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A Comprehensive Consideration Checklist

In a recent study, it was found that the top 25 U.S. cities could save an average of 37 percent on fuel costs by switching to electric vehicles and buses, and up to 60 percent with managed charging. We know the cost savings with electric fleets are there. Shell’s acquisition of Greenlots and its focus on enterprise fleets is just one example that traditional oil and gas giants also see the value in fleet electrification, and states have been putting in policies to ensure zero-emission vehicles by 2030, including buses and trains. The move to electric fleets is underway.

If you expect an EV fleet to perform effectively, you have to put time into planning your charging strategy
Getting Started

Today, even before an EV rolls into a fleet garage or depot, fleet personnel have to evaluate their operational needs in the context of electrification. This involves looking at every aspect of the operation and asking questions, including:

+ Is the vehicle operating all day?

+ Will it have a set or variable route?

+ How are vehicles assigned to drivers?

+ How are vehicles and drivers being managed?

+ How and where is maintenance performed?

+ How and where is the vehicle garaged?

+ If it’s garaged overnight, how long does it need to be charged before it’s needed again?

+ What is the proposed EV adoption rate and replacement cycle?

Planning for Electrification

Charging starts at the depot, which is also where planning should start. Evaluating infrastructure needs shouldn’t be an afterthought, but part of a larger strategic approach to EV evaluation.

Your charging strategy will depend on your fleet’s use

You need to determine how you’re going to charge the vehicle. Will you charge:

+ On route or in the garage or depot?

+ During operational hours or after hours?

+ At public charging spots as part of your mix or use the fleet’s charging infrastructure only?

You also need to determine how charging will affect your existing operations. For example, if you’re operating a transit fleet, how will electrification impact:

+ Routine maintenance? (Maintenance requirements are much lower for EVs.)

+ Washing and cleaning?

+ Overall personnel needs?

And, no matter the vehicle type—light-duty sedan or transit bus—you will need to determine:

+ How will you tie into the existing power grid, or can you?

+ What space and equipment requirements will you need to assess?

Considering Electricity Use and Costs

One of the most important infrastructure considerations is the cost of electric power and, potentially, the need to enhance infrastructure if extra electrical power is needed. Electricity—generally speaking—is significantly cheaper than traditional fuels such as gasoline or diesel. However, not taking into account the amount of power that will actually be needed for the mass charging of vehicles could result in a substantial increase in the demand for power at a given time.

All charges are not equal–time of day and the rate & number of vehicles can be a factor

To counteract this possibility considerations should be given to avoiding either charging during peak times or creating an artificial peak by charging numerous vehicles at their maximum rate simultaneously, also known as “stacking” the load.

Evaluating Your Operational Needs

This is the point where operational needs and energy demands intersect. If a vehicle—such as an airport shuttle or a transit vehicle—operates around the clock, the charging strategy/demand is going to be significantly different than for those vehicles that are garaged and charged overnight. Other fleet operations experience seasonal highs and lows in energy demands.

And it’s not just energy demands per se. Geography and weather have to be factored into the infrastructure equation. For example, will fleet vehicles be driving in extremely hot weather and need to run the air-conditioning system regularly, or will they be operating in extremely cold weather that could affect battery life as well as require heating the vehicle? What is the relevant terrain like—flat or hilly, rural or urban? Will fleet vehicles do mostly freeway driving or stop-and-go traffic? How will all of these factors affect how far vehicles can go on a charge?

Anatomy of an EV Charging Infrastructure

Once you’ve determined the power demands and feasibility of your charging ecosystem, the next step is to implement the infrastructure.

You may need to tailor your connection to your fleet’s needs

First, you will need to determine where the charging stations will be located.

Typically, this will mean either updating an existing garage or property to accommodate EV charging.

Preparing the site will likely be the most complicated aspect of installing the charging infrastructure. Installation will have to be done in a way that’s the least disruptive to current operations, since fleet vehicles will likely remain in operation during the installation and will need ongoing access to the facility to park, be cleaned, or be repaired. This may also mean making temporary operational changes.

Looking to Smart Charging for Success

Hardware is only part of the equation—electrification is as much a digital as it is an analog infrastructure commitment—so software integration is another key aspect of the implementation that you will need to consider. The process of “refueling” an EV isn’t a question of just plugging in. Because of peak energy demand and/or the inefficiency of stacking loads, charging at certain times may be much more than expensive than is expected and there could be significant waste in the process. This is why it is imperative to choose smart, networked charging hardware that can be managed with software.

