News Article | September 11, 2016
Autonomous Cars - Five Things To Know About Self Driving Cars A software bug has prompted General Motors to issue a recall for 4.3 million vehicles that include trucks, cars and SUVs manufactured from 2014 to 2017. The faulty software may have the tendency to prevent airbags from deploying during a crash, and it can also affect seat belts, further aggravating the potential risk. The announcement on Sept. 9 came on the heels of a recent recall of 368,000 vehicles blamed on defective windshield wipers, Tech Times previously reported. In the latest recall, the software failure affects the sensing and diagnostic module, which prevents the airbags from deployment. This module refers to the computer component that can sense the movement of the vehicle and triggers the airbag to inflate in case of a crash. The problem was first reported in 2014 after an accident involving a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. GM has since been conducting tests and diagnostics and reached the recall decision early this month. Information regarding their findings or how the failure actually transpires, however, were not made available. The problematic software has already led to a fatality and three injuries, Detroit News reported. The affected models include: Buick (LaCrosse, Encore); Chevrolet (SS, Corvette, Silverado 1500, Silverado HD, Spark EV, Tahoe, Trax, Caprice Suburban); GMC (Yukon, Yukon XL, Sierra HD); and, Cadillac (Escalade, Escalade ESV). To check whether a vehicle is part of the recall, consumers can head to safecar.gov where they can verify coverage using their Vehicle Identification number. GM states that owners of the cars covered will be contacted about recall details. They are also entitled to a free software upgrade, which can be undertaken in car dealers quickly. The number of recalled GM automobiles has not been seen since 2014 when 2.59 million cars were identified as defective due to faulty ignition, affecting their Takata airbags. This particular episode has been linked to 124 fatalities, which the company has compensated. GM has maintained that the fresh wave of recalled vehicles will not affect its financial results. However, the company has claimed in July that it stands to lose $550 million if government regulators will force it to recall 4.3 million automobiles to replace Takata airbag inflators, according to Fortune. The experience of Ford Motor could also provide insight into this issue after it recalled six of its car models due to faulty door latches. The move prompted the company to cut its 2016 profit before tax from $10.8 billion to $10.2 billion, according to a Bloomberg report. It is, however, important to note that GM's recall is voluntary and appears to be less serious than the 2014 problem with the Takata airbag. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | April 14, 2016
Cummins says it is starting development of a plug-in hybrid electric Class 6 truck that will boost fuel economy by 50%. A Class 6 truck has a gross vehicle weight of between 19,000 and 26,000 pounds. The category includes trucks with a single rear axle and school buses. Examples of a Class 6 truck include the International Durastar, Chevrolet Kodiak/GMC TopKick C6500, and the Ford F-650, according to Wikipedia. The project will be funded in part by a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Cummins’ primary objective is to develop a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that can ensure fuel efficiency while offering improved performance. Its researchers will optimize the powertrain by selecting the engine best suited for use as an electric commercial vehicle range extender. That engine will be used to manage the charge level of the all-electric drive battery pack. The range extender will be integrated, using advanced vehicle controls, with the electrified powertrain and other applicable technologies. Partners in the project include PACCAR, Ohio State University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Argonne National Laboratory. PACCAR manufactures medium- and heavy-duty trucks under the Kenworth, Peterbilt, and DAF brand names. “The close integration and control of the electrified powertrain with an appropriately selected engine is critically important to developing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle system,” said Wayne Eckerle, Vice President, Research and Technology, Cummins Inc. “We believe that through the team’s efforts we can soon make these innovations commercially available, which has the potential to translate into substantial savings annually per vehicle, helping our customers and the environment.” The reduction of fuel consumption will be accomplished using a range of drive cycles designed to meet the needs of commercial fleet operators. In addition to a plug-in hybrid powertrain, the trucks will feature other technologies, including intelligent transportation systems and electronic braking. Ultimately, the researchers aim to demonstrate improved fuel consumption and state-of-the-art drivability and performance regardless of environmental conditions. Cummins has not announced when it expects its plug-in hybrid electric trucks to be available. This is important news because Class 6 trucks are widely used in commercial applications. Think of these new trucks as a really heavy-duty version of the Chevy Volt. Raising their average fuel economy — which tends to be dreadful — will pay bigger dividends for the environment than raising the national average for private passenger cars by a few percentage points. The Cummins research should have real benefits, as opposed to the story about electric tractor trailers from Oakridge Battery that turned out to be vaporware. Drive an electric car? Complete one of our short surveys for our next electric car report. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | August 31, 2016
