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News & Events - December '08
16.12.2008Aixam Mega to increase EV production
Aixam Mega, which is Europe's largest supplier of ultra-light electric vehicles, is preparing to boost production for the UK, European and North American markets, following a raft of initiatives by government and private sector groups designed to encourage adoption of electric vehicles to help combat climate change.
These initiatives include last week's announcement in London by the new Zero Emission Vehicle Foundation of a campaign to put 20,000 electric vehicles on the city's roads by 2012, and the UK government’s recent commitment to investing £100m in technology and infrastructure to make electric and low-carbon vehicles a practical choice for more people.
Since 1983 Aixam Mega has invested vast resources into the development of ultra-light vehicles (also known as heavy quadricycles), and it has a 40 per cent share of total European sales for this category of vehicle. It has also invested heavily in the development of electric vehicle technology, including the Mega City, designed specifically for the UK market.
The company has two large research and manufacturing facilities in France, 300 employees and produces 15,000 ultra-light vehicles per year. It has a wholly-owned UK distribution centre, for both the Mega City and the Mega Multitrucks range of commercial vehicles. Together these two brands have a 70 per cent share of the UK market for ultra-light electrics.
Aixam Mega's UK general manager Lawrence Holland said that, while sales of electric vehicles have slowed during the recent economic downturn, they have been growing steadily over the years, and have bucked the trends affecting the wider automotive sector. The company believes sales are set to take off in the light of national and international climate change programmes, and ongoing product development and vehicle production are being geared up to meet demand.
According to Holland: "Aixam Mega is fully committed to the development of electric vehicles, and believes that the future for ultra-light models is bright. The challenge that governments face now is to get electric vehicles onto the roads in numbers so that ambitious European and UK targets can be met. Mainstream car makers are a long way from having electrics ready for the market in volume.
"Aixam Mega, however, has well-proven technology available now, for private motorists and for the commercial sector, and we already have more than 1500 of our vehicles on the road. Aixam Mega's products are niche vehicles designed for short-range, urban trips and frequent stop-start tasks, which represent a high proportion of trips in and around city centre locations. We are well-positioned to make our contribution to this step-change in thinking about vehicles and urban transport, right now, several years ahead of most other manufacturers."
Mega vehicles can be fully charged from any standard electric power outlet in five to eight hours. The Mega City has a range of around 40 miles on a full charge, depending on driving style and road conditions, and a top speed of 40 miles per hour, while Multitrucks have a range of around 60 miles and a top speed of 30mph. Both cost around 1.5p per mile to charge.
The retail price for Mega City two-seat models is £11,254, and £11,744 for four-seat versions. Mega Multitrucks are priced from £10,035 depending on battery pack and body configuration.
12.12.2008GM-Iberdrola to develop charging network
General Motors Europe and Spanish energy company Iberdrola have signed an agreement to jointly perform a feasibility study analysing the technical requirements for a large-scale electric vehicle (EV) recharging infrastructure. The agreement has been signed by Javier Villalba, Director of Spain Network Business, and Jamal El-Hout, Vice President, Product Planning from General Motors Europe.
The companies claim that their cooperation reflects a joint interest in encouraging the development of EVs, in particular, those with an extended-range such as the Chevrolet Volt, which they feel have the potential to significantly contribute to increased energy efficiency and environmental protection. The agreement follows previous international joint working initiatives between the companies (and 41 other stakeholders), coordinated by the US based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), aimed at encouraging plug-in EVs.
The main areas of the feasibility study, which will be carried out in Spain and the United Kingdom, are aimed at ensuring convenient and safe charging infrastructure for consumers. GM and Iberdrola will analyse the requirements for the location of plug sockets in private homes and offices, and public and private parking, as well as the installation of electricity meters.
Within the framework of the study, both companies expect to develop specific actions to assess the optimum viability of EVs. They will undertake an analysis of E-REV technology (which utilises a small gas engine to recharge an EVs battery-pack) as well as electricity network capacity.
If the outcome of the feasibility study is positive for the future of EVs, both companies foresee negotiations with different European, national, regional and local governments, and agreements which will further support the implementation of this initiative.
IBERDROLA has consolidated its place in recent years as a worldwide energy leader. Currently present in more than 40 countries, it has a capacity over 42,000 MW and around 27 million customers. At present, it is the main Spanish energy company.
About General Motors:
General Motors Corp. is the world's largest automaker. It has been the annual global industry sales leader for 77 years. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 252,000 people around the world. With global headquarters in Detroit, GM manufactures its cars and trucks in 35 countries, and is currently on the brink of bankruptcy.
