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Posts Tagged ‘Honda’

ALAN OHNSMAN and MAKIKO KITAMURA, Bloomberg, August 12, 2009

honda-clarityHonda Motor Co. is backing hydrogen power for the cars of the future, a stance at odds with the Obama administration’s decision to drop automotive fuel-cell technology in favor of battery-run vehicles.

“Fuel-cell cars will become necessary,” said Takashi Moriya, head of Tokyo-based Honda’s group developing the technology. “We’re positioning it as the ultimate zero-emission car.”

Honda, the only carmaker leasing fuel-cell autos to individuals, opened a production line last year in Tochigi prefecture to make 200 FCX Clarity sedans. The Energy Department sought to eliminate hydrogen-station funding and instead lend $1.6 billion to Nissan Motor Co. and $465 million to Tesla Motors Inc. to build electric cars, and give $2.4 billion in grants to lithium-ion battery makers.

“Honda has a propensity to think very long term,” said Ed Kim, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, California. “It’s also part of the company culture that if they’ve made a decision they think is correct, they’ll really stick with it.”

Honda isn’t alone. Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG, General Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. say hydrogen, the universe’s most abundant element, is among the few options to replace oil as a low-carbon transportation fuel.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in May his department would “be moving away” from hydrogen as it’s unlikely the U.S. can convert to the fuel even after 20 years. Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn predicts battery cars may grab 10% of global auto sales by 2020. Honda hasn’t announced plans for a battery-electric car.

Fuel Costs

Hydrogen, made mainly for industrial use from natural gas, costs about $5 to $10 per kilogram for vehicles in California, more than double an equivalent amount of gasoline. Fuel-cell cars also have at least double the efficiency of gasoline models, with Clarity averaging 60 miles per kilogram.

The Energy Department estimates future prices for hydrogen will fall to $2 to $3 a kilogram, Toyota said on Aug. 6.

The fuel can also be made from solar and wind power and even human waste.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said Aug. 5 his company plans consumer sales of fuel-cell cars within six years. Toyota, like Honda, is making “exponential progress” with the technology, Justin Ward, manager of Toyota’s U.S. advanced powertrain program, said in an interview.

Battery cars are further along in the market. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. started selling the i-MiEV last month. Tesla sells the $109,000 Roadster and Nissan unveiled its electric Leaf this month, with sales to start in Japan and the U.S. next year.

Fueling Time

Honda says hydrogen vehicles match the refueling style drivers are used to: filling up in minutes at a service station. Nissan’s Leaf recharges fully in 30 minutes with a fast-charger, or up to 16 hours on a household outlet, said Tetsuro Sasaki, senior manager of Nissan’s battery test group.

A budget crisis slowed plans for more hydrogen stations in California, home to the biggest fleet of cars using the fuel. At the federal level, Chu sought $333.3 million in May for battery and advanced gasoline autos in the 2010 budget, up 22%. Hydrogen funds were cut 60% to $68 million, slashing money that would have gone to transportation projects.

The Clarity is available in the U.S. only in Los Angeles, where drivers can use as many as 16 hydrogen stations. The 5-passenger car has a top speed of 100 miles an hour and goes 240 miles (386 kilometers), more than double the 100-mile range of Nissan’s compact electric car. Through July, Honda leased cars to 10 drivers for $600 a month.

Filling Stations

The need for a network of hydrogen filling stations is a problem.

“We cannot do infrastructure alone,” said Moriya. “We’ve been developing the cars on our own without government support.”

The Senate and House voted in July to restore the funds. President Barack Obama must approve the final budget.

Honda and Toyota will have to reduce production costs to win over consumers. Fuel cells need platinum — a precious metal that costs more than $1,200 an ounce — and current durability is half that of gasoline engines, according to Moriya.

Honda plans to offer hydrogen-fueled cars at prices comparable to midsize gasoline autos by 2020, down from a company estimate that Clarity’s 2005 hand-built predecessor cost about $1 million. Moriya wouldn’t discuss the Clarity’s price.

Expensive Platinum

Honda engineers in Tochigi are trying to trim costs. For 13 months, technicians have worked in a semiconductor-style clean- room, coating rolls of plastic film for fuel-cell membranes. Nearby, a press stamps stainless-steel plates that will grip the material. Hundreds of the cells are then sealed in a metal case, forming the fuel-cell stack.

Honda’s hydrogen push has been undermined by plunging sales in the U.S., its main market. Last quarter, profit at Japan’s second-largest carmaker fell 96% to 7.5 billion yen ($79 million). Its research budget is 515 billion yen this fiscal year, down 8.5%. Funds for fuel cells were cut and some spending shifted to other “priorities,” Moriya said, without elaborating.