I’ll let you in on a little secret: we’re electric car fans here on “The CleanTechnica Show.” I know — you’d never know it if I didn’t tell you. However, we’re not electric car fans just because we got struck by lightning while trying to contemplate the meaning of life (which may or may not have actually happened). We’re electric car fans because of … well … a bunch of stuff. Because physics. Because life. Because economics. Because fun. Because brains. Because time. Oh, those explanations aren’t eloquent enough for you? Okay, I’ll get a little more serious and run down 30 genuine reasons why I think your next car should be electric. Yes, despite the hype about charging times, there’s a good chance driving electric will save you time. Imagine it like this: You have a gas station at your house. When you get home, you stick the nozzle in the car and go inside to have dinner, play with your kids, chill out on the couch, work on something, play video games, knit, go to sleep, or whatever. When you leave the next day, you just take the nozzle out. This is life with an EV, except you don’t have to worry about the effects toxic gasoline will have on your family, you don’t have annoying puddles of gasoline accumulating on your driveway, you don’t have to worry about your house exploding if grandma lights up a cigarette and drops it in the wrong spot, and you’ll probably just charge every 2–3 days since charging every day is seldom necessary. If you have charging stations at work, the home + work charging will probably cover ~97% of your charging needs. If it turns out you have no option to charge at home or work, on the other hand, there are still plenty of productive and recreational things to do while charging in public (that list doesn’t even include Pokémon Go!), and it still just takes 2–3 seconds to plug in and unplug. (Though, admittedly, ICE’ing is a legitimate concern, and some parking officers may not be doing what they’re supposed to do in order to prevent this.) I’ll just give one more example here: You charge your computer, telephone, etc., at home, right? Would you prefer it ran on gasoline and lasted 1–3 weeks between charges, but that you had to take it to a gas station every 1–3 weeks in order to fill it up? I didn’t think so. New technology can’t just be “meh, it’s just as good as the old stuff.” If it is to burst through the bubble of human inertia, it’s got to be better. Electric cars definitely are better. Yes, you have to pay >$100,000 to get a 5–7 seat Tesla Model S P100D that smokes every other car to 60 mph except the >$1 million and out-of-production Porsche 918 Spyder and Ferrari LeFerrari two-seaters, but even a low-cost electric car like the Nissan LEAF or Renault Twizy is a blast to drive thanks to instant torque and the effortless, nearly silent, super efficient power of electric motors. You have to experience this to understand it, and most auto manufacturers aren’t even trying to tell you about it (since most of them don’t actually want to sell you electric cars), but once you experience it, you’ll see the light. Granted, not everyone likes to have that kind of fun. Heck, some people don’t seem to like having fun at all! Quick acceleration only makes 90% of people smile. But the instant torque makes driving much nicer and less stressful in other ways. Since you have essentially all of the car’s power ready at a moment’s notice, you can much more easily get onto a highway and merge into traffic, get into a roundabout, or leave a red light thanks to the magic power of EVs. It’ll genuinely ease your nerves and make driving more enjoyable, or at least less unenjoyable. What does driver after driver and passenger after passenger rave about after testing out an electric car? If not the instant torque, it’s the smooth and silent drive. In fact, this typically comes first, since it’s obvious right away and you still need to go find an empty spot on the road to show off the torque. Naturally, people freakin’ love it. The rumbling explosions of a gasoline engine and all the crazy mechanisms that are in place to make it work and not harm you are, surprisingly, not that enjoyable to most of us. But we don’t realize how much nicer life can be until we drive an electric car (or ride a bike) instead. “It’s so quiet! Is it really on? Oh my gosh, we’re driving?! It’s so quiet! That’s so nice.” (Granted, some people find it disconcerting at first, but basically in the way that you find it a bit disconcerting when your vacation starts and you don’t have to do a million things at work.) This should really be #1, but since our priorities are often totally screwed up, I postponed stating the obvious: Society is totally, ridiculously, superbly, insanely screwed if we don’t electrify transport and switch to clean electricity ASAP. Like, ASAP — not in 5–10 years, not by 2050, but right freakin’ now. Or we can just let society collapse and order up an onslaught of climate wars. Whatever. One crazy thing about us humans is that we’ll put up with all kinds of nonsense if we’re used to it. This apparently even includes premature death, premature death that we could avoid if we simply had a little foresight and concern for our collective good. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report found that air pollution causes 3 million premature deaths a year worldwide. This includes various types of air pollution, but it’s obvious that air pollution from gasoline and diesel vehicles is a huge culprit here. Let’s be frank: If a terrorist organization was causing 3 million deaths a year, you’d be flippin’ your freakin’ shit about it. You, your neighbor, your neighbor’s dog, even your neighbor’s little yellow fish. The world would be up in arms and media networks would be in full crisis mode (for an actually legitimate reason). Ah, but it’s not terrorists — it’s just us, and the air pollution we create. Carry on with your day, nothing to see here. Oh, you care about your family and your own life? You want the car that’ll best protect you if you get slammed by a GMC Yukon? Sort of weird, but hey, that’s cool. Since that’s the case, you probably want the car that got a 5.4 out of 5 rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — essentially putting every other car on the road to shame for how much worse they protect their passengers (and those around the car). If you’ve somehow missed this amazing news: that car is the Tesla Model S. Oh, you’re set on getting a really big vehicle that can seat William and Elizabeth Robinson’s family? You want the safest SUV? No worries, just change that “S” to an “X” (and try to not get distracted putting any other letters in between), and you’re set. (Seriously, watch the presentation from the Model X unveiling.) By the way, included in safety, imho, is the fact that Tesla’s vehicles have the best autonomous driving tech on the market. That can make your drive much safer and much more relaxing — bonus points! That will obviously be the Tesla Model 3. (Note: “or less” applies if you can take advantage of incentives like the $7,500 US federal tax credit for EVs and a wide variety of state incentives, or if you live in another country with decent incentives.) This is a topic for another day — I’m planning to write a full new article on this — but until then, let me just point out that the USA imports ~8 million barrels of oil a day, from a bunch of countries that probably wouldn’t otherwise (or still don’t) call us their friend. The European Union imports ~12 million barrels of oil a day, sending ~€1 billion out of Europe 365 and ¼ times per year. Sure would be nice to keep that money at home, wouldn’t it? Of course, when not sending cash money to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iraq, and the like, we’re probably sending it to US oil billionaires so they can tell us more how a trickle-down economy works … while they stash more cash than they can keep track of in bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. Sending that money to community solar farms, local wind power plants, or the owner of your rooftop solar panels (who I hope is you), you can keep more money circulating among non-billionaires in your local economy and maybe even in your home. (Apologies — or maybe no apologies needed — if you’re a billionaire and are reading this. Definitely no apologies if you are having a servant read it to you.) Again, this is specifically if you choose to buy a Tesla. The Silicon Valley company will make sure your car becomes better (in some ways) as it ages. Confused? The thing is, Tesla is continuously improving its vehicles via over-the-air software updates. You can just wake up and all of a sudden your car can do something cool, like park itself, or has improved in efficiency, range, etc. That’s just fun. Depending on circumstances regarding how much you drive, the cost of gas along your routes, the cost of electricity for charging, the cost of maintenance (or lack thereof), government and utility incentives, and maybe the value of your time, you may make out saving more money with an electric car than a “comparably equipped” gasoline car. If you go for a used EV, the chance of saving a boatload of money is even greater. Shit is about to get really crazy. Apparently, self-driving Tesla cars are coming “a hell of a lot faster” than you think, and that will enable your car to act as your own personal driver by day and a robotaxi by night (or whenever you aren’t using it), which could actually make you more money than the car costs you! Going electric is now the cool thing to do. Akon, Steph Curry, Oprah, Ben Affleck, Don Cheadle, James Cameron, Cameron Diaz, Beyonce & Jay Z, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Kiedas, Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Steven Spielberg, and a bunch of other celebrities now drive Teslas. I wonder why. As Akon told me in January, he actually had 28 fancy cars and dropped all of them except 4 Teslas — watch the video to hear why. It’s not just about the people, though — it’s also about the animals. We’ve initiated the world’s 5th mass extinction, and it’s only going to heat up if we don’t electrify transport, use clean electricity, stop deforestation, and stop mindlessly treating horns and bones as medicine. If you stick solar panels on your roof, you can capture sunlight, turn it into electricity, and power your spaceship-like car with that electricity. You’re basically driving on sunlight. Is that ridiculously cool or what? Aside from