the investor call, may seem at odds with the current urgency at Tesla to ramp up production of the Model 3 in order to satisfy the 400,000+ customers who have placed $1000 deposits on the electric sedan. Still, Tesla is bound and determined to get Model 3 production back on track, saying they are confident of addressing the manufacturing bottleneck issues in the near-term.

On Wall Street, shares of Tesla are currently hovering around a dizzying $350USD a share, nearly double what it was one year ago. It sold for $17USD a share at its IPO in 2010.

Tesla began production of the much-anticipated Model 3 back in July. To date, they have built fewer than 300 of the sedans, short of 1500 examples projected to have been assembled by this time in the year. Including its other models, Tesla expects to make about 100,000 vehicles this year.

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GM to Idle Volt Production

Citing demand and oversupply issues, General Motors is idling the factory making four different car models, including the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.

The Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant will experience a reduction in vehicle output starting next Friday, Oct. 20. This will lead into a month-long wind down of production, culminating in a full shutdown on Nov. 20.

According to company spokesman Tom Wickham, the shutdown is expected to last through the end of this calendar year.

As of Oct. 1, Chevrolet has roughly 6,000 Volts in inventory, a 107 day supply. That’s an increase of 10 days from one month ago.

READ MORE: August Chevy Volt Sales Down 30 Percent

It is worth noting that the Volt’s irritatingly-phonetically similar cousin, the Bolt, has been getting the lion’s share of GM’s EV marketing dollars since its introduction. With focus on the 200-plus-mile range of the Bolt EV, the Volt hybrid has all but disappeared from automotive news coverage. Its relative obscurity can’t be helping sales.

In addition to the Volt, Detroit-Hamtramck also assembles the Buick LaCrosse, Chevy Impala, and Cadillac CT6. Of the four models, GM is dealing with a 106-day supply of the CT6 and a massive 284-day supply of the Buick sedan, according to industry publication Automotive News.

Those numbers are well above the accepted industry standard of just 60 days. To put the LaCrosse figure in perspective, GM could stop making the sedan today and, at current rate of sales, not need to build any more until after watching the fireworks on Independence Day.

“As a result of declining overall industry volumes, the Detroit-Hamtramck plant will be making schedule adjustments to keep supply and demand in balance. Effective Oct. 20, the plant will operate under a reduced production schedule,” according to a GM statement. “This action will help maintain more stable production.”

The company says it expects less than 200 of the 1,800 workers at the facility to lose their jobs as a result of this action. All employees will be idled during the shutdown.

Currently, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly employs 1,580 hourly and 220 salaried employees. Since opening in 1985, Poletown has produced more than four million vehicles.

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Shang ’em Hai: China’s Push for More EVs

To help explain the driving force behind a spate of new EV announcements, one need only look towards the world’s largest car market – China.

With passenger car sales somewhere north of 22 million units, the Chinese market is truly gigantic. To put it in perspective, the sum of last year’s growth nearly outstripped the Australian car market in its entirety.

It should surprise no one, then, that the world’s largest market plays a big role in the future plans of most major automakers. Even with mass-market electrification in its infancy (compared to the market as a whole) China is already the world’s largest buyer and producer of electric cars. Buyers in that country are on track to take home over a quarter-million EVs this year, nearly triple the number sold in America.

In September, China issued new legislation requiring the world’s automakers to sell more alternative-energy cars in their country if they wanted to keep on selling traditional vehicles. Like many other countries, officials have stated their desire to completely eliminate internal combustion cars sometime in the future.

Electric cars make a lot of sense in urban areas of China, where the dense roads and crowded cities often make for short driving trips. Those taking longer journeys are well served by the nation’s network of high-speed rail system.

China’s appetite for personal car ownership undoubtedly plays heavily on the mind of OEM execs worldwide, given the clout provided by its status as the world’s largest market. China purchases more GM-branded cars than Americans do, helped in large part by the rampant success of Buick in that country. China has also quickly become Tesla’s second-largest market.

Announcements of new EVs and new EV platforms have been coming fast and furious from GM, Ford, Renault-Nissan, the Volkswagen Group, and others. Seeing the growth and investment, some of the biggest automakers are planning shifting critical research and design work to China.

Meanwhile, collaboration has already begun on existing product. GM worked with its Chinese partner, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, on the bringing the Buick Velite to market. The Velite is a Buick version of the latest-generation Chevy Volt.

Electricity doesn’t appear out of thin air, of course, and the juice to charge up all these electric cars has to be produced somehow. Right now, a great deal of Chinese electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. Taking that into consideration, then, the pollution is simply being moved from the city streets to the generating facility.

