T.E.N. Future Transport News 28th November, 2014: Batteries Included, Hydrogen Challenges, Twizy Racing

Welcome to T.E.N! Short for Transport Evolved News, T.E.N. is recorded every Friday to help your weekend get off to a flying start by making sure you haven’t missed the big future transport news stories of the week.

Weekly show about future cars and future car technology. This week news about: Renault’s new battery purchase model, Tesla factory upgrade, Nissan’s future-fuel strategy, BMW and Tesla working together on EV tech, Toyota’s future hydrogen plans, Renault-Nissan’s 200,000th electric car sale, Electric MINI, Twizy Racing in Dubai.

Just ten minutes in length, T.E.N. delivers the evolved transport news in a bite-sized format, and you’ll find links to all of the stories we cover in an accompanying article blow.

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What follows, as always, is our raw script for the show today. (It’s why things are sometimes written out in words rather than numbers — and why we sometimes make some errors!) You’ll find it isn’t always quite identical to the video above, but we know some of you like to follow through and click on the stories as we discuss them. Enjoy! 

Batteries Included

When Renault unveiled its range of electric vehicles back in 2011, it also unveiled an as-then unheard of ownership model for electric vehicles: owning the vehicle but leasing the battery pack.

Designed to help spread the cost of electric car ownership out by allowing customers to buy the cars themselves but lease the battery pack, Renault’s battery lease model offered some significant benefits over traditional purchase models, including a lower initial purchase price and ongoing battery warranty. Despite these benefits however, many customers shied away from Renault’s unusual ownership model, expressing a preference to own the vehicle and its batteries outright.

Although Renault initially seemed reluctant to offer such an option for its customers, the French automaker has warmed to the idea over recent months and has just announced it will offer customers in the UK the option to purchase the Renault ZOE electric hatchback and Renault Kangoo Z.E. electric van with batteries included rather than leased.

Renault says the new purchase option — which it will call the ZOE i and Kangoo Van Z.E. i — can be applied to any of the existing trim options available for either vehicle, with the entry-level Zoe i available from  £23,443 before incentives and the Kangoo Van Z.E. i available from £27,393 pounds before incentives and including taxes.

So if you love Renault’s Zoe or Kangoo — but don’t love renting your batteries — maybe it’s time to give them a look.

Built by Professor Xavier

Let’s face it. If you’re the kind of person who likes the wonderful world of future car technology, you’re probably something of a geek. And that means that you’re probably au fait with other geeky things like the latest gadgets, science fiction and fantasy, and of course comic books.

Well, it turns out the folks at Tesla Motors are just as geeky as we are, and have just installed ten brand-new high-tech robots — some of the largest in the world — at Tesla’s Fremont facility, where Tesla’s all-electric luxury cars are made.

The robots have been installed as part of a massive upgrade to the facility ahead of the launch of the Tesla Model X crossover SUV, but are also being used to simplify and speed up the production line, lifting cars from one part of the plant to another without any fuss or bother.

The cool bit? Instead of naming the robots by their model number and designation, Tesla has named each one after X-Men characters, and even adorned each robot’s case with specially-commissioned comic artwork of them in action.

So if you’re waiting for a Tesla, you can legitimately say it was built by your favourite X-Men character. And that’s darned cool.

Staying off the bandwagon

As anyone who watched last week’s show or followed our LA Auto Show coverage will know, Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars are the automotive world’s favourite form of transport right now, with pretty much every major automaker investigating or building a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

But while automakers like Toyota and Honda are racing to bring hydrogen fuel cell technology to market, fellow Japanese automaker Nissan says it’s in no rush to make a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, saying that the costs involved are simply too high and electric cars have a far more viable future than hydrogen cars for now.

Speaking last week, Nissan Vice Chairman Toshiuki Shiga told the Japan Times that Nissan is in no rush to enter the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle market, saying that the costs associated with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure were simply too high for Nissan to switch from batteries to fuel cells.

And with Nissan dominating the global plug-in marketplace, Shiga said the company was more than happy with its position in the zero-emission vehicle world. After all, with nearly 150,000 LEAFs sold worldwide, it’s well ahead of any hydrogen fuel cell sales, isn’t it?

I need you, You need me.

Although Toyota and Daimler might have both distanced themselves from Tesla Motors earlier this fall by selling off their substantial shareholdings in the Californian automaker, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that German automaker BMW is eager and willing to fill the void.

In an interview this week with German news magazine der Spiegel, Musk said that BMW and Tesla are investigating the possibility of forming an alliance on battery and carbon fiber technology.