simply sending cash to foreign countries, we spend a fortune through the “Department of Defense” to protect our oil interests around the world, and eventually even start or jump into wars over the resource. If you’re not interested in spending trillions of dollars on the military because of an addiction to oil, and you’re not fond of pushing young adults into horrible suffering and death sentences, the best thing to do is help cut our oil addiction. Maybe this one doesn’t weigh with quite the importance of #18, but it’s still cool to hear the faint whizz of a powerful electric motor as you fly forward like in a spaceship … or at least my idea of a spaceship from watching Star Trek, Star Wars, and other space-related movies and TV shows. This point is separate from the time savings mentioned at the top. The fact is, gas stations are pretty unpleasant places. They’re not where you go for a relaxing coffee and bagel on the sidewalk. They stink, they’re packed with toxic gasoline and toxic junk food, and they’re designed to move cars in and out quickly — not to offer a pleasant atmosphere for chilling out. With an electric car, you can almost completely avoid these 20th century establishments. My first car was a 1990 Audi 80. I was lucky enough to have multiple muffler and transmission problems with that cash sucker. Of course, simple oil changes weren’t all that fun either. All of these things (and many more) are avoided with fully electric cars, since you don’t have oil to change, a transmission that can break, mufflers, various hoses and belts, etc. Electric cars are much simpler by default, so can save you a lot of time (have I mentioned that?) and headaches by going electric. Admittedly, this makes oil changes look a bit cooler. Photo via Florida Memory (no known copyright restrictions) Air pollution doesn’t just cause asthma and heart disease — it also damages our brains. A recent study from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that air pollution was linked to brain disorders and diminished cognitive abilities. Any wonder why science isn’t our best subject? Aside from lung cancer, outdoor air pollution can also lead to bladder cancer, as well as a host of other health problems. WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen (a “cancer-causing agent“). Air pollution actually “kills more people through cardiovascular disease than through cancer,” but whether it’s heart disease or cancer, it’s a lot easier to read about it than to actually live through (or die from) the suffering created by those health problems. As I recently highlighted in my article on what the end of gasoline cars will look like, there are beautiful mountains outside of Los Angeles that people can seldom see from Los Angeles because of the smog. Los Angeles isn’t the only place that has its view messed up by air pollution, though — not even close. Another example I like to share is Paris in smog and out of smog. Here are two pictures to help show the difference: Really, is it hard to see which is the more logical choice? Which city do you want to live in or visit? Were you one of the first people do get a smartphone? I certainly wasn’t, but now that I think about it, it would have been cool if I was. Getting an electric car before your friends and family can set you apart as the adventurer, the cutting-edge tech guru, the esteemed doer and trendsetter, etc. You get all of this honor doing what is actually easier, saves money, and is more fun. You feel like you drive all the time, eh? Like maybe the range of a non-Tesla, non-PHEV just isn’t enough for you. Actually, there’s a decent chance you don’t drive a lot but do sit in traffic a lot. EVs don’t really care if you’re sitting in traffic — they don’t suck on your wallet through an old-school, ignorant gas engine while you look out your window for signs of human life. They just stop. In actuality, a recent MIT study found that “87% of vehicles on the road could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available today, even if there’s no possibility to recharge during the day.” That’s in the USA, where people drive about twice as much as people in the UK and other more sanely developed countries. Still have anxiety? It’s called “range anxiety anxiety.” Just let it go. (Granted, if you are in need of a vehicle to fit the other 13% of the US vehicle fleet’s needs, you may need a Tesla or a plug-in hybrid.) And you can feel totally cool (and maybe even sexy) listening to it in your electric car. If you are more of the “my little minions rule my life” variety, maybe this song would be a better one for you (without any effort on my part, this quickly became my young daughter’s favorite song … which I guess doesn’t come as a huge surprise given how much I probably talk about electric cars). Either way, it’s fun to listen to electricity-related songs while driving an electric car. Seriously, Exxon freakin’ knew decades ago that it was dooming us, ordering up a wicked stew of natural disasters, heat waves, rising seas, drought, floods, superstorms, war, disease, etc. It knew that burning oil was warming up the globe, and rather than helping to inform society and prevent societal collapse, it started thinking up ways to confuse the public and delay climate action. That’s simply horrible, and we should stop funding the billionaires and millionaires who benefited and continue to benefit from attacking society. In 1–3 decades, when it becomes absolutely obvious