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First Drive: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

This heartbeat is battery-powered.

by on Dec.11, 2012

The Spark EV will do 0 to 60 in under 8 seconds, significantly quicker than the gas model.

Is there a market for small battery-electric vehicles in the U.S. market?  Buyers be damned, it’s full speed ahead for the auto industry – in large part due to strict new rules passed by California’s seemingly all-powerful regulators.  Over the next several years you’ll see so-called Zero-Emission Vehicles coming from all the major auto manufacturers – unless they’re comfortable with being locked out of the huge California market.

Among the new offerings is the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV. The electrified version of Chevy’s new minicar is the first General Motors battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, since the old GM EV1 was abandoned back in 1999.

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Officially unveiled at the recent LA Auto Show, TheDetroitBureau.com was invited to attend a background briefing on the Spark EV – including a short drive.  While we didn’t have enough time behind the wheel to deliver the sort of full review we’d prefer we did get a sense of what to expect from the little battery car.

For those who might lump minicars and battery vehicles into the same, boring green category, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is no stone pony.  Quite the contrary. In fact, it’s a lot more fun, especially coming off a stoplight, than the gas-powered version of the Chevy minicar.

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First Drive: 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV

Great performance offset by cheap interior and an awful infotainment system.

by on Aug.07, 2012

Toyota turned to Tesla to help it develop the battery version of the RAV4.

No automaker has done a better job of surrounding itself with a green halo than Toyota.  Its Prius model has routinely generated half of all hybrid sales, a number now approaching two-thirds since the introduction of an entirely new Prius “family,” including the big V, compact C and the Prius plug-in.

The latter model was the first from the Japanese maker to opt for state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, rather than time-tested, if less powerful, nickel-metal hydride batteries. After running into some early development problems, Toyota has been reluctant to go with more advanced lithium – which partially explains why the Asian giant decided to reach outside for help when it laid out plans for its first pure battery-electric vehicle in two decades, the 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV.

The project pairs Toyota with Tesla Motors, the bold California start-up that just introduced its own new battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, the Model S sedan.  In fact, they share many of the same underlying components – which is why the 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV is likely to shock those used to the typically slow-as-a-snail battery car.

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The new Toyota battery car boasts great performance, and good range and handling – but echoes other recent entries from the Japanese maker by cutting corners on interior fit-and-finish.  And the new RAV4-EV introduces what may be the singularly most user-unfriendly infotainment system since the very first BMW iDrive hit the road.

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Infiniti EV To Launch as 2015 Model

Luxury version of Nissan Leaf will deliver longer range, better performance.

by on Nov.16, 2011

So far, Infiniti is only giving a hint of what's to come when it launches its first battery-electric vehicle during the 2015 model-year.

Japanese luxury maker Infiniti will charge into the market with its first battery-electric vehicle sometime in 2014, revealed the maker’s senior American executive.

To be sold as a 2015 model, the as yet-unnamed battery car will be based on the Nissan Leaf but will deliver both better performance and longer range, Executive Vice President Andy Palmer told TheDetroitBureau.com during a conversation at the Los Angeles International Auto Show.

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The Infiniti electric vehicle will adopt a sedan, rather than hatchback body style, which became “the key challenge” in developing the new model, said Palmer, but he stressed that the production version “is not going to make any excuses,” and will deliver a much more refined appearance and feel when compared to the mainstream Leaf.

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California Unplugs $5,000 Battery Car Rebate Program

Buyers still get access to car pool lanes, however.

by on Jul.21, 2011

California has run out of cash for its electric vehicle incentive program.

Cash-starved California has pulled the plug on a program that provided a significant financial incentive for buyers of approved electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf.

California was one of more than a dozen states that have enacted some form of cash incentives meant to spur the sale of high-mileage advanced-propulsion vehicles.  But the program was limited by the Golden State’s financial problems.  Nonetheless, buyers will still get at least one other much sought-after perk: stickers providing access to the HOV, or High Occupancy Vehicle, lanes, which can mean a significantly faster commute for those traveling alone.

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The federal government’s $7,500 tax credit for battery car buyers will remain in effect and, in fact, covers a broader range of products, including the Chevrolet Volt. The General Motors plug-in hybrid did not qualify in California because it did not meet the narrow definition of a so-called partial-zero-emission vehicle, or P-ZEV.