9.12.2008The one million dollar MINI E
As the first product of 'Projekt i' for BMW, a remarkable electric Mini not only introduces a clearly defined market sector but provides real-time responses to shape the Mini’s future and Iain Robertson drove the $1million car exclusively.
Unveiling an innovative new car at the Los Angeles Motor Show is hardly a great way to make motoring headlines in the UK. Yet, when that new car is as revolutionary as the Mini E, creating a test drive opportunity became a priority. Hence, my drive to and from Munich, BMW’s headquarters and an 'electric' drive in a remarkable Mini.
The logic for the LA launch is linked to both the State of California's 'clean air' legislation and the US government incentives given to drivers of eco-friendly motorcars. No less than 500 of a strictly limited run of 560 examples have been despatched to North America and, from a select list of potential and very keen operators, a monthly lease fee of $850 will provide a domestic charging device (fitted by a BMW Mini technician) and a Mini E for a fixed term of 12 months.
Although it may seem hard to comprehend at that price (especially given the current economic climate), Mini personnel have been inundated, through the firm’s web-site, with requests to pay for the privilege of running the new model. A market acceptable lease rate was reached and still the requests poured in. Nobody will be able to buy the cars, as they remain the property of Mini and each will be stripped and comprehensively checked post-trial at 'Projekt i', in Munich.
The Mini E features the use of Lithium-ion battery technology in an industry 'first'. However, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that the cars are as easy to drive and all-but-identical to the conventional petrol or diesel powered models is a major landmark. Checking around the car, its under-bonnet area is filled with an electric 'engine' (in a sealed box) and the CVT transmission, while opening the hatchback door reveals a rear compartment (where the back seats would have been) packed with the equivalent of 5,088 mobile-phone batteries. There is a negligible boot space, which amounts to little more than a standard Mini – the car is now a strict two-seater.
The start procedure is identical to every Mini; insert the fob into its receptacle and depress the 'Start' button alongside. The only audible suggestion of motion is a distant hum as the transmission selector is slipped into ‘Drive’ and the throttle pedal is depressed. Although the car is just like an automatic to drive, the use of a transmission deceleration energy recovery system, which augments the battery power and helps to extend the car’s usable range, means that adopting a more advanced driving style is preferable.
Most of the time, there is scarcely a need to use the car’s brakes, even in stop-start conditions around town. An engine power equivalent of 204bhp ensures that the Mini E delivers the most astonishing pace. Although its top speed is governed to 93mph, floor the accelerator pedal and the urge is spirited enough to despatch the 0-60mph sprint in less than 8.0 seconds, with no cessation of punch all the way to its maximum speed.
Yet, apart from the fancy 'paint-job', which amounts to the application of several stylish 'E' logos and stripes in garish yellow, on the standard gunmetal grey paintwork, and the virtual lack of extraneous noise, apart from some electric motor whine and accompanying tyre roar, this Mini blended into the Munich roads network like every other Mini spotted on the test route. It was never less than amusing to drive, in a way that all Minis are. In other words, the suspension can become caught out over severe bumps, yet the steering responses are instant and the overall handling (which matches BMW's 'Driving Machine' ethos of a 50:50 fore and aft weight balance) is engaging and typical of the brand.
The downsides are few but are summed-up generally as a restriction to just two seats, a remarkable range of almost 150 miles before a two-hour recharge is deemed essential (which, although triple the range of most other electric cars on the UK market, is disappointing alongside a petrol version managing 300 miles and a diesel around 450 miles) and the simple fact that you will never be able to buy this car. The research into the technology will continue under the 'Projekt i' handle but will extend into other BMW products and will not necessarily be electricity-based.
Overall impression? It is an amazing privilege to stand alongside a giant like BMW and experience its might in such an empathetic manner. I have now driven one tenable view of the future and it is hugely satisfying.
Model tested: MINI E
Body-styles: 3-door hatchback and 4-door estate
Trim grades: E
Prices: $850/month lease rate (impossible to buy)
In the showroom: on trial in USA and Germany
Review star rating: 5 STARS
Warranty: irrelevant (prototype)
WhatGreenCar data: MINI E Li-ion
Iain Robertson © WhatGreenCar.com 2008
3.12.2008UK electric car sales drop 58%
Electric car sales have more than halved this year. Figures obtained by CleanGreenCars reveal just 156 were sold from January to October 2008, compared to 374 for the same period in 2007.