Nevertheless, top officials in the Chinese government have been making positive noises about new energy vehicles, receiving support from various legislative levels. Given the favorable political climate, and the seemingly insatiable consumer thirst for new cars in China, we shouldn’t be surprised to see even more EV plans being rolled out by the world’s automakers.

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Ferrari CEO Says ‘No Grazie’ to Electric Cars

Sergio Marchionne, the gregarious sweater-clad leader of FCA, spoke to CNBC on Monday morning about the fortunes of electrification at his speediest marque, Ferrari.

Ferrari reportedly has no plans to introduce an EV to its portfolio of offerings. Executives at Maranello have repeatedly indicated that electric cars would simply not fit in with the brand image of the Prancing Horse.

Compounding the resistance of making a move to electrification are the views of Mr. Marchionne himself, who is not sold on the environmental benefits of EVs.

Said Marchionne during Monday’s CNBC interview:

“I think that if you don’t do the full analysis of what the origin of the electrical power is, where it comes from, how you get batteries into these cars, what the cost is in terms of CO2 and the environment, I think the analysis that we are going to save the planet with electric cars is nonsense.”

 

A bold statement, given reports from several different corners of the planet of various automakers and their intentions to build new EVs. General Motors is planning 20 models over the next six years, while Renault-Nissan recently laid out plans for more than a dozen new electric cars.

READ MORE: GM to Build at Least 20 New EVs by 2023

Marchionne has not historically been the most ardent supporter of EVs, having carped in the past about losing nearly $20,000 on every FIAT 500e built. Right now, electric options in FCA’s showrooms consist of the 500e, the Chrysler Pacifica Plug-In Hybrid, and … um … that’s about it.

The market has spoken with its wallet when it comes to high-dollar EVs; one only has to witness the rampant success of Tesla’s Model S and Model X to appreciate the status they hold in some social circles.

This, combined with constant pressure placed on automakers by certain governments to curb emission levels, may cause a change in strategy at the House of Enzo at some point down the road.

After all, it wasn’t all that long ago Maranello steadfastly refused to even entertain the notion of a Ferrari SUV, before alluding to being “dead serious” about such a machine during a press conference at the New York Stock Exchange earlier this week.

Done right, an EV could have huge potential for the brand, especially in large markets such as China where government support and foul air conditions are expected to drive exponential growth of alternative-fuel vehicles.

CNBC

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Mitsubishi e-Evolution Concept to Debut at Tokyo Motor Show

At this month’s Tokyo Motor Show, Mitsubishi will make the world debut of its e-Evolution Concept, an all-electric concept with Artificial Intelligence that will suggest the near-future direction of Mitsubishi Motors.

The concept is intended to build on the Japanese automaker’s EV and all-wheel drive expertise, with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) taking it to a new level. Augmenting the driver’s capabilities, the AI system will deploy an array of sensors allowing it to instantly read changes in road and traffic conditions, as well as the driver’s intent. Coordinating driver intent with vehicle performance, Mitsubishi says the system will provide support to drivers by augmenting their abilities.

A special coaching function allows the AI system to educate the driver, constructing a training program that provides advice through voice dialogue and a large dashboard display.

Mitsubishi says this high-tech wizardry is designed to use voice recognition and natural-language processing to correctly understand what occupants are saying. In doing so, it will converse with them in natural-sounding language, even amid all the road noise.

The system allows the driver to voice-control functions such as climate control, wipers, headlights and more. It also provides vehicle status information, including any malfunction alerts, should they occur. Mitsubishi promises some of these features will be demonstrated during the vehicle’s display at the Tokyo Motor Show.

READ MORE: Honda Sports EV Concept To Appear in Tokyo

Using a trio of electric motors that Mitsubishi bills as “high-torque and high-performance,” the e-Evolution Concept has an all-wheel drive system. A single motor drives the front wheels while a dual-motor setup in the rear is electronically managed through an Active Yaw Control unit which is said to provide handling characteristics of a crisp and sharp nature.

Visual renderings of the e-Evolution Concept depict a rakish, wedge-shaped machine. Its crossover-esque profile has a dramatically sloped rear window and a dramatic character line along its flank. A passel of snazzy headlights lend an aggressive, futuristic look to the front end.

The e-Evolution Concept will be one of 12 Mitsubishi models on display at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show. It will be joined by the Japan market Eclipse Cross coupe SUV which is scheduled for its Japan launch early next year.

Press days for the 45th Tokyo Motor Show will be held on October 25th and 26th, opening to the general public on Oct. 28.

