Is the Avis / ZipCar Acquisition Green?

I am selling my little Honda in California, since I moved to Texas two years ago, I left a car in San Francisco to drive when I’m here.

So I’d been looking into getting car share.  Absolutely loving the concept, been trying to figure out if it is a better deal for me than renting when I come out.

So when Avis dropped half a billion dollars on ZipCar, I was pretty intrigued.  Which raised the question, does this count as a cleantech or green exit?

I mean, I’ve rejected the “IT services instead of flying argument” making web conferencing services a product green, something I used to get emails on from marketers all the time.

Zipcar’s a little like that.  Are fewer miles actually driven?  Less gas used?

How about fewer cars bought?  Is Zipcar actually replacing cars?  Or adding cars and increasing miles driven by bringing new drivers into the fleet, or making some time drivers into more of the time drivers and reducing public transit use?  I’m not sure that car rentals like Avis don’t increase the number of vehicles and maybe even miles per person in the US.

When does efficiency and better shared services instead of capital expenditures become green, and not just a good deal?

Ford Focus Electric takes on Nissan LEAF

Ford Focus ELectricFord’s Newest EV is Official

Ford has officially announced the Ford Focus Electric, a new aerodynamic 5-door hatchback with an expected range of 100 miles per charge. This 5-seat car matches the specs that I published after my test drive of the Focus Electric in May 2010. First consumer deliveries of the all-new Focus Electric will start towards the end of this year. At that point Ford will have solid EV experience and probably have delivered thousands of Ford Transit Connect Electric Vans to delivery and service fleets.

The Ford Focus Electric has a Magna drive system and a 23 kWh Ford designed battery pack using LG Chem Compact Power lithium-ion tri-metal cells with over 17 kWh available in the charge-discharge cycle. The battery pack is actively liquid cooled and heated battery pack allowing for stable battery operation over a wide range of temperatures and lower temperature-related swings in driving range. The all-electric powertrain and single-speed transmission provide immediate responsiveness and smooth acceleration when the driver pushes down the accelerator, up to a top speed of 84 mph.

The first markets selected to receive the Ford Focus Electric are Atlanta, Austin, Houston, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Tucson, Portland, Raleigh Durham, Richmond, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Ford is starting with these cities to insure that their will be charging stations at work and public spaces, as well as city and utility support for fast track approval of home chargers. This will also allow Ford to train dealers and service teams.

MyFord Mobile App

MyFord Mobile is an app for your web browser, iPhone, Droid, and other mobile devices, to monitor and schedule the chargingmyford mobile app Ford Focus Electric Car Review of your Focus Electric from anywhere, to help you maximize your range. It gives you remote charging status updates, so you can check existing charge levels and available range, while keeping track of your charge schedule. It also provides you with the location of your vehicle, where you can find the nearest charging stations and the most efficient route to get there. The app also estimates the amount of CO2 emissions and money you save based on your driving style – to help you manage costs and improve your efficiency.

  • Receive instant vehicle status information
  • Perform key functions remotely
  • Monitor the car’s state of charge and current range
  • Get alerts when it requires charging or has finished charging
  • Remotely program charge settings and download vehicle data for analysis
  • Get map routing to the nearest available charge stations

The feature also allows the owner to program the vehicle to use electricity from the grid to heat or cool the battery and cabin while plugged in – called preconditioning. For example, during hot summer months, owners can preprogram the car the evening before to be fully charged – and fully cooled to a particular temperature – by a certain time the following morning. Users can also locate the vehicle with GPS, remotely start the vehicle and remotely lock and unlock the car doors.

Test Driving the Ford Focus Electric

focus ev screen Ford Focus Electric Car ReviewLast May, I made my second test drive of the Ford Focus Electric. It felt just like driving a regular gasoline Focus 4-door sedan, except it was more quiet and accelerated faster due to the torque of the electric motor. The Focus Electric accelerated faster than when I test drove the Nissan LEAF. Both allow me to accelerate on to a freeway with my power than I really need.

The handling was smooth while driving the Focus EV. Unlike some electric car prototypes, when I hit the brakes, it stopped evenly and quickly. The coordination between regeneration and disc braking was effective. The car felt ready for serious driving 8 months ago.

Charge Twice as Fast

Ford is making a big deal of the fact that the 2012 Ford Focus Electric charges twice as fast as the 2011 Nissan LEAF. Ford is 6.6 kW/h; Nissan is 3.3 kW/h. The comparison is unfair. The 2012 Nissan LEAF, available at the same time as the 2012 Focus Electric, will also charge at the faster 6.6 kW/h. Nissan, like most automakers, have been waiting for SAE to finalize certain charging standards. In 2012, both cars can be recharged after typical driving in less than 3 hours.

