It’s been more than eight years since I first drove one of BMW’s MINI E electric prototypes around downtown Los Angeles. One of the first characteristics I noticed about that car was the extremely aggressive regenerative braking that enabled driving virtually without touching the brake pedal. While BMW has persisted with that strategy as the only control mode on the production i3, other automakers have provided similar abilities only when shifting the transmission to Low mode. After driving the new Chevrolet Bolt EV from Tesla’s Silicon Valley backyard into the heart of San Francisco, I think all Bolt drivers should consider driving this way all the time.
It’s now been about a decade since BMW first announced its plans to get into the hybrid game and it was another three years before any production models with electric drive assist hit the streets. A lot has changed since BMW launched the ActiveHybrid X6 and ActiveHybrid 7 essentially as experiments in 2009. Electrification is now becoming relatively mainstream with batteries and electric motors no longer limited to super-efficient cars like the Toyota Prius. After a week with the 2016 X5 xDrive40e, there’s no doubt that the future of the ultimate driving machine includes plugs across the board.
If you’ve been following along over the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed that I’m quite enamored with the current generation Hyundai’s midsize sedan, the Sonata. Since early 2015, I’ve driven the 1.6-liter turbocharged Eco, the 2.0-liter Hybrid and now the newest member of the lineup, the Plug-in Hybrid. The Sonata PHEV is the first Hyundai-branded model sold in North America with a plug and it’s one of only two plug-in hybrids in the midsize family sedan segment, the other being the Ford Fusion Energi.
A good rule of thumb when attending an auto show is that the more radical looking a concept car is, the less likely it is to ever make it to production. Virtually every major brand is guilty of producing pieces of rolling sculpture that end up doing little more than introducing a couple of new design cues that end up on more mainstream models. When we first saw BMW’s Vision EfficientDynamics concept at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, it seemed to fall squarely into this category. Nevertheless, five years later something very much like that concept emerged as the first-ever i8.
Like most things in the real world, when it comes to automotive electrification, there is a continuum of approaches rather than a binary electric or not. At the minimal end, you’ll find automatic stop-start systems while the maximal solution relies on electric motors alone for propulsion. Lying somewhere in between is the Ford C-MAX Energi, the Dearborn automaker’s first production plug-in hybrid. After three years on the market, is the C-MAX Energi a good solution for those interested in going electric without range anxiety?
When I first started speculating on the idea of an Apple car last February as rumors about Project Titan emerged, I was enormously skeptical that it would ultimately happen. However in the days since Apple’s most recent media event where they announced the iPhone 6s, I’ve begun to rethink my assessment. I now see a way that might lead to Apple’s entry into the car business based on their latest approach to selling smartphones.
Nine years ago, I was beginning my career as a professional writer just as a little Silicon Valley startup was emerging from stealth mode to introduce its first product. Taking its name from one of the greatest engineers and inventors of all time, Nicola Tesla, that company reignited the pursuit of battery electric vehicles with a heavily modified Lotus Elise chassis packed with 1,000-pounds of lithium ion cells. It would take another two years before paying customers would finally take delivery of the first Roadsters and another four after that before Tesla would finally deliver its first completely in-house developed product, the Model S. During a recent trip to California I finally got my chance to drive the insanely fast Tesla Model S P85D.
In November 2008, I sat with a group of journalists on a hotel terrace in Beverly Hills to learn about BMW’s Project i which had the aim of a building a 21st century megacity car. In the middle of the terrace sat a fairly conventional-looking grey MINI hatchback that frankly didn’t look all that advanced. However, the lessons learned from that car and the other 500 examples just like it, led directly to the BMW’s first true, next-generation automobile, the i3.
Over the last couple of days I’ve been having some further discussions with people about what sort of car Apple might create if indeed they are developing one. As I said in my first post on the topic the other day, if Apple is going to build a vehicle, it will almost certainly be a premium EV in direct competition with the Tesla Model S and Model X. For any company getting into building cars for the first time today, this is probably the only rational course.
In recent days, the speculation that Apple, Inc. has embarked on an effort to develop and produce cars has blown up all over the internet. If indeed Apple is doing this, they come at this market segment as the industry may be entering the most transformational period in its near 130 year history. I believe Apple can do some very interesting things in this field in the near term, but it’s not at all clear if the company behind the Mac and iPhone has the traits to succeed in the long run. Even if Apple does succeed in the near-term, Tesla is likely to be the first automaker to feel the pain.
The era of personal vehicle ownership may be coming to an end