Manufacturing/Plants auto news

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Tesla, Panasonic officially partner up for Gigafactory

07/31/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Manufacturing/Plants, Tesla Motors

Tesla Gigafactory rendering

The first of perhaps 'hundreds' of gigafactories is now one step closer to reality: Tesla and Panasonic have announced their official agreement to work together on the gigafactory. The two companies have worked together for many years on electric vehicles, but this new deal takes the partnership to a whole new level.

The basic gist, since the agreement itself has not been released, is that Tesla will take care of the exterior (the "land, buildings and utilities") while Panasonic will pay for the machines inside in order to, "manufacture and supply cylindrical lithium-ion cells" that Tesla will then use to, you know, build battery packs. Panasonic's machines will take up half the space while a network of as-yet unnamed suppliers will be involved in the other half, according to the press release announcing the deal. Read it below.

There's been lots of speculation as to where the Gigafactory will be built, but the exact location probably won't be revealed until later this year, so don't expect any battery packs from the Gigafactory to be coming any time soon. That's why Panasonic is still going to be building Tesla cells in Japan for the time being.

As previously announced, the Gigafactory is expected to make batteries for around 500,000 EVs a year as well as more for stationary storage needs. That means 35 GWh worth of cells and 50 GWh worth of packs each year by 2020. We expect more information to trickle out today along with Tesla's quarterly earnings.

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Who can really claim first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle delivery in US?

06/20/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hydrogen, Manufacturing/Plants, Honda, Hyundai

Honda FCX Clarity first delivery in 2008

Last month, Hyundai said that the initial deliveries of the Tucson Fuel Cell vehicles in California meant that, "For the first time, retail consumers can now put a mass-produced, federally-certified hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in their driveways." But try telling that to Jon Spallino.

In 2005, Honda leased a hydrogen fuel cell FCX, a small hatchback, to the Spallino family (as far as we know, he parked it in his driveway). The company did the same thing again in 2008 with the FCX Clarity, a sleek new design based on the FCX Concept, and others signed for the H2 ride as well, including celebrities. No matter how you slice it, Honda has been in the fuel cell delivery market for almost a decade now. Just look at this. Or this. Or this. Oh, and other automakers (General Motors in Project Driveway in 2006 and Mercdes-Benz with the F-Cell in 2010, for example) have delivered fuel cell vehicles in the US as part of short-term test programs.

But let's get back to Hyundai's claim. There's little question that the first delivery of a "fuel cell vehicle for the US market" has already taken place (and they were federally certified, too), which means that the debate revolves around the definition of mass-produced and whether "mass production" is about a number or about the process? Let's investigate below.

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Chevy Volt owners log half a billion electric miles, 2015 production starts

06/19/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, Manufacturing/Plants, Chevrolet, AutoblogGreen Exclusive

Chevy Volt half-billion miles statistics

As General Motors gets ready to start 2015 Volt production Monday, Chevrolet is looking back at some of the numbers that got the car to where it is today. The headline number is that Volt owners have collectively put more than a half-billion electric miles on their cars. The unsurprising upshot is that, if you went out and bought a Volt, you're pretty keen on getting as many electric miles out of it as possible.

90 percent of all Volt trips are done purely on electric power.

The typical Volt driver goes 970 miles between fill-ups, GM says, and that means that 63 percent of all miles are done on battery power. General Motors executive director Larry Nitz gave AutoblogGreen a few more details on the usage habits of Volt drivers, including that 81 percent of commuting miles are electric. Two-thirds of US Volt drivers charge their vehicle 1.4 times a day, a clear indicator of drivers trying to maximize electric miles through opportunity charging. In fact, Nitz said, 90 percent of all Volt trips are done purely on electric power. GM also says that the Volt's official 35 miles of electric range is still doable for many owners who have had their car for more than 30 months.

