Will Mahindra, Owner of Legendary Pininfarina, Take On Tesla?

Photo of Mahindra Electric VehicleWith India’s power minister having recently announced that by 2030 “not a single petrol or diesel car should be sold in the country,” Anand Mahindra, Chairman of industrial giant Mahindra Group, discussed on CNBC this week his company’s commitment to electric vehicles. Given the huge market opportunity even if the minister’s extraordinarily aggressive goal is not fully achieved, Mahindra and Tesla’s Elon Musk exchanged tweets on prospects for electric vehicles in the potentially huge market:

Mahindra says he is not worried about Tesla, and that “[Tesla] coming into India would actually increase the awareness of electric vehicles [and] increase the size of the pie.” On the question of whether the company will expand its fully-electric portfolio beyond the e2oPlus subcompact, eVerito compact, and eSupro van, Mahindra said that he plans to build fully-electric vehicles and is “not going to take the halfway measure” with hybrids.

Mahindra is already producing vehicles at the entry-level of the market, and it has the resources to cover all segments, but whether it will go head-to-head with Tesla remains undecided for now. If Mahindra does take on the luxury EV market, the company is expected to turn to Pininfarina, the legendary Italian designer of iconic vehicles such as Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Maserati, which Mahindra acquired in late 2015.

Photo of Pininfarina FerrariTransitioning to clean transportation is a high priority for India. According to a report by NITI Aayog, India’s most influential government think tank, switching from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles would save the country $60 billion in energy and decrease carbon emissions by 37%. Reducing emissions is a particularly important issue because, according to a 2014 World Health Organization study, 13 out of 20 of the world’s most polluted cities are in India, and tailpipe emissions are dirtier per unit of energy produced than power plant emissions. That said, there is an emphasis in India to avoid the already-strained electrical grid altogether and charge EVs with solar panels. Each EV produced by Mahindra gets its first charge at the factory from solar panels, and customers can purchase their own solar panels for off-grid charging at home.

Photo of Mahindra EV Solar ChargerIn light of the country’s efforts to move away from traditional vehicles, Mahindra Electric recently announced its roadmap for the next generation of electric vehicles, an initiative dubbed “EV 2.0.” Speaking on the subject of the roadmap, Dr. Pawan Goenka, Chairman of Mahindra Electric, said, “The time has now arrived for EVs to become mainstream and Mahindra has the right technology and products for India. We will actively engage with the government . . . and other private players for setting up a robust EV ecosystem. We are also ramping up our investments towards developing the next generation of EV technologies and products that will cater to the smart cities of tomorrow.”

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Volvo Goes All-In With Electric Drivetrains

Buying an electric Volvo will soon become a lot easier. Volvo Cars announced today that, starting in 2019, every model the company launches will have an electric motor. This is, without a doubt, a big step for a large and influential automaker with a global footprint, though today’s announcement does not mean that every vehicle in the lineup will be fully electric, or that internal combustion engines are going away immediately. Rather, all new models will be equipped with some form of electrified drivetrain, whether it be 48-volt mild hybrid, plug-in, or fully-electric. Then, as the company’s gasoline-only portion of the lineup is redesigned or retired, there will be no more purely gasoline-powered vehicles.

“This is about the customer,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive. “People increasingly demand electrified cars and we want to respond to our customers’ current and future needs. You can now pick and choose whichever electrified Volvo you wish.”

While many customers do, indeed, seek out various types of electric drivetrains, Volvo’s decision to include electric technology as a default recognizes that selling electric as an option is challenging because most customers will not step out of their comfort zone or pay extra for the new technology. Taking away the option eliminates the need for customers to make a proactive decision and simplifies sales staff training while improving fuel economy and reducing carbon emissions.

Volvo’s portfolio will include a variety of electric technologies, each of which will improve fuel economy and reduce carbon emissions while at the same time supporting the power-hungry infotainment systems customers crave. Some models will be equipped with 48-volt mild hybrid systems, while others will be plug-in hybrids. Five vehicles, to be launched between 2019 and 2021, will be fully electric with no gasoline engine at all. Of these five, two will be high performance vehicles from Polestar, Volvo Cars’ performance car arm.

