mm271: The automobile post – diesel / electric

MUDGE’S Musings

Don’t spend much time reading Forbes any more. Guess I’ve given up the dream: to be a capitalist.

My dear grandmother gave me a gift subscription when I was 21 years old. Found it interesting and aspirational, then. The politics made little impression (and maybe in the early 70s were less obstreperous).

But, it was really business news I hungered for, rather than investment advice (I was investing in my domicile and groceries at the time). For advice on decisions made in my favorite field of battle, the business world, Business Week became my regular read, and has continued to be for more than 30 years.

Lately, I’ve (all but) graduated to The Economist (wait for it), the best magazine on the planet, and I’ll face a real conundrum when my BW print subscription expires in a few months; can I really afford both?

Can I afford not to read both regularly?

But this is about Forbes; every so often I glance into, and occasionally will find something I hadn’t encountered elsewhere.

So it was last week.

Diesel cars: back here to stay?

We’ve occasionally written about alternative energy for transportation:

  • the wrong-headed corn ethanol boondoggle (here for example);
  • hybrids (will you break even on your new Prius by the year 2023? truth in advertising – can’t find where I’ve done more than comment disparagingly about hybrid vehicles, but there’s an exhaustive analysis here);
  • fuel cells (here – anyone spot the hydrogen pump at the corner station? Didn’t think so).

Forbes reminds us that there’s an existing, smart alternative, one that Europe embraced first, and still does: diesel engines for passenger vehicles.


The Other Green Engine: Diesel?

Joann Muller, 01.17.08, 7:30 PM ET

Looking for a fuel-efficient alternative to your current gas-guzzler? How about a car that gets 30% better fuel economy, doesn’t require a giant battery in the trunk or have to be plugged into the wall, and can travel 600 miles between fill-ups?

Believe it or not, automakers may have a tough time selling those attributes to consumers later this year, when a new generation of diesel-powered vehicles arrives in dealerships. Images from the 1970s–of rattling engines and tailpipes spewing black soot–are hard to shake. And, thanks to superb marketing by Toyota (nyse: TMnews people ), maker of the Prius hybrid, Americans are convinced hybrids are the only green choice available, despite some discussion of diesel cars’ potential. (See “Day of The Diesel.”)….

But a new generation of modern diesels is on its way to all 50 states, led by carmakers based in Europe, where half of all consumers prefer diesels.

One gets the impression that today’s diesel engined vehicles are considerably more refined (the clattery noise and that black smoke were turnoffs in the 80s).

And one can’t help notice that, in the bigger retailers, the diesel pump has made a reappearance. My nearby Citgo has one; if I could only stomach supporting Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s nationalized oil company that owns it…

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Other Green Engine: Diesel? –

Okay, diesel fuel is still a version (less refined, so in higher sales volume conceivably less expensive per gallon to purchase) of the petroleum that we’re desperate to get away from. And okay, Forbes being Forbes, it’s the BMW and Mercedes diesel models they’re apparently lusting for: capitalist tools, indeed.

But it makes some sense (can half of Europe be 100% wrong?). Certainly more sense than burning food.

Wacky, but maybe brilliant, electric car

Our other alternative energy for transportation story comes from aforementioned Business Week. A curious story about an Israel-born executive who gave up the race to succeed the CEO of SAP (only the third largest software company on the planet) to create a uniquely feasible business that might create a truly viable electric car.

It’s a lengthy story, full of fuzzy personality stuff, but the hard-edged concept wowed one of the geniuses of today’s automotive world, Carlos Ghosn of Renault-Nissan, so it’s worth the read.


The Electric Car Acid Test

Shai Agassi’s audacious effort to end the era of gas-powered autos
by Steve Hamm | Autos January 24, 2008, 5:00PM EST

Just over a year ago, on Dec. 31, 2006, Shai Agassi settled into a leather couch in the office of Ehud Olmert to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister. Agassi, then a top executive at German software giant SAP (SAP), had come to pitch the idea of his native Israel reducing its dependence on oil by replacing gas-powered cars with electric ones. Olmert liked the concept but laid down a steep challenge: He wanted Agassi to raise hundreds of millions in venture capital and get an auto industry CEO on board before he would pledge his support. “You go find the money and find a major automaker who will commit to this, and I’ll give you the policy backing you need,” Olmert said….

Agassi does bring a new perspective to the alternative fuel world. The trouble with traditional electric cars is that they can go only 50 or 100 miles and then they need to stop for hours to recharge their batteries. Hybrids overcome the mileage limitations, but only by burning gasoline. One of Agassi’s unconventional ideas is to separate the battery from the car. That will allow drivers to pull into a battery-swapping station, a car-wash-like contraption, and wait for 10 minutes while their spent batteries are lowered from the car and fully charged replacements are hoisted into place. Better Place will build the service stations, as well as hundreds of thousands of charging locations, similar to parking meters….

What got Ghosn excited was Israel’s willingness to slash import taxes for green vehicles and alter domestic sales taxes in ways that would make the economics of the plan work. “This is a unique situation,” says Ghosn. “It’s the first mass marketplace for electric cars under conditions that make sense for all the parties.” As a result of getting involved, the Nissan-Renault Alliance has made electric autos a top priority. Initially, the companies expect to produce electric cars for Israel and other countries by modifying existing models, but eventually they plan to introduce new models designed from the ground up to run on batteries developed by Nissan.

The Electric Car Acid Test

An absolutely remarkable story. Can this happen? Did I pick up the April 1st issue by mistake?

Okay, totally impractical in most parts of the world, but Israel could be considered this idea’s incubator.

And, as long as no petroleum or coal is burned to generate the electricity that charges the batteries, it would be a true environmental breakthrough.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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5 Responses to mm271: The automobile post – diesel / electric

  1. […] commented frequently on topics such as alternative energy for transportation (none too soon, paid $3.26/gallon the other day); alternative energy for electric utilities; and […]

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