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NTSB Releases Final Report on Collision Involving Tesla Autopilot

The National Transportation Safety Board has published its final report on a fatal 2016 crash involving a Tesla Model S 70D which had its Autopilot engaged.

On the afternoon of May 7, 2016, a 2015 Tesla Model S 70D was being driven by 40-year old Joshua Brown on US Highway 27A in Florida. The car struck a semi which was making a left turn across the two oncoming lanes of traffic, shearing off the Tesla’s roof before coming to rest in the front yard of a private residence. Brown was killed; the truck driver was not injured.

In its report, the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the crash was the truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way to the Tesla, combined with the Tesla driver’s inattention due to over-reliance on vehicle automation. This second factor, asserts the NTSB, resulted in Brown’s lack of reaction to the presence of the truck.

READ MORE: Fatal Tesla Crash Involved Speed and Autopilot

Speaking directly to the use of this specific autonomous driving feature and how it is designed, the report stated that the operational design of Autopilot, which permitted prolonged disengagement from the driving task, contributed to the driver’s overreliance on vehicle automation. It went on to say that the design permitted use of the of automation inconsistent with guidance and warnings from the manufacturer.

The investigation focused on several different safety issues, including surrogate means of determining the automated vehicle driver’s level of engagement. The NTSB recommended, quite rightly, that manufacturers need to develop better ways of monitoring the attention level of a driver who is employing autonomous technology. Pressure-sensitive steering wheel sensors can theoretically be defeated by taping a water bottle to the wheel, for example.

From the report:

Although the operational design of the Tesla Autopilot requires an attentive driver as an integral system element, the Autopilot on the Williston crash vehicle allowed the driver to operate in the automated control mode for almost 6 minutes, during which the system did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. In fact, of the 37 minutes in which the Tesla driver operated the vehicle in the automated control mode during the crash trip, the system detected his hands on the steering wheel for only 25 seconds.

 

And:

Investigators found no indication in recorded vehicle data that the Tesla driver attempted to take any action (by braking or steering) to prevent crashing into the semitrailer or that he was even aware of the impending crash.

 

Better methods of monitoring driver engagement should be deployed, the report said, such as inward-facing cameras which track driver eye movement. GM’s new Super Cruise feature in the Cadillac CT6 employs this method, while Toyota has installed an eye-tracking system in some Lexus vehicles. Volvo has announced plans to use this type of technology in its Driver State Estimation system as well.

Christopher Hart, board member of the NTSB, added a statement to the report, drawing parallels between the current environment of emerging vehicle autonomy and the airline industry. GM’s new Super Cruise feature employs a version of this type of monitoring.

Mr. Hart goes on to take the name “Autopilot” itself to task, saying that while trained pilots know they still play a crucial role in controlling the plane even when autopilot is engaged, John Q. Public may erroneously conclude from Tesla’s naming of the feature that they need not pay any attention to the task of driving because all duties are being handled by autopilot.

The full report, spanning 53 pages, can be found on the NTSB website.

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New Report Etches a 2030 Date on the Gravestone of Internal Combustion Vehicles

A new study, released in September by the consulting arm of professional services powerhouse PwC, projects that nearly 95 percent of the world’s new cars will be either hybrid or full-electric by 2030.

Hot on the heels of news that legislatures in several countries are pushing for a future ban on vehicles powered by internal combustion, the consulting company Strategy& has published its sixth annual Digital Auto Report. In it, the authors strongly believe that electric vehicles will enter the mainstream by 2025, then quickly hoover up market share over the next five years.

Based on current trends and levels of investment, the group speculates that charging infrastructure in American, European, and Chinese markets will grow at an exponential rate over the next seven or eight years, leading to larger acceptance of all-electric cars.

They go on to say that there will be a price tipping point at around the same time in 2025, not unlike when new electronic technology enters mass production, pushing down the price and putting the gadget in the hands of ordinary consumers.

The combination of these expected developments, assert the report’s authors, will cause sales of new cars with internal combustion engines to dwindle faster than the number of recent games added to the LA Dodgers win column.

In the three markets mentioned above, the report estimates that hybrid and electric cars will account for about 6 out of every 10 new cars shuffling off dealer lots in the year 2025. By 2030, the report pegs that number at an astonishing 9 out of 10.

Driving this sharp shift to electrification is the report’s estimate that, sometime between 2025 and 2030, the cost of battery electric vehicle will fall below the cost of combustion engines. To be sure, many OEMs are aggressively plowing research and development dollars into electrification, issuing breathless press releases and showing off EV concept cars at auto shows worldwide.