At the moment, BMW relies on Samsung SDI for the lithium-ion battery packs it uses in its i3 and i8 plug-in cars, but an official partnership with Tesla could see it benefit from the upcoming Tesla Gigafactory, which promises to lower battery prices to never-before seen lows.

Conversely, BMW’s high-tech carbon-fibre construction process for its i3 and i8 cars — which is far less energy-intensive and far lighter than traditional methods — could give Tesla a way to built even lighter and longer-range cars.

While Musk was happy to talk about the partnership though, BMW isn’t making any official announcements, so consider this a possibility rather than a foregone conclusion.

A Tough Road

While Toyota has only just debuted its twenty sixteen Mirai fuel cell sedan to the general public, the Japanese automaker is already hard at work on developing and refining its hydrogen fuel cell technology further with the aim of bringing its next-generation fuel cell car to market in time for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

But while Toyota managed to slash the cost of producing the fuel cell stack in the Mirai by 95 percent over previous generation cars, its boss of fuel cell design Yasuhiro Nonobe admitted this week that reducing the cost further would be a much tougher job.

At the moment, the fuel cell stack in the Mirai costs around $50,000 to make, but rather than slash its cost by a further 95 percent on the next-generation model, Nonobe says Toyota is targeting a two-thirds to three-quarters reduction in cost, which would bring the cost of the fuel cell stack in a 2020 model down to around $12,500.

The challenge? Electric cars — Hydrogen fuel cell’s biggest competitor — are also set to reduce their prices dramatically in the same time frame, so expect the battle between electric and hydrogen cars to go on for many years to come.

200,000 cars

Just shy of celebrating the fourth anniversary of the launch of its all-electric Nissan LEAF, the Renault-Nissan Alliance says it has sold its two hundred thousandth electric car.

The two companies — who share a single CEO in the form of Carlos Ghosn — have been at the forefront of the electric car push since the Nissan LEAF was launched in late twenty ten and Renault’s range of Z.E. electric cars — the Fluence Z.E., Twizy Z.E., Kangoo Z.E. and Zoe Z.E. were launched shortly after.

These days, Renault and Nissan offer six different plug-in models around the world, including the recently-launched e-NV200 minivan, and say that combined, their electric cars have travelled more than 4 billion kilometers — that’s 2.49 billion miles — and saved more than two hundred million litres of fuel from being burnt.

With strong sales and a larger market than the Renault range of electric vehicles, the Nissan LEAF accounts for most of the plug-in vehicle sold by the alliance to date, racking up more than one hundred and forty eight thousand seven hundred cars since launch.

Well done all.

MINI Revolution?

German automaker BMW — parent company to the MINI brand — has long debated the future of an all-electric MINI model after its limited-production prototype Mini E proved so popular among customers lucky enough to be part of its electronaut pre-production electric vehicle test fleet.

It even recently debuted a prototype all-electric model called the MINI Superleggera — a two-seat coupe designed to be more evocative of a classic British sports car of the sixties than a modern-day city car.

But when MINI executives announced earlier this year it was considering cutting back the MINI range from its current ten-car lineup to just four or five, the future of an all-electric MINI seemed more than a little uncertain.

This week however, MINI brand chief Peter Schwarzenbauer confirmed that MINI will be bringing an all-electric model to market ‘soon’ as one the models to survive the paring down of the MINI brand into a more compact “superhero” brand.  So if you’re someone who has been lusting after an all-electric retro-themed car, you’ll want to be sure to follow MINI pretty closely from now on.

Twizy Racing

The tiny Renault Twizy Z.E. two-seat runabout might not be getting the battery purchase options just announced by Renault for its bigger siblings the Renault ZOE and Renault Kangoo Z.E., but its diminutive size means that it can do the kind of things that other electric cars are just too big for.

Things like ice racing in the alps or racing around the world’s largest shopping mall.

Which is exactly what the Lotus F1 team are doing in this fun and cute video for the Twizy.

While the Lotus F1 team — who uses Renault-made internal combustion engines in their race cars —  hasn’t exactly had a great year in Formula one, scoring just ten points between them compared to World Champion Lewis Hamilton’s three hundred and eighty four, we’re pretty sure Mr. Hamilton didn’t just get to drive around an enormous empty mall in Dubai in a torquey, tail-happy electric bundle of joy.

And frankly, with the Twizy reaching a top speed of 50 miles per hour, we’re guessting tearing around the mall felt pretty sweet, regardless of how well the season went.

Nice commiseration prize, guys.


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