Honda probably spends “a few tens of billions of yen” a year on fuel cells, said analyst Mamoru Kato at Tokai Tokyo Research Center in Nagoya.

“Maybe, just maybe, fuel cells will be the future,” said Edwin Merner, who helps manage about $3 billion at Atlantis Investment Research in Tokyo. “And if you’re not in there, then you have a big disadvantage.”

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KARA GILMOUR, NewsOXY.com, July 26, 2009

honda-hybrid-carsHonda electric vehicles will expand further on the hybrid idea offering consumers more of a variety from popular post-conventional concept vehicles.

The new 2010 Honda Hybrid Cars will provide consumers with better options for electric and fuel cell technologies. What is more important is that these new automobiles will deliver better mileage than we see today. Some of the vehicles will be slated as 2011 models but will release in early and late 2010.

2010 Hybrid Cars

New fuel-efficient vehicles are continuing to grow in popular demand. Recent gas prices are steering more consumers towards automobiles that achieve a minimum of 35 miles per gallon. However, automakers are in a race to deliver 50+ miles per gallon vehicles for next year.

Honda has major plans to compete in the growing fuel-efficient market by taking some of its popular conventional vehicles and converting them into new fuel efficient alternatives. While the Honda Civic has already been on the market as an alternative fuel automobile, the automaker wants to use its current engineering built in the 2010 Insight. Some of the features include longer battery life and a leaner, but more powerful, gasoline engine.

Insight Interactive Dashboard Components

The dashboard in the Honda Insight has also been popular. Honda wants to migrate some of the dashboard components into the Honda Fit and the upcoming Civic. The interactive dashboard assists the driver to achieve better mileage by scoring driving habits that increase fuel economy. It is not known if the dash will be in the new FCX Clarity.

Honda FCX Clarity

Honda also wants to offer consumers a 75 mpg rating with its FCX Clarity. This is a car that runs on electric and hydrogen fuel. The automobile is 20% more fuel efficient and has a powertrain that is 45% more compact.

In addition, the car is about 10% energy efficiency. Skeptics believe the vehicle might be ahead of its time due to questions on how to refuel the vehicle. There are also safety concerns but Honda has already developed measures to deactivate the hydrogen tanks in the event of a collision.

Electric Alternative Vehicles

Even so, there are more consumers hoping for electric alternative transportation. Full hybrids already use a combination of gasoline and battery to power the electric motor. Consumers are hoping for a complete electric option that will allow drivers to recharge the battery using a standard home outlet.

These vehicles are built for short range driving because of the electric battery. The automobiles can be powered by a battery at slower speeds. These speeds are usually between 35 to 47 mph.

Unfortunately, the battery is limited on the amount of energy it can store, which is why most of these vehicles use a gas engine to help with the recharge. The auto industry right now isn’t quite ready for a total electric solution, but it is getting close. There are several advancements with batteries that could change the way we refuel our automobiles by 2012.

Auto Industry

You have to admit that while the auto industry has been kicked to the curb by the recession, they sure are coming out with new ideas. Perhaps it was the recession and the 2008 gas prices that got things moving again. There is a lot that will happen soon and those 2010 Honda hybrid cars are only the beginning.

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CLIFFORD KRAUSS, The New York Times, August 30, 2008

SALT LAKE CITY — The best deal on fuel in the country right now might be here in Utah, where people are waiting in lines to pay the equivalent of 87 cents a gallon. Demand is so strong at rush hour that fuel runs low, and some days people can pump only half a tank.

It is not gasoline they are buying for their cars, but natural gas.

By an odd confluence of public policy and private initiative, Utah has become the first state in the country to experience broad consumer interest in the idea of running cars on clean natural gas.

Residents of the state are hunting the Internet and traveling the country to pick up used natural gas cars at auctions. They are spending thousands of dollars to transform their trucks and sport utility vehicles to run on compressed gas. Some fueling stations that sell it to the public are so busy they frequently run low on pressure, forcing drivers to return before dawn when demand is down.

It all began when unleaded gasoline rose above $3.25 a gallon last year, and has spiraled into a frenzy in the last few months.

Ron Brown, Honda’s salesman here for the Civic GX, the only car powered by natural gas made by a major automaker in the country, has sold one out of every four of the 800 cars Honda has made so far this year, and he has a pile of 330 deposit slips in his office, each designating a customer waiting months for a new car.

“It’s nuts,” Mr. Brown said. “People are buying these cars from me and turning around and selling them as if they were flipping real estate.”

Advocates for these cars see Mr. Brown’s brisk sales as a sign that natural gas could become the transport fuel of the future, replacing much of the oil the nation imports. While that remains a distant dream, big increases recently in the country’s production of natural gas do raise the possibility of making wider use of the fuel.

To a degree, it is already starting to happen in Utah, where the cost savings have gotten the public’s attention. Natural gas is especially cheap here, so that people spend about 87 cents for a quantity of gas sufficient to propel a car approximately the same distance as a $3.95 gallon of gasoline.

The word about natural gas cars has been spreading in news reports and by word of mouth, and so many people in Utah are now trying to get their hands on used natural gas vehicles that they are drying up the national supply. Used car lots are stocking up, and beginning to look like county government parking lots with multiple lines of identical white Civic GXs once used in out-of-state fleets.

Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. got into the act last year, spending $12,000 out of his own pocket to convert his state sport utility vehicle to run on natural gas. “We can create a model that others can look to,” Mr. Huntsman said in an interview. “Every state in America can make this a reality.”

In fact, some unique factors apply in Utah. Natural gas prices at the pump here are controlled and are the cheapest in the country, while the price of conventional gasoline is one of the highest. Questar Gas, the public utility, has compressed-gas pumps around the state open to the public, a fueling infrastructure that few states can match.

Special factors or not, the sudden popularity of natural gas vehicles here demonstrates their potential, according to advocates like T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oil billionaire who is financing a national campaign promoting wind power and natural gas to replace imported oil. “Utah shows that the technology is here and the fuel works and the fuel is better than foreign oil,” Mr. Pickens said.

Natural gas cars produce at least 20% less greenhouse gas per mile than regular cars, according to a California study.

No official figures are available on how many natural gas vehicles Utah has, in part because so many people go to garages that install conversion kits that are not certified by the EPA and are therefore illegal.

(Governor Huntsman has expressed concern, and some in the installation business have requested that the EPA close down the unauthorized operations; the agency says it does not comment on possible investigations.)

But Questar estimates the number at 6,000 and growing by several hundred a month. That is small compared with the 2.7 million vehicles registered in the state, but natural gas executives and state government officials say it makes Utah the fastest-growing market in the country for such cars.

Cars fueled by compressed natural gas have been available intermittently in the United States for decades, and have found wide use in fleets, but have never attracted much consumer interest. The situation is markedly different abroad. Of the eight million natural gas vehicles operating worldwide, only about 116,000 were in the United States, mostly as fleet vans, buses and cars, according to a 2006 Energy Department estimate.

Congress mandated the use of fleets capable of using alternative fuel cars for governments and some energy companies in the early 1990s, but public interest petered out as gasoline prices plummeted. Over the years, all the major car companies except Honda dropped their production in the United States.

The cars have two major disadvantages — a shortage of fueling stations and limited range. (A typical natural gas car goes half as far on a full tank as a gasoline car.) Utah is one of the few states where a driver can travel across the state without being out of range of a station.

The situation is a Catch-22: Carmakers do not want to make natural gas cars when few filling stations are set up for them, and few stations want to install expensive equipment to compress gas with so few cars on the road.

Hundreds of stations supply compressed gas in a few states like California, New York and Arizona, but most are either closed to the public or charge only modestly less than regular gasoline prices.

Retail natural gas prices in some states are triple the price in Utah. The only state that comes close to Utah’s low gas prices is Oklahoma, and a surge of natural gas car buying is going on there, too.

The natural gas industry and some politicians are pushing to open up the market to gas-powered vehicles across the country. Even in states without fueling stations, a few drivers have switched by spending several thousand dollars to install a home gas compressor.

A proposal on the ballot in California this fall would allow the state to sell $5 billion in bonds to finance rebates of $2,000 and more to buyers of natural gas vehicles. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to offer more tax credits to producers and consumers and mandate the installation of gas pumps in certain service stations, with the goal of making natural gas cars 10% of the nation’s vehicle fleet over the next decade.

“If the incentives are right and the fuel and cars are available, natural gas can work,” said Gordon Larsen, supervisor for natural gas vehicle operations at Questar Gas. But he said that any drop in gasoline prices douses enthusiasm among drivers considering the switch.

With gasoline hovering just below $4 a gallon for unleaded regular here, interest in the Salt Lake City area is strong.

Questar reports that the volume of natural gas pumped at its 21 filling stations is up 240% this year from last, after a 50% rise in 2007. Demand has grown so fast that the compressors at many of Questar’s stations run low during the day, forcing drivers to settle for half a tank or fill up during off-peak hours.

