Auto Outlook: Ford goes off grid, Toyota's fuel cell car makes splash

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
Ford C-MAX Energi Solar Concept show at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Photo Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.)
1 of 5 | Ford C-MAX Energi Solar Concept show at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Photo Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.)

Ford is taking its C-MAX gas-electric hybrid off the grid.

At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, the U.S. automaker showed a concept version of the C-MAX Energi that sports a first-of-its-kind solar collector roof that potentially puts out enough juice to fully recharge the batteries.


The idea is to give consumers the advantage of a plug-in hybrid without the need to plug-in to the electric grid for power. A special concentrating Fresnel lens follows the sun's rays to maximize the charge to the batteries -- taking about a day to store enough power for the 21-mile electric-only range of the C-MAX Energi.

That would be enough power to run short errands without having to plug-in at all or run the hybrid's 2-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine. Ford estimates the sun could fuel as much as 75 percent trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle.


The C-Max gets an EPA-estimated 108 miles per gallon equivalent in the city, 92 MPGe highway, for a combined 100 miles per gallon equivalent.

"Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy," said Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure in a statement. "As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future."

The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is a joint project of Ford, California's SunPower Corp. and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Ford sold more than 6,300 plug-in hybrid models though November, second only to Toyota.

Also at CES, General Motors announced it would install a performance data recorder in its 2014 Corvette Stingray so owners can analyze driving telemetry readings recorded on an SD card.

GM says data -- including high-def video taken by a windshield-mounted camera -- would give owners of the American sports car the opportunity to improve their driving skills providing an advantage at the track on race days.

Toyota FCV ready for prime time in 2015

When Toyota's fuel cell car hits U.S. roads in California next year the Japanese automaker is hoping there will be at least 20 hydrogen refueling stations up and pumping in the state.


California is spending more than $200 million to build infrastructure to provide hydrogen gas for alternative fueled vehicles. Plans call for 20 stations by 2015, 40 by 2016 and as many as 100 stations by 2024, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Golden State is requiring 15 percent of all new vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2025.

The Toyota FCV, which looks a lot like a Corolla-sized, four-passenger Prius, will be able to travel about 310 miles between fill-ups, so the more hydrogen stations around the better.

Toyota engineers also are working on an adapter that would allow the 100 kilowatts of electricity generated by the breakdown of hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel cell to be ported into an electrical grid capable of powering a home for a week.

"Fuel cell vehicles will be in our future sooner than many people believe, and in much greater numbers than anyone expected," said Toyota senior vice president of U.S. automotive operations Bob Carter at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Toyota showed the FCV at CES but did not disclose pricing. Honda and Hyundai also plan to debut fuel cell vehicles in 2015. Honda has been testing versions of its Clarity fuel cell vehicle in California for several years and Hyundai will offer a fuel cell model of its Tucson SUV.


Like an all-electric car, Toyota's FCV has lots of low-end torque with a zero to 60 mph time of around 10 seconds. It would take about the same amount of time to refuel as to fill the tank of a gasoline powered car -- not hours to recharge like an all-electric. Top speed is estimated at 100 mph.

Toyota first showed the FCV in November at the Tokyo Motor Show. Because many of its drivetrain components come from Toyota's proven Hybrid Synergy Drive system -- except for two small high-pressure hydrogen tanks -- the price may be less than one might think.

"We estimate a 95 percent reduction for the powertrain and fuel tanks of the vehicle we will launch in 2015, when you compare that to what it cost for us to build the original Highlander Fuel Cells in 2002," Carter said.

Year-end incentives helped lower average new vehicle costs

Automotive price website said the average price for a new car or light truck in December was $30,786, down 0.6 percent from a year earlier, about $200.

Average transaction prices were at record highs for General Motors and Volkswagen, $35,634 and $36,433, respectively.

A new Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram truck or Fiat averaged $32,245; a Ford or Lincoln, $33,721; Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet or GMC, $34,634; Honda or Acura, $27,646; Hyundai-Kia, $22,868; Nissan or Infiniti, $26,486; Toyota, Lexus or Scion, $30,164, and Volkswagen, Audi or Porsche, $36,433.


Chrysler offered the largest average incentives for light vehicles of $2,954 while Volkswagen had the smallest averaging $2,338. The industry average incentive for a new vehicle was $2,676.

Black boxes, GPS and mapping apps

The National Security Agency and the phone company aren't the only ones keeping close tabs on us.

The watchdog Government Accountability Office, in a report last week, revealed major automakers, including Toyota, Honda, Nissan and the Detroit 3, collect data from onboard navigation systems without asking the vehicle's owner for permission.

The GPS database can be kept for years and vehicle owners cannot demand it be deleted, the Detroit News reported. None of the auto companies would say how long the data is kept.

GPS data is used to give motorists real-time traffic information to help find nearby destinations, gas stations or restaurants. Systems like GM's OnStar provide emergency roadside assistance and can track a stolen vehicle.

"Modern technology now allows drivers to get turn-by-turn directions in a matter of seconds, but our privacy laws haven't kept pace with these enormous advances," Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said in a statement.

"Companies providing in-car location services are taking their customers' privacy seriously -- but this report shows ... people across the country need much more information about how the data are being collected, what their being used for and how they're being shared with third parties."


Franken, chairman of a Senate judiciary subcommittee on privacy, plans to reintroduce legislation this year to require privacy protection provisions for in-car navigation systems and mapping apps.

"Companies should safeguard location data, in part, by de-identifying them, that companies should not keep location data longer than needed and that such data should be deleted after a specific amount of time," the report said.

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