electric cars

GM

GM announced today that the price of a Chevy Volt will drop by $5,000:

The 2014 model will start at $34,995...

If consumers include federal tax credits ranging from $0-$7,500 (depending on individual tax liability), pricing could start at $27,495.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A lithium-ion battery maker says it’s finally begun production at its plant in West Michigan.

President Obama’s stimulus package invested some $2 billion in advanced battery plants. Back in the summer of 2010, Mr. Obama came to Holland for the ground breaking ceremony for the new LG Chem plant. It was to eventually make lithium ion batteries for the Chevy Volt.

The plant cost roughly $300 million to build. Federal stimulus money paid for half that cost.

Johnson Controls

Boeing hopes to have a permanent fix for its new Dreamliner jet by the end of the month. All Dreamliners have been grounded since January after reports of the batteries smoking or catching fire.

The news is another bump in the road for lithium ion battery manufacturers, who’ve already had some problems marketing the next generation of batteries.

Lithium ion dominating the market

Lithium ion based batteries are everywhere; your cell phone, laptop or tablet, cordless power tools. But there are several kinds of lithium ion batteries. The ones in the Dreamliner aren’t the same as the ones in consumer electronics.

“We’re in the middle of a horse race and right now lithium ion is far in the lead of that horse race,” Sam Jaffe said. He’s an energy storage analyst with Pike Research.

The 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid.
Ford Motor Company

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

The auto industry seems to be coming back to life, but there does not seem to be much buzz surrounding alternative energy vehicles, and that's being reflected in sales.

January figures were anemic at best for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

The Obama Administration predicted a million electric cars would be on our highways by 2015.

Today there are barely 30,000.

Just why aren't these vehicles catching on with the public?

And is there anything the automakers can do to make those EVs and plug-ins more appealing?

Cindy talked with Sean McAlinden, Executive VP of Research and Chief Economist at the Center for Auto Research, and David Shepardson, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Detroit News.

Courtesy photo / The Lakeshore Advantage

This story was updated to correct that the $120 million goes to a a number of partners including two in Michigan.

The recent bankruptcy of battery company A123 has some questioning the profitability of electric cars like the Nissan Leaf.
user cliff1066 / flickr

Tuesday’s bankruptcy announcement by A123 Systems Inc. has many taking another look at the prospects of the electric car.

Conservative commentators have taken the opportunity to bash the Obama administration for its green energy investments.

In 2009, A123 received a $249 million grant from the Department of Energy.

Reuters reports on the numbers behind the Volt - "There are some Americans paying just $5,050 to drive around for two years in a vehicle that cost as much as $89,000 to produce."

Honda is back in the battery electric car business.

The company's Fit EV is rated as having the longest range of any electric vehicle sold in the U.S. so far. 

Federal regulators say the Fit EV can go about 82 miles on a fully charged battery. 

That's six miles more than the electric Focus and nine more than the Nissan Leaf. 

Ford Motor Company has teamed up with seven other car companies to develop a faster method of recharging electric cars.

Fast-charging could help reduce the problem of what some call "range anxiety." 

One drawback of an electric car is how long it takes to recharge the battery - up to 7 hours for some electric cars. And if you push the car to its range limit you risk being stranded; that causes range anxiety. 

Mike Tinskey is associate director of vehicle electrification at Ford. He says it's hoped that eventually, "We can get to a point when we can charge just as quick as you can fuel up a conventional car with gasoline."

The new system isn't that fast, but it's a lot faster than charging on a 120 or 240 volt outlet. 

It will take about 20 minutes to get an 80% charge on a depleted electric car battery .

Other companies involved in developing the new system are Audi, BMW N.A., Chrysler, Daimler, General Motors, Porsche, and Volkswagen ...

A new study says electric cars produce fewer global warming emissions than hybrids - in some regions. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists says electricity in California and New York isn't as reliant on older, coal-burning power plants as other regions.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A coalition of businesses, non-profits and environmental groups are working to get more electric vehicle charging stations located in Michigan.

The group “Built by Michigan” is asking voters to petition Governor Rick Snyder to create incentives for installing charging stations. It’s also pushing for the state to buy more electric vehicles and tougher regulations requiring “clean fuel standards”.

General Motors has confirmed that it will develop a Cadillac version of its flagship Chevy Volt.

Like the Volt, the Cadillac ELR will run on electricity made by a T-shaped lithium-ion battery, or a gasoline generator.

The car has had an on-again, off-again history. 

As a concept, the then-named Cadillac Converj made a big splash at the 2009 North American International Auto Show.

