The Tesla Model 3 has Arrived

After the long wait, Elon Musk’s crowning achievement is nigh: the arrival of an affordable, mass market fully electric car. And by all accounts, it is a stunning accomplishment. In his grand announcement in Fremont, California on July 29, Musk publicly delivered the first 30 cars to their new owners, mostly Tesla employees.

So, let’s break down some of the obvious points of interest for car enthusiast and would be Tesla owners. Clearly, the stick price and range top the list, with design and feature specifics coming after that. The Tesla Model 3 will have 2 versions, the ‘Standard’ battery with an estimated range of 220 miles for $35,000, and the ‘Long Range’ battery at 310 miles and $44,000. Look out Mercedes and BMW, your job just got a lot harder. I would include the Chevy Bolt here as well, but it just isn’t a fair fight. To be sure, the demand for the Model 3 will be significant, which will put a lot of pressure on the production schedule for the coming year, and any hiccups could quickly derail the party for Tesla. And new buyers are still going to have to wait a long time before they get their new Model 3, and American consumers are not a patient bunch.

Here is the rundown of the two versions:

 

Standard Battery

Long Range Battery

Cost

$35,000

$44,000

Range (Est.)

220 Miles

310 Miles

Charge Rate

130 miles in 30 minutes

170 miles in 30 minutes

0 to 60 MPH

5.6 seconds

5.1 seconds

 

Not surprisingly, the design is leek and smart, and will solicit the envy of just about everyone. There is a premium option for $5,000 that will include premium sound, premium display, and an all-glass roof.

Luxury Car?

Some people will balk at the all-in price of a fully loaded Tesla Model 3. A long range option with the premium package will bring you to $49,000, which is really competing with higher end BMWs and Volvos. And if zero emission and US car manufacturing isn’t all that important to you, you might not be as we were. The folks at The Verge were not.

Safety

A safety test with perennial safety stand out Volvo S60 also shows that the Tesla is a safe car to drive. The impact of car wrecks are coming under increasing pressure from critics and safety boards, and the Model 3 checks this box. Expect some of the advertising and marketing to contain messaging about safety contained in this review by Bloomberg

While we have not yet driven the Model 3, we’re pretty sure people are going to love it and pay up for a place in line for a late 2018 delivery. The next batch doesn’t come out until later this year.

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Is Propane the Fuel of the Future?

In many parts of America, gasoline prices have shot up to $4 per gallon or more -- and that rapid increase has had the predictable effect of prompting many consumers to take a second look at alternative energy sources. One of these – propane -- has a long and positive history as a transportation fuel, but it has been often ignored in the hype about “the hydrogen economy,” gasoline-electric hybrids, and dedicated electric vehicles. Even ethanol, which will be the subject of next week’s feature, has received much greater attention than propane. But now there are signs that the worm is turning and that propane’s considerable virtues as a transportation fuel will finally be more widely recognized.

Interestingly enough, it was a recent speech by President Barack Obama -- who is generally seen as a strong electric-car proponent -- that has given the propane backers new hope. The president outlined a variety of goals, including the importance of securing America’s energy supply, saving consumers’ money at the pump and creating a cleaner environment.

“We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again,” said Obama during a recent speech at Georgetown University. “It is time to do what we can to secure our energy future.”

Frankly, those who back propane as an alternative fuel think the abundant gas has the potential to help the president meet all of his goals. Ninety percent of the propane consumed in the United States is produced domestically. While you can count the number of hydrogen filling stations in the entire nation on your fingers and toes, thousands of propane refueling stations across the country make propane gas convenient and available. In fact, proponents claim there are more propane “autogas” stations than any other type of alternative-fuel station, although ethanol boosters may dispute that. One fact is indisputable: Propane is the only alternative fuel with stations in every state.

While propane has found the sledding tough in much of the United States, there are more than 15 million vehicles operating on propane worldwide. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 270,000 on-road vehicles operate on propane across the United States. Of course that is a drop in the ocean compared to the number of vehicles that use gasoline or diesel fuel, but it does prove the viability of propane as a transportation fuel. Frito-Lay, ThyssenKrupp Elevator, Schwan’s, Red Top Cab and SuperShuttle are among the many companies that operate fleet vehicles powered by propane.