Looking ahead, we know that one upgrade for the 2015 Volt will be 4G LTE connectivity that can turn the car, like others in the GM family, into a mobile wifi hotspot. We're of course much more interested in when GM is finally going to start production of the next-gen Volt, but GM officials would only tell us that they're very excited about the still-secret vehicle, promising we'll be learning more "soon." Nitz did confirm that today's Volt drivers are most interested in three things from the next-gen model: more range, a lower price and a fifth seat. He did not say whether or not GM will be able to deliver on those requests.

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2015 Chevy Spark will have lighter, smaller battery

05/15/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Manufacturing/Plants, Chevrolet

2014 Chevy Spark EV

As General Motors gets ready to release the 2015 Chevy Spark EV, it is retooling the Brownstown Battery Assembly to build a new battery system for the chirpy little electric car. The new Spark will lose a few pounds and kWh from its lithium-ion pack, but it will keep all of it's performance specs.

The current Spark EV uses a 21-kWh lithium-ion battery pack with bits made by B456 Systems (previously known as A123 Systems). For the 2015 model, GM is going to build a 19-kWh battery system in-house that will use 192 LG Chem cells. Losing a bit of energy capacity means that the battery system for the 2015 Spark EV will be 86 pounds lighter but it will keep the EPA-rated 82-mile range and 119 MPGe. The 2015 Spark EV also keeps its $26,685 (plus destination) starting price from the 2014 model. The car will once again qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. LG Chem also supplies the cells for GM's other plug-in vehicles from its facility in Western Michigan. The Brownstown production line currently builds the battery packs for the Chevy Volt, the Opel Ampera and the Cadillac ELR.

You can read our first drive of the 2014 Chevy Spark here.

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Tesla making plans for Gigafactory in at least two states

04/30/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Manufacturing/Plants, Tesla Motors

Tesla Gigafactory

Ever since February, when Tesla officially announced that it would build a gigafactory to make the incredible number of lithium-ion batteries it expects to need to power its electric vehicles, we thought it would be located in one of four states. Those four states - Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada - have been lobbying the automaker ever since, hoping to hear that the new, $5-billion plant and its 6,500 jobs would set up shop within its borders. Turns out, two of them might get some good news soon.

"We want to minimize the risk timing for the gigafactory to get up and running" - Elon Musk

CEO Elon Musk said Tesla will announce locations in "at least two" states where it could build the gigafactory, according to Bloomberg. He said, "What we're going to do is move forward with more than one state, at least two, all the way to breaking ground, just in case there's last-minute issues. The number one thing is we want to minimize the risk timing for the gigafactory to get up and running."

This isn't to say that Tesla will actually build two gigafactories (at least, not yet, but Musk hinted there may come a day when the automaker will need a second one), just that it is going to make sure there is no hiccup in the supply of lower-cost battery packs for the upcoming lower-cost Tesla EV, sometimes referred to as the Model E. The gigafactory is expected to not only produce more li-ion cells than were made globally in 2013 but also to reduce the cost of the overall pack by 30 percent, setting the stage for the $35,000 Tesla EV (estimated) to appear.

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Chairman says BMW will make 100,000 electric vehicles a year by 2020

03/20/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hydrogen, Manufacturing/Plants, BMW

BMW i3

We know demand for the BMW i3 has been high, both in the US and Europe. It appears that BMW's crystal ball is showing a steady increase in interest between now and 2020. By that year, according to Norbert Reithofer, chairman of the board of management for BMW AG, the company expects to build 100,000 units a year. That's not quite as EVs many as Tesla is talking about for 2020 (500,000), but it would represent quite an increase from the roughly 20,000 units that the best-selling plug-in vehicles moved in 2013.

Reithofer told Automotive News that plug-in vehicle production would steadily increase by 2018 before hitting full stride at the end of the decade. He also made sure to clarify that there was external pressure to make 100,000 EVs a year: "we will be forced to build them in a six digits figure to comply with stricter emission rules."

The plug-in electric vehicles are just one part of BMW's effort to reduce emissions. In prepared remarks delivered at the company's annual accounts press conference (available in full below), Reithofer said, "Customer demand [for i3] is exceeding our expectations. ... We believe the electric motor is a future technology for zero-emission driving in urban areas. Battery technology will continue to progress. ... When it comes to emission-free long-distance driving, however, electric cars featuring hydrogen fuel cell technology offer great potential." He didn't say how many fuel cell cars BMW expects to make and sell in 2020, but BMW's collaboration with Daimler and Renault-Nissan is supposed to launch the "world's first affordable, mass-market fuel cell electric vehicles as early as 2017."

