Category Archives: Fuel cell vehicles

Pity the fool cells

Darth Dieter TeslaMondoDaimler is stepping way back from its fuel cell ambitions to instead accelerate its EV program, now that Tesla is running circles around Darth Dieter* Zetsche. Tesla’s 25,000 units in Q1 — many of them woulda, shoulda, coulda been Daimler units. And not just any Daimler units, but high-grossing SUVs, the ham sandwiches of automobiledom. Nearly half of those 25k Tesla units were Model X, a much fatter proportion than just a year ago.

When will Toyota, Honda and Hyundai follow Daimler’s lead and scrap their hapless fuel cell ambitions? They’d better make up their minds soon, before the EV train, with Musk at the controls, becomes uncatchable and leaves them standing at the station, index fingers two knuckles deep in their noses. Heck, even bumbling FF is at least trying to play follow the leader. Um, literally.

And hybrids? Puh-leeze. In a few months it will be abundantly clear that the pure EV age has arrived. No need for the half-assedness of hybrids. You can go fully-assed with Tesla for almost the same dough.

*He’s yo’ daddy, you know, for he saved Tesla from the abyss years ago.


Fool cells, diesel weasels reek anew

Seems like Toyota is finally starting to see a market in pure electric vehicles. It famously said the opposite just three years ago, while plotting a two-pronged attack using hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. Well, both prongs are now warped and rusty. The latest Prius is a flop — although the forthcoming plug-in Prime version might do better. And the SoreEye fuel cell car isn’t doing well at all. Will Toyota call Tesla for another collaboration, like the erstwhile RAV4 EV? Hell no. Tesla isn’t a mere contractor anymore. Piggybacking on Uncle Elon at this point would boost Tesla’s image but weaken Toyota’s significantly.

Diesel Weasel TeslaMondoMeanwhile in the smug engineering valhalla known as Germany, the diesel weasel scandal has now engulfed Audi and threatens to write new, ugly chapters just when the book was about to close. The WSJ has unearthed the transcript of an old Audi get-together and found diesel-weaseling was part of routine, open discourse.

TeslaMondo speaks to auto showroom customers every day. Hybrid customers are warming to Tesla very quickly. And VW’s customers are disillusioned. They’re inclined to try another path to high fuel efficiency, such as not using fuel.

Are friends electric? Whatever Gary Numan meant by that question in 1979, the answer in 2016 is absolutely. And enemies are waxing electric too.


Special guest for Model III bonanza?

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Tesla’s “fundamental physics problem”

Willy Nelson TeslaMondo

Wet Willy. Yuck. But at least he’s not Full Nelson.

That’s the latest wet willy in this ongoing wet willy war between the battery crowd and the fuel cell, um, crowd. Toyota says Tesla and its BEV powertrain are rubbing the ceiling of real-world potential, due to the elemental limits of batteries and their charging requirements. Fuel cell vehicles, meanwhile, have more room to improve, while becoming a lot cheaper too, Toyota says.

There’s no need for one to eclipse the other. The world’s automotive fleet has room for more than one solution. Perhaps fuel cell vehicles, a.k.a. Rube Goldberg Transport, will indeed become the world’s powertrain of choice, eventually. Very eventually. But we’ll be too old to drive anyway, and we’ll be quite wealthy thanks to our timely investment in Tesla, which doesn’t have to win this wet willy war in order to prosper. The world needs battery technology, for cars and otherwise, and Tesla owns it.


Second Japanese store imminent

Tesla Osaka TeslaMondo

Temporary outlet in Osaka

As “interest grows” in Japan, Tesla is opening a temporary store in Osaka. It already has a permanent store elsewhere in Japan. By the end of next year, thirty-two Superchargers will pepper the island, which is about the size of Montana. Japan is an emerging fuel cell stronghold, but is also the second-biggest plug-in market after the US. And it’s home to Panasonic, the traitor that supplies the juice to Tesla. You may recall that Tesla calls fuel cells “bullshit” one day and “fool cells” the next. TeslaMondo has already looked at the brewing international war game between EVs and FCVs. Here’s the rough lineup so far:

EV: Mahindra, Nissan, BMW, Tesla, Daimler’s brands, BYD, VW’s brands, Kandi, Tata, Ford, other assorted micro-producers in China and India. It’s a fast-growing lineup, and Tesla’s patent-sharing efforts surely will bolster the team.
FCV: Toyota, Honda, Hyundai. A small but formidable axis.

TeslaMondo has projected a diverse automotive future on par with the automotive present, with a choice of several powertrains. But one thing that’s really likely to die is high-performance motoring, since cars will become increasingly autonomous. Performance will come to mean reliability, safety, comfort and on-board conveniences — not acceleration, steering, lateral Gs.

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Fool cell stronghold punctured

Tesla Japan TeslaMondoTesla is now delivering in Japan, whose profuse favoritism for Toyota/Honda fuel cell technology is either aggressive or desperate depending on your bent.

