T.E.N. Future Transport News 5th December, 2014: Tesla and BMW, Double-Range LEAF, Self-Driving UK

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: Audi’s real reasons for making the A7 Sportback H-Tron Quattro a plug-in hydrogen hybrid; BMW clarifies Tesla rumors; Carlos Ghosn confirms improved range for next-gen LEAF; Toyota Mirai’s hand-built construction; plug-in perks at work; Tesla Model S Customer Satisfaction Survey; the UK’s first self-driving projects; 1 billion kilometres in a Nissan LEAF.

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! 

Not Sporty Enough

At last month’s LA Auto Show, Volkswagen’s luxury arm Audi unveiled a world-first, the Sportback H-Tron Quattro: a performance plug-in hybrid with a hydrogen fuel cell range-extender in place of the more traditional gasoline range-extending engine.

At the time, we praised Audi for making what we thought was a logical compromise between the low-running costs and convenience of a plug-in vehicle with the longer-distance capabilities and quick refuelling time of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, but as it turned out this week, Audi’s decision to make this particular vehicle a plug-in hydrogen hybrid had more to do with performance.

As we reported on Monday, Audi’s technical boss Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg admitted over the weekend that the A7 Sportback H-Tron Quattro needed a plug-in hybrid drivetrain in addition to the hydrogen fuel cell in order to ‘make it a proper Audi.’ In other words, the 100 kilowatt output of the hydrogen fuel cell system wasn’t powerful enough to give the Audi A7 the kind of acceleration demanded of it by the Audi badge.

Oh, and without the second motor from the plug-in hybrid drivetrain, Hackenberg said, the A7 couldn’t have worn the quattro name plate either, because it would have only been two-wheel drive.  Oh well.

Nein danke!

It seemed almost too good to be true: the rumor that Tesla Motors and BMW, two of the world’s most dedicated plug-in manufacturers, were considering a mutually-beneficial partnership in order to share electric car battery and lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced plastic construction technology. And if you remember last week’s show, you’ll remember that that’s exactly what was inferred would be happening after German publication Der Spiegel interviewed Tesla CEO Elon Musk on future Tesla plans.

Well this week, we’ve heard from BMW, who has said categorically that any rumor of Tesla and BMW working together on such a partnership wasn’t true , even going so far as to suggest that Tesla CEO Elon Musk was ‘name dropping’ for PR points.

The luxury German brand also said that while it wasn’t going to be buying shares in Tesla or working on any joint projects any time soon, it was open to the possibility of selling Tesla its carbon-fibre technology for the right price, as it would be for any other rival automaker.

Interestingly, following BMW’s statement, we were quickly contacted by Tesla to reiterate that Musk not only did not talk up a partnership with BMW, but actively sought to squash any rumors the moment they surfaced. So we’re glad that’s cleared up.


In just a week’s time, the Nissan LEAF electric car will turn four and as such, all eyes are now on Nissan’s successor to the first-generation LEAF, which is due some time in 2015 as a 2016 model year car.

And alongside that interest comes some pretty consistent rumors that suggest Nissan is about to double the range of its LEAF battery pack for the next-generation Model, something confirmed by Carlos Ghosn this week in a late-night interview on a Japanese business cable channel.

While Ghosn wasn’t exactly forthcoming with the information, he did confirm that yes, Nissan is working on new battery technology, yes, it will double the range of current vehicles and yes, that would equate to a Japanese-rated range of more than 400 kilometers per charge.

While that’s lead some outlets to claim the range of the next-generation Nissan LEAF will be around two hundred and fifty miles per charge, we’re throwing caution to the wind and doubling what we think the real-world range of today’s LEAF is to give a real-world one hundred and fifty miles per charge. Now all we have to do is wait to find out how much more it’ll cost for that extra range.

Hand Built

It wooed audiences at last month’s LA Auto Show, and its design is supposed to be a visual representation of the electrochemical processes taking place inside its fuel cell stack, but it turns out the twenty sixteen Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Fuel Cell Sedan won’t’ be made in the kind of high-tech, robotic automotive production facility that you might expect.

Instead, Toyota announced this week, it’ll be built by hand at Toyota’s artisan LFA Works facility in Toyota City, Japan by the same team of workers who built the limited-production carbon-fibre Lexus LFA supercar and more recently a limited-run carbon-fiber bicycle for super-rich Lexus customers.