READ MORE: Honda Urban EV Concept

A further driver of the expected electric proliferation is access to what this report calls “ZEZs” or Zero-Emission Zones. Most ZEZs will presumably be large areas of urban centres – such as the cores of London and Paris – which will be off-limits to any conveyance with an internal combustion engine. This is not a far-fetched assumption; several large cities have floated such an idea for future implementation.

We all know the day is coming when combustion-engined vehicles will be in the minority on our highways. The boffins at Strategy& have gone a step further, attempting to put some quantifiable measures to such predictions. The report, all 41 pages of it, can be found here.

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Honda Sports EV Concept to Appear in Tokyo

Today, Honda teased the internet with an image of its new Sports EV, set to make its debut at the Tokyo Auto Show in October.

A partial sketch of the Sports EV shows square taillights, a long hood, and sculpted rear fenders. The company promises “a striking silhouette, friendly face and supple body surfaces, all designed to ensure the car blends into any lifestyle.”

Honda said the development team designed this sporty electric car to deliver a “feeling of joy and emotional unity,” apparently achieved by combining an EV powerunit and AI technology in a compact bodyshape.

Peeking through the passenger-side window of the Sports EV sketch, one can see the corner of what may be part of an expansive display screen, perhaps similar to the unit shown in another EV concept recently shown by Honda at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September.

This is very exciting, as the Sports EV is the second vehicle in as many months with a retro vibe from the Japanese automaker. You’ll recall the Honda’s recent EV concept, the gloriously retro Urban EV, a compact EV whose styling recalling some fantastic Honda hatchbacks of the past and garnered an overwhelmingly positive response.

READ MORE: Honda Urban EV Concept at Frankfurt

Reading a bit into the “friendly face” choice of words, the Sports EV’s long-hood/short-deck stance shown in the teaser sketch, and the retro vibe of the Urban EV, this surprise zero-emissions car could take on some of the styling cues from the dearly-departed S2000.

No official production or pricing details were mentioned in the company’s official press release. It is logical to theorize the Sports EV may share a platform and powertrain with the Urban EV, the latter of which has been confirmed for production in 2019.

Along with this EV concept, Honda will also use the Tokyo show as an opportunity to make the Japanese debuts of the NeuV personal mobility concept and the all-new CRV, along with a range of Super Cub motorcycle models to celebrate the bike’s 60th anniversary.

 

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Ford Working with Mahindra (Again) to Explore Electric Cars & Other Technologies

Ford Motor Company and Mahindra Group have agreed to a strategic alliance that will explore electrification, connected vehicles, and other new technologies.

Teams from both companies will collaborate and work together for a period of up to three years. Any further strategic cooperation between the two companies will be decided at the end of that period, the companies said in a statement this morning.

“Ford is committed to India and this alliance can help us deliver the best vehicles and services to customers while profitably growing in the world’s fifth largest vehicle market,” said Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president and president of Global Markets.

The collaboration strengthens Ford’s commitment to India, while facilitating Mahindra’s expansion into other emerging global markets.

This is not the first time the two companies have worked together. Twenty years ago, when India opened up its car market to foreign investment, Ford and Mahindra worked on a variety of projects. That partnership ended in 2005.

For its part, Mahindra has its fingers in many pies, owning majority stake in Ssangyong Motor Company in Korea, venturing into the shared mobility space with investments in ride sharing platforms, and developing products like the GenZe – the world’s first electric connected scooter.

SEE ALSO: India May Soon Increase EV Incentives

With the arrival of Jim Hackett at the helm, the Blue Oval has realigned some of its priorities, such as shifting production of the Ford Focus from Mexico to China and reaffirming the expected expenditure of $4.5 billion to introduce 18 new hybrids and EVs over the next five years.

Former boss Mark Fields had put the company’s Indian business under review. Three months ago, General Motors announced it was halting sales in the Indian market. Since June of this year, Ford has sold an average of 20,000 cars a month on the subcontinent.

India’s automotive market is expected to experience rapid growth, estimated to rank behind only China and the U.S. in terms of sales by the year 2020.

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Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Set to Launch a Dozen EVs by 2022

Leveraging economies of scale, the partnership of Renault-Nissan plans to expand their electric car offerings, according to a new strategic plan outlined this week.

Following Renault-Nissan’s Fall 2016 acquisition of Mitsubishi, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan CEO and chairman of Mitsubishi, announced the company’s Alliance 2022 plan in Paris on Friday. Aiming to maintain its position as an EV powerhouse while taking the lead on autonomous and connected-car technologies, the new plan calls for no fewer than a dozen new full-electric vehicles by the calendar year 2022.

“We are going to use the scale we have to build more competitive advantages for the future,” Ghosn said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “The big guys are going to have a big advantage in this situation.”