If you are a pioneer buyer of the 2011 LEAF, then you will either be content to charge at 3.3 kW/h, or you will pay to upgrade to 6.6 kW/h. Clean Fleet Report speculates that Nissan will charge $1,000 to $2,000 for the upgrade. Most chargers being installed are ready for 6.6 kW/h and are smart enough to charge at the vehicle’s rate, be it 3.3 or 6.6.

Ford and Microsoft are partnering to implement the Microsoft Hohm energy management application for Ford’s electric vehicles and Synch for entertainment. The Ford Focus EV will be the first electric car to use Hohm, an Internet app built on top of Azure, Microsoft’s new cloud-computing operating system. Four utilities are piloting this smart-grid application: Xcel Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Seattle City Light, and Puget Sound Energy.

Competition with the Nissan LEAF and Other Electric Cars

Ford has yet to announce the price of the Ford Focus Electric. Ford could select a price less than the Nissan LEAF’s $32,780. We expect both the Honda Fit EV and the Mitsubishi I to be priced in the U.S. at $29,990 or less. Will Ford underprice Honda or focus on making the Focus Electric profitable?

Price depends on the cost of the lithium battery packs. Three years ago, prices were close to $1,000/kWh. By next year, they may be under $500/kWh. Cell makers keep refining battery chemistry. Pack makers look at design and volume manufacturing. Ford, Nissan, and GM are in a race to see who will be the first to sell 100,000 cars with lithium battery packs in one year. Ford is the likely winner, because next year all Ford hybrids and electric vehicles will use lithium battery packs. Ford will buy cells from competing battery giants, but Ford will make its own packs. Within 24 months Ford will be offering 3 battery-electric vehicles and 2 plug-in hybrids.

The battery pack for the 2012 Ford Focus Electric weighs 500 pounds. Ford has a roadmap that envisions the battery eventually being reduced to a size of the current Focus gas tank and a weight of only 125 pounds using new battery chemistry. Although some express concern about the long-term availability of lithium, Ford’s Nancy Gioia, Director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, said that Ford’s analysis is that there will be no shortage through 2050. Battery makers expect to recycle 98 percent of the lithium in batteries.

Ford is also reducing car costs by giving customers a wide choice from one assembly line. This year we expect Ford to officially announce that customers will be able to order the new Focus with their preferred drive system including gasoline engine, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric. The Ford Focus Plug-in Hybrid is likely to price for less than the Chevrolet Volt.

The Focus Electric and the LEAF are beautiful compact cars. What do you do when you need to carry lots of stuff? Both include 60/40 reclining rear seats. In both cases, however, the placement of the battery pack precludes a completely flat cargo platform.

The Focus EV will be made in America – Warren, Michigan. Ford is investing $550 million to transform its Michigan Assembly Plant into a lean, green and flexible manufacturing complex that will build Ford’s next-generation Focus global small car along with a new battery-electric version of the Focus for the North American market. Ford is planning on a Global C platform for 12 to 14 different vehicles with a volume of 2 million units per year. Such volume, common chassis and many common components, can give Ford improved profit margins and room to price hybrid and electric cars competitively.

Announcing the new Ford Focus Electric is a proud moment for CEO Alan Mulally and the entire Ford team. Back when Ford refused to take part in the $70 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler, big investors were writing off Ford. If you had invested $100,000 in Ford at that crisis point less than 2.5 years ago, it would be worth $1,800,000 now.

Fuel Cell 2007 Conference Highlights

By John Addison (6/19/07). Several hundred engineers, researchers, and managers shared fuel cell technology, trends, and market success at the Fuel Cell 2007 Conference. In some areas, fuel cells generate millions in revenues from commercial deployment; in other areas, fuel cells are early in research and development. A number of commercial products involve hydrogen PEM fuel cells. Business is steady for molten carbonate and phosphoric acid fuel cells. There was optimism about solid oxide fuel cells using a variety of fuels including landfill methane, natural gas, diesel, JP-8, and biomass.

In 2006, Ballard (BLDP) shipped 147 PEM fuel cells to replace lead-acid batteries in fork lifts. In large distribution and manufacturing environments, every minute counts. Fuel cells are cost justified in improving the productivity of moving goods. Fuel cells are more heat and cold tolerant, providing competitive advantage in many distribution centers.

Plug Power (PLUG) is aggressively pursuing the fork lift business. Plug recently acquired General Hydrogen, an early leader in Class 1 and 2 forklifts. Plug also acquired Celex, a leader in Class 3 forklifts. Contrary to concerns of some investors, it appears that Plug’s acquisitions may help Ballard who supplies fuel cell stacks to the acquired companies. Plug Power’s business model appears to be migrating towards integrated products and services for specific markets and applications. Ballard is a leader, in supplying fuel cell stacks; a field of growing and intensifying competition.

