The number of patents and patent applications related to automotive alternative powertrains has increased dramatically in the past few years, according to a report by Thomson Reuters. Published patent applications and granted patents for alt-powered vehicles totaled 22,255 in 2011, the last year for which figures were available. In comparison, the total for vehicle and engine design in 2011 was 15,301, second most on the list of 10 technology areas. In 2006, the first year covered in the report, vehicle engine and design led the patent and patent-applications list with 12,346, with alt-powered vehicles in fourth place at 7904. The increase for alternative-powered vehicles over the study period was 182%; for vehicle engine and design it was 24%. Behind alternative-powered vehicles and vehicle engine and design in the patents race for 2011 were vehicle navigation (13,221), seats, seatbelts, and airbags (11,204), safety systems (10,829), transmission systems (7569), suspension systems (7383), steering systems (6776), security systems (5777), and braking systems (5525).
Cars being driven on battery power represent a danger to pedestrians—especially the blind and visually impaired—because the vehicles produce no engine noise. To mitigate that danger, NHTSA (U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) will require that electrified vehicles emit sound at low speed (less than 18 mph). The regulation is only a proposal at this time, and the agency will seek public comment once it is published in the Federal Register (FR). Publication in the FR is when a proposal becomes official, and it typically follows by a week or so a less formal announcement (press release and unofficial version of the proposal) by NHTSA of its intentions on a particular subject. As proposed unofficially by NHTSA on Jan. 7, this rule would spell out minimum requirements for sound, but give vehicle makers flexibility in engineering it. An act of Congress requires that the agency issue a final sound regulation no later than Jan. 4, 2014, and that it be phased in over several years.
Annual global sales of electrified vehicles will reach 3.8 million by 2020, Pike Research forecasts in a new report. The company, part of Navigant's Energy Practice, projects the compound annual growth rate for hybrid vehicles at 6% for the remainder of the decade. The growth rate for PEVs—which include full electric vehicles (also called battery electric vehicles, or BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs—is projected at nearly 40%. That compares to a growth rate for the overall auto industry of about 2%, according to Pike. It believes PHEVs will outsell EVs in North America and Latin America, while the reverse will be the case in most other regions.
Ford says the 2013 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle will deliver more than 100 mpg-equivalent.
IAV Automotive Engineering expects to continue experiencing strong growth in U.S. next year and will hire an additional 40 engineers to do so. The company recently announced that sales have increased by more than 50% every year since 2009, when it opened its new headquarters in Northville, MI. For 2013, it expects revenues to have quadrupled since 2010. Part of the global IAV Group, IAV Automotive Engineering is an engineering consultancy serving the automotive industry. It received an AEI Tech Award (click here to see article) earlier this year for its work in hybrid powertrain research.
Nissan recently began operations of its new advanced-battery plant in Tennessee that will supply the energy-storage devices for the Nissan Leafs to be produced at an adjoining vehicle-assembly plant. Regular North American production of the Leaf is to start at the automaker's Smyrna plant early in 2013. To date, the Leaf and its lithium-ion battery pack currently are made in Japan only. The first batteries produced in Smyrna for the 2013 Leaf have completed the required aging process and are ready to receive their first charge, the company said in a recent announcement. The plant is fully integrated, with raw battery cell materials coming in one end and finished battery packs going out the other (see accompanying image). Nissan has not yet released specifications for the 2013 Leaf and its battery pack. The Leaf will be assembled alongside the Nissan Altima and Maxima.
The production process at Nissan's new U.S. battery plant begins with formation of electrode sheets.
The City of Raleigh is the first municipality nationwide to join a special program to test wireless electric vehicle charging technology. It joins six other participants to date in the second phase of Evatran's so-called Apollo Program launching early in 2013 to further demonstrate the company's technology, which it brands Plugless Power. Its second-generation "production-intent" model will be used in this phase, with three of the 20-30 total units to be installed in Raleigh municipal parking lots. Evatran will retrofit two Nissan Leafs and one Chevrolet Volt in the city's fleet for use with the charging system. Five prototype wireless charging units were used in the first phase of the Apollo Program, which involved six partners (among them Google and Hertz, which are also participating in the second phase). In a separate matter, the company said it will begin distributing its Plugless Power units in the spring; they will be the first wireless charging units available to individual Leaf and Volt owners.
Two prototype wireless charging stations are located at Evatran's technology center in Morrisville, NC.
Two heavyweights in the automotive and aerospace industries are joining minds on lighter materials. BMW and Boeing on Dec. 12 announced they would do joint research on carbon-fiber recycling and share knowledge about the material and its manufacture. As part of the collaboration agreement, the two companies will also share carbon-fiber manufacturing process simulations and ideas for manufacturing automation. BMW in 2013 plans to introduce two models from its new i brand (i3 battery-electric and i8 plug-in hybrid) featuring bodies made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner aircraft is made up of 50% carbon fiber. The collaboration is the first ever between the two companies.