Electric fleet charging needs to be smart

To be intelligent, the charging network and charging software must be integrated with other fleet management systems, including routing, hardware, electric meters and fuel cards, as well as external services, such as weather or traffic management, to create a complete, correlated picture of the entire charging context to improve efficiency and have your vehicles available when they’re needed.

Electrifying fleets impacts mission critical infrastructure, and thus careful consideration such as this should be given. When ready to launch your pilot, a site walk through can ensure solutions that are customized to your particular needs. Fleets that start the gentle transition to electrification now will be well positioned for the future of fleets, and be able to both realize early cost and reliability wins, while identifying and starting to solve for gaps.

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To Plug Or Not To Plug—Prius & Prius Prime Answer the Question

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Toyota’s Prius has been the hybrid leader. Its Hybrid Synergy Drive System seamlessly matches a gasoline engine with an electric motor, saving fuel with no action needed by the driver.

Two Prius models give you some options

With the plug-in Prius, Toyota introduced a car that could serve as an all-electric car for local driving, but reverts to a hybrid for longer drives, eliminating range anxiety. The latest version is called the Prius Prime.

I just drove a standard 2019 Toyota Prius and a 2020 Toyota Prius Prime back-to-back for a week each, to learn their similarities and differences. The choice may come down to what will work best with your lifestyle. and driving needs.

Similarities & Differences

Both Priuses wore blue: The standard car was Electric Storm Blue while the Prime flaunted Blue Magnetism. Blue is often identified with “green” cars, so this seems appropriate.

Blue is the new green

Both cars look essentially the same on the outside at 10 paces, except for the front and rear ends. My 2019 regular Prius showed off a new look with trimmed back headlights and tail lamps and reduced edginess. It looks a bit more mainstream, which is not a bad thing.

The Prime features a more flowing shape, with a more sensuously rounded rear window, although both Priuses have split rear windows that can impede vision when you’re backing up.

This could be either Prius

Inside, the cars look and feel similar, but the Prime, with presumably more interesting information to convey with its battery system, flaunts a larger dash center touchscreen—11.6 inches vs. the 8.1-inch one on the standard car. It’s mounted vertically, kind of like Volvo and Tesla’s. The Prime plays a piano tune and shows a video of the car driving up or down a white sphere when you turn it on and off, which helps you know if the car is on or off—an issue with EVs. You can silence it if you so desire.

New Technology

My standard tester offered all-wheel drive (AWD), which is new, and would likely be a benefit in places with worse weather than I experienced in June in Northern California. The AWD models use a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery, while non-AWDs employ lithium-ion. Toyota says this is because NiMH batteries work better in cold conditions where an AWD Prius might find itself.

Driving mode choices are the same, but one has more EV miles

The Hybrid Synergy Drive system works the same in both cars. The car’s electronic brain blends power from the 96-horsepower 1.8-liter gas engine and the 71-horsepower, 53-kilowatt (kW) electric motor for the most efficient performance (the total system horsepower is a modest 121).

You can select from three drive modes—Normal, Eco and Power—in both cars. These control how power is delivered for varying levels of efficiency. Eco provides more gradual acceleration and Power lets you enjoy more aggressive driving. Normal works fine for everything, but I tended to shift to Eco on longer drives.

The Biggest Differences—Plug & Price

The biggest difference, though, is the presence of an 8.8-kilowatt-hour chargeable battery and plug in the Prime, which allows up to 25 miles of pure electric driving. In the plain Prius, you can press the EV Auto button on a level surface with a full battery and get maybe a mile of 25 mph EV cruising, but with the Prime, I set the button to make it all-electric for all my driving. When the chargeable battery was depleted, the car smoothly reverted to hybrid mode. Otherwise, it sailed as smoothly as any pure EV out there in all conditions.

Similar powertrains both focus on fuel economy

My Prime tester outweighed the standard car by 155 pounds, thanks to the larger battery. The Prime’s battery also took up room in the cargo bay, raising the rear floor a few inches, reducing cargo volume by nearly five cubic feet.

