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Fleet Briefing: Ford, CNG Taxis, Coke, Renault-Nissan

Rather than fight for a share of a possibly resurgent minivan market, Ford Motor Company has scrapped plans to launch a minivan, and instead plans to focus on positioning its first hybrid-only model — the 5-passenger C-Max hatchback — against the Toyota Prius and the Chevrolet Volt, The New York Times said.

Ford officials said the C-Max hatchback presented a stronger business case than the gasoline-powered, seven-passenger Grand C-Max that it planned to import from Europe. Ford sells gasoline and diesel C-Max hatchbacks and minivans in Europe, where it said that demand for the hatchback has doubled this year.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance will open a research office later this month in Mountain View, Calif. Nissan will use the Silicon Valley office to focus on vehicle IT research, including graphical user-interface displays, in-car Internet connectivity and smart-grid research, including a touchscreen map of recharging stations and real-time reports on energy consumption.

The Nissan LEAF, which debuted last year, is a mass-marketed pure electric vehicle, and it’s the first product from the Alliance’s $5.4 billion investment in zero-emission cars. Renault will be launching a range of zero-emission cars for overseas markets. Renault’s work will focus on research and advanced engineering, in particular electric vehicles and their supplier and infrastructure ecosystem, on-board services and business development.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has distributed all of its available funds for a rebate program to buyers of zero-emissions vehicles. The Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP) was funded with $11.1 million for FY 2009-2011, and the program issued rebates of up to $5,000 each to individuals and businesses that purchased or leased a zero-emission vehicle, including electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel cell vehicles. CVRP will restart next fiscal year with a pool of $17 million, but the maximum individual rebate will decrease to $2,500, according to AutoBlogGreen.

Chicago and Los Angeles are the two latest cities to roll out Ford Transit Connect Taxis fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG), the company said. Chicago’s Taxi Medallion Management has put into service 12 of Ford’s CNG-powered Transit Connect Taxis, on the day that the city opened a new CNG filling station. Ford also announced that two Los Angeles-area cab companies have ordered about 120 of the vehicles.

Yellow Cab of Anaheim and Cabco Yellow Inc. of Orange County have ordered a combined 119 CNG-powered vehicles. The first 50 will be delivered within the next two months. The rest are scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2011.

In Connecticut, Metro Taxi of West Haven and Yellow Cab Company of Hartford have ordered a total of 70 of the taxis to be in service by the end of the summer, and Ford said that transport companies in Las Vegas and St. Louis have also placed orders.

Forklifts in Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated’s (CCBCC) Charlotte, N.C., production center are now using hydrogen fuel cells. The hydrogen technology requires only a three-minute fuel time and runs for six to eight hours of use. Unlike the standard battery powered electric trucks, the fuel cell powered equipment will operate at 100 percent power through the entire fill of hydrogen, CCBCC said.

The 40-vehicle fleet of Crown and Yale class-one lift trucks are powered by Plug Power fuel cells and refuel at three indoor stations with hydrogen from Linde North America. CCBCC said that it was also researching hydrogen fuel cell technology for its materials handling equipment.

Conventional automotive technologies have significant emission-reduction potential, according to a draft of the Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) report on automotive propulsion, “Powering Autos to 2020,” reviewed by the Green Car Congress. According to the report, CO2 tailpipe emissions can be reduced by 40 percent from current average levels with advanced combustion technologies.

BCG estimated that the well-to-wheel emissions advantage of EVs over internal combustion engines ICE-propelled vehicles, currently estimated at 40 to 60 percent, will fall to 30 to 50 percent in 2020, putting the ICE engine on more competitive terms with EVs. The final report is scheduled to be released in July.

Finally, Toshiba announced that its SCiB battery will power two new models of electric vehicles (EV), the i-MiEV and MINICAB-MiEV from Mitsubishi Motors. The SciB is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that features rapid charging, and high performance at low temperatures. The battery has charging and output at temperatures as low as -30ºC, and it can be charged to 80 percent of full capacity in about 15 minutes, and to about 25 percent in 5 minutes, Toshiba said.

Photo: Ford Motor Company

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