General Motors is not afraid of the future. And it is not afraid to let go of the past.
On Tuesday the company released details of its production version of ‘Volt’ – the industry’s first Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) that will go into production in 2010.
And this is only the beginning.
GM’s plan to reinvent the auto industry starts with killing the combustion engine.
We believe the company has three strategies for the future:
#1 The Real Revolution is about Manufacturing
GM knows that in the next automobile revolution – it is not how you fuel a car that matters, it’s how you build it.
GM cares less about the price of oil, than it cares about the cost and complexities of building cars around the mechanical combustion engine. The Volt is important because the combustion engine is relegated to a new temporary task – recharge the batteries. The 21st century auto industry begins when we shift to modularity of electric motors (e.g. lower manufacturing costs, fewer factories).
#2 Design Matters
GM knows that design matters, and the bulky, mechanical combustion engine holds them back. If you eliminate the engine and regain 1/3rd of the vehicle chassis you can rethink how cars are built. Transition to ‘drive by wire’ systems for steering and braking – and you open up new potential for vehicle designs and upgrades.
#3 The breakthrough is Electric motors, not the batteries
GM knows auto-engineering. High performance electric motors have arrived. Now we need to develop systems to deliver the streams of electrons. The future of the automobile is not ‘all’ battery or ‘all’ fuel cell – it’s both.
The electric car is not an iPod. The battery is not our end game. It is merely one piece of the puzzle for electric propulsion. Batteries might have a short-term commercialization advantage, but the platform might struggle to evolve into the 21st century. The chemistry is bad. The costs are too high, and the performance is adequate at best. Future electric propulsion systems will integrate all three systems – batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Looking beyond the Chevy Volt
The GM Volt is big – because it is the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine. R.I.P.
It is a great time to be a professional futurist working in the automobile sector!! We see clearly how quickly change can happen- and how the public’s most deeply held assumptions about the future can be revised in only a few years.
The recent string of announcements coming from Detroit, Japan, China and the rest of the automotive sector suggest big changes ahead. Yes, it will take years to unfold, but the shift toward the electrification of the world’s transportation sector has begun.
Between 2010-12 consumers can expect to see first generation all-electric vehicles from nearly every major automobile manufacturer. The monopoly era of liquid fuels and the combustion engine has started its descent. By 2025 the industry might be in a position abandon this 19th century propulsion platform and begin a new era of electric propulsion with the help of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.
Accelerating change happened. We are now adjusting our outlook to reflect a convergence of new market conditions, shifts in the regulatory environment and new consumer expectations for positive change. And of course, materials science technology changed.
Detroit (and others) seem to be saying – “Nobody Killed the Electric Car, but would someone Please Kill the Combustion Engine!!
Last week General Motors released production model details for its all-electric extended range Volt. GM now seems to believe that the internal combustion engine might best be used to power the battery not the vehicle itself..
Who else has made statements about planned electric models for 2010-12? How about Toyota, Renault, BYD (China), Tata (India) and Mitsubishi?! And what about start ups like Tesla, Fisker, Zap, and Morgan.
And that doesn’t include all the aspiring vehicle makers in China and India who might see profits ahead around leap frogging into electric power train systems. Or visionaries in Ohio and Michigan who realize that electric vehicles could be a very good thing for revitalizing the ‘Rust Belt’ around high value added manufacturing. Now we have a green light for politicians to speak confidently about electric cars. The stigma is gone.
Yes, things will take time to change. But the public tends to focus on the new growth rather than the old technologies that fade away slowly. Adoption rates for electric vehicles might surprise us!
What if we are being too cynical about China’s eco-future in the transportation sector?
Imagine a future in which China is the secret to moving the world’s auto fleet beyond liquid fuels and the combustion engine.
If they can master electron storage systems of advanced batteries, fuel cells and capacitors- they might surprise the world!
Warren Buffet thinks so. The Oracle of Omaha recently invested $233 into Chinese battery and electric vehicle maker BYD.
Now, we are hearing a similar message from other electrical storage system giants who are needed to transform our global auto fleet. A recent Economic Times article China seen as potential electric car hub describes a vision of Johnson Controls where China changes its course to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Buffet and Johnson Controls see China’s natural advantages:
-Fewer ‘legacy’ issues of existing infrastructure and embedded interests
-Top down policy control to accelerate changes around infrastructure
-Chinese leaders see cleantech as a growth industry, especially around energy storage and electric motor propulsion systems
-Small cars & scooters are the most likely candidates for electric propulsion systems. China (and India) are prime candidates
- A geopolitical desire to avoid issues of oil’s biggest problem. Lack of substitutability. Oil is the perfect fuel, but you can’t put coal or solar or nuclear into a liquid gas tank*. Electricity and hydrogen can be produced by any energy resource.
Of course, electric vehicles are not entirely ‘clean’ and certainly lead to suburban expansion and loss of rural lands. But the trade offs and consequences of doing nothing are hard to challenge. China’s urban areas would benefit from the removal of millions of uncontrolled polluting vehicles.
Even if electricity production came from coal, it is easier to control carbon emissions at a single point power plant rather than individual cars. And China’s industrial strength is powerful enough to change the direction of electric storage companies as well as automakers.
Want to think about a tough pill to swallow? Electric cars are not likely to make countries more energy independent. The US and Europe are likely to trade ‘foreign’ oil, for ‘foreign’ energy storage systems! And this might not be a bad thing. If we expect to transform the largest industries in the world (energy and transportation) it will have to be a global effort.
Key to Electric Vehicles – Asia & Energy Storage
If we look closely at recent announcements around electric vehicles, the future is looking very globally integrated and interdependent. Even as the US tries to grow its manufacturing base around ‘cleantech’ industries, Korea, China, and India are making strategic investments in the future of energy storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) to power electric vehicles.
In the last few weeks Warren Buffet placed a $233 million bet on China’s BYD, a US firm purchased a Koren battery maker, India’s Tata announced plans to sell electric cars in Europe, and GM picked the unit of Korea’s LG Chem to supply batteries of its Volt electric car.
Today, Green Car Congress picked up a Reuters report that Korea’s number one refiner SK Energy is in talks with major automakers such as Daimler and Ford on the joint development of next-generation batteries used in electric cars. SK Energy is looking to leverage ‘separator’ components for lithium ion batteries that prevent overheating. SK joins the crowd of Exxon, Chevron and Toshiba who are getting involved in battery materials.
Selling a new message: The Eco benefits of being Global
In the months and year ahead leaders in the US and Europe might have to change their simplistic and nationalistic message of independence to reflect the complexities of the energy industry and the future. It will likely be globally integrated.
If the US and Europe expect to kill the combustion engine, and end the monopoly era of liquid fuels, they will need Asia and the rest of the world to join in the effort. This new message might better reflect the brutal facts of the global economy and fate of the planet – we’re all in it together whether we are talking energy finance, energy resources, energy emissions, energy software or energy storage.
The solar industry is growing globally. The wind industry is growing globally. Why not electric vehicles? Could that be an easier pill to swallow and a better image of the future?
Worried about how Fluffy will handle being in the cargo hold at 35,000 feet? For just $1,780 you can purchase a Cryo-Pet™ which uses the latest cryonic technology to put your pet into a gentle slumber.
Although the operation of such a device may seem rather daunting, Cryotranz™ hopes that by combining their newest cryo-breakthroughs with eye-appealing design that cryonics will move past the image the industry has of just freezing the heads of the rich and break into the mass consumer world.
How does it work?
On the side of Cryo-Pet™ you’ll find a “Pre-Cryo Preparation Kit” which contains all you need for putting your animal into a suspended state.
First, a breathing nozzle is used to deliver two different chemicals to your animal. One is a drug which will knock your pet out for easy handling, the second is a chemical which enters into the blood stream and begins slowing the metabolism of your animal. The effects only last for about thirty minutes in case you change your mind.
After your animal is asleep, place him or her into the chamber and close the door. A button will light when the door has been locked and his or her metabolism and breathing has stopped. Cryo-Pet™ is then ready to begin the freezing process.
With fuel prices rising with no end in sight, both consumers and
automobile companies have become more and more concerned with
fuel-consumption. While drivers attempt to cut down their gasoline
usage, automobile companies are researching and producing more
fuel-efficient cars, some to come out as early as next year.
Solutions range from hybrids, fuel-efficient engines, pure
electric, plug-ins, solar panels, and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Even with all these seemingly promising solutions, will we have
fuel efficient cars available for consumers at an affordable price
To help us imagine just what the market has in store for us over
the next 5 years here’s a timeline based on the self-reported
release dates of various major auto manufacturers (visual
first, followed by extensive text):
- Released by General Motors late 2008, early 2009, is the
Saturn Vue 2-Mode hybrid. Touted as the world’s most
fuel-efficient V-6 SUV, the Vue 2-Mode
hybrid has up to a 50% fuel economy increase for urban driving and
an overall 30% increase through the use technology such as
low-speed, electric only propulsion and regenerative breaking. It
will be classified as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.