Pricing on the two cars is significantly different. My standard Prius was an XLE model with all-wheel drive, and base priced at $28,820. With several options, including 15-inch alloy wheels ($899), an Advanced Technology Package ($800) that included a color head-up display, and illuminated door sills ($299), the bottom line, with shipping, came to $32,195.

The Prius Prime Advanced started at $33,350 and with the same optional alloys and door sills and a couple other things, topped out at $36,085. That’s about the starting price of a pure electric vehicle, such as the Chevrolet Bolt EV or Nissan Leaf.

A pricey plug is the big difference between the two Prius models

Efficiency numbers are 52 mpg city/48 highway/50 combined for the regular Prius. The Prime gets two numbers—54 mpg if you use gasoline only (i.e. never plug it in) and 133 MPGe when using electricity and gas (compare to other plug-in vehicles). Although the EPA Green numbers are identical (7 for Smog and 10 for Greenhouse Gas), the Prime will save you $4,000 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average car versus $3,250 for the standard model.

With its decades of experience, Toyota really knows how to build a great hybrid. But how do you choose between a regular hybrid and a plug-in? Think about how you drive. If, like me, you commute back and forth to the train station two miles from home and run errands around town, with diligent charging you can essentially drive an electric car, with all the quiet, smooth, clean motoring you want. If you travel longer distances regularly, the benefits of the 25 miles of local battery range are not really as useful, and a standard hybrid would be a better and less expensive choice.

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

More Stories You Might Enjoy—Hybrids & Plug-in Hybrids

Road Test: 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Road Test: 2019 Nissan Leaf 62 kWh

Road Test: 2019 Nissan Leaf 40 kWh

Road Test: 2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

First Drive: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Road Test: 2019 Honda Insight Hybrid

Road Test: 2019 Ford Fusion PHEV

Comparison Test: 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid & PHEV

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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All-New For 2019 & Beyond

For Hyundai, redesigning one its best-selling models was a tricky situation. With 1.6 million Santa Fe SUVs having been sold in its previous three generations, getting the all-new 2019 Santa Fe right was critical. What they came up with is a bolder design with larger interior space and new safety technologies. With an eye towards families, the 2019 Santa Fe will continue to be a popular midsize SUV.

Hyundai’s reborn Santa Fe is now part of a family of SUVs

The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is sized-right for parking, has a ride that is quiet and calming and respectable handling. The Santa Fe’s high safety rating is also a plus when driving any tall vehicle. Clean Fleet Report would like to see higher fuel economy numbers, though.

Drivetrain

Clean Fleet Report drove the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate AWD with the turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that, running on unleaded regular, put-out 235 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque. The EPA rated the fuel economy at 19 city/24 highway/21 combined. In 248 miles of mostly freeway driving throughout Southern California, we averaged 23.5 mpg. We did a bit better on a 100-mile freeway run with the smart cruise control set at 65 mph, achieving 28.6 mpg.

Wish those numbers were better

This is oh-so-close to the magic 30 mpg Clean Fleet Report feels AWD cars should set a goal to get, at a minimum, when on the open road. The 2.0T is quite peppy; peak torque kicks in at a low 1,450 rpm and pulls strong through 3,500 rpm, making highway onramps and passing big rigs a breeze. It did produce a hoarse sound under heavy acceleration, but was quiet when cruising. Hyundai’s eight-speed automatic transmission, with a Shiftronic manual shift mode, ran smooth through all demands.

The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder has less horsepower and torque, but better fuel economy. Regardless of the engine, neither gets 30 mpg, which Clean Fleet Report feels is a goal all crossovers should strive for in 2019.

Driving Experience: On the Road

Our Santa Fe AWD handled well, with its 4,085 lbs. well-suited to its length, width and height. Maneuvering was easy thanks to theContinental CrossContact LX Sport 235/55R all-season tires on 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, with responsive steering especially at low speeds. The handling was taught with little body roll when pushed on corners, helped by the independent front and rear suspension with stabilizer bars, dual damper shock absorbers and active cornering control. Hyundai says the biggest change for 2019 was that the rear shocks were moved upright from an angled position to improve ride and handling in all driving conditions. The 2.0T has a tow rating of 3,500 lbs.

