The new vehicle category, SV (Super Vehicle)

My greatest gripe about EVs, PHEVs, or Hybrid vehicles on the market is the huge over-representation of small city vehicles that are convenient for singles or couples, at the exclusion of family or guy/girl who may need a practical vehicle for work. The few car companies that have at least attempted to bring the SUVs close to practical vehicles are asking for seriously big dough that puts it out of reach for many. For instance, the PHEV Volvo XC90 is a serious 7-seater SUV that is out of reach for many at a starting of price of US$68k. Even then, I could never entertain carting a family-size fridge or stove. This is a job that would need a half ton truck like a Toyota Tundra, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, Ram 1500 or Ford F-150.

The half ton trucks are now starting to drive more like cars. Just look at the Silverado High Country, Laramie Longhorn Ram 1500, GMC Denali or F-150 Platinum/Limited variants. I test drove the Ford F-150 Platinum at Courtesy Ford (East Lansing, MI) and was completely amazed at the level of quietness, supple ride (from a rear leaf spring and with no weight at the back), and comfort from the heated active motion, multi-contoured seats that can massage your lumbar region and butt … the sort of comfort you would expect from a Mercedes Benz S class (if not better).

With a 3.5 twin turbo EcoBoost engine, the vehicle did not lack any power at all and since it was a crew cab, the back had more room than at the back of a BMW 7 series. The tech in the F-150 Platinum/Limited is second to none in the half ton segment with 360 degree camera view, reversing camera view and cross traffic alert system, blind spot monitoring system, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control. You could also option this same vehicle with parking assist or a Ford trailer assist that makes backing up a trailer an easy chore for any one who has never done it before.

And yet such a vehicle is a seriously work pickup truck. You can seen why there is a new market emerging of a serious pickup truck that will do the work when needed and yet so comfortable to drive, with the luxury and safety amenities of a modern vehicle, whilst meeting most of the family duties that you can throw at it. If you ever thought of owning a vehicle that does everything, then look no further; these half ton trucks are the true Super Vehicles (SV) that do everything you throw at them. The downside is their size and the issue of parking which has not deterred those that are buying them. However, for me I actually think the real issue is still fuel consumption, a problem I think that Ford, GMC, Chevrolet and Ram have finally zeroed in on their cross-hairs.

At the moment GMC and Chevy have v8 motors with cylinder deactivation capability when cruising, for less fuel consumption. Eight speed gearboxes have finally found their way into pickup trucks for GMC, Chevy and Ram. Ram have gone diesel with remarkable low fuel consumption for such a large size vehicle. Ford have gone as far as using lighter materials such as military grade aluminum for the body and next we are likely to see the 10 speed gearbox. And to the point I wanted get to, the rumor is that Ford will go hybrid for their F series trucks. This is definitely hitting it right out of the park and its only going to make the half ton pickup truck a simply irresistible, do-it-all, family and work truck, or shall we call it a Super Vehicle (SV).

Pricing is going to be an issue meaning that many will not be able to afford hybrid SVs. However, should the demand be high enough, it may mean affordable prices for many. It is no wonder Hyundai, Mercedes Benz see the looming market of SVs and are already looking at introducing similar kinds of vehicles although they may not be as big as the half ton trucks. There will be many car manufacturers that will follow the trend, but I see Ford reaping the rewards early for identifying a niche that they have not been hesitant to develop through massive capital in research and development of SVs. I would be very surprised if in 5 years Ford is not selling a hybrid pick up truck with some of the goodies that were depicted in the ford atlas concept vehicle … watch this space, as your next vehicle might just be an SV.

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Never let a crisis go to waste

I have always tried to write an article on the progress of electric car manufacturing and affordability following the Frankfurt Motor Show. Just when I thought I had the most exciting facts put together for 2015:

(1) The hybrid Tiguan will come equipped with a 1.4L TSI gasoline mill with a supplemental electric motor … and a photovoltaic solar panel integrated into the roof for additional charging power for the battery. It would travel 31 miles on just electric power and an additional 621 miles when the solar panel is included in the mix;

(2) Audi confirmed its future commitment to electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs);


and

(3) By 2020, Bosch is confident it will be able to double EV battery density, while at the same time halving the amount it
costs to produce them.

… then something drastic happened – VW was caught with its hand in the cookie jar … or maybe the diesel jar. Well, I guess by now every one of you are sick of hearing about the emissions scandal or may be quite angry. Those who are quite concerned about the environment and the health of others are disappointed but it is my guess that for most people it is being lied to that hurts the most. Businesses that come after your wallet by misleading the public are shonky in the least and malevolent at worst …

I’ve thought about this situation and when Elon Musk said that physics had reached its limits and there was no way of extracting more power from an ICE and at same time meeting the ever-tightening regulations on emissions, all I could think of was death to diesels. He also suggested if he was VW, there would be a complete right turn to electrics. Well, like they say, never let any crisis go waste; VW has declared its strategy to move forward by targeting their investment in hybrids and electrics. Elon had read VW well, (or maybe VW had listened well).

I see that in some countries web browsing on plug-ins and hybrids has substantially increased since the VW crisis. It just seems like this scandal was the necessary evil we needed to point car manufacturing in the right direction. My problem is that people are fickle, and in 6 months time this space might be totally different, with the whole affair largely forgotten. Maybe not, and am rather hoping that Tesla, and soon Apple and Google, are putting so much pressure on the other car manufacturers to switch to electrics if at all they want to stay in business – fancy car world with no common manufacturer names we are accustomed to but, Tesla, Apple and  Google.

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