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Toyota fires bullets into hydrogen fuel tanks, shoots down EV supporters

01/17/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hydrogen, Manufacturing/Plants, Toyota

toyota hydrogen fuel cell tank

Many gearheads will remember that the 1970s-era Dodge Dart's claim to fame was that its motor was so durable (though not necessarily powerful) that one could shoot bullets into the engine block. Decades later, Toyota has taken a page out of that testing process.

"Personally, I don't care what Elon [Musk] says about fuel cells" - Toyota's Bob Carter

With some industry members and analysts questioning both the viability and durability of hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles, Toyota executive Bob Carter, speaking at the Automotive News World Congress this week, says the Japanese automaker went all Clint Eastwood on the fuel tanks of a fuel-cell prototype. Carter says that bullets from a small-caliber gun bounced off the carbon-fiber tanks, and that .50-caliber bullets barely made dents. The shoot-out motif kept going when Carter name-checked executives from Tesla, Nissan and Volkswagen in saying that he didn't care if other automakers question the future of fuel-cell vehicles. As you can see in the prepared text of Carter's speech below, he said, "Personally, I don't care what Elon [Musk], Carlos [Ghosn] or Jonathan [Browning] say about fuel cells. If they want to 'plug in and tune out' other technologies, that's fine."

After debuting it in Tokyo late last year, Toyota showed off its FCV fuel-cell concept vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show this week as it get ready to start sales "around 2015." The car has a 300-mile range and should be priced somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000. Autoblog drove Toyota's fuel-cell prototypes last year, and you can read our impressions here.

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UAW sets up organizing committee at Tesla's Fremont factory

01/07/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Manufacturing/Plants, Tesla Motors

Tesla

Tesla is happy to do things differently than other automakers, from the company-owned stores to the all-electric drivetrain. It also doesn't use union workers at its factory in Fremont, California (the former NUMMI plant, pictured). But now the United Auto Workers (UAW) is testing the waters for representation at the plant, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

UAW President Bob King has revealed that the UAW has created an organizing committee in Fremont. How this would change things at Tesla - and whether it would be a good or bad thing - is not really known, but it would certainly make the EV company more like the Big Three in this one aspect.

We heard rumblings of unions at Tesla in 2010, when Toyota and Tesla announced they were going to collaborate on developing EVs. At that time, the United Auto Workers said it wanted union workers back at the plant, especially some of the 4,500 who ended up unemployed after the General Motors/Toyota partnership that built cars at NUMMI was shut down. That didn't happen, but Tesla has called unionization a 'risk' to business in a financial report.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk at least has a plan for running his shop both with and without a union. As he told Wired in 2009, "Most of our experienced factory workers come from unionized environments, and we asked them what benefit did they see in unions. They said, 'Well, if their boss was an asshole, they had recourse.' I said, 'Let's make a rule: There will be no assholes.' I fired someone for being an asshole. And I only had to do that once, actually."

Tesla declined comment to AutoblogGreen about the new union rumblings, but when we spoke with Musk in 2012, he described the longer-than-average work hours:

Right now we're working six days a week. Some people are working seven days a week - I do - but for a lot of people, working seven days a week is not sustainable. The factory is operational seven days a week but most people we only ask to work six days a week right now and, obviously, we want to get that to a more reasonable number. I think people can sustain a 50-hour work week. I think that's a good work week. If you're joining Tesla, you're joining a company to work hard. We're not trying to sell you a bill of goods. If you can go work for another company and then maybe you can work a 40-hour work week. But if you work for Tesla, the minimum is really a 50-hour week and there are times when it'll be 60- to 80-hour weeks.