News of the 58% drop comes as one of London’s two electric car distributors, Nice Car Company, was plunged into administration. Set up in 2006, the company had been selling an all-electric version of the French-made Aixam Mega. It had also planned to bring a range of new models, including a two-seater and MPV, to market by the end of the year. However, sales dropped to fewer than one car a week.
"While volumes are still tiny, any drop in electric car sales will come as a shock to most people," commented Richard Bremner, editor of CleanGreenCars. "Perhaps the market for quirky electric vehicles like the Mega City and G-Wiz have had their day. Buyers could be holding off for cars from mainstream manufacturers, although they may still have years to wait before mass production is a reality."
There are around 1,100 all-electric cars currently on UK roads. The vast majority are owned by Londoners and are quadricycles rather than fully type-approved cars. Congestion-charge concessions for all-electric vehicles helped create the market, however customers have since turned away.
So what hit sales?
CO2-based congestion charge proposals
Ken Livingstone’s proposals to exempt sub-120 g/km CO2 petrol and diesel cars from the congestion charge damaged the market. The proposals were subsequently scrapped by new mayor Boris Johnson, but many had turned away from all-electric motoring in the interim.
Electric quadricycles and safety
Quadricycles are not required to undergo the rigorous crash tests of standard cars like a Corsa or Fiesta. Their safety record has therefore been questioned with programmes like BBC Top Gear highlighting poor performance in an impact.
City of London’s U-turn on parking concessions
Electric cars were exempt from parking charges in the City of London, until a U-turn announced in June this year. The concession was thought to be worth up to £4,000 a year for those regularly parking in the City.
Models by mainstream car makers
Many early-adopters have become wary of dipping their toes in the market with independent companies like Reva and NICE, particularly since mainstream car makers announced their plans to bring electric cars to market.
Strange that NICE should go into recievership in the same week that the Committee on Climate Change has signalled its strongest ever support for electric vehicles - see Road transport central to climate change report for more details.
2.12.2008TH!NK EV target cities to include London
Initial distribution of the TH!NK city electric vehicle in 2009 will be targeted towards the most `EV friendly` cities in Europe, including London.
In order to prioritise markets, the Norwegian manufacturer has developed an EV Friendliness Index, which measures the benefits associated with buying and using electric vehicles in each city. The EV Friendly Index takes into account purchase incentives for electric vehicles, practical support measures taken by cities and local energy utilities to encourage adoption, and the associated environmental benefit the TH!NK city will have in displacing fossil-fuelled cars.
Taking the top spot in TH!NK's index is the city of Oslo (25 points), closely followed by Tel Aviv (20), Lisbon (20), Copenhagen (19) and London (18). On the news of THI!NK's commitment to the capital, Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon, said: "I am pleased that TH!NK sees London as one of the most attractive markets in Europe to roll out their electric vehicles. We want to see more electric and other low emission cars on roads in the UK, as we move towards a low carbon future."
TH!NK maintain that even though the `home city` of Oslo headed the table, they are not partisan. The Norwegian capital's high ranking, they say, is driven by significant purchase tax benefits, no annual road tax, the permission for EVs to use bus and taxi lanes, access to free inner-city parking and exemption from all road toll fees.
A variety of London initiatives were factored in to the scoring, these included: zero road tax, 100% London Congestion Charge discount, and free parking in many parts of the city, particularly the West End. Moreover, the recently announced funding initiative to accelerate the development and demonstration of low carbon transport solutions in the UK was seen as a big benefit.
Announcing TH!NK's EU roll-out plan, CEO Richard Canny commented: "Due to high demand for our vehicles and our finite production capacity in 2009 we want to make sure that we concentrate our sales on the European cities that have the most potential – not just in terms of sales volumes, but the cities where our customers will receive the maximum benefit. And since EVs are a unique solution for congested urban environments, we will take a city-by-city approach rather than a pan-European or country-by-country approach."
Commenting on the exact number of vehicles available in 2009, Canny explained that TH!NK is working quickly to move toward reaching full production capacity of 10,000 units per year at its Aurskog assembly plant in Norway, but added that sales volumes in the first half of 2009 will likely be limited by capacity constraints.
Due to the fact that many European cities are rapidly changing their purchase and usage incentive/ regulatory frameworks to support electric vehicles, the exact sequence of cities for the TH!NK city launch will not be announced until early 2009, when details will be revealed on the TH!NK website: www.thinkev.com.
Canny apologised to potential buyers for the fact that the vehicle will not be available throughout the whole of Europe until 2010. This, he said, was due to the importance of "[establishing] a strong concentration of sales in key, highly attractive markets, which support early adoption of low carbon transport solutions."