Electrics in the Real World
PLUGGING in to refuel, rather than topping off a tank, is a new reality
addressed in the displays of many automakers at this year’s North
American International Auto Show.
The plugs, cords and charging units meant to replenish the batteries of
purely electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are prominent among the
carmakers’ displays here, offering a preview of how car companies will
prepare their customers for the 21st-century equivalent of the gasoline
Though driving distance on a full charge continued to be a prime talking
point at each new model introduction, the news conferences during the
press preview days last week also gave considerable attention to
recharge times and crash safety of electric vehicles.
Ford Motor, which displayed its pure-electric Focus here, was among the
makers working to shorten recharge times. Sherif Marakby, director of
electrification engineering, said the company’s vehicles would charge in
about half the time needed by cars like the Volt or Nissan Leaf — a feat
made possible by an onboard 6.6-kilowatt charger and by work the company
had done to ensure that its charging cycle would not damage the battery.
Ford says its battery pack will be good for at least 10 years and will
withstand a minimum of 5,000 rapid charge cycles. For its
first-generation electrics, Ford intends to limit rapid charging to 240
volts of alternating current, a level known as C2, rather than moving to
the higher-voltage C3 direct-current charging. Customers will be able to
get the 240-volt Ford-branded rapid charger installed for about $1,500.
Volkswagen’s plug-in Golf, scheduled for production in 2013, will also
offer a fast-fill plan. The car, called the Blue-e-Motion, will have a
recharge time of 3.5 hours on 240-volt A.C., or a half-hour charge to 80
percent using high-power D.C., said Sven-Oliver Mündermann of VW’s
research and development department. Fast charging can prematurely age
the cells, so VW won’t recommend using it daily, he said.
Cars that keep tabs on their drivers seem certain to be part of the plan
for electric motoring in the future. The VW Golf monitors the driver
and, if power-saving cues seem to be missed, can take action on its own.
It also gives the driver options to trade comfort for range with a
switch that limits interior heating or cooling, and with paddle shifters
that let the driver select the degree of regenerative braking.
And the electric version of the Ford Focus will be similarly watchful,
automatically developing driver profiles based on drive-by-drive
information recorded by the vehicle’s key fob. That profile of driving
habits and techniques will be used to help estimate how many miles of
In a venture Ford has arranged with MapQuest, route choices can be
evaluated so that a series of errands will not maroon the driver far
from home, said Ed Pleet, manager for connected services at Ford Motor.
Destinations displayed in green are a go, while yellow warns that it
might be a stretch to complete the round trip.
Whether electric vehicles are as safe as conventional cars, which have
been extensively crash-tested for decades, is a question many
prospective E.V. buyers can be expected to ask. Volvo’s display at the
show includes a crash-tested electric C30 model to show what happens in
a 40-mile-per-hour impact.
“We found the battery packs need to be mounted in the car away from the
crumple zones that are designed to absorb energy and deform on impact,”
said Stefan Jacoby, chief executive of Volvo Cars.
Volvo’s battery development partner, Ener1, designed a “split battery”
system for the car, with half of the battery in the central tunnel
between the seats and the other half under the rear seats. The C30 was
crashed at Volvo’s Gothenburg, Sweden, laboratory last month, with a
fully charged lithium-ion battery. The batteries and the cables remained
intact, Volvo reported.
A test fleet of C30 electric vehicles will go into service during 2011
in Europe, Asia and the United States.
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