Choices are there for different driving situations

To get the most performance from the engine, you have choices of Eco, Comfort and Sport settings. Use Eco on long stretches of road to squeeze out every last drop of fuel, while Sport holds the transmission in each rev band a bit longer, sending more available torque to the rear wheels. Comfort is right in the middle for the cushiest ride. We were glad to find no paddle shifters as, for the most part, they are unnecessary on most of the cars we drive. Comfort or Eco will be the way to go for most of your driving.

Stops were solid and consistent with a power-assisted braking system consisting of vented front and solid rear discs, anti-lock brake system and electronic brake-force distribution. The latter adjusts brake proportioning to compensate for added weight from passengers or cargo, and even adjusts as fuel is consumed. This is invisible and instant to the driver and passengers, making for a comfortable and controlled ride.

Driving Experience: Exterior

Hyundai says the 2019 has a “bold new look” that begins with the cascading grille and the squinty-eyed LED headlights. There is an attractive strong detail line that runs the length of the body, from the headlights to the tail lights. The nearly flat roof has a power panoramic sunroof, rack rails, and a body-color shark fin antenna, which for Clean Fleet Report’s Santa Fe was a deep Scarlet Red. The integrated spoiler sits above the power liftgate, LED tail lights and the chrome-tipped exhaust.

Storage can expand
Driving Experience: Interior

The Santa Fe Ultimate seats five, with the black-on-black front power leather seats heated and ventilated and the outbound rears heated. The front seats were comfortable and the multiple adjustments, aided by the tilt and telescoping steering column, made finding a comfortable driving position easy. Rear leg and head room were plentiful; nice touches were the reclining and sliding rear seat, with leg extensions, and the window shades. Storage space behind the rear seat was good, but when the 60/40 split-folding seat was in the full down position, the storage space could handle pretty much whatever you like. The door pockets were a bit tight, but the large center console is deep. There is underfloor storage in the cargo area. The tie down hooks are recessed. When it comes time to do the jigsaw puzzle of loading luggage for that road trip, the Santa Fe is up to the task of having a place for all your gear.

Not fancy, but functional and well-down

The Santa Fe Ultimate interior is not fancy, which is appreciated as far too often form over function creeps into cabin design. The soft-touch material dash has a simple layout, starting with the deep-set analog tachometer and speedometer gauges that are easy to read with white lettering on a black background. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio and telephone controls.

Operating the sound system was easy and met Clean Fleet Report’s minimum requirement for a driver-friendly system, as it had knobs for the channel and volume functions. Our Santa Fe Ultimate came with the 8.0-inch HD, color touchscreen with navigation and a multi-view camera system. The powerful and great sounding 630-watt Infinity surround-sound, high-definition audio system came with an external amplifier, subwoofer and 12 speakers. SiriusXM satellite radio is included (three-month trial subscription) as is the AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio, USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Aux-in jacks and Bluetooth streaming audio with voice recognition completed the system. The Blue Link connected services include being able to start the Santa Fe remotely. One of the best features that adds to driver safety is the head-up display. This allows the driver to keep eyes on the road while vital information is projected onto the windshield.

Adding to the interior comfort and convenience were wireless phone charging, a leather-wrapped shift knob, push button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, power windows with one-touch up/down, power door locks, power heated outside mirrors with turn indicators, carpeted floor mats, auto dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink, multiple beverage holders, 12-volt accessory outlets and a 110V power inverter.

Safety

The 2019 Santa Fe comes with a long list of safety features, including eight air bags, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, back-up warning, a tire pressure monitoring system, automatic stop/start and electronic stability control.

Santa Fe’s tech helped earn it top safety numbers

The 2019 Santa Fe Sport has earned a US Government National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score, where 5 Stars is their highest safety rating.

Pricing and Warranties

There are fourteen different 2019 Santa Fe models to choose from, ranging in base price from $25,750 to $38,800, depending on the engine, drive system and trim level. Clean Fleet Report’s Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD, had a MSRP of $38,925 which included $125 in options. All prices are before the $1,045 freight Fee.

The 2019 Santa Fe comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain                   10 years/100,000 miles
  • New Vehicle                  Five years/60,000 miles  
  • Roadside Assistance     Five years/Unlimited miles        
  • Anti-perforation            Seven years/Unlimited miles
Observations: 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD

When Clean Fleet Report reviewed the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe it was called the “Sport”. Sport has been dropped for 2019, so the two-row, five-passenger reviewed here is simply the Santa Fe, with the Santa Fe XL being the three-row version. Hang on, though, the Santa Fe XL is being replaced in 2020 by the Hyundai Palisade. Whew, got it? Don’t worry there isn’t a test ahead, but stay tuned to Clean Fleet Report for the Palisade review as soon as the model is available.