Toyota is also active in the hydrogen PEM forklift business since its acquisition of Raymond, a long-time provider of forklifts and material handling systems. Hydrogenics (HYGS) continues to see traction in fork lifts. Fuel cell forklift solutions are hybrid, also involving batteries for regenerative braking. Presentations forecasted 5,000 fuel cell sales in 2009 for forklifts and 20,000 in 2010.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Intelligent Energy, I was at the conference presenting One Million Hydrogen Riders in California by 2020 – An Optimistic Scenario. Free Report.

Hydrogen fuel cells are making progress in cars and heavy-vehicles. Several auto makers will be adding more vehicles in demonstration fleets this year. Several have ranges of 250-miles and more. General Motors recently demonstrated a 300-mile range with its Sequel. GM is rumored to also start demonstrating vehicles running hydrogen in internal combustion machines (HICE). GM was to speak at the conference, but cancelled at the last minute. The reason, perhaps, was a GM reorganization.

General Motors thinks its hydrogen fuel cell is ready to move out of the research lab. GM is shifting responsibility for the work from its research labs to engineering groups that develop engines and vehicles for commercial production. 500 people are being reassigned.

The shift is a sign of GM’s increasing determination to have a fuel cell vehicle on the market by around 2011. “We’re transitioning from science and research to developing real propulsion systems,” Larry Burns, GM vice president for research and strategic planning, said in an interview.

Another area of hydrogen fuel cell success is providing remote stand-by power for the telecommunications industry. Batteries in temperature-sensitive areas have failed to often. The financial stakes are too high in telecommunications to continue depending on unreliable batteries. Telecoms such as Verizon and Sprint are buying from PlugPower and ReliOn. The Western States Alliance is buying from Altergy and Hydrogenics for stand-by back-up.

Big and hot fuel cells have a growing pipeline in the 250kW to multi-MW space. FuelCell Energy (FCEL) and Fuji offer molten carbonate energy solutions with by-product heat. Projects are using natural gas, propane, biogas, and anaerobic digester (AD) gas. POSCO, a Korean steel manufacturer, ordered a 7.5MW from FCEL to reduce their heavy use of 28 cents/kWh grid electricity. Linde will distribute FuelCell Energy for water treatment.

Long-term, molten carbonate growth may be threatened by solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFC). Keenly aware of this, FuelCell Energy finalized terms with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a $36.2 million Phase I award to develop a coal-based, multi-megawatt solid oxide fuel cell-based hybrid system.

Six industry teams have successfully completed tests of the first solid oxide fuel cell prototypes that can be manufactured at costs approaching those of conventional stationary power-generation technology. Part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program, these results reflect progress towards commercially-viable solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems.

The six industry teams, led by Acumentrics, Cummins Power Generation, Delphi Automotive Systems, FuelCell Energy, General Electric, and Siemens Power Generation, designed and manufactured SOFC electrical power generators in the 3-10 kilowatt range. The industry teams’ prototypes surpassed the Department of Energy (DOE) Phase I targets. The prototypes demonstrated:

  • Average efficiency of 38.5 percent and a high of 41 percent, exceeding the DOE target of 35 percent.
  • Average steady-stage power degradation of 2 percent per 1,000 hours, besting the DOE target of 4 percent per 1,000 hours.
  • System availabilities averaging 97 percent, topping the 90 percent DOE target across the board.
  • Projected system costs ranging from $724 to $775 per kilowatt, which eclipsed the DOE intermediate target for an annual production of 250 megawatts and positions the teams to meet the 2010 target of $400 per kilowatt target.

For home stationary power applications, it will require combined heat and power (CHP) to financially justify fuel cell installations. Adaptation is predicted in markets where utility-delivered costs are high for heat and electricity, such as in Japan and Korea. Ballard will be delivering a higher temperature PEM to address the CHP market.

In the long-run, conference attendees showed more enthusiasm for SOFCs which can use existing fuels, such as kerosene in Japan and natural gas in other markets. For example, Ceres Power (CWR.L) is developing low cost and robust fuel cells that will be combined into stacks capable of generating between 1kWe and 25kWe. EDF Energy Networks, the UK’s largest electricity distributor, will be offering Ceres for home CHP.

SOFC may be the fuel cell of choice for auxiliary power on trucks and military vehicles. Delphi Automotive Systems has SOFCs in development for on vehicle use of diesel and JP-8. Cost effective removal of sulfur is a major issue, especially for the DOD’s JP-8.

Surprisingly, there was little discussion of micro fuel cells. Major Japanese consumer electronic companies were at the conference, but no products were presented. Continued reduction in power demand plus advancements in batteries and ultracapacitors may obviate micro fuel cell adoption.