The natural gas car surge in Utah is because of several factors. Questar has had filling pumps around the state to fuel its own fleet of service vehicles since the 1980s, and because it had excess capacity, it opened those stations to the public. Natural gas prices are cheap because under Utah regulations, the utility is obliged to offer about half of the gas that it sells to its retail customers at the cost of production.

The state and a few municipalities are preparing to open more filling stations. If the trend continues, it could eventually lower the environmental impact of driving in Utah.

For now, demand for compressed-gas cars is outstripping supply.

“People get into a frenzy and they just have to buy,” said Rick Oliver, owner of a company that converts vehicles. He said that in a recent online auction, a Utah buyer paid $19,000 for a 2001 Civic GX with 50,000 miles — the price a buyer of a new GX would pay after state and federal tax credits.

Gary Frederickson, a 48-year-old computer technician, has bought six natural gas vehicles on Craigslist over the last year, flying as far as Portland and Oakland to pick up the cars. One 1998 Ford Contour he bought for $3,000 in effect cost him nothing because he will receive a $3,000 state tax credit for buying an alternative fuel car.

“It’s crazy to be in Utah and have access to 85-cent-a-gallon fuel and not take advantage of it,” he said before a recent 2-cent increase.

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CHUCK SQUATRIGLIA, Autopia at Wired, June 12, 2008

Volkswagen’s hydrogen fuel cell Tiguan made its North American debut today, and it’s a pretty slick bit of kit even if it won’t appear in showrooms anytime soon, if at all.

Although the company was also showing off its upcoming diesel Jetta TDI and talking a lot about the TDI Cup diesel racing series it sponsors, the Tiguan HyMotion was clearly the star of the show. It’s an advancement over the HyMotion Touran it replaces, but company officials made it clear they aren’t betting on hydrogen alone to save us.

“There isn’t one technology, one fuel, that will provide the answer,” John Tillman, who leads VW’s advanced powertrain division in the U.S, told Wired.com. “We have multiple technologies. This is just one of them.”

The company is pushing clean diesel in a big way and expects it to comprise 30% of its sales within a decade. But, like a growing number of automakers, it believes “the electric motor is the ideal prime mover for sustainable economy,” and Tillman says VW is working on hybrid and battery electric drivetrains.

Volkswagen’s been playing with fuel cells for 10 years now, and it launched a dedicated fuel cell and EV research center in 2001. The Tiguan HyMotion is its fourth generation FCV and the its most advanced.

The proton exchange membrane fuel cell generates 80 kW, but it’s coupled with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery that bump output to 100 kW (about 134 horsepower). That’s enough to propel the Tiguan, which weighs about 4,122 pounds, from zero to 60 in 14 seconds and a top speed of 93 mph. Not great, but better than the Touran’s 86 mph. The battery has a charge capacity of 6.8 Ah and is charged by the fuel cell and regenerative braking. The HyMotion also uses stop-start technology to reduce fuel consumption.

Besides their astronomical price, one of the shortcomings of fuel cell vehicles is their range, and the Tiguan offers a relatively paltry 160 miles. It carries 3.5 kilograms of gaseous hydrogen in a tank made of carbon fiber, kevlar and aluminum at a pressure of 10,000 pounds – twice that of the Touran. “We could go higher, but who’s going to provide the fueling infrastructure at that pressure?” said Westley Khin, one of the engineers who worked on the car.

Ah yes, the fueling infrastructure. The Achilles heal of fuel cell vehicles, along with the astronomical cost of the cars themselves. Khin concedes both are the big stumbling blocks to the commercialization, but says “the vehicles are here” and they work well. That may be, but VW’s only built two HyMotion Tiguans and doesn’t have any plans to start putting them in driveways like Honda’s doing with the FCX Clarity.

“The FCX Clarity is a good vehicle. But we want to introduce a vehicle when the customer has the capacity to fuel it. We don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Tillman says, adding that VW is “working on developing” a home-hydrogen station along the lines of what Honda’s got.

By the way, we asked Tillman if there’s any chance we’ll see that sweet 71 mpg diesel-electric Golf hybrid VW unvieled earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show. “We’re looking at it. I don’t have a timeline, but we are looking at it,” is all he’d say.

VW realizes there’s a market for the car but says the problem is making it affordable. Hybrid drivetrains are expensive – they add about $5K to the sticker price. So are diesel engines, which cost about two grand more than similarly-sized gasoline engines. Put them together in the same car and things quickly get expensive. “We have to get it to a price point that people can actually afford,” Tillman said.

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