The announcement by Volvo represents one of the most significant moves by any car maker to embrace electrification and highlights how, more than a century after the invention of the internal combustion engine, electrification is paving the way for a new chapter in automotive history. That this momentous announcement comes from Volvo is not entirely surprising considering (1) Volvo’s strength in Europe, where emissions standards are becoming increasingly stringent, and (2) that Volvo is owned by Geely, the Chinese automotive giant which needs to keep up with rapidly increasing demand for electric drivetrains in China as shown in the following graph:

Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) • CC BY-SA 4.0

“This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” said Mr. Samuelsson. “Volvo Cars has stated that it plans to have sold a total of one million electrified cars by 2025. When we said it we meant it. This is how we are going to do it.”

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Hyundai’s Ioniq EV Delivers Ultra-Low Total Cost of Ownership With Novel Recharging Credit

Photo of Hyundai Ioniq Electric.
Hyundai Ioniq Electric; photos courtesy Hyundai America

Recognizing that electric vehicle customers expect a charging plan with their new cars, Hyundai is now offering the “Ioniq Unlimited+” subscription program for the company’s Ioniq Electric (currently available in California only). The subscription program is unique in the industry because it wraps into the lease payment a reimbursement for electricity, based on the number of miles driven, up to the first 50,000 miles. This “recharging credit” will be applied directly to the owners’ subsequent monthly payment. Unlike other automaker charging plans, which generally are limited to one charging service provider and do not include home charging, Hyundai’s plan is completely agnostic as to where the driver plugs in.

The monthly recharging credit, which is included in the $275/month lease price for the base model (having an MSRP of $30,335), essentially offers drivers a charging allowance for use at home, at work, or on the go. The formula Hyundai uses to determine the credit is: Monthly mileage * kWh/mile * Cost per kWh.

These factors are derived as follows:

  • Monthly mileage: Transmitted from the vehicle to Hyundai via Hyundai’s Blue Link service (i.e., the vehicle’s telematics service)
  • kWh/mile: 28 kWh per 124 miles = 0.2258 kWh/mile
  • Cost per kWh: The then in effect California Residential “Average Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customers by End-Use Sector, by State” as published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in its Electric Power Monthly publication (or $0.186 if the EIA source is no longer available).

An important point to remember is that if the driver uses a charger that requires payment in excess of the reimbursement credit on a per-kWh basis the driver will not be made whole. On the other hand, if the driver plugs in at a free charger, the reimbursement credit will be 100 percent profit because it’s based on miles driven and not the cost of a particular charging session.

Although the Unlimited+ plan is available only for vehicles leased in California, the recharging credit will apply even if the vehicle is no longer in the state (though the reimbursement credit will remain pegged to the price of electricity in California, which should generally be beneficial to the driver because California has some of the highest retail electricity prices in the country).

Photo of plugging in a Hyundai Ioniq Electric.

To maximize the recharging credit, the vehicle would have to cover an average of about 45 miles per day over three years. That would result in a monthly credit of about $60 in addition to avoided gasoline costs of approximately $150 per month (assuming the Ioniq replaces a traditional vehicle getting 29 MPG with gasoline at a California average price of $3.055/gallon).

If an Ioniq Electric driver is so fortunate as to get free charging at work and have solar panels at home, the savings of more than $200/month enjoyed from the recharging credit combined with avoided gasoline and maintenance means that the total cost of driving an Ioniq Electric is about half that a traditional vehicle.

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GM Completes First Step Toward Mass Production of Autonomous Bolt EV

Photo of Chevy Autonomous Bolt EV Assembly Line.(Photos by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)

General Motors today announced that it completed production of 130 Chevrolet Bolt EV test vehicles equipped with its next generation of self-driving technology at its Orion Assembly Plant located in Orion Township, Michigan. This is unique in the automotive world because GM is the first company to assemble self-driving test vehicles in a mass-production facility, an undertaking the company began in January.

“This production milestone brings us one step closer to making our vision of personal mobility a reality,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “Expansion of our real-world test fleet will help ensure that our self-driving vehicles meet the same strict standards for safety and quality that we build into all of our vehicles.”