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Mitsubishi’s New “i” Battery Car Tops Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt

Japanese maker gets top EPA rating with 126 MPGe rating.

by on Jul.08, 2011

Mitsubishi hopes buyers will be drawn to the low price and high efficiency of its new "i" battery car.

While it may not have the marketing muscle behind it, Mitsubishi is likely to get some serious buzz for its new “i” battery car thanks to a 126 MPGe rating from the EPA – significantly higher than its two key electric vehicle competitors, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt.

Originally known as the iMiEV, the curiously named Mitsubishi subcompact will also have a significant price advantage when it hits market in the coming months.  That could complicate the battle for supremacy in the small but potentially fast-emerging battery car market.

Since electric vehicles don’t use gasoline, the Environmental Protection Agency has adopted a complex formula to help motorists rate their energy efficiency in a way that can be reasonably compared to a conventional automobile, hence the designation Miles Per Gallon equivalent, or MPGe.

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The Mitsubishi i is rated at 126 MPGe in urban driving situations and 99 MPGe on the highway.  (Battery-based vehicles typically don’t do as well at freeway speeds because it takes more energy to move faster and there are less opportunities to recapture wasted energy.)

By comparison, the Nissan Leaf is rated at 106 MPGe City and 92 Highway, while EPA pegs the Chevy Volt’s numbers at 95 and 90.  Even the tiny Tesla Roadster doesn’t match Mitsubishi’s 4-door offering.  The latest version of that electric sports car has a 119 MPGe rating.

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First Drive: Toyota RAV4-EV

Toyota plugs in with first battery-electric vehicle.

by on Apr.11, 2011

A first drive in a Toyota RAV4-EV prototype.

The all-electric RAV4 isn’t officially due to plug into the U.S. market until the 2012 calendar-year but recently Toyota gave us a chance to take a spin in one of the 31 prototypes built by its partner, the California-based battery car start-up, Tesla Motors.

Toyota was the first automaker to produce a hybrid-electric vehicle – though rival Honda beat it to the U.S. market by several months.  Until recently, Toyota dismissed more advanced plug-ins and pure battery-electric vehicles, so the decision to launch the RAV4-EV was a significant shift in strategy.  So was the decision to turn to Tesla.

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While alliances have become the norm in the automotive world, Toyota has traditionally preferred going it alone, so the RAV4-EV will be a significant addition to the Japanese giant’s line-up in a variety of ways.

We headed to Southern California for our first drive, where Toyota had one of the battery cars fully charged and ready to go, to get a sense of what we can expect when the maker’s first pure electric vehicle comes to market in little more than a year.

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First Drive: Amp Equinox

(Battery) Power to the people.

by on Sep.15, 2010

Ohio start-up Amp is marketing an electric version of the Chevrolet Equinox.

The 2011 model-year is going to be a big one for those betting on electric propulsion.  We’ll see the launch of several critical products from major automakers like Nissan and Chevrolet, with the Leaf battery-electric vehicle and the Volt plug-in, respectively.  And other major automakers, such as Ford and Toyota will charge into the electric market soon afterwards.

Yet, the industry’s big guns are actually late to plug into the emerging electric niche.  By the time Volt and Leaf reach showrooms California start-up Tesla’s little Roadster, an electric sports car, will have been on sale nearly two years.  And the market is filled with offerings from other small players, such as Think and Bright Automotive, who hope they can use this paradigm shift in propulsion to get a shot at the major leagues.

Some of these new players are starting from scratch, with ground-up offerings, like the upcoming Tesla Model-S sedan.  But Ohio-based Amp is taking quite a different approach.  The maker is taking existing products, such as the Saturn Sky and Chevrolet Equinox, stripping out their gasoline-driven powertrains, and replacing them with electric drivelines.

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We recently got the chance to take the Amp Equinox out for a drive and while the prototype had a few bugs we found it a reasonably pleasant experience.  Better yet, it offers to provide a roomy alternative to pint-sized offerings like Nissan’s Leaf, which are likely to dominate the electric vehicle market for some time to come.

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