What Comes After RX?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Lexus has revealed the 2023 RZ 450e, the brand’s first electric vehicle. Like the RX—which it undoubtedly hopes the RZ will follow in the tire treads of—it is a crossover.

(The RX isn’t going anywhere, of course. It continues to be the linchpin of Lexus. In Q1 in the U.S. Lexus sold 64,365 vehicles, of which 26,795 were RXes.)

Lexus plans to have an electric version of all types of its vehicles by 2030 and to have full EV sales on a global basis by 2035.

So the RZ is the start of what promises to be an unfurling ribbon of new products powered by electricity.

Driven

One of the things that Lexus is touting for the vehicle is the DIRECT4 all-wheel drive system that basically distributes torque based on factors including speed, acceleration and steering angle. The distribution ranges from 100% to the front to 100% to the rear depending on conditions.

This is what the steering wheel of the future (as in late 2022) will look like: Inside the Lexus RZ 450 e. (Image: Lexus)

The vehicle has motors on both the front (201 hp) and rear (107 hp) axles (for a total of 308 hp). Cleverly, so as to keep things going smoothly even should someone mash the accelerator, there is a front-to-rear drive force ratio distribution between 60:40 and 40:60– there is said to be a linear feel as a result.

Also in this smoothness realm is the use of Frequency Reactive Dampers that work to adjust the force on the extension stroke so as to provide handling and comfort. (The objective is to create a drivable vehicle for those who like to imagine that they’re piloting the vehicle [which could go to the point of the available rectangular steering wheel, which looks like it could be in a flight deck] as well as for those who buy a luxury vehicle because they want to feel cossetted.)

And while on the subject of steering, know that there is a steer-by-wire system deployed and the steering control is setup so that the need for hand-over-hand steering movements is minimized. (One thing the shape of the geometric steering device does: maximizes visibility of the control panel.)

As an EV, there is the key question regarding range. The vehicle has a 71.4-kWh battery and it will provide an estimated range of 225 miles.

The RZ 450e will be available late this year.

Mark Reuss on GM’s Electric Transformation

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although it is now common to hear people say the auto industry is undergoing the biggest transformation since it became an industry rather than an undertaking by a whole bunch of people who were taking a flyer at building cars—most of whom moved on to other things, including bankruptcy court—unlike many other things that everyone says, it really is true:

Uniformly—from the US to Europe to Asia—OEMs are spending billions of dollars to transform their operations from being focused on vehicles that burn gasoline to vehicles that run on electricity.

Think about that for a moment: These are companies that have been essentially doing one thing for decades: developing and producing internal combustion engines. Yes, these engines get wrapped and outfitted with the other things that make up a car or truck. But when it comes to what makes one vehicle manufacturer different than another has long been thought to be their engine technology.

(One could make the argument that this was changed by Toyota when high quality became a metric that appealed to buyers, and while that is undoubtedly true for a percentage of vehicle buyers, there are still those who want a HEMI or an EcoBoost. BMW didn’t proclaim itself to be the producer of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” because of the shape of its grill; it was what’s behind the grill that mattered.)

General Motors is in the process of spending some $35-billion on EVs—a spend by 2025. The company plans to have capacity to build 1-million EVs by that time. By 2030 it plans to have 50% of its North American production capacity dedicated to EV production.

This work being undertaken at GM isn’t just designing and engineering the vehicles, but in developing the batteries that go into them (Ultium batteries). Think about that for a moment: the batteries store the energy that power vehicles analogously to gasoline in a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. GM didn’t get into the gasoline business. In addition to which, GM announced that it is spending $750-million in North America to build out charging stations. Again, there are no gas pumps that have GM logos on them.

But this is the level of transformation that the automaker is undertaking.

On this special edition of “Autoline After Hours” GM president Mark Reuss spend the hour talking to John McElroy and me about the corporation’s electric transformation. It is an in-depth discussion of the changes that the company is proactively making. Reuss explains why they are making batteries, how they are competing in the EV market, why vertical integration matters, why vehicle-to-grid is an important development, and more.