Despite the long hours, it's interesting to note that there do not seem to be calls from within Tesla for unionization.
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Tesla: Garage fire not caused by Model S, battery

12/21/2013   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Manufacturing/Plants, Tesla Motors

tesla model s

Fire investigators don't think the latest fire involving a Tesla Model S can be counted as "Battery Fire No. 4." Their initial findings say the incident, which happened in a Southern California garage last month, was not caused by the car.

"Our inspection of the car and the battery made clear that neither were the source" - Tesla

The fire, which happened in Irvine, CA, on November 15, may instead have been caused by an overheated wall charging system. "The cable was fine on the vehicle side; the damage was on the wall side. Our inspection of the car and the battery made clear that neither were the source" of the fire, Tesla said in a statement that cited the report by the Orange County Fire Authority. The OCFA is finished with its investigation and will leave it to Tesla and insurance companies to determine the actual cause of the fire. Fire damage to the wall socket makes it tough to determine with it was caused by faulty wiring, OCFA spokesman Steve Concialdi told Bloomberg.

Big data is once again helping Tesla defend its stance. The automaker says it reviewed the data log that records the car's charging cycles and found them to be normal, with no fluctuations or malfunctions within the battery or charge electronics.

Given the findings, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may be able to stay focused on investigating the other three Model S fires that happened during the fall. In two of those fires, the Model S hit metal debris on the road, which then flew up and punctured the battery. No serious injuries were reported. Tesla has updated the Model S' suspension software for safer ground clearance at highway speeds to avoid a third incident like it.

Despite being just three of hundreds of thousands of car fires every year, Tesla Motors' stocks have dropped 25 percent in value since the fires started. They reached a peak at $193.37 this year but then fell to around $121. The closed at $140.72 yesterday so, while it's not roaring like it was earlier in 2013, the cost of a TSLA doesn't seem to be flattening out.

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Toyota wants to sell 5k-10k fuel cell vehicles a year, to start

12/12/2013   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hydrogen, Manufacturing/Plants, Toyota

toyota fcv concept

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by hydrogen were taken more seriously at the LA Auto Show and Tokyo Motor Show last month than ever before, but their presence in the market is still shrouded in fog. Soichiro Okudaira, chief officer of research and development at Toyota, is confident fuel cell costs will come down enough to make FCEVs "just one alternative of the eco cars," but that probably won't happen for another 10-15 years.

Toyota thinks FCEVs will be price competitive against other zero-emission vehicles some time after 2020 and before 2030, Okudaira told Automotive News Europe. Interestingly, the Japanese automaker is confident that cost reductions will come through soon enough to help it sell between 5,000 and 10,000 units a year once the production version of the FCV Concept goes on sale in the first part of 2015.

Toyota is now saying the hydrogen powertrain for 2015 could cost about $50,000 to build.

Retail pricing on the fuel cell car has yet to be announced, but production costs have been coming down. The fuel cell powertrain that Toyota built for a demonstration vehicle in 2007 cost nearly 750,000 euros (over $1 million). A production vehicle is nothing like a concept, and Toyota is now saying a hydrogen powertrain for the 2015 vehicle could cost about 35,900 euros ($50,000) to build, about half the car's expected 72,000-euro ($100,000) price tag. Costs have been coming down in the fuel cell stack by reducing the amount of platinum in the catalyst and making the stack smaller so that it can fit under the front seats. Sharing a motor and other electronic components with the Toyota hybrid lineup is helping lower costs, too.

You can see in the FCV Concept photo gallery how much it looks like the Prius but Toyota has now clarified that the new Prius platform will not be used for the fuel cell car, in part because the FCEV is heavier and has a different underbody structure and layout. What's not yet clear is if the upcoming production fuel-cell vehicle will wear a Prius badge. Readers are split on that.

Selling 5,000 to 10,000 hydrogen-powered units a year after 2015 is more than other automakers are willing to say publicly. Hyundai is previewing a fuel-cell crossover concept and expects to sell about 1,000 fuel cell Tucson SUVs next year. Honda will sell a five-seat fuel cell vehicle in 2015, and Daimler will roll out a fuel cell variant of its B-Class compact car starting in 2017.

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