“The Department of Energy’s Clean Cities initiative and the White House’s newly announced National Clean Fleets Partnership share a common goal with the propane industry -- to introduce state-of-the-art technology that makes fleets more sustainable,” says Roy Willis, president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “In recent years, the propane industry has partnered with Clean Cities Coalitions to develop programs for propane autogas deployment projects, including vehicles and infrastructure.”

In fact, it is in trucks rather than in cars that propane might find a firm and expanding role in fueling America’s vehicles. Light- and medium-duty trucks and vans fueled by propane are available from a number of industry-leading manufacturers, including ROUSH CleanTech for Ford Motor Company commercial vehicles and General Motors commercial fleet products through a partnership with CleanFUEL USA.

The major hurdle for the clean-burning abundant gas might be the prejudice some diehard environmentalists have against vehicles that burn any fuel at all. These all-electric proponents have previously had a likely ally in President Obama, but his most recent words on the subject seem to offer hope to those who think propane can be part of a national energy solution to pollution and the vagaries of foreign oil.

Alternative-fuel Vehicles Don’t Turn Consumers On

The general media loves alternative-fuel vehicles. Hardly a week goes by without another boosterish story about the day when we’ll no longer have to buy gasoline. At the same time, the federal government is on the verge of formalizing stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations that, by the way, put the onus on carmakers to sell them, so auto manufacturers are more eager than ever to build a market for alternative-propulsion vehicles. If they want to compete in the American market in future years, they are almost compelled to. So, as 2012 is set to dawn, the eyes of the auto industry are increasingly turning to alternative-fuel vehicles. A substantial number of them will be introduced at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show, but the multibillion-dollar question is: Does the general public want to buy them? Increasingly, it seems the answer might be “No.”

A recent survey conducted by a major third-party automotive website points to this possibility quite clearly. Asked point-blank, “Would you ever consider purchasing or leasing a hybrid?” a resounding 45 percent of respondents replied, “No, I would never consider a hybrid.” In contrast, only 14 percent responded, “Yes, I am thinking about it.” While 14 percent sounds like a decently high number, saying “I’m thinking about it” is a long way from saying “I will definitely buy one.”

So the public is not really interested in buying a hybrid, but what about other green vehicles? There are other technologies that might break the hold that petroleum has on us. Well, it seems they’re not too thrilled with those either. Asked the question, “Which new high-mileage/green tech vehicle are you most excited about?” only 7 percent of readers picked hybrids and plug-in hybrids; full electrics drew an 8-percent response and, oddly, hydrogen/hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles drew a 15-percent positive response -- just as much as EV and hybrids combined. Of course, fuel cell vehicles aren’t even available for sale and probably won’t be for years. The big winners were essentially conventional vehicles. Clean diesels drew 20 percent excitement, and 40-plus-mpg vehicles garnered 32 percent. Some 18 percent, no doubt curmudgeons, said they were excited by “none of the above.”

So what’s the takeaway? The news media might believe that consumers want information about green vehicles. In fact, consumers might really want that info. But what audience members have collectively heard so far about alternative-fuel vehicles has not persuaded them that these cars are something a large number of people want to buy. A great deal of the initial consumer interest in alternative-propulsion vehicles might have stemmed as much from consumers’ desire to drive in the carpool lane as from solidly held environmental concerns. Equally important, as gasoline-engine technology improves efficiency and ups their mpg performance, consumers will see even fewer reasons to buy green vehicles.

Toyota’s Big Gamble

There is no doubt that the Toyota has been a stunning success for Japan’s giant automaker. Toyota has sold more than 1 million Prius models in the United States since the first-generation 2001 model was introduced. It currently sells at a 200,000-car-a-year pace in the United States, making it a sales winner. Its advanced technology has also reflected well on Toyota, giving the company a special place in the hearts of environmentalists. But the company is not satisfied with one Prius; now it has announced three others, including the eagerly awaited Prius Plug-in Hybrid. It is all part of a master plan initiated when Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe established a company goal of selling 1 million hybrids a year this decade. While the Prius gives the company a leg up in that direction, it is still a very tall order -- a goal some outside observers believe is far too lofty.