But on the amiable side of the coin, both Toyota and Tesla say they’re open to more collaboration, following the tracks of the RAV4 EV. Don’t be shocked if, despite big-view differences on the post-ICE future, the two companies decide there’s at least a little overlap in thinking. Toyota’s Jim Lentz has indeed said EVs have a role in his world view, albeit as short-range commute-mobiles.

Tesla’s assembly plant in Fremont is a former Toyota/GM joint venture that cranked out the Nova, Prizm and Vibe for GM — and Matrix, Corolla and Tacoma for Toyota. Why couldn’t Toyota/Tesla pull a shared product from the revamped Fremont plant, or even the Gigafactory?

UPDATE: Tesla expects to supply drivetrain components to Toyota in about three years. Also, it expects to have a semi-autonomous car running, using a Tesla proprietary system with some third-party componentry, within the same time frame.

Some linkage for you:

Toyota’s stance on Tesla
Tesla’s stance on Toyota
Lentz’s stance on EVs
Ian Anderson’s stance

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Japan badly needs a win with fuel cells

Diplomacy war game TeslaMondoAnd so Japan will subsidize Toyota’s FCV to the tune of $30k in some areas despite the fact that Japan already carries the world’s biggest debt burden. TeslaMondo has already covered the undulating international war game between FCVs and EVs, with Japan heavily arming its home players Toyota and presumably Honda, while Tesla is looking to form a battery alliance with Nissan, BMW and Mahindra using the bait of easy patent-sharing. Will Korea up its ante for Hyundai and its FCV program in response to this maneuver by Japan? We’ll see. Norway is all-Tesla. And back home, Fremont, CA is setting up a tech battle station around Tesla we speak.

This is war.

So far, Tesla is still a technological outlier — not where it wants to be. It would benefit from comrades. TeslaMondo’s pie charts show the potential benefits of a more robust EV segment. It’s lonely on the front lines of battle, especially now that the Japanese government has essentially printed Musk’s face on an international most-wanted poster. On the other hand, Tesla has the most-wanted product — an exciting, rebellious, aspirational product — and a viable infrastructure when you include the favored home-fueling option that FCVs will never enjoy. And let’s not forget Tesla’s tie-in with the fast-growing solar industry that eventually will make the EV energy footprint so clean that hydrogen will smell dirtier than Clinton’s peeper by comparison.

Bloomberg quote TeslaMondo

Pulled this quote from Bloomberg

Toyota is circulating a marketing video for its fuel cell vehicle, and even groomed its chief fuel cell engineer to resemble Musk in a promo video. But the smart money is on Tesla. Fool cell buyers and their money are soon parted. Except for the “soon” part. This is shaping up to be a protracted world war and a clear winner may not emerge during our lifetime.

The clear loser, however, will be the ICE and its heavy metal soundtrack we’ve loved since childhood. Sniff sniff.  The revolution will be very quiet. Only a fool would deny that.

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New war game: fuel cell vs. plug-in

War Games TeslaMondoSure looks like a war game. The latest move: Japan will heavily subsidize fuel cell vehicles, with incentives for buyers and fuel station owners. All the better for home-team players, Toyota and Honda, who are banking on fuel cells as the solution to clean motoring.

Meanwhile, Tesla is moving to build an EV alliance by giving away its patented technology. Mahindra, BMW and even Japan-based Nissan are shaping up to be “plug alliance” members. If Japan loses Nissan to Musk, well that’s a setback for the Japanese “fuel cell axis.” One war strategist, Adam Jonas from Morgan Stanley, a TSLA investor, says some automakers are pretending to throw support behind fuel cell technology rather than acknowledge their failure in electric cars.

See the gamesmanship afoot here? Musk is indeed a gamer, even referencing an old Sega video game when he declared, “All our patent are belong to you.” Forming alliances, dividing, conquering — get ready for plenty of war strategy in the coming years. It’s a good thing Musk is already making inroads in China. That’s the real mother lode by anyone’s estimation. Worth a lot of points, you could say.

But wait — this morning we hear of a crybaby in China who harmed his Tesla because it took too long to arrive, allowing others to get their Teslas first, and presumably get all the local tail. That’s one indication of just how seriously some Chinese take their frontin’. Wow.

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Toyota is targeting Tesla, eh?

Toyota Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle TeslaMondoMusk alike TeslaMondoThe headlines say Toyota is grooming its upcoming fuel cell vehicle to poach Model S buyers. Let’s examine. Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle went into the oven in 1996, long before Tesla existed. The vehicle is devoid of emotion, per normal for Toyota. It has zero performance credentials. Apparently it was styled after amphibious vehicles from WWII. This is a Tesla rival simply because the price tucks in just below the Model S base price? No, it’s Toyota’s take on zero-emissions motoring and nothing more. It envisions a future without plug-in wires, but definitely with big jowls and massive overhangs. It’s not a Model S competitor. Fuel cell technology is a slowly — very slowly — emerging EV competitor on a broader scale. That’s all anyone can really say at this point.

