Auto Electronics

Committed to improving hybrid electric cars

As we usher in an era of a clean and green environment, carmakers around the world are making sincere efforts to cut emissions and pollution from vehicles they manufacture, and are racing to reduce the dependence on oil. Hence, this year signals the arrival of a new generation of electric cars and vehicles that promise to deliver the performance. U.S. automakers are leading the pack in delivering on this promise.

Two notable U.S. manufacturers keeping that commitment are General Motors and Ford Motor Co. At this year's North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), GM unveiled its newest concept vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt, based on its E-Flex flexible propulsion system. Ford Motor Co. at another show unwrapped its concept vehicle, a modified Ford Edge, powered by a combination of compressed hydrogen and a plug-in battery pack that can be recharged with a standard home electric cord. However, Ford said it had significant technical hurdles to overcome before it could sell its new electric and hydrogen car. This vehicle is powered by a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack capable of carrying the Edge 25 miles on stored electric power, according to Ford.

While mechanical propulsion will be with us for many decades to come, GM sees a market for various forms of electric vehicles (EV), including fuel cells and electric vehicles using gas and diesel engines to extend the range. With its new E-flex concept, the maker can produce electricity from gasoline, ethanol, bio-diesel or hydrogen, said GM.

Well, even though GM prefers to call it EV, by definition it is still a plug-in hybrid. It uses a gas engine to create additional electricity to extend its range. According to GM's vice chairman, Robert A. Lutz, the Volt draws from GM's previous experience in starting the modern electric vehicle market when it launched the EV1 in 1996. The new Chevrolet Volt addresses the range problem and has room for passengers and their stuff. It can also climb a hill or turn on the air conditioning without problems. The Volt can be fully charged by plugging it into a 110 V outlet for approximately six hours a day. When the lithium-ion battery is fully charged, the Volt can deliver 40 city miles of pure electric vehicle range. When the battery is depleted, a one-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged engine spins at a constant speed, or revolutions per minute (rpm), to create electricity and replenish the battery.

In addition, the Chevrolet Volt is designed to run on E85, a fuel blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

Furthermore, the company has developed a variant of the Chevrolet Volt with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, instead of a gasoline engine EV range-extender. To add to this diversity, other alternatives, such as a diesel engine or using bio-diesel or 100% ethanol, are made possible with the E-Flex system architecture, said GM.

Lithium-ion has played a key role in making this concept a reality. This type of hybrid electric car would require a battery pack that weighs nearly 400 pounds (181 kg). Some experts predict that such a battery — or a similar battery — could be production-ready by 2010 to 2012. Meanwhile, advanced integrated energy storage solutions provider Cobasys has been awarded a contract to develop and test Li-ion battery system technology for GM's plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) program. Cobasys will be working with its partner, A123Systems, to provide complete battery systems featuring A123Systems' proprietary nanophosphate technology. Others contributing to the new concept car include GE Plastics. New body materials were used to reduce weight up to 50%.

The new concept cars highlight the progress U.S. automakers are making to reduce the dependence on petroleum. Regaining the market share means putting this concept into production as early as possible.

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