The self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV features GM’s latest array of equipment, including LIDAR, cameras, sensors and other hardware designed to accelerate development of a safe and reliable fully autonomous vehicle. The vehicles being produced in Orion Township will join the more than 50 current-generation self-driving Bolt EVs already deployed in testing fleets in San Francisco; Scottsdale, Arizona; and metro Detroit.

“To achieve what we want from self-driving cars, we must deploy them at scale,” said Cruise Automation CEO Kyle Vogt. “By developing the next-generation self-driving platform in San Francisco and manufacturing these cars in Michigan, we are creating the safest and most consistent conditions to bring our cars to the most challenging urban roads that we can find.” GM and Cruise Automation engineers have been testing Chevrolet Bolt EVs equipped with self-driving technology on public roads in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, since June 2016 and on public roads in Warren, Michigan, since January 2017.

Referring to the synergetic relationship between electric and autonomous technology at a ceremony commemorating today’s milestone at Orion, GM’s Barra observed that the Bolt “has the onboard power capacity to operate the complex computing systems necessary for self-driving vehicles [and] it provides clear benefits for the urban environments where autonomous vehicles are most likely to be introduced – including zero emissions and quiet operation.”

The Bolt EV provides an EPA-estimated 238 miles per charge at a price below $30,000 after government incentives. GM characterizes the Bolt as “a zero-emissions car that is a technology platform, is fun to drive and puts our commitment to sustainability in our customers’ hands.” The Bolt builds on GM’s electrification experience that began with the Chevrolet Volt in 2010, and whose owners have now logged more than 2.5 billion electric miles.

The National Safety Council estimates as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicles crashes in the U.S. last year, a 6-percent increase over 2015, and more than 90 percent of crashes are attributable to human error. “That is something that autonomous vehicles have the potential to eliminate,” said Vogt.

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Buick Boosts Mileage, Performance of 2018 LaCrosse With “Light Electrification”

Photo of 2018 Buick LaCrosse.

General Motors’ Chevrolet division has long been the company’s focal point for electrified vehicles such as the plug-in hybrid Volt and the all-electric Bolt. Now, though, Buick is getting into the game. Although not yet jumping into the deep end with an all-electric, the brand is taking a meaningful step with an improved “eAssist” system, which is an 86-volt mild-hybrid system that Buick refers to as “light electrification” and will be in five models within a year.

The new eAssist, when coupled with the LaCrosse’s four-cylinder engine, delivers a 19 percent increase in city fuel economy compared to the LaCrosse’s V-6 without eAssist. The system also leverages a compact lithium-ion battery pack to provide certain benefits found in fully electric vehicles, such as torque-assisted launch (with the latest eAssist producing nine percent more torque than the prior eAssist), energy-saving regenerative braking and smooth stop/start. eAssist will be included as the standard powertrain for the 2018 LaCrosse, which goes on sale this fall.

“Executing innovative technologies in an approachable and meaningful way is core to Buick,” said Duncan Aldred, vice president, Global Buick and GMC. “By adding the eAssist system to the LaCrosse, our technology flagship, we are making electrification accessible to our customers as we chart our course to the future of mobility.”

Buick’s eAssist propulsion system combines a compact electric motor and an advanced 24-cell air-cooled 0.45kWh lithium-ion battery pack with the 2.5L four-cylinder gas engine to enhance efficiency and maintain refined performance through:

1. Motor Generator Unit (MGU): Replaces the traditional alternator and acts as an electric motor to assist the engine when needed. It also acts as an electric generator providing the energy stored in the lithium-ion battery pack.

2. Electric Assist: The MGU’s electric motor function provides a power boost for an extremely smooth launch from the Auto-Stop mode. It funnels additional torque to the engine when needed to optimize overall driving performance and efficiency.

3. Regenerative Braking: When braking or coasting, some of the energy normally lost is converted to electricity through the MGU and stored in the lithium-ion battery pack.

4. Lithium-Ion Battery Pack: The 86V lithium-ion battery pack, which has been repackaged to be more compact, stores energy captured during regenerative braking. This energy powers the electrical system when the vehicle is in Auto-Stop mode. It also powers the MGU to provide a smooth launch from Auto-Stop mode or additional torque to the engine as needed.