READ MORE: 8 Things You Need To Know About the 2018 Nissan Leaf

Echoing plans from manufacturers like VW who plan to use the same platform across multiple brands and nameplates, the Alliance said a new platform will provide the underpinnings for an entire future generation of electric cars. The next Nissan Leaf (not the new model introduced this year) and Renault Zoe EVs will both use this platform.

Those 12 full-electric vehicles mentioned above that are due by 2022? They will utilize common platforms and components across all three Alliance brands. This, believes the Alliance, will lead to substantial savings through a manufacturer’s best friend: economies of scale.

Another common platform will reportedly be developed for midsize vehicles, adding to the current Common Module Family architecture presently in the Alliance’s wheelhouse. Mitsubishi, a new partner in the Renault-Nissan alliance, is said to be gaining access to this platform by the year 2020.

Renault-Nissan know what they’re talking about when it comes to EVs. The first-generation Nissan Leaf remains the world’s highest-production electric car today. More than a quarter-million copies have been sold since December 2010.

The Renault Zoe, a hatchback one size smaller than the Leaf, is Europe’s best-selling electric car. It uses largely separate underpinnings than the Leaf, helping to explain the Alliance’s excitement about the Leaf and Zoe sharing a platform.

As of December 2016, the Alliance is the world’s leading plug-in electric vehicle manufacturer, with global sales since 2010 of almost 425,000 pure electric vehicles, including those manufactured by Mitsubishi Motors who is now part of the Alliance.

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Audi Elaine Concept Car: Real and Spectacular

Audi Elaine is an electric-powered SUV coupe that, says the automaker, will allow for highly automated motoring even without a driver on board.

The German company wants us to focus on the AI part of the Elaine name – ElAIne, if you will. Drivers will park the Audi in a designated area (the “handover zone”) and exit the vehicle, leaving the car to drive itself into a multistory parking garage offering a variety of services such as a car wash and charging posts. Thanks to Audi AI, drivers can allow the car to dance like no one’s watching.

If you think you’ve seen the Audi Elaine before, you’re correct. The exterior of the concept car debuted just a few months ago at Auto Shanghai in China, as the E-Tron Sportback. This car is a foreshadow to the second production all-electric vehicle from Audi. With attractive lines, distinctive lighting tricks, and a futuristic appeal, it is definitely spongeworthy.

The concept car’s lighting technology is said to be visible both at day and night. Digitally controlled LED units at the front and rear make for a powerful light source. Its projectors are able to mark on the road ahead, turning light into a channel of communication with the car’s surroundings. Other road users can be informed of the various driving modes, for example, such as when the vehicle is driving autonomously.

For its propulsion, the Elaine uses a configuration that Audi will use in future production models with all-electric drive. One electric motor will be placed on the front axle, while two more power the rear wheels. Power is sent to all four corners, yadda yadda yadda, and drivers will enjoy quattro levels of grip.

READ MORE: Audi “Musk-Have” Billboard Ad

The system is said to make 429 horsepower, with a ‘boost mode’ cranking the juice up to nearly 500 horsepower. The battery’s is 95 kilowatt-hour unit, with Audi optimistically pegging its range in excess of 310 miles. There are two options for charging the battery: a wired fast charging function at 150 kW or wireless charging via the Audi Wireless Charging system.

A simplified interior is bright with its functions clearly structured, reducing the control elements by way of expansive touchscreens. These surfaces abound, mounted below the central display, on the center console, and even on the door trim. All of them supply information and interface with the car’s on-board systems. The car is about sixteen feet long, with a height and width putting it very close in size to Audi’s own A7.

Audi says it plans to introduce the Elaine in 2019, probably as a 2020 model. It will not be available in the J Peterman catalog.

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Honda Urban EV Concept Shown at Frankfurt Motor Show

Honda has revealed an new all-electric vehicle called the Urban EV Concept.

Built on a completely new platform which may underpin future battery-electric models, the concept was introduced in a speech by Honda Motor Co. President and CEO, Takahiro Hachigo.

“This is not some vision of the distant future; a production version of this car will be here in Europe in 2019,” he added, confirming that the concept is set to be launched within two years.

Honda’s Urban EV Concept has low and wide proportions, give it a planted stance that hints at sporty driving performance. Its compact proportions mean it has a total vehicle length 100 mm shorter than the Jazz supermini, setting a design trend that will appear on a future battery electric Honda production models. It also is evocative of certain late-70s Honda hatchbacks.

The Honda emblem on its nose is backlit, a styling flourish said to be a harbinger of what will be found on the company’s future EVs. Apparently, the grille area is able to display words, such as the Urban EV’s charging status or a phrase written by the driver including – as phrased by Honda – “advice for other drivers on the road”. Our mind swims with possibilities.

READ MORE: Honda Opens Advanced Charging Stations in Germany

The cabin seats four people and is said to create a “lounge atmosphere” with its natural grey upholstery and contemporary wood-finish accents. A trick floating dashboard spans the width of the interior, topped with an IMAX-sized display screen.

Powertrain details are scarce, but Honda promised a new approach for managing energy transfers between the grid, homes, and electric vehicles. The possibility of revenue generating opportunities for EV owners in the future was previewed by way of Honda’s Power Manager Concept, revealed alongside the Urban EV Concept. It is a smart system able to store energy more efficiently, releasing electricity generated by renewable sources back into the home or selling it back to the grid.

Volkswagen has made a lot of noise about their I.D. series of vehicles, saying its platform will be the basis for a whole host of EVs. It would seem that Honda is deploying a similar strategy, with the Urban EV’s platform spawning several future electric vehicles.

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Diesel After-Party: VW to Invest Heavily in Electric Cars

Seeking to create a mass market for EVs, Volkswagen is ramping up its investment in electric technology, planning to invest more than $24 billion in zero-emission vehicles over the next 10 to 12 years.

In a statement yesterday, VW explained it expects to introduce up to 80 new electric cars by the year 2025, a nearly three-fold increase from its previous plans. This number includes nameplates across its multi-brand group, which includes marques such as Audi and SEAT.

The world’s largest automaker has said it wants to offer an electric version of each of its models by 2030. This would be a huge undertaking, as the Volkswagen Group currently has nearly 300 models spread across its vast empire. Alert readers will recognize this means Lamborghinis and Bentleys will eventually be stuffed with electrons, assuming VW maintains control of those brands.

Until the diesel debacle exploded in September 2015, VW had been behind the eight-ball in offering electric cars. Having spent years betting the house on its fleet of oil burners, the company’s EV portfolio was decidedly slim. Now, seismic shifts are happing within the organization as Wolfsburg ramps up zero-emission development.

READ MORE: VW Gives Green Light to I.D. Buzz Microbus

Speaking to reporters ahead of the Frankfurt Motor Show, CEO Matthias Mueller emphasized his company’s desire to lead the electric charge, not follow behind the developments of others.

Volkswagen’s initial EV on its new MEB platform will likely be based on the I.D. Crozz concept, shown recently at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Playing a huge role in VW’s recently unveiled “roadmap E” plan, the new MEB modular platform will underpin all mass-market electric vehicles across its group. A Golf-sized model with an expected range of over 350 miles of driving range is due to be built in the year 2020.

This onslaught of electric vehicles from Wolfsburg reflects plans announced by other German manufacturers ahead of this week’s auto show in Frankfurt. BMW has detailed its plan to build dedicated EV factories, while Daimler reiterated its commitment to plug electric motors into all its vehicles by 2022.

VW says it hopes to have 23 fully electric cars in its lineup by 2025.

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Sky’s the Limit: Lilium, a Flying Car Company, Raises $90 Million

A German aviation startup developing the world’s first all-electric jet capable of vertical takeoff and landing announced today it has raised $90 million in a new round of funding.

Lilium’s five-passenger all-electric air taxi comes as interest in traffic-defying electric cars continues to grow. To this end, Lilium aims to bring low cost air travel to a mass audience by moving people up to 187 miles in one hour on a single electric charge at a price comparable to ground transport.

READ MORE: Google’s Larry Page Backing Flying Car Startups

Investment in the venture, comprised of funds from multiple backers, will be used for the the jet’s development, in addition to growing the company’s employee ranks beyond its current team of 70 people. With the new funds, Lilium’s hyper-efficient, zero emission, low-noise passenger jet is now in accelerated development.

Founded in 2015 by a group of academics at the Technical University of Munich, Lilium has grown from its founding quartet to a company of more than 70 engineers, tasked with developing and building the world’s first fully electric vertical take-off and landing jet. With this round of funding, Lilium has raised more than $100 million of capital in 24 months.

The electric jet engines are said to be highly efficient and ultra-low noise, allowing it to operate in densely populated urban areas, while also covering longer distances at high speed with zero emissions.

In April, a smaller two-seat Eagle prototype of the Lilium Jet successfully completed its maiden test flight series in the skies above Bavaria. It executed a range of complex maneuvers, including its signature mid-air transition from hover mode to wing-borne forward flight.

The aircraft accomplishes this trick with multiple engine flaps which tilt from a vertical to horizontal position depending on the Jet’s flight mode. Flaps are vertical during take-off, allowing the engines to lift the machine. Once in the air, the flaps transition slowly to a horizontal orientation, allowing the craft to accelerate until sufficient lift is provided by just the wings.

Having gotten its proof-of-concept off the ground, the company says this newest investment will be used for the development of the five-seat Lilium Jet that is intended for commercial flight duties.

With the jet requiring no significant infrastructure, Lilium plans to bring high speed transportation services to both small cities and large city centers. Plans call for an Uber-like interface, allowing users the ability to deploy an app and summon a Lilium Jet air taxi to the nearest landing pad.

READ MORE: Uber Planning to Roll Out Flying Car Service

Lilium is one of several companies seeking to break into the flying car market, including efforts being financed by Google co-founder Larry Page, Airbus, and Uber. However, Lilium seeks to stand out – as if building a flying car isn’t unique enough – by focusing its efforts on electric propulsion and vertical take-off and landing abilities.

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Honda CR-V Hybrid Prototype Set For Frankfurt Debut

Shopping for a compact crossover with a hybrid powertrain? Honda may soon have an answer for you.

The Japanese automaker is set to unveil its CR-V Hybrid Prototype at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, previewing the popular crossover’s electrified powertrain. While this Hybrid Prototype is technically a pre-production version of a model planned for Europe, it does provide significant clues as to future Honda offerings in North America.

The compact crossover market is set to be awash with hybrid powertrains in 2018 and with American consumers steadily moving toward crossovers as their vehicle of choice, an electrified CR-V in American showrooms seems like a logical step.

The CR-V Hybrid Prototype deploys an Accord-Hybrid-derived Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive system, dubbed i-MMD. It is comprised of a 2.0-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder gasoline engine for electrical energy generation and propulsion, an electric propulsion motor, and a separate electric generator motor.

The i-MMD system determines how to use fuel and electrical energy most efficiently, meaning there is no requirement on the driver to adjust between the three driving modes. Honda has called the three modes EV Drive, Hybrid Drive, and Engine Drive.

In EV Drive, the propulsion motor draws its power solely from the batteries, delivering zero-emissions driving. When set to Hybrid Drive, the gasoline engine supplies power to the electric generator motor, which in turn delivers power to the electric propulsion motor. In this mode, excess power from the gasoline engine is diverted back via the generator motor to recharge the battery pack. In Engine Drive, the wheels are directly driven by the gasoline engine, with an ‘on-demand’ boost available from the electric propulsion motor.

READ MORE: Honda Reveals CR-V Hybrid in China

Uniquely, Honda’s hybrid system does not use a conventional transmission, instead utilizing its electric motor drive as a virtual transmission enabling a smooth transfer of torque.

Toyota already offers an electrified version of its RAV4 which, it should be noted, currently outsells the aging, but more-efficient Prius c and Prius v. Ford has recently committed to stuffing the Escape full of electrons. Nissan is joining the party with a Rogue Hybrid.

Honda has previously stated that it intends to have a full two-thirds of its fleet electrified in one form or another by the year 2030. The CR-V Hybrid is scheduled to go on sale in European markets early next year.

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Tesla Announces Price Cuts

Tesla has decreased prices for the 100D and P100D variants of its Model S sedan and Model X crossover SUV.

Saying its most expensive products are more efficient, the sticker reduction amounts to roughly 3.5 percent on each model. Specifically, the Model S 100D has been reduced by $3,500 to $94,000. The performance version of the Model S, the P100D with Ludicrous mode, sees a $5,000 cut to a new price of $135,000.

Shopping for a Model X? Tesla has you covered there, too. Its Model X 100D also experiences a $3,500 reduction and now starts at $96,000. Hot rod customers seeking a speed fix in Tesla’s Model X P100D with Ludicrous mode will save $5,000 with its new price of $140,000.

The new prices are currently shown on the Build and Price tool of Tesla’s website, which promises late October delivery for a custom-ordered Model S or Model X. The price drop will apply to new buyers and existing 100D/P100D buyers who have not yet taken delivery of their new Tesla. A similar price cut of $3,500 was applied to the Model X 75D earlier this year.

A Model X P100D is billed as the world’s fastest accelerating production SUV, using its Ludicrous Speed upgrade and all-wheel drive to hammer its way to 60 mph in less than three seconds. The same powertrain pushes the Model S P100D to 60 mph even more quickly, while promising a range of over 300 miles on a single charge of its 100kWh battery.

It would appear from these pricing changes that Tesla is enjoying significant economies of scale at its Gigafactory in Nevada. As the cost of producing lithium-ion batteries decreases, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we will see more price cuts in the future.