- In February, Shelby SuperCars will be releasing the
Ultimate Aero EV, which will be the world’s fastest electric
car. SSC is known for the EV’s
predecessor, the Ultimate Aero, the world’s fastest gas-powered
car. The Ultimate Aero EV will have twin 500 hp electric motors
powered by a battery. Other details regarding its production have
not been disclosed.
- Sometime in the Spring, the next generation of Toyota
Prius will be released, equipped with solar panels that will
provide a portion of the energy to run the air-conditioning unit.
Toyota is planning on bringing 450,000 of these solar-power capable
vehicles to the market.
- Audi will be bringing out their 2009
A2, a compact, fuel-efficient car that manages to feature more
cabin space than Minis. The A2 will have 1.2 to 1.8 liter engines,
as well as diesels and will have a lowered amount of CO2 emissions, due to the European CAFE regulations.
Imagine stepping into a local car dealership in 2020.
Does that new car look familiar by today’s standards? Or has it evolved in shape and style?
What powers that car of the near future in 2020?
Hybrids, plug-ins, electric motors, diesel engines, ethanol blends, biodiesel, synthetic fuels, veggie power, air power, natural gas, solar, batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, or the flux capacitor?
There are many ideas out there that could re-shape the auto industry in the next decade, but none is more important than how we power our vehicles.
If you are confused by the mixed messages you see in the media – welcome to our Futurist’s Guide to the Cars of 2020(Part 1- Powering the Car)
Q: What powers my new car in 2020?
We have two basic choices – liquid fuels or electrons.
Internal Combustion Engines (I.C.E.) use liquid fuels such as gasoline, next generation biofuels (bio-gasoline or biodiesel equivalents) or synthetic fuels. By 2020 most combustion engine vehicles are likely to accommodate a wide range of liquid fuels- but we expect that gasoline will retain its market position.
Electric motors use electrons fed by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors. Despite the mis-representation in most media reports, there is no fundamental difference between ‘electric’ cars and ‘hydrogen fuel cell’ vehicles – both use streams of electrons to power high performance electric motors. The phrase ‘electrification’ of the transportation sector includes electricity from batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
“If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” – Abraham Lincoln.
Grand Challenges can be defined as fundamental problems in need of solutions. An Energy Grand Challenge is indeed what its name implies – a competition to be challenged and won in regard to energy use, sustainability, cost, and efficiency.
Multiple teams enter as candidates to reach the goal, whether it is a certain level of fuel efficiency, carbon dioxide removal, or future energy solutions. The winner receives a prize, usually in the form of a generously large sum of money. But the Challenge’s impact, however, is not only on the team that wins the grand prize, but the technology that springs from the research, which can expand its positive influence to affect the world.
As sensors and computers continue to spread throughout the world they quantify our environment and offer the opportunity of real-time feedback. Case in point is Honda's new "Ecological Drive Assist System for Enhanced Real World Fuel Economy", a sensor/display system that learns your driving style and conditions you to become a more ecologically conscious driver.
Here's what the interface will look like:
And here's Honda's description of the new system:
TOKYO, Japan, November 20, 2008– Honda Motor Co., Ltd. announced the development of the Ecological Drive Assist System, which combines three functions to enhance fuel economy: the ECON Mode utilizes harmonized control of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and engine to support more fuel-efficient driving; the guidance function uses speedometer color to provide real-time guidance on fuel-efficient driving; and thescoring function provides feedback about current driving practices, as well as feedback on cumulative, long-term fuel-efficient driving.
The world economy would be better off to move beyond combustion conversion towards more efficient, non-mechanical, and modular electrochemical conversion devices like fuel cells. (This doesn't require pure hydrogen, since you can still use hydrocarbon fuels.)
But I admit that diesel engines are not going away anytime soon, so efforts to improve efficiency for industrial applications could move us further down the road.
Now scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created the first three-dimensional simulation that fully resolves flame features, such as chemical composition, temperature profile and flow characteristics in diesel engines. Their efforts could lead to new lower temperature engine designs that are more efficent.
3D Models / 120 Terabytes of Data Reveals Combustion Process Unfolding
GM & Segway are hoping to commercialize a new category of smart micro-vehicles for urban environments by 2012 (See previous post). I love the application of Segway software, but am skeptical of a 'plug in' battery version.
I'm not sure how many wall sockets are accessible to urban dwellers who don't have garages! So I love the idea, but think the real potential is the 'access' business model. Let's keep the PUMA owned and operated by mobility service companies, not urban dwellers themselves!