5. Seamless Stop/Start Technology: Contributes to added fuel savings3 by seamlessly turning off the engine when in Auto-Stop mode (e.g., at a stoplight or in heavy traffic) and restarting when the foot lifts off the brake pedal or presses the accelerator.

6. Aero Improvement: Upper and lower active aero shutters in the front fascia close under certain driving conditions to help maximize aerodynamics and contribute to improved fuel economy.

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Utility Rate Structures Challenge Electric Vehicle Fast Charging

According to a report issued by EVgo and Rocky Mountain Institute, today’s electric utility rate structures generally present major, if not insurmountable, challenges to the commercial viability of Direct Current (DC) fast charging of electric vehicles. To solve the problem, utility tariffs must be amended to recognize the rapidly evolving grid and provide a framework that accommodates this unique and critical infrastructure (as generally illustrated by the following video).

The biggest financial challenge for DC fast chargers is the demand charge. Demand charges are determined by the maximum rate at which energy is used, typically during peak hours of a billing period. Generally speaking, once the peak demand is established, the customer must pay for that capacity for the entire year, 24/7/365. While usually not transparent to (nor avoidable by) residential customers, demand charges are a significant and sometimes manageable cost for commercial and industrial customers. In fact, customers who have the ability to curtail their load during peak events do curtail so that they can enjoy the benefit of a reduced demand charge over the course of the year.

DC fast chargers draw a large quantity of electricity (thereby triggering high demand charges), but generally do so only intermittently and for relatively short periods. Because usage on the vast majority of DC fast chargers is relatively light, these units usually do not consume enough electricity over the course of a year to average out the demand charges to a cost-effective level. And companies such as EVgo cannot feasibly avoid or mitigate demand charges by curtailing or spreading load because the units spike by design and customers must be able to charge at any time.

RMI’s study found that, under certain electricity tariffs, demand charges can make up as much as 90 percent of the monthly bill of operational public DC fast chargers, driving the cost of delivered electricity as high as $1.96 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) during summer months in some locations. These charges are nearly seven times as high as the current gasoline equivalent cost of $0.29/kWh, meaning it is difficult for DC Fast charging providers like EVgo to remain competitive with the costs of operating petroleum-fueled vehicles.

“As EV adoption increases, it’s important that drivers have access to affordable charging options outside their homes,” said Terry O’Day, Vice President, Product Strategy and Market Development, at EVgo. “Public fast charging is critical to EV deployment, and the more chargers installed will affect the amount of EVs deployed, which, in turn, will drive utilization and revenue.”

The report recommended the following approaches to promote a competitive business environment for public DC fast charging stations and to facilitate future infrastructure investment:

  • Low fixed charges, which primarily reflect routine costs for items such as maintenance and billing.
  • The opportunity to earn credit for providing grid services, perhaps along the lines of a solar net-metering design.
  • Rates that vary by location—for example, offering low rates for DC fast chargers installed in overbuilt and underutilized areas of the grid. This strategy can increase the efficiency of existing infrastructure and help build new EV charging infrastructure at a low cost.
  • Limited or no demand charges. If demand charges are necessary, it’s essential that they do not capture upstream costs of distribution circuits, transmission or generation.
  • Time-varying volumetric rates, such as those proposed for San Diego Gas & Electric’s Public Charging Grid Integration Rate (GIR). These volumetric charges would recover all, or nearly all, of the cost of providing energy and system capacity.

“As more and more Californians embrace the many benefits of EVs—reduced carbon and air emissions, lower per-mile usage costs compared with gasoline-powered vehicles and increasing operating ranges— now is the time for California to ensure that the support infrastructure for EVs keeps pace,” said Jeruld Weiland, a Managing Director at RMI. “We hope this research helps inform California’s electricity-sector stakeholders on constructive approaches to best position the state to meet its ambitious carbon-reduction goals.”