The decision to build the car by hand, says Toyota, is driven by the fact that the Mirai calls for some pretty intricate craftsmanship and attention to detail that means for now the vehicle can’t be made in an automated facility.

But with just two hundred orders placed so far — mostly from Japanese governmental fleets — we’re getting the distinct impression that Toyota’s first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle won’t be the kind of vehicle you’re going to see on every street corner.

Perks of the Job

While most studies to date suggest that electric car owners only ever need to charge their car once a day in order to have enough range to carry out their everyday activities, knowing there’s a local charging station in your community or at your place of work can make the difference between buying an electric car or not.

And if you happen to work at an office with dedicated charging stations for employees to use, you’re more than twenty-times more likely to own a plug-in car than you would if your office doesn’t offer charging. At least, that’s the verdict from the U.S. Department of Energy, whose recent EV Everywhere Workplace Charging Challenge Survey detailed that companies who actively support plug-in vehicle infrastructure are far more likely to employ plug-in vehicle owners.

For the past two years, the DoE has been challenging offices and employers all over the U.S. to install public charging stations for staff and visitor use, and has helped increase the number of companies offering charging from just 13 in January 2013 to more than 150 companies today.

And as anyone who drives a plug-in car can tell you, having the chance to get a quick top-off at work can make a big difference to the way electric cars are viewed and used, lowering pollution levels and encouraging some employees to even dump the pump forever.

98 Percent Loved

It’s official: The Tesla Model S Electric car is the most loved car in the U.S., with more than ninety eight percent of all owners saying they’d recommend the car to their friends and family or buy another one when the time came to trade it in.

That’s according to Consumer Reports, whose annual Consumer Satisfaction survey has put the Tesla Model S at the top of the most loved car list, beating two hundred and eighty other vehicles to the top of the list.

According to Consumer Reports, the average customer satisfaction of vehicles in the survey was around seventy percent, but higher-price, higher-performance models tended to do better.

While the Tesla Model S came at the top of the list however, Nissan’s Versa sedan came at the bottom, with just a 43 percent satisfaction ranking. Sadly, we can’t tell you how well the Nissan LEAF fared in the list, although we can tell you that Nissan claims its customer satisfaction rating for the LEAF is somewhere around the ninety-three percent mark according to its own internal testing.

Which got us thinking: are electric cars more likely to get high customer service satisfaction figures than gasoline ones? And if so, why? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Self-driving UK

Six months after the British Government announced two new legislative measures to allow self-driving vehicles to be developed and tested on public roads across the nation and a ten million pound prize fund to help bring self-driving cars to market, the winners of the government-backed “Driverless Cars Prize Fund” have been announced.

Taking the lion’s share of the prize fund is UK Autodrive, a consortium made up of Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, councils in Coventry and Milton Keynes, and the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and the Open University — a famous british distance-learning institution known for its forward-thinking attitude to technology.

Together, the consortium will test a semi-autonomous Range Rover on the roads of Coventry and Milton Keynes, as well as develop and test a series of self-driving ‘pods’ which will be primarily designed for use in low-speed, pedestrian areas.

Meanwhile in Bristol, another, smaller consortium will be trying to find out if driverless cars can reduce traffic and improve safety, while a project in Greenwich, London will be focused on automated shuttle vehicles, valet parking, and a self-driving car simulator.

All projects will start in January, so if you live in any of the cities listed, you may see a self-driving car sooner than you thought.

Thanks a billion

And finally, in the week before Nissan’s all-electric LEAF hatchback turns four, we hear the good news that Nissan LEAFs around the globe have collaboratively traveled more than one billion zero-emission kilometres and sold more than one hundred and fifty thousand cars.

The billion-kilometre milestone, announced by Nissan yesterday, has been calculated from all of the logged miles on Nissan’s Carwings telematics system, but knowing how unreliable that system can be at tracking miles accurately — not to mention the fact that not everyone with a LEAF opts into the system — we’ve got to suggest that LEAFs around the world have travelled far more than one billion kilometres: Nissan just hasn’t’ logged them.

Either way, it’s a pretty fantastic achievement, and combined with next week’s birthday celebrations, we think it’s got to have given Nissan a really feel-good feeling about its plug in this week.

Oh, and before I forget, I was among one of the first journalists in the world to tour Nissan’s high-tech lithium-ion battery production facility this week, where I saw Nissan LEAF battery packs being made. Be sure to check out our three-part write up at transport evolved dot com, and see me in a clean-room bunny suit if you dare.


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