that we made a horrible, horrible decision to not act faster, and that our kids and grandkids are reaping the overwhelming harvest of trouble that results, your kids and grandkids are either going to be massively disappointed in your delay to get in on the cleantech action or they are going to be grateful that you were at least a leader in the shift to cleaner transport and cleaner electricity. Think about it for a moment. This was initially intended to be a joke, but I just remembered that chocolate could indeed be much more limited in a warmer world. That would suck! For that matter, so would shortages of avocadoes (my favorite food), bananas, coffee, maple syrup, peanuts and peanut butter, etc. Not cool. Not cool at all. So, in short, have a heart, go electric. Drive an electric car? Complete one of our short surveys for our next electric car report. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | April 13, 2016
Our feet are safe in the Ford F-150. That's right. Ford's F-150 is the safest pickup truck on the road today, based on the latest Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rating. Where other vehicles are likely to cause leg, ankle and foot injuries during specific kinds of front-end collisions, Ford's supercab is the only one on the street that doesn't. However, the Ford F-150 had had its share of problems in the past. Nonetheless, the F-150 model has improved from a "marginal" standing in 2015 to a "good" standing this year. Out of the seven vehicles tested by the IIHS, it was the only one to receive a "good" rating. "We commend Ford for taking last year's test results to heart and upgrading protection for the SuperCab occupants in small overlap crashes," says Raul Arbelaez, vice president of the IIHS Vehicle Research Center. "Ford is leading the way among large pickup manufacturers when it comes to protecting people in a range of crashes." Of the seven full-size pickup trucks tested by the IIHS, three others received' an "acceptable" rating: the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, the GMC Sierra 1500 and the Toyota Tundra. All of these vehicles feature double cab configurations, but in crew cab form, they actually tumbled to a lower to a "Marginal" rating. The worst performer in the group, however, was the Ram 1500 in Quad Cab and Crew Cab configurations. Even if it was the oldest vehicle to be tested, it still received poor marks for its structure and lower leg and foot injury protection. The Ram 1500 received the lowest rating of all with a "Poor" score. The toughest test created by the IIHS that has long troubled car makers is what is known as the small overlap crash test. This test simulates a car or truck heading straight into a narrow object like a pole on just one side of the front of the vehicle. Such collisions on the front corner of the car have challenged automakers to re-engineer the front of vehicles to better absorb both center and off-center impacts. That's exactly what Ford has done for the newer F-150. The automaker added wheelblockers, nylon hinge pillar reinforcements and rocker cab reinforcements that help in this particular crash scenario. As a result, it's the IIHS' Top Safety Pick. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | August 30, 2016
GM’s Orion Assembly manufacturing plant, where the Chevy Bolt is being put together, now ranks as the 8th largest user of “green power” generated onsite in the US — out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s network of “Green Power Partnership Partners.” The Orion Assembly plant is currently home to a 350 kilowatt (kW) solar photovoltaic (PV) system and receives roughly half of its electricity through the use of methane collected from a nearby landfill. The facility saves roughly $1 million a year on operating costs thanks to its use of renewables. GM is currently pursuing a public goal of having 125 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy capacity by 2020 — a goal expected to be exceeded later this year. “Building the Bolt EV in a facility that is 54% powered by clean energy further adds to the car’s environmental credentials,” stated Alicia Boler-Davis, GM vice president of global manufacturing. “It’s an example of how we live our global sustainable manufacturing commitment while improving our bottom line.” “EPA applauds Orion Assembly for its innovation in generating green power from an onsite landfill gas energy system and for taking a leadership position on the environment,” stated James Critchfield, manager of the Green Power Partnership. The Orion Assembly plant also makes use of an interesting “energy efficient” painting process — whereby a “three-wet process allows 3 layers of paint to be applied to the car followed by a single trip through the oven, saving energy, and space previously used by additional equipment.” GM’s Fort Wayne Assembly plant in Indiana, responsible for the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, also appeared on the EPA list, thanks to its use of methane collected from landfills. While more could (and presumably will be) done to improve renewables use, the fact that the Bolt is put together at a relatively “green” plant is another plus for the all-electric model. Not quite at the level that Tesla’s operations will be at when the Model 3 launches, but still notable. Drive an electric car? Complete one of our short surveys for our next electric car report. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.