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BMW’s Aggressive Yet Prudent Roll-Out of Electric Mobility

As BMW enters its second century in business, executives at the company’s annual Analyst and Investor Conference highlighted record revenues and earnings along with a commitment to expand the BMW Group’s role as an innovation leader in electric and autonomous mobility. While discussion of electric vehicles was presented quite prominently at the company’s annual meeting in a nod to the potentially large (though currently modest) electric vehicle market, in the interest of maintaining sustainable profitability in the face of uncertainty the executives stressed flexibility and scalability.

Photo of i3 production at BMW's Leipzig plant.
i3 production at BMW’s Leipzig plant.

Despite dramatic technological advances in electrification, the company recognizes that for reasons such as regulatory variability, low oil prices, and today’s customer preferences, not all markets and segments will develop at the same pace.

Photo of the new BMW i8 Frozen Yellow Edition.
New BMW i8 Frozen Yellow Edition.

Reflecting the varied demand for fully electric battery-powered vehicles, Chairman Harald Krüger reports that, while BMW is today capable of incorporating plug-in technology into every vehicle (with full-electric mobility possible in every vehicle by 2020), the company will also “[use] highly flexible architectures [to] avoid duplicate investments in plant and equipment and . . . be able to adapt our range of electric and conventional vehicles to changing demand both quickly and efficiently.” This approach is good news for both customers and stockholders, as it demonstrates BMW’s commitment to providing innovative and appealing vehicles while ensuring financial viability.

Graphic showing BMW's plug-in vehicles.
Slide presented by BMW CEO Harald Krüger at 2017 Annual Meeting.

Ten years after beginning “project i” and four years after launching the i3, BMW this year will offer eight plug-in hybrid models, plans to sell 100,000 electrified vehicles in a single year for the first time, and will deliver its 200,000th electric vehicle.

The company will welcome the plug-in Mini this summer, the all-new i8 Roadster in 2018, an all-electric Mini in 2019, and an all-electric X3 in 2020. By 2025, BMW projects, full-electrics and plug-in hybrids will account for 15 to 20 percent of the company’s sales.

Photo of New BMW X3 undergoing dynamic winter testing in Sweden.
New BMW X3 undergoes dynamic winter testing in Sweden.

In a nod to the economical fuel efficiency benefits that “mild hybrid” systems deliver, BMW also announced at the annual meeting that all of the company’s vehicles will be equipped with 12 and 48-volt energy recovery systems by 2025.

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Audi Announces Three Electric Vehicles by 2020, Launches Autonomous Vehicle Subsidiary

Photo of Audi e-tron quattro concept.
Audi e-tron quattro concept (photo courtesy Audi AG)

Following up on the 2015 introduction of a concept for a 300+ mile all-electric luxury-class sport SUV, Audi today announced plans to introduce three battery-electric “e-tron” models by the year 2020 and to electrify additional models after that. The first e-tron will be an SUV that will go on sale next year. An e-tron Sportback will follow in 2019, and a compact hatchback built on the company’s MEB platform is expected in 2020.

Demonstrating the company’s commitment to electric vehicles (EVs), Audi explained that it has already trained more than 6,000 employees to work with high-voltage technology and is involved in developing public fast-charging infrastructure to support the company’s new vehicles.

For the U.S. in particular, Audi has established Electrify America, an organization whose mission includes (1) investing in EV charging infrastructure, (2) increasing awareness and fostering education about EVs, and (3) launching a Green City initiative in a yet-to-be-named California municipality.

Photo of Audi RS 3 Sedan, Audi RS 3 Sportback.In addition to expanding electric mobility, Audi is investing in self-driving cars through a new subsidiary called “Autonomous Intelligent Driving GmbH.” The group, whose technology will benefit not only Audi but also the entire Volkswagen family of brands, will first focus on developing systems for autonomous vehicles in cities. Potential applications of the technology the group envisions include autonomous taxis.

Audi is also developing assisted and piloted systems for other traffic situations, such as on highways or country roads. In the new Audi A8, for example, customers will for the first time be able to use Level 3 automated driving functions at speeds up to 60 km/h. Level 3 autonomy means that the vehicle is capable of monitoring the driving environment and accelerating, decelerating, and steering independently, while relying on a human driver to intervene on demand.

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Audi Introduces Q8 Sport Concept, a Stylish and Powerful “Mild Hybrid”

Audi this week introduced the Q8 sport concept, a stylish SUV featuring a super fuel-efficient “mild hybrid” drive system. Mild hybrids are a class of vehicles distinct from traditional hybrids and all-electrics such as the Prius or the Tesla.

The distinguishing feature of mild hybrids is a 48-volt electrical system with a relatively small battery that provides electricity to heavy loads such as the air conditioner compressor. By relieving the gasoline engine of powering heavy electrical loads, the vehicle achieves better fuel economy because all of the gasoline is directed only at moving the vehicle. The battery is charged through regenerative braking.

Another benefit of the 48-volt system is that it can power an electric traction motor to supplement the internal combustion engine, producing additional horsepower without consuming more gasoline. In the case of the Q8 sport concept, the combination of the 3.0 liter turbo-charged six-cylinder gasoline engine with a 20 kW electric motor produces a total of 469 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque (which is 25 more gasoline-free horsepower than without the electric motor). Acceleration is 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62.1 mph) in 4.7 seconds with a top speed of 170.9 mph.

Graphic showing Audi Q8 sport concept mild hybrid 48-volt drivetrain

In addition to the electric motor’s contribution to horsepower, the Q8 sport concept’s 48-volt system enables delay-free turbo acceleration in a V6 for the first time, according to Audi. Six-cylinder engines typically do not produce enough exhaust gas for instant turbo power, but the Q8 sport concept’s 48-volt electric system can accelerate an electric compressor from 0 to 70,000 RPM in less than 250 milliseconds to instantly provide the air that the turbocharger requires. The result is faster acceleration than typical for an SUV, and 8-cylinder performance with 4-cylinder fuel consumption. Total range based on the vehicle’s 22.5 gallon fuel tank is 745.6 miles, for an average fuel economy of more than 33 miles per gallon.

Finally, the Q8 sport concept’s 0.9 kWh battery makes it possible to keep moving slowly in stop-start traffic with the combustion engine switched off, as well as allowing for maneuvering and parking under electric power alone.

“The drive system of the Audi Q8 sport concept is a major step towards optimizing efficiency and sustainability in large-volume series production. The combination of mild hybrid technology and a [turbocharged fuel stratified injection] engine sets a new benchmark for the synthesis of electromobility and combustion engines. In the future, this combination will be used in many Audi models,” says Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board of Management at Audi AG.Photo of Audi Q8 sport concept.By providing power for the many high-energy systems, 48-volt mild-hybrids are a relatively low-cost stepping-stone in the march toward greater electrification and, if incorporated into millions of vehicles, do represent a meaningful (yet modest) increase in fuel economy and decrease in tailpipe emissions. While the benefits of these otherwise-traditional vehicles fall short of the game-changing advances in fully-electric vehicles, incorporating a 48-volt system nonetheless improves fuel economy at a relatively low cost per unit of efficiency.

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Toyota Set to Unveil Compact Electric Concept Vehicle

Next month’s Geneva International Motor Show will feature the world premiere of Toyota’s “i-TRIL Concept.” Developed by Toyota Motor Europe in collaboration with the company’s ED² design studio in Nice, Toyota is promoting this electric motor powered concept as a showcase for numerous aspects of Toyota’s research into “engaging environmentally-friendly mobility solutions.”

Information is scarce in advance of the March 7 unveiling but Toyota has released a few hints, including that the concept will feature some degree of autonomy and a one-plus-two seating layout, which means one seat in the front and two in the back. The i-TRIL concept will also feature Toyota’s “Active Lean” technology, which is designed to improve maneuverability and stability on turns.

According to Toyota, the vehicles that will follow the i-TRIL concept will compete with the A and B segment markets, other electric vehicles, and motorcycles. The terms A-segment and B-segment are European designations, but such vehicles are sold worldwide. Examples of A-segment vehicles sold in the U.S. include the Fiat 500 and the Mini, and examples of the B-segment include the Audi A1, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris.

Expectations are that Toyota will do its best to differentiate the i-TRIL concept vehicle from more traditional offerings, as indicated by the company’s promise that, “even as slow speeds in the urban environment,” the i-TRIL concept will be fun to drive.

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