Good surprises highlight the Santa Fe

Reading owner comments on their 2019 Santa Fe Sports reveals common words: “expectations exceeded,’ “quality feel and quietness” and costing “several thousands less” than other brands they shopped. The redesigned 2019 Santa Fe offers clean, contemporary styling and a class-up, comfortable interior with convenient and desirable seating and storage flexibility. The features list is long and deep. Having choices of front wheel and all-wheel drive means everyone looking for a midsize SUV will find something to fit their needs.

The new Santa Fe is sized-right for parking, has a ride that is quiet and calming and respectable handling. The Santa Fe’s high safety rating is also a plus when driving any tall vehicle. Clean Fleet Report would like to see higher fuel economy numbers, though.

The 2019 Santa Fe is a very capable SUV and should be on your shopping list.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

[See image gallery at www.cleanfleetreport.com]

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Midsize SUV Competition (& there are more!)

Flash Drive: 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid

Flash Drive: 2018 Toyota Highlander

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Road Test: 2016 Kia Sorento

Road Test: 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Road Test: 2016 Nissan Murano

Flash Drive: 2018 Buick Enclave

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder

Event: A Day at the Track (Dodge Durango)

Road Test: 2017 Toyota 4Runner

Comparison Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 vs. 2.0L

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6

7 Things to Know About the 2018 Subaru Ascent

Event: Three-Row SUV Comparison (2019 Subaru Ascent, 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, 2018 Chevrolet Traverse)

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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A Glimpse of the Future Through the Lens of the Past

Typically an announcement from everyone’s favorite Bavarian purveyor of motorrader will be heard far and wide. This time however, the hills were silent as BMW unveiled its Vision DC Roadster, a new entry into the electric motorcycle market. 

The electric gear had to fit in the same space as its ICE predecessors

BMW motorcycles are unmistakable in their design. The prominent cylinders of their signature flat twin boxer motor create one of motorcycling’s most recognizable profiles. In 1923, design director Max Friz was presented with a motor that left the rear cylinder prone to overheating. Incorporating a design that moved the cylinders outward and into the windstream proved successful for cooling and the subsequent R32 model debuted the now iconic look.

More than 90 years of company heritage tied to that very component had to be reimagined for the zero emissions combination of electric motor and battery. How could the Vision DC Roadster remain recognizable as a BMW motorcycle while replacing one of it’s more identifiable components?

Something Borrowed, Something Glowing

Borrowing a page from Friz’ playbook, the Vision DC Roadster’s dynamic outward cooling elements maximize airflow to cooling ribs and integrated ventilators. Completing the visual, a cylinder-shaped electric motor that resides below the battery system incorporates a reimagined version of the perineal shaft drive.

Still looking like a BMW

The profile features a streetfighter style with a low front and short, high rear. A flat, finely-wrought tubular structure spans where the tank would reside and integrates a high seat. The chassis is dominated by a large battery, housed in machined aluminum and angled slightly along with the cooling elements to create a visually dynamic movement. The cooling elements move out slightly when the motor is started.

In a nod to models of the past, the color concept is dark with an exposed universal shaft and Duolever fork.  White lines accent familiar triangular frame features, which just so happen fluoresce in darkness. The hallmark lighting design is instantly recognizable as a BMW motorcycle whether day or night. A U-shaped daytime running light sits low while two LED lenses make up the high and low beam. The taillights are integrated into the aluminum carrier forming a C-shape. Special Metzler tires utilize five fluorescent elements, each about the size of a postage stamp to convey dynamics in motion while increasing visibility for added safety in dark conditions.

The Vision DC is designed to do everything a gas bike would do

BMW Motorrad doesn’t expect its riders to show up to the future in the same old riding gear, no sir. An all-new two-piece suit provides protection while integrating light functions and connectivity. It consists of a light jacket with iridescent coloring and black pants featuring invisibly sewn-in protectors. While not everyone may be looking for a “modern, emotional fashion statement,” perhaps the integrated rucksack, which attaches via a magnet, will tip the scales.