Putting on our speculation hats while shamelessly stoking the rumor mill, these price reductions may also be in response to the potential evaporating of federal EV tax credits.

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Details Emerge On Ford’s Future Plug-in Car Plans

More information has come forth on Ford’s ongoing plans to develop and launch all-electirc cars, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids.

According to sources “with knowledge of Ford’s product plans,” speaking to Automotive News, next up from the Dearborn automaker will be a plug-in hybrid version of the Escape crossover as the first of a cadre of EVs and plug-in hybrids to be slowly unleashed between now and 2021.

The plug-in hybrid version of the popular Escape is reportedly planned for 2019 and given the platform similarities between the Escape and Lincoln MKC, it makes sense to speculate a plug-in variant of the luxury crossover will be offered as well.

In the small-crossover vehicle market, Toyota currently offers a hybrid version of the RAV4 and Honda showed a CR-V Hybrid at the Shanghai Auto Show this year. There has been much consumer interest in these types of vehicles, and Toyota’s sales have climbed ahead of former top-selling Prius variants.

Ford started to sell an Escape Hybrid in 2004 but canceled the model in 2012, blaming anemic sales before shifting its hybrid attention to the then-new C-Max model.

The Blue Oval brand has proven its ability to successfully market and sell hybrid vehicles, pointing to the success of the C-Max and the solid take-rate on its Energi models which are plug-in hybrid variants of the Focus and Fusion.

To date, Ford has announced the intended production of seven future electrified models, including a hybrid sedan for police fleets and a hybrid Mustang. Striking fear in the hearts of truck purists nationwide, an F-150 hybrid is reportedly in the works as well.

More importantly, the company has also announced an unnamed Bolt competitor in the form of an all-electric small SUV with a 300-mile range. In a nod to Ford’s history – and to the chagrin of Tesla which also wanted the name for the Model 3 – it’ll likely be called the Model E.

READ MORE: Ford Confirms 300-Mile Range Electric SUV

When Jim Hackett was installed as Ford’s CEO back in May of this year, he promised to review product plans. At the time, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford described Mr. Hackett as a “change agent.” Viewed through that lens, the introduction of these new models should surprise no one.

Speaking to the industry publication Automotive News, Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive, pointed out that Ford is at a strategic critical crossroads. “You don’t want to go all in on EVs at this point because that’s not going to pay the bills and keep the lights on today, but you also don’t want to get behind,” elaborated Mr. Schuster.

Adding the speculated electric variants to the formally announced models, Ford could potentially have more than a dozen models in the EV and plug-in hybrid market by 2020.

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Next Volkswagen Scirocco May Be a Hot EV

Volkswagen is envisioning a new Scirocco, reimagined as a sporty two-door EV coupe.

A few days ago, we brought you news of VW’s I.D. Buzz, a vehicle built on the all-electric MEB platform. Now, we learn of an upcoming Scirocco may be built on it as well.

Speaking to the folks at AutoExpress, Frank Welsch, R&D director at VW, has revealed some key aspects which would have to remain in order for the new all-electric hatchback to earn the Scirocco moniker.

“For me, we can only use [Scirocco] for a sporty two-door coupe,” Welsch said in an AutoExpress interview. “We are not clear on how we will do such a car, and are thinking whether we do an interesting concept based on our electric platform; this could be a great and fun car. We are thinking about options for a new small coupe. We are working on a concept for emotional cars. Volkswagen always has an offer for emotional cars.”

SEE ALSO: Buzzworthy: VW Confirms I.D. Buzz Van for 2022

If it makes production, there is the chance of a few different powertrains, ranging from a 170 horsepower variant all the way up to a 300 horsepower model featuring twin electric motors providing all-wheel drive.

Range is expected to be between 200 and 375 miles, depending on trim level, though this estimate is under a more liberal and unrealistic European standard.

The potential Scirocco is not planned for production until at least 2020. The current model is a fantastic take on the more conventional Golf and offered in a variety of trims ranging from a 123 horsepower base model to a smoking 276 horsepower R version.

Making the switch to EV propulsion will certainly change the nameplate’s direction, given that past Sciroccos have been less practical but stylish variants of other hatchbacks in the VW lineup. As we’ve seen umpteen times from several different manufacturers in recent years, however, there is no need for electric cars to be boring. An EV Scirocco would be an excellent addition to the fleet.

The first vehicle to be released on the MEB platform is a Golf-sized hatchback planned for the 2020 year. We imagine that if an MEB-based Scirocco does appear, it will do so at least a couple of years later.

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