The Fuel Cell 2008 Conference is planned to be in Long Beach, California, in June 2008.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report which tracks clean transportation in California. His articles have appeared in print and electronic magazines with over one million readers: Yahoo Finance, The Auto Blog, The Auto Channel, EV World, Cleantech, Green Post, Seeking Alpha, Hydrogen Nation and others. Mr. Addison is a popular speaker, conducting over 1,000 workshops in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Gas Misers or Corn Guzzlers

By John Addison (5/15/07)

People buying new cars are asking if they should get a high mileage hybrid that runs on gasoline, or a flex-fuel vehicle that could run on E85 ethanol. The United States DOE’s and EPA’s, made it easy for car buyers to compare choices.

When you drive, there is most likely ethanol in your fuel tank. Ethanol is a fuel from a plant source that is normally mixed with gasoline. The percentage varies widely. All current U.S. vehicles can run on a blend of up to 10% ethanol (E10).

GM launched a national campaign, “Live Green Go Yellow.” GM and Ford (F) have sold millions of flex fuel vehicles (FFV) on the road. GM is prepared to make up to half its vehicles ethanol capable by 2012.

Although FFVs are hot sellers in the USA, most have never had a drop of E85 in their tank. They are only fueled with standard gasoline blends. There are over 6 million vehicles on the U.S. streets that could run E85. Most never have.

Most FFVs are fuel guzzlers; fueled with E85, they are corn guzzlers. In 2007 the best rated car running on E85 was the Chevrolet Impala, with a United States EPA mileage rating of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway when fueled with E85. For a typical U.S. year of driving, the annual fuel cost would be at $1,657 and 6 tons of CO2 would be emitted by this FFV when running on E85.

By contrast, the EPA rating for a Toyota (TM) Prius running on gasoline was 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 on the highway. The Prius would have an annual fuel cost of $833 and only emit 3.4 tons of CO2, compared to 6 tons from the most fuel efficient E85 offering.

A big problem is that ethanol cuts miles per gallon by about 27%. The energy content of E85 is 83,000 BTU/gallon, instead of 114,000 BTU/gallon for gasoline. Even by 2030, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that only 1.4% of ethanol use will be E85. The vast majority will be for small percentage blending with gasoline.

The EIA forecasts that ethanol use will grow from 4 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2030 (about 8 percent of total gasoline consumption vs. today’s 2%). Ethanol use for gasoline blending grows to 14.4 billion gallons and E85 consumption to only 0.2 billion gallons in 2030. In other words, agriculture will be a big winner without any need to spend millions of tax dollars funding E85 stations.

There is a heated debate about whether ethanol helps the environment. In the U.S., the vast majority of ethanol is processed from corn. There is no current environmental benefit if the source-to-wheels use of ethanol includes diesel farm equipment, fertilizer from fossil fuel, coal produced electricity, diesel delivery trucks hauling ethanol over 1,000 miles to refineries, and then fueling a vehicle with poor mileage.

The amount of U.S. corn that became ethanol exceeds 20 percent. The Corn Growers Association says that by 2015 a third of all the corn grown – or 5.5 billion bushels – likely will be for ethanol. Food prices have increased.

World Watch Institute warns “Conventional biofuels will be limited by their land requirements: producing half of U.S. automotive fuel from corn-based ethanol, for example, would require 80 percent of the country’s cropland.” Thus, large-scale reliance on ethanol fuel will require new conversion technologies and feedstock.

A broad coalition is more enthusiastic about cellulosic rather than corn ethanol. Ethanol and other biofuels can be made from a wide range of plant fiber and waste. Currently corn kernels are more easily processed into fuel than cellulosic corn stover, but new enzyme technology can change that. Future stalk for ethanol may include prairie grasses, Miscanthus, Poplar, Willow and algae. Cellulosic sources could produce ten times the yield per acre of corn.

Cellulosic ethanol could account for all 14.6 billion of forecasted consumption, and even more, without needing special E85 pumps. It could all be blended with existing gasoline and fueled into current and future gasoline vehicles. Such blended cellulosic ethanol creates major opportunities for farmers in the United States and the world. It is incremental business, rather than business that competes with existing food business.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has concluded that with “an aggressive plan to develop cellulosic biofuels between now and 2015, America could produce the equivalent of nearly 7.9 billion barrels of oil per day by 2050. That is equal to more than 50 percent of our current total oil use in the transportation sector and more than three times as much as we import from the Persian Gulf alone.”

Increasingly biofuel will not be made from food; rather it will be made from sources such as waste, grasses, fast growth trees, algae, and biotechnology.

Fueling all current high-mileage cars with E10 helps reduce global warming when the ethanol is from cellulosic sources. Putting E85 ethanol in a vehicle with poor mileage does not help. It does not even help the nation with energy independence.

Until flex-fuel vehicles offer the same high mileage as many current cars, do not buy a FFV. The FFV will not help your pocketbook, the nation’s energy security, nor will it help the environment. When you buy your next vehicle, get high miles per gallon.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution.