Are Smart Dealers Making a Wise Decision? Dealers Drop Out As Ohio Proves EVs Sell and Daimler Launches Radical Concept

Photo of Autonomous concept car smart vision EQ fortwoJust weeks after more than two-thirds of Smart’s U.S. dealerships elected to stop selling the small vehicle following news that the brand would be shifting to all-electric, the next-generation “Smart vision EQ fortwo” concept vehicle has been introduced. The most prominent feature of the Smart concept is what isn’t there: no steering wheel or pedals.

Photo of interior of Smart concept vision EQ fortwo.Smart Vision

Designed to showcase a new vision of urban mobility, the concept vehicle expands on parent company Daimler’s long range “EQ” plan and offers a glimpse into what Daimler has in mind for the future, which includes ten electric vehicles scheduled to launch by 2022. (Smart is a division of Daimler AG and is distributed in the U.S. by Mercedes-Benz USA.)

Smart’s concept is a shared autonomous electric vehicle that will pick up passengers directly from their designated location. And don’t worry about getting into the wrong car, as so many of us have with Uber and Lyft (even with real drivers at the wheel!). Daimler’s future autonomous vehicles will solve that problem with a message board displaying the name and photo of the next passenger on the front of the vehicle:

Photo of message board on front of Smart concept vision EQ fortwo.“The Smart vision EQ fortwo is our vision of future urban mobility; it is the most radical car sharing concept car of all: fully autonomous, with maximum communication capabilities, friendly, comprehensively personalizable and, of course, electric,” says Smart CEO Annette Winkler. “With the Smart vision EQ fortwo, we are giving a face to the themes with which Mercedes-Benz Cars describes the vision of future mobility within the CASE strategy.”

CASE stands for Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric, and this strategy is a significant undertaking at Daimler. As described by Chairman of the Board Dieter Zetsche, “each of [the CASE features] has the power to turn our entire industry upside down. But the true revolution is in combining them in a comprehensive, seamless package.”

Smart Strategy

Most of the 27 remaining Smart dealerships are in states with zero-emission vehicle requirements, and a cynic would conclude that EVs can’t make it without a regulatory requirement or heavy subsidies. But that’s not true, as evidenced by Germain Motor Group’s decision to continue selling electric Smarts in Columbus, Ohio, a state with no zero emission vehicle (ZEV) requirement. Unusually high demand for electric vehicles in Columbus appears to be driven by a coordinated emphasis of the benefits of decarbonizing transportation and an effort to mitigate obstacles to charging and driving electric vehicles.

This is all happening because Columbus, the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, is launching the Smart Columbus Electrification Plan. “Columbus has established itself as a leader in electrification with its ‘Smart Columbus’ initiative,” Germain COO John Malishenko wrote in an email reported by Automotive News. “It’s well funded and focused on making Columbus a leader in alternative transportation solutions, so for that reason, we’ve decided to stay put.”

The fact that sales in Columbus remain at a level high enough to warrant keeping the dealership open in the absence of a regulatory mandate demonstrates that a concerted effort to shift behavior can cause meaningful change for the better. Only time will tell whether the 58 departing dealers should have stayed Smart.

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Audi to Introduce Solar Roofs, Improve Fuel Efficiency and EV Range

Thin-film solar cells in panoramic glass roofs of Audi models: Audi and Alta Devices, a subsidiary of the Chinese solar-cell specialist, Hanergy, are working together on this development project. With this cooperation, the partners aim to generate solar energy to increase the range of electric vehicles.
Photo courtesy Audi AG.

Audi today announced a plan to increase the range of the company’s electric vehicles by generating onboard solar energy using thin-film solar cells. Audi and its partner, California-based Alta Devices, a subsidiary of the Chinese solar-cell specialist Hanergy, are taking an incremental approach and will first integrate Alta’s efficient, thin, and flexible mobile power technology into panoramic glass roofs. A prototype is expected by the end of this year.

Recognizing that drivers demand maximum range from their electric vehicles, and also responding to ever more stringent fuel economy requirements around the globe, Audi and other vehicle manufacturers are going to great lengths to maximize every opportunity to increase overall efficiency as well as replace liquid fuels with electricity. Consistent with this effort, Audi’s next step after integrating solar into glass panels will be to cover almost the entire roof with solar cells.

By generating onboard and clean renewable power for systems such as air-conditioning and seat heaters, the solar cells will reduce the demand on an all-electric vehicle’s main battery, thereby providing a longer range for driving. But solar cells also can improve fuel efficiency in mild-hybrid vehicles by making the gasoline or diesel engine’s output more fully available for moving the vehicle instead of producing electricity for in-cabin use. Eventually, Audi and Alta envision solar energy directly charging a fully-electric vehicle’s main battery. “That would be a milestone along the way to achieving sustainable, emission-free mobility,” said Bernd Martens, Audi’s Board of Management Member for Procurement.

The partnership with premier automaker Audi is a high-profile opportunity for Alta, holder of multiple world records for energy conversion efficiency. “This partnership with Audi is Alta Devices’ first cooperation with a high-end auto brand. By combining Alta’s continuing breakthroughs in solar technology and Audi’s drive toward a sustainable mobility of the future, we will shape the solar car of the future,” said Alta CEO Ding Jian.

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Advanced Transportation Projects Receive Federal Investment

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office this week announced $13.4 million in investments to support five new cost-shared, community-based projects focused on energy efficient mobility systems. Funding will go to support research and development related to connected and autonomous vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, and infrastructure including natural gas, propane, biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity.

The specific winners are:

  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York), which will receive $2 million to evaluate changes in freight demand patterns that reduce energy use, incorporate energy efficient technologies and practices into freight logistics, and publish lessons learned.
  • Pecan Street Inc. (Austin, Texas), which will receive $1 million to pilot “last mile” electric bus services. The project includes a feasibility assessment of new technologies such as autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles and dynamic app-driven re-routing.
  • City of Seattle Department of Transportation (Seattle, Washington), which will receive $1.9 million to accelerate the use of EVs in shared mobility applications in four major U.S. markets and establish best practices for all U.S. metro regions.

In addition, two community partner projects focusing on alternative fuels will also receive funding:

  • Center for Transportation and the Environment (Atlanta, Georgia) and its partners will receive $4.6 million to accelerate the deployment of alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure throughout the southeastern United States.
  • Metropolitan Energy Center, Inc. (Kansas City, Missouri) and its partners will receive $3.8 million to accelerate the deployment of alternative fuel vehicles, as well as supporting infrastructure, through community-based partnerships throughout Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado.

One of the Vehicle Technologies Office’s areas of focus is energy efficient mobility systems. Energy efficient mobility systems includes efforts to identify and support technologies and innovations that “encourage a maximum-mobility, minimum-energy future in which transportation systems may be automated, connected, electric, and/or shared (ACES).”

According to independent third-party evaluations of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy’s R&D portfolio that has been evaluated to date, taxpayer investment of $12 billion has yielded an estimated net economic benefit of more than $230 billion, with an overall annual return on investment of more than 20 percent.

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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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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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Faraday Future Unveils All-Electric “FF 91” Supercar

Photo of Faraday Future FF 91.Faraday Future yesterday unveiled its first production vehicle, the all-electric “FF 91” (referred to as the “FF nine-one”). With 1050 horsepower produced by a 783 kW motor, this pre-production supercar accelerates from 0 to 60 in an eye-popping 2.39 seconds. More important to most drivers, though, is that the FF 91 carries a massive 130 kWh battery. With more electric energy storage capacity than any other vehicle, Faraday states that the FF 91 achieves an EPA-estimated range of 378 miles.

The battery technology Faraday is developing with LG Chem is doubtlessly impressive, but EV drivers should expect a horserace between leading OEMs in battery capacity. As an example of this fierce competition, Tesla’s P100D’s range today is 337 miles. By the time the FF 91 enters production, Tesla (or another EV manufacturer such as NextEV’s NIO or Lucid Motors) could well match or surpass that benchmark.ff91_detail_vpaWith such a large battery, charging speeds have to increase from most of today’s charging technology, which is generally designed to serve vehicles with batteries less than half the size Faraday plans. For this reason, the FF 91 can accept a 200 kW charge (think of this as charging at a peak rate of 500 miles in an hour). For comparison, most DC fast chargers today top out at 50 kW (comparable to 200 miles in an hour). A notable exception is Tesla, whose superchargers are 145 kW. Meanwhile, Porsche is working on 350 kW charging, so high speed charging is a technology sure to see significant change.

The FF 91 also features autonomous driving technology, as impressively demonstrated at the unveiling when an unmanned vehicle drove through a parking lot looking for an empty space, then perfectly backed in and notified the person who had been driving where to find it. While at first a vehicle’s ability to park itself may seem rather insignificant, think how nice it would be to be dropped off at a building’s entrance while your car parks itself.

Based at least in part on Faraday Future’s relationship with Chinese infotainment giant LeEco, Faraday vehicles will possess technology capable of learning driver and passenger preferences over time. Examples include seating positions, favorite music and movies, ideal temperatures, and driving style settings. Faraday Future is also introducing advanced facial recognition technology – called Arrival Interface – allowing drivers and passengers to unlock the car without a key. Photo of FF 91's "Arrival Interface."A camera installed in the B-pillar between the front and back seats can accurately identify the user’s face to grant vehicle entry. Similarly, interior cameras use this technology to recognize users and automatically adjust interior settings to their preferences.

Faraday is now accepting reservations for the FF 91. A $5,000 deposit the company states is refundable guarantees a priority position once production begins; potential customers unwilling to put up a lot of cash without knowing key factors such as what the interior will look like or the ultimate price of the vehicle can register an “intent to reserve” at no cost. The company announced plans to begin production in 2018.

The FF 91’s unveiling is a much-needed bright spot for Faraday, which in recent months has suffered from an exodus of prominent personnel, troubled financing, and construction delays. Nonetheless, said Nick Sampson, the company’s SVP of research and development and a former Tesla engineer, “Despite all the naysayers, the skeptics, we will persist, we will carry on, to make the impossible possible.”

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BMW Expands Plug-In Options With 530e iPerformance Sport Sedan

Photo of BMW 530e iPerformance.BMW this week continues its commitment to electric vehicles by introducing the 530e iPerformance sport sedan. The 530e is BMW’s sixth plug-in vehicle overall and the company’s first plug-in available in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. The 530e nicely fills a gap in the company’s lineup by adding a plug-in electric option to the 5 Series. Other plug-ins from BMW include:

The 530e’s 9.2 kWh (nameplate) battery is installed under the rear seat, providing full use of the trunk and a flat load compartment floor.p90244215_lowres_bmw-530e-iperformancCharging the battery from empty to full takes less than 7 hours using a residential 120 volt outlet, and less than 3 hours using a 7.2 kW Level 2 charger.

p90244236_lowres_bmw-530e-iperformancThe eDrive electric motor, which produces 95 hp and a maximum torque of 184 lb-feet, powers the rear wheels in the rear-wheel drive variant, and all four wheels in the all-wheel drive variant. Combined with a gasoline-powered 4-cylinder TwinPower Turbo combustion engine, the 530e’s overall system output is expected to be 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Preliminary testing indicates the 530e will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 130 mph.

The 530e’s all-electric driving range under normal conditions is expected to be approximately 15 miles. This distance accounts for a strong percentage of weekday commuting miles (particularly valuable in traffic, because idling and stop-and-go driving uses very little battery power), as well as a good bit of around-town driving on the weekends.

As with the 740e, the 530e’s eDrive button allows the driver to select the following electric-drive modes: AUTO eDRIVE, MAX eDRIVE, and Battery Control. p90244228_lowres_bmw-530e-iperformanc

AUTO eDRIVE, which is automatically activated when the vehicle starts up, is designed to dynamically determine the optimal combination of the combustion engine and electric motor to provide the best possible effect in terms of both efficiency and dynamics. To minimize tailpipe emissions in local driving, AUTO eDRIVE defaults to all-electric mode at low and moderate speeds. In this mode, the combustion engine only joins in at highway speeds (preliminarily 56 mph) or under heavy throttle applications.

MAX eDRIVE would be used by a driver wishing to drive in all-electric mode. With this setting, the combustion engine will remain off unless the accelerator is floored.

The Battery Control setting is a very interesting feature. Battery Control offers the ability to *prevent* the vehicle’s usage of the battery, forcing the use of the combustion engine while maintaining a battery charge level of between 30 and 100 percent. The purpose of holding back (or even increasing) stored electric energy, for example while on the highway when electric mileage is poor compared to electric mileage at slow speeds, is to deploy the electric energy later in a journey, for efficient and tailpipe-emission-free driving on local roads after exiting a freeway.p90244221_lowres_bmw-530e-iperformancThe new BMW 530e iPerformance comes with an extensive range of assistance systems which can be used in conjunction of eDrive mode, including:

  • iDrive 6.0 (navigation, phone, entertainment), Intelligent Voice Assistant, and BMW Gesture Control
  • Blind Spot Detection / Active Lane Keeping Assistant with Side Collision Avoidance & Traffic Jam Assistance
  • Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go
  • Active Driving Assistant Plus / Evasion Aid
  • BMW Connected Onboard
  • Surround View and Remote 3D View
  • ParkNow and On-Street Parking Information

The 2018 BMW 5 Series iPerformance will be available at U.S. dealers in spring 2017. Pricing will be announced closer to market launch.

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Mini’s Major Announcement: First Plug-In Hybrid Electric Nears Production

Mini's first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.Recognizing the regulatory requirement to produce low-emission vehicles and the corresponding business imperative to produce vehicles that customers want to drive, Mini yesterday in Munich introduced its first-ever plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. While fuel efficiency and clean air are important to many drivers, such attributes do not, on their own, generally translate into significant sales unless the vehicle is also attractive and fun to drive. For this reason, rather than focus on fuel or the environmental benefits of electric drive, Mini is emphasizing how much fun electric driving is due to features such as thrillingly powerful torque and a continuation (if not improvement) of Mini’s spirit and aggressive handling.

Knowing the company has a great base on which to start, Mini builds on its superb and classic heritage while adapting only as necessary, and with the goal of improving and not compromising. For example, the prominent and iconic RPM counter on the dashboard has been replaced with a distinctive power display. There is also an internal combustion engine to remove range anxiety while providing enough battery energy storage for most around-town trips. The vehicle always starts in all-electric mode; when or whether the gasoline engine kicks in depends on the vehicle’s speed and the intensity – the more aggressively or the longer the vehicle is driven, the more the gasoline engine will be called upon.

But the battery in the Mini is not merely window dressing to satisfy increasingly stringent fuel economy standards, nor does the battery power detract from the pleasure of driving. “As far as the chassis and suspension are concerned, nothing changes from the conventionally driven model variants” says Peter Wolf, head of Mini’s series management, “and the set-up benefits a lot from the hybrid concept.”

One of the benefits to which Wolf refers is that the electric motor transmits its power to the rear wheels, while the combustion engine powers the front wheels. Leveraging these distinct power sources enables the vehicle’s Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system to optimize traction and drive stability. “As soon as there is any risk of drive slip, the second drive unit is activated to provide additional traction when starting off or ensuring a high level of steering precision when cornering,” explains Wolf.

Another benefit of the electric drive system is that its components can be flexibly positioned so that they are balanced between the front and rear axle – ideal for achieving excellent agility. “In a hybrid Mini model, driving electrically must also be an exhilarating experience,” said Sebastian Mackensen, Mini’s head of brand management. “With this model we want to convince Mini customers of the benefits of hybrid drive,” says Mackensen, “and impress everyone who already has hybrid driving experience with Mini’s unique go-kart driving feel.”

When the vehicle is in “AUTO eDRIVE” mode, power comes solely from the electric motor up to speeds of 50 miles per hour; at higher speeds in this mode, the vehicle’s energy management system begins to blend the combustion engine. This means that the vehicle emits absolutely no tailpipe emissions during around-town driving, or even up to moderate highway speeds. For drivers wishing to not use gasoline at all, the “MAX eDRIVE” mode delivers all-electric power up to 80 miles per hour.

Mini's first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

A third mode is “SAVE BATTERY,” which reserves battery power for when doing so is most efficient. This option is intended for a trip that begins with highway speeds, for which gasoline is better than electricity, and ends with driving on slower secondary roads where electric power enjoys great efficiency. So despite a battery that is small compared to fully-electric vehicles such as the Tesla, the “SAVE BATTERY” mode allows you to drive hundreds of miles and still pull into a neighborhood at the end of the journey while cruising in silence and with no tailpipe emissions.

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