This week the Los Angeles Auto Show had its 100th annual exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center. In his keynote address on 11-29, Rick Wagoner, the Chairman and CEO of General Motors, congratulated the producers when he said “you have ‘arrived’ this year as one of the industry’s top international shows.”
This is more true than the distinguished Mr. Wagoner may realize. California is the home of automotive industry newcomers Tesla Motors in the Silicon Valley, and Phoenix Motorcars in California’s southland. Tesla Motors is noteworthy because they have the backing of some of the wealthiest, smartest venture capitalists the Silicon Valley ever spawned, and they are using the already commoditized lithium ion batteries used in laptops, with extremely high energy densities, to power their 100% battery powered Tesla Roadster. Phoenix Motorcars is interesting because they have a supplier agreement with Altair Technologies, who claim they have a next-generation “nano-titanate” lithium ion battery that has faster recharging times and greatly reduced problems with heat management. Could the automotive industry’s center of gravity be shifting from Detroit to California?
What we really were looking for when listening to the GM Chairman Wagoner deliver his keynote in Los Angeles was any indication that GM was going to deliver a series hybrid car, as rumor has it – read “The Series Hybrid Car is Here.”
In Wagoner’s keynote (read text here) he mentioned flex-fuel vehicles, E-85 gasoline, new hybrid vehicle roll-outs, even a plug-in hybrid! We like plug-ins, even now using nickel metal hydride batteries, because some of us only have 10-20 mile commutes, which means we can plug our hybrid cars into a wall socket each night and spend $.02 per mile using the electricity from the grid, instead of triple that cost when we charge our cars batteries using on-board gasoline. Read “Electric Car Cost per Mile” or “The 100% Battery Powered Car” for charts explaining the cost-per-mile savings of using grid electricity vs. gasoline.
We are extremely excited about series hybrid cars, because in this design the onboard gasoline engine is hooked only to an electric generator. This means it can operate at a constant RPM, which means it can attain up to 40% efficiency, far, far more than it can achieve when hooked to a drivetrain with constantly varying RPM and torque requirements. The efficiencies getting power from a generator through a battery pack and into an electric traction motor are surprisingly high. We believe the serial hybrid is potentially more fuel efficient than today’s parallel hybrids, and we believe they are far, far less complex to build and maintain.
We were told, off the record, by a GM spokesperson only two days ago that GM is definitely going to have a serial hybrid concept car early next year. But the best we got on 11-29-2006 from Chairman Wagoner is the following: “GM is committed to the development of electrically driven vehicles that will help improve energy diversity, and minimize the automobile’s impact on the environment… and, we’ll follow today’s announcements with additional announcements during the auto show season… including Detroit, in about six weeks.” That’s an enticing tidbit.
GM has gotten a bum rap by environmentalists. GM has tried everything; the experimental EV-1, sixteen generations of internally designed fuel cells, hybrids, flex-fuel; now plug-in hybrids. But if they don’t come through (as they have hinted so far they will) with a serial hybrid car, which is the closest thing yet to a 100% battery powered car and eminently practical, someone in California is going to do it instead, and the automotive world’s center of gravity will shift westward…