GM CEO Dan Akerson says he doesn’t know why the program was suspended.  The car came up at a meeting shortly after he took charge of GM.

staff / media.ford.com

Detroit Edison is taking the next step toward an electric car future. The electricity provider will power some of its own fleet using electricity.

Some of Detroit Edison's service calls will now be made by technicians driving Ford Transit Connect electric vans.

The van's range is about 80 miles - that's enough for an average day's worth of calls, says Detroit Edison President Steven Kurmas.

 Kurmas says more of the vans may be added to the fleet later.

Michigansmartcoast.com

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Thursday President Obama heads to Holland, Michigan. Mr. Obama will tour a new plant that will make lithium-ion batteries for electric and hybrid cars.

Michigan’s newly-branded “smart coast” welcomes Obama for the second time in 13 months. Last summer he came to the ground breaking of a different battery plant.

Randy Thelan is president of the non-profit, economic development group in the region, The Lakeshore Advantage.

“We are the advanced energy storage capital of all of North America and we see this as a great opportunity going forward.”

Advanced energy storage is a fancy phrase for long-lasting lithium-ion batteries.

Google Maps and the U.S. Department of Energy

One group in west Michigan wants to encourage more people to buy electric cars by building more charging stations.

From the Grand Rapids Press:

The West Michigan Strategic Alliance is proposing the development of at least 4,000 charging stations across eight counties. Alliance President Greg Northrup is seeking approval from county boards in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon for the project, which would be financed through the sale of bonds and be repaid over a 10-year period.

“We’ve got $3 billion invested in battery projects in West Michigan,” Northrup said. “Why shouldn’t we have the infrastructure to go with it?”

So those are 4,000 proposed electric charging stations.

How can you find charging stations that are online now?

Google and the U.S. Department of Energy to the rescue. You can enter your address on the DOE's website to find alternative fueling stations near you.

Fast Company says "eventually, this Google/DOE partnership will serve as the primary EV charging station data source for GPS and mapping systems (like the one that may be in your car already)."

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Wayne State University will offer certificate programs in advanced energy storage. Courses will focus on things like electric vehicle batteries, and updating the electric grid to handle electric vehicle charging.

Jay Baron is the president of the Center for Automotive Research. He says the car industry is clamoring for engineers with those skills:

"When you speak to any of the auto companies, they will tell you: if you’ve got a field of study that has the term 'battery' or 'energy storage' in it, you’ve piqued the interest. My daughter is looking for a job, and I’ve told her if there’s any way she can get 'battery' into the title of her degree, she’d do much better."

Baron says several universities are retooling their engineering programs to incorporate more battery-related course offerings.

But he says there are lingering questions about the long-term viability of the electric vehicle market.

Michigan Radio

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow plans to introduce legislation that would change government incentives for buying electric cars.

Right now, the incentive for the purchase of an electric car comes when you file your taxes in the form of a tax credit.

Stabenow's legislation, the Charging America Forward Act, would give consumers a rebate of up to $7,500 at the time of purchase.

The Senator says a rebate would do more to spur consumers to adopt electric vehicles. From Stabenow's statement:

"Michigan is already a leader in emerging hi-tech battery and electric car production. Other countries are acting to develop their own advanced vehicle markets because they realize the tremendous economic potential this new technology represents.  These initiatives will allow Michigan innovators to continue to out-compete the world and create new jobs here"

Naturally, GM spokesman Greg Martin says the company likes the rebate idea, saying "we are pleased to see Senator Stabenow's legislation that integrates all of the components necessary for successful acceleration of electric vehicles in the marketplace.  We look forward to working with Congress on legislation that leads to widespread adoption of electric vehicles."

The Associated Press says Stabenow also wants the incentives to go beyond just consumers:

Stabenow also wants tax credits for investments into electric vehicle recharging stations and for businesses that buy hybrid trucks. It also seeks more funding to develop the nation's advanced battery industry.

And the Detroit Free Press says this bill supports the Obama Administration's plan to get 1 million "plug-in or advanced-technology" cars on the road by 2015. The Freep says it's a goal that "can be reached only if it is supported by aggressive government incentives that also spur the development of infrastructure."

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is following this story, and will have an update later today.

Ford Motor Company

Not to be outdone by GM and Nissan, Ford Motor Company says it is delivering on a promise to make more small, fuel-efficient cars for consumers.

At the North American International Auto Show today, the company is showcasing 10 new "C-segment" cars. The company says the vehicles are "fuel efficient smaller cars that people really want."

Charge Point charging station for electric vehicles
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

West Michigan will get 50 free public charging stations through a program funded by the federal stimulus program. The first one in downtown Grand Rapids is now up and running. It’s one of only a handful on the west side of the state. The other two are in Holland and a fourth is set to come online soon in Muskegon.