But one thing Toyota engineers always attempt to do is achieve company goals, so they have created the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the latest hybrid model to join the range. It supplements the third-generation Prius Liftback and the new Prius v, which is essentially a station wagon version of the Liftback. The Prius c, a smaller conventional hybrid, will come to market next year. The big question is will the new Prii add buyers to the Toyota brand, or will they simply steal buyers who otherwise would have purchased the Prius Liftback, the car some refer to as “the real Prius?” Behind the scenes, Toyota’s American executives candidly admit that they don’t have the answer to that question.

Questions they can answer concern the advantages the Prius Plug-in Hybrid offers over the standard Prius we have come to know. First, they point out that it combines the benefits of the standard Prius model’s hybrid vehicle operation with extended electric-vehicle-mode driving, plus it is more affordable than pure electric or range-extender type (e.g., Chevrolet Volt) vehicles. Then there are the 87 miles per gallon equivalent in combined driving and the 49 miles per gallon in hybrid mode.

The Holy Grail for some hybrid buyers is electric-only range, and they might be a bit disappointed that the Prius Plug-in Hybrid offers just 15 miles of EV-only range at speeds up to 62 miles per hour. Better news is the quick home-charging using a standard AC outlet and 15-amp dedicated circuit. The Plug-in Hybrid uses the Hybrid Synergy Drive of the standard Prius model that will seamlessly switch into hybrid operation from battery-only at a predetermined state of battery charge. A newly developed 4.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack replaces the standard Prius model’s nickel-metal hydride battery and fits under the rear cargo floor, and the vehicle adds an easy-to-use external charging cable. A full charge using an external AC outlet takes approximately 2.5 to 3.0 hours using a 120-volt household current (standard in the U.S.) or 1.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet, the kind that might power a clothes dryer. The 120-volt charging cable connects to the charging port inlet located on the right-rear fender.

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid will carry a robust complement of comfort and convenience features, but will also offer a low curb-weight, which helps immensely with fuel economy. Now facing an all-electric Nissan LEAF and the technologically advanced, electrically driven Chevrolet Volt, the Plug-in Prius will have to prove that it has the mojo to maintain Toyota’s alternative-propulsion leadership.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/toddmedia

Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Four year ago when General Motors put its reputation on the line by introducing the GM EV1 electric vehicle it seemed as if vehicles powered by batteries would be the answer to the long-term problem of polluted air. There is more than a little debate over how much of our air pollution is actually caused by moving sources (read cars, trucks and buses), but there is no doubt that a significant percentage arises from these sources, even though the gasoline-powered cars of today put out just a tiny amount of pollutants compared with their predecessors of the 1960s, so the introduction of the EV1 as a car for the general public was a significant step. But, as it turns out, it might have been a misstep.

Recently General Motors announced that it had recalled all of its 1996 model year EV1s because they could catch fire during the lengthy recharge process. Not only was that a big strike against them, but GM also announced that the recalled cars wouldn't be fixed until sometime next year. Though some 1999 EV1s are now scooting around the urban areas of the American Southwest, it is doubtful whether the 1996 models will ever again see the light of day. Luckily for the lessees who drove them, GM let them out of their contracts with no early termination charges.

Despite the GM miscues with the EV1, some argue that the electric vehicle, as a clean-running, non-polluting concept, is still worth pursuing. They may be right. In the real world, however, EVs from the Baker Electric of the early 1900s to the modern GM EV1 to the discontinued Honda EV have never been able to overcome the problem of range. Current electric battery technology seems unable to produce a storage medium that will hold sufficient energy to give the vehicle adequate cruising range, at least at a price we working humans can afford.

What is adequate cruising range? Well, again, debate will ensue, but it is certainly on the high side of the fewer than 100 miles the EV1 offers before it is forced to go through a lengthy re-charging process. The typical gasoline-powered car offers a range of 300 to 400 miles on a tankful of fuel. Further, when you add in the fact that gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles can be refueled in a matter of minutes, for practical purposes they have unlimited range. Certainly putting in a 1,000-mile day in a typical automobile on a cross-country journey is something many of us have done routinely - a feat virtually impossible in a storage-battery electric car.