And you can see it all here.

Electrify America & VinFast

Electrify America is the largest network of electric vehicle fast-charging facilities in the United States. As of today the company has 750 stations and 81 more in the works. Electrify America is investing billions in building out stations and providing education about zero-emissions vehicles. On the one hand, as this is a growing segment it makes good business sense. But on the other, the $2-billion designated for spending is predicated on a legal finding that goes back to the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, so it was perhaps a good coincidence in some ways for Volkswagen Group (i.e., as it produces more electric vehicles, it has the means by which they can be charged).

But Electrify America isn’t a VW-only network. Most companies that have an EV offering have established a relationship with it, including: Audi, BMW, Byton, Fisker, Ford, Hyundai, Lucid, Kia, Mercedes, Polestar, Porsche, Volvo, and, yes, VW.

Today Electrify America added another OEM to its list: VinFast, the Vietnam-based OEM that announced late in March that it will build an assembly plant for its electric SUVs in North Carolina.

VinFast operates a plant in Hai Phong, Vietnam, at present. Production in North Carolina is anticipated in Q3 of 2024.

The company says it will have global availability of its VF 8 and VF 9 EVs this year.

A car company operating a charging network. A Vietnamese company building a car plant in North Carolina.

Yes, electric vehicles are changing the world in many ways.

An Electric Transformation at The Shyft Group

By Gary S. Vasilash

Companies that make vehicles that you recognize generally have names like “Ford” or “Mercedes.”

Companies that make vehicles that you recognize for who is driving them, like FedEx or UPS, but don’t know who made them, are companies like The Shyft Group, which is a specialty vehicle manufacturer that produces trucks that are used by commercial companies and municipalities and the like.

The company has long specialized in special builds. It has some 3,800 employees in facilities that stretch from Maine to California.

And odds are, you’ve not heard of it unless you are involved some way in logistics. Or you happen to own a vehicle that has rolled out of Spartan RV Chassis.

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One of the consequences of the pandemic is that there is a considerable increase in the number of last-mile deliveries, whether this takes the form of Amazon Prime or Uber Eats.

According to the World Economic Forum, in 2020 there was a 25% rise in consumer e-ecommerce deliveries, which is far from a non-trivial rise. And presumably that has done nothing but increase in the subsequent months.

In addition, the WEC found that there have been increasing commitments by both companies and municipalities to make emissions-free deliveries. Switching away from gasoline and diesel fuel.

Consequently, this has led to the increase in the development and availability of electric trucks.

No, we’re not talking about Ford Lightnings, but in cargo vehicles.

The Shyft Group, having made thousands of vehicles with internal combustion engines for these commercial and municipal applications, has recently launched a new division, Blue Arc, and along with it announced the development of an electric Class 3 delivery vehicle.

Blue Arc EV chassis (Image: Blue Arc)

The vehicle ranges from 14 to 18 feet in length and provides payload capacities up to 5,000 pounds.

It is working with proven suppliers, such as Proterra for its batteries and Dana for its e-axle.

The Blue Arc vehicle was designed from the ground up, and as Shyft has customers in the cargo-delivery space, its designers and engineers created a vehicle that can be readily integrated into those customer operations.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Daryl Adams, CEO of the Shyft Group, talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance writer Mark Williams, and me about how the development of the Blue Arc truck occurred—in a really fast nine months.

Adams describes Blue Arc as the “anti-startup startup,” as it knows the jobs to be done and has built the truck to do them.

It is an interesting discussion of how a company that has a long-standing customer base recognizes the changing needs of those customers and has quickly changed to help address those needs.

And you can see it all here.

A Bright Aspect of the U.K.’s Dour March Sales

Although passenger vehicle sales in the U.K. were down 14.3% in March compared to March 2021 at a total 243,479 units.

The U.S. sales were, according to LMC Automotive, on the order of 1.25 million units in March, the automotive consulting firm notes that compared to March 2021 that is a decrease of 22%, so the Brits are better on that score.