But never mind the vehicle. Look at the anonymous engineer/spokesman in Toyota’s fuel cell video. He’s a Rent-A-Musk. Similar age. Similar appearance. Similar dress. And he’s sporting the scruffy facial hair that Musk used to employ but wisely abandoned. So maybe Toyota is indeed going after Tesla.

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And the revolution will be . . . very quiet

TeslaMondo the revolution will be . . . very quiet

Courtesy Orion Pictures or something

It’s a good thing the internal combustion engine will die slowly, because we’ll need time to taper off our ICE addiction. We’re not addicted to the oil changes, ignition defects, carbon monoxide, check-engine lights or gas fill-ups. But we are indeed addicted to the ICE soundtrack. We like engine noises, and it’s been that way since childhood. Some of us could identify passing neighborhood cars before we were tall enough to see out the living room window. And now we’ve grown up to relish exotic cars in part because we hear them long before, and after, we see them. So the question is: Can we get excited about a muzzled future dominated by electric and fuel cell vehicles? Watch these videos if you dare. It’s OK to cry. Remember, we’re all addicts together.

Video challenge 1  Electric dragster

Video challenge 2  Electric monster truck

Video challenge 3  Formula One sound comparison 2013 (V8 engines) to 2014 (V6)

Some irony is afoot: While some kinds of motoring are turning down the volume knob, others are cranking it up. Exhaust tweaking has graduated to exhaust twerking. Automakers are literally slipping fake exhaust notes into the cabins of certain cars. That’s as vulgar as Miley Cyrus. But it makes perfect sense, because it’s a scientific fact that certain engine noises excite us. A 2008 study by the Hiscox Insurance Group found that the sound of a Maserati instantly boosts testosterone in listeners while the sound of a VW Polo decreases it. And, get this, women are more affected than men. So we can’t diss automakers like BMW for resorting to sound augmentation. Both the M5 and the new i8 use a lip-synched soundtrack. BMW isn’t crazy. And “60 Minutes” wasn’t crazy for dubbing revvy engine sounds into Tesla Model S footage. Stupid, yes, but not crazy.

Why do we like car sounds? Answering that question would mean dragging this site into the catacombs of psychological claptrap. But we can skim the surface:

1. We don’t like all engine noises. Lawn mowers are boring.

2. Oh, we like big engines instead? Nope. Tractor-trailers, school buses, farm equipment, dump trucks and harbor cruise boats don’t do much for us.

3. Alrighty then, we like the sound of cars with big engines. Nope. Small displacement cars can stir us. Remember the Lotus Esprit? Heck, remember the Acura Integra and Toyota Celica GTS in the early days of variable valve timing and cam lift?

4. Alrighty then, we like a specific type of car-engine sound. Wrong again. A Shelby 427 Cobra sounds nothing like a Lexus LFA, but both raise our antennae.

5. Alrighty then, we have a general animal instinct to react with excitement to certain sounds, but there’s so much individual variation that we can’t really hang our hats on anything specific.

If number five gets the win by saying nothing, then clearly this exercise is going nowhere. We’ll never understand our relationship with auto sounds. Let’s fast-forward. The future of auto enthusiasm clearly is splitting into two camps: the quiet and the loud. We have GM, BMW, Jaguar, VW and Ford stoking our growl fetish by piping real engine sounds into the cabin, or faking them entirely, while Tesla serves up a genteel decapitator that is totally mute and invites us to wave goodbye to the growling ICE scene as if it’s an uncouth phase of life, like the Sabbath years. Why bring the noise if you don’t have to? Inevitably, with time, that’s exactly how we’ll see it. Until then, we’ll have to forgive ourselves if we find it a bit anticlimactic when a Tesla Model S P85 launches from a traffic light without saying goodbye, leaving us with nothing but some displaced pebbles. Sheesh — how will this play out in video games? Wait, we’re adults. Got it.

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Spring romances starting to blossom

Toyota, Panasonic still heart TeslaPanasonic wants to go steady. The wishy-washy company took a break from saying squat and said it will indeed invest in the Gigafactory — albeit a small initial investment — and that it wants to be the exclusive battery cell maker at the factory. So Panasonic isn’t pretending to balk at the whole Gigafactory idea anymore. Hooray! But does it want to give little to the relationship while taking a lot? That’s what Dr. Phil would ask.

Toyota wants some too. Toyota still has Tesla’s phone number and plans to use it, so the RAV4 EV project might not be a one-night stand after all. Toyota sees a future in both fuel cell vehicles and EVs, with fuel cells serving as intermediate and long-distance travel and EVs as short-distance runabouts. That’s the gist of recent comments by Toyota’s Jim Lentz. Tesla, of course, believes a good EV is the only club you need in your golf bag. Hey, a mere lovers’ quarrel. The two companies can still make beautiful music together in battery development, while Toyota will continue to openly drool over fuel cells. Auto companies make strange bedfellows, in case you haven’t noticed.

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