Just as electric cars seemed about to be discredited again with the EV1's failings and the public's indifference to Ford and Honda electric vehicles, a new breed of electrics has regenerated (sorry) public interest and excitement. Dubbed generically hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), these vehicles combine many of the best attributes of electric vehicles with those of conventional internal combustion-engine cars.

What is a hybrid car?

As the federal government defines it, a hybrid electric vehicle is a vehicle that has two sources of motive energy. What this usually means is some type of internal combustion engine combined with electric motors getting their power from storage batteries. Unlike in so-called "pure" electric vehicles, the batteries are not charged by an outside source e.g. plugging them into an electric socket in your garage. Instead, their batteries are charged by an in-vehicle charging system. Thus, they are self-contained except for the need to re-fuel their internal combustion engines.

Of course, there are many hybrid system concepts getting currency including some that use fuel cells, gas turbines, diesels, and lean-burn gasoline engines in various combinations with flywheels, batteries, and ultracapacitor storage media. Many, including the Department of Energy (DOE) Hybrid Vehicle Propulsion Program, believe HEVs have several advantages over traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Among the advantages, many hybrid vehicle concepts have "regenerative braking capability," which means that during deceleration some of the energy that in conventional cars is simply dissipated as heat is used to recharge the storage device - most often a battery but perhaps a flywheel. The internal combustion engine used in the vehicle can be sized to deal with average load, not peak load, since the auxiliary stored power - usually electric battery power used to activate electric motors - is used to deal with peak load such as hill climbing. This has the benefit of allowing the installation of a smaller, lighter and less fuel-thirsty engine.

Largely because they have smaller, less powerful engines, fuel efficiency of a hybrid electric is significantly better than with gasoline-powered vehicles, while emissions are greatly decreased. Using "re-generative" braking also increases overall efficiency.

The use of smaller engines means that HEVs can be equipped with powerplants using alternative fuels. The DOE's Hybrid Vehicle Propulsion Program sees this as an advantage since the HEVs need not be dependent on fossil fuels.

All these benefits are well and good, but they offer no advantages if the buying public turns its collective back as they have with electric vehicles up to now. The beauty of hybrid electric vehicles, in the eyes of manufacturers, is that they will help improve air quality with no appreciable loss in vehicle performance, range or safety. In short, most hybrid electric vehicles will perform as well or better than internal combustion engine-cars of similar size.

The major difference between the "pure" EVs and the HEVs is the use of an engine, most often an internal combustion engine using conventional fuels. By using engines, instead of a motor/storage battery combination, vehicles can achieve long ranges. In fact, fuel economy can be phenomenal, because the engines need only propel the vehicles at cruising speeds on flat ground. In the rarely encountered more challenging situations, the energy storage devices (batteries) in the HEVs provide the additional power for climbing hills and acceleration. Plus, because HEVs use conventional fuels, virtually no change in infrastructure is required for their use. In contrast, "pure" EVs require special charging stations.

According to the DOE's Hybrid Vehicle Propulsion Program, "most experts agree that the car of the future, that has the same versatility as a conventional vehicle, will be an HEV of some kind. The energy density of electric batteries will never equal that of liquid or gaseous fuels, necessitating that these fuels remain a critical part of future vehicles to maintain the driving range and quick refueling found in today's conventional vehicles."

It noted that even fuel cells, which are a promising long-term technology for personal transportation, will most likely be put in an HEV configuration with a high power energy storage/buffer device onboard. Rather than having only one propulsion system choice when buying a future vehicle, it may be possible to select the propulsion system in the same way that one selects a 4-cylinder engine or a V 8.

In the future, you may be able to select a vehicle, and then decide if you want a conventional engine, batteries only, or an energy storage device (batteries, flywheels, ultracapacitors, or some combination) and an propulsion unit (fuel cell, turbine, diesel engine, Stirling engine, or conventional internal combustion engine).

Just what this world needs, more choices.