What is most notable about the U.K. vehicle registration numbers, as reported by SMMT: Battery electric vehicle sales were 39,315 units, or 16.1% of all vehicles sold. That is a 78.7% increase over the number of EVs sold there in March ’21.

Other categories:

Diesel:                    13,736 units           -55.2% (from March ’21)

Petrol:                     102,349                  -25.6%

MHEV diesel:          11,569                    -50.3%

MHEV petrol:          32,716                    4.0%

PHEV:                     16,037                    -7.5%

HEV:                       27,737                    28.4%

In other words, only EVs, mild gasoline hybrids and hybrids saw an increase. Those three categories of vehicles represent 40.9% of the total market in March ’22.

Things are certainly changing in the U.K.

The best-selling vehicle in the U.K. in March? The Tesla Model Y. And that’s of all powertrains. Number 2? The Tesla Model 3.

Enough said.

F-150 Range Considerations

The EPA-estimated range of a Ford F-150 Lightning XLT SR is 230 miles. Ford had been targeting 230 miles and nailed it.

The EPA-estimated range of a Ford F-150 Lightning XLT ER is 320 miles. Ford had been targeting 300 miles, so that extra 20 miles is a positive accomplishment.

F-150 Lightning. Gets you there. Just not too far away. (Image: Ford)

Still, some people look at those number and are, well, underwhelmed.

Of course, take into account that this is a pickup truck, so that means it is big and heavy, which doesn’t do wonders for electric vehicle range.

Ford offers a 5-liter V8 for the F-150.

A 4×4 with the engine returns a combined 19 mpg.

The truck can be specified with gas tank size. The smallest is 23 gallons. The largest is 36 gallons.

A V8 F-150 with the 23-gallon tank has a range of 437 miles.

A V8 F-150 with the 36-gallon tank has a range of 684 miles.

Somehow really makes those Lightning numbers seem, well, underwhelming.

On the ID.Buzz

By Gary S. Vasilash

Volkswagen “officially” revealed the electric ID.Buzz van today. The vehicle looks much like the concept vehicle that was revealed at the Detroit Show in 2017, and it even has the same name. Car companies show concepts at shows in order to gauge the interest of potential consumers. Clearly the ID.Buzz scored big points.

Although its heritage goes back to the T1 van introduced in 1950 in Germany, for many Americans there is almost no need to squint so as to see the VW microbus that was (and is) beloved by a whole cadre of free-spirits, from surfers to people who long for the days chronicled in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The phrase “No one likes minivans” will certainly go away when the ID.Buzz hits the road. (Image: VW)

The ID.Buzz (which also comes in a cargo variant: probably ideal for those who shape surfboards or do a lot of precision spray painting) will not arrive in the U.S. until 2024.

But between now and then there will undoubtedly be lots of—dare I say?—buzz about this new vehicle. There will be announcements galore about the interest being exhibited by consumers in a way that might even make Elon Musk feel moderately envious.

What’s interesting to note is how one of the things that traditional OEMs are doing to draw interest to their EVs is to borrow from their heritage.

There is the ID.Buzz. Ford’s first serious entrant into the New Era of EVs was the Mustang. GM is going with the HUMMER.

To be sure, VW has the ID.4 available right now in the U.S. market. It is doing reasonably well sales-wise.

But there is absolutely no question that the ID.Buzz is going to do unreasonably well—there will be a sell-out situation—and a large part of that probably has to do with the nostalgic feelings it will provoke in plenty of people.

The Ford E-Transit Explained

By Gary S. Vasilash

Imagine: a 266-hp electric motor that generates a maximum torque of 317 lb-ft located between the rear wheels for operational performance. . .and it is in a cargo van.

That’s the Ford E-Transit, a Class 2b vehicle that comes in eight configurations: You can get it as a chassis-cab or a cargo-van, you can get three different roof heights, you can get three different wheelbases.

The 68-kWh battery is good for about 126 miles. Pulling into a DC fast charger will bring the battery from 15% to 80% in 34 minutes. Plugged into a Level 2 charger will take it from 0 to 100% in about eight hours.

Tim Baughman of Ford Pro North America sees a transition to electrification in commercial applications and acknowledges that there are some applications that are not necessarily applicable. (Image: Ford)

The e-Transit is a work truck, something that Ford knows more than a little something about. As Tim Baughman, general manager of Ford Pro North America—and know that Pro is the organization that focuses on the commercial side of things for the Blue Oval—points out, Ford has about 40% of that market, the leader in the space.

So as they were developing the E-Transit they had the opportunity to talk with the people who get fleets of vehicles of this type, whether it is a handful or a lot-full, so that their interests and concerns could be taken into account.

One of the things that they did when developing the E-Transit was to pretty much take the existing gasoline-powered Transit and use it for the electric truck. (There is the addition of an independent rear suspension for the E-Transit because things like battery packs are rather heavy.) While some might think that this is something of a quick-fix approach to getting an electric cargo van out there, as there are things like the BrightDrop ev600 and the electric Amazon delivery van being built by Rivian, Baughman points out that by having the same interior dimensions and mounting points, it is much simpler for upfitters to configure the e-Transit because of their experience with the Transit.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” there is a comprehensive examination of the Ford E-Transit as Baughman talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chad Kirchner of EV Pulse, and me.

Not only do we discuss the truck itself, but the Ford Pro software solutions that the organization has developed in order to do things like track and charge vehicles in order to keep the fleet up and running at its maximum efficiency, again taking into account Ford’s experience in this commercial space. And you can see it all here

Purpose-Built for Delivery

Although electric vehicles are generally thought of in the context of, say, a Tesla, and while autonomous vehicles (AVs) are something that will allow drivers to become passengers, there is a whole realm of other electric AVs that are being developed.

One is going into trials later this year, the Faction D1.

Driverless EV for deliveries. (Image: Faction)

Faction Technology focuses on the development of driverless tech for logistics applications.

It teamed with Arcimoto, which builds small, three-wheeled electric vehicles.

Ain McKendrick, CEO of Faction, said of the Faction D1 development, “Scalable driverless vehicle systems require engineering from the chassis up, and by leveraging the revolutionary Arcimoto Platform, we’re able to develop our driverless system much faster than using legacy vehicle designs. The end result will be a rightsized, ultra-efficient driverless delivery vehicle that reduces pollution and drives down costs for local and last-mile delivery fleets.”

The vehicle has a top speed of 75 mph and a range of about 100 miles. It can handle 500 pounds of cargo.

That 75 mph seems a bit, well, quick for even pizza delivery.

Free Gas

By Gary S. Vasilash

Back in 2005, when gas prices were rising, some OEMs, as well as local dealers, offered consumers pre-paid gas cars. Mitsubishi, for example, depending on model, provided $1,500 to $2,500 for a vehicle purchase.

What’s interesting is that 2005 wasn’t really all that bad a year gas-price-wise.

That is, in 2002, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gas averaged at $1.38 a gallon. It was something of a steady climb to $3.29 a gallon in 2008. The average price in 2005 was $2.31.

Today Kia America and Electrify America announced that buyers of the Kia EV6 electric SUV will get 1,000 kilowatt-hours of free charging at Electrify America stations.

In a clearer context: that’s enough energy to drive from 3,500 to 4,000 miles. Depending on the model. And the comparative heaviness of one’s right foot.

While that is certainly a nice bonus, it is puzzling that when there are vehicles ostensibly as good as the EV6 that the pot needs to be sweetened with some electrons.

To be sure it is a customer convenience, but doesn’t it, in some way, undercut the basic goodness of the vehicle (i.e., “Hey, you might be thinking of something else, but we’re going to put a cherry on top, so it is better!”)? Not that I have anything against free energy, but somehow the value proposition of the vehicle itself ought to be sufficiently compelling.

“So, Sally, why’d you buy the EV?”

“Free charging.”