What are the chances we’ll see a Vision DC Roadster in the US? They may be one in a million, but as the great Lloyd Christmas once asked—“So you’re saying there’s a chance?”

The Roadster rolls

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VW Lab Marks 20 Years of Progress

“It was 20 years ago today….”–The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Volkswagen, the maker of the other Beetles, was one of the early automotive pioneers dipping its toe in the world of chips and software in Northern California, opening its Silicon Valley outpost in 1999. What started out as a scouting expedition for tech has evolved into the newly named Volkswagen Innovation & Engineering Center California (IECC).  

Welcome to the future, brought to you through the past

VW looks back but also looks forward as maybe only Volkswagen can do, taking one of its iconic microbuses, converting it to electric drive and stuffing it full of high-tech goodies to showcase what the Belmont, Calif. Lab’s mission. The Type 20, a play on the original Type 2 microbus, embodies the type of leap forward expected to come from the hotbed of world technology.

As Nikolai Reimer (executive director of IECC) explained, VW’s heritage is building emotional cars like the Type 2 and the original Beetle, but the Silicon Valley outpost embraced the “endless passion to reinvent ourselves,” delving into projects of autonomous vehicles for the DARPA Challenge, new infotainment experiences and advanced manufacturing technologies.

Tech-Packed Steel

While the IECC shares its role in Volkswagen innovation with two other labs around the world (in Germany and China), it’s hard to imagine another lab coming up with the Type 20. The old microbus’ connection with California surf and sun is legendary, but also it’s hard to imagine another location where the VW team could have both find a 1962 Type 2 11-window van in restorable condition and also found a shop specializing in converting this type of vehicle to a full electric machine.

While retaining the feel of the old days, holigraphic dashboards were not an option in 1962

VW took the first generation microbus to Electric GT in Southern California for a transplant. Swapping out the 42-horsepower flat four for a 15-kilowatt (kW) motor backed with a 10-kW battery, producing 120 hp and 173 pounds-feet of torque. Just for fun, a custom-designed active pneumatic suspension adjusts the vehicle ride height through a software program. While it’s a lot faster than the original and definitely handles better, the real-world range for this show piece is less than 50 miles.

The real tech comes into play as you approach the Type 20. It has a real-time facial recognition system that greets you as you approach, spotting you with a 720p wide-angle camera lens in the driver’s side second window and completing the recognition process using Sensory SDK software running on a prototype Nvidia Jetson TX2 package.

IECC’s concept of an autonomous school bus

Inside, the Type 20 has three zones of microphones that can receive and respond to natural language commands. You know the car is listening if you’re outside because the VW logo will light up or the lights will blink. The “dash” for the car is a Looking Glass II holographic display that generates 3D images without the need for specialized glasses.

Future Tech Becoming Real

Incorporated into the accelerated six-month development timeline for the Type 20 was the use of generative design, a software process that uses artificial intelligence to take a design from concept to reality by balancing physical parameters like required strength and packaging constraints with weight reduction goals and unique designs. The car’s wild custom wheels, organic shaped rearview mirror supports and interior support elements where designed through this process.    

Tech spawned in the Belmont lab is already appearing as options

In reality, the Type 20 is the tip of the iceberg at IECC, which has an autonomous school bus concept on display, parts for Lamborghini’s produced through an additive manufacturing process, virtual reality headsets for interior design work and predictive navigation software developed there that is now available in production Audis.

With the I.D. Buzz reincarnation of the microbus as an EV coming in a few years, we’d expect more of IECC’s technology research to show up inside when it goes on sale.

Type 20 video below (it runs!).

T20 on the road
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The Only Hydrogen Fuel Cell SUV

While automakers focus a lot of attention on battery electric vehicles as their future products, hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) technology has been with us for a while, too.  There currently are three options in the U.S. market, but the all-new Hyundai Nexo is the only one that’s an SUV.

Something new on the fuel cell front

Hyundai has offered a FCEV for several years based on its compact Tucson crossover, but you’ve likely never seen it. The Nexo is its successor, on a dedicated platform, and has improved on the Tucson in every way. It’s great looking, too, inside and out.

Upgrades All Over

The 2019 Hyundai Nexo stretches 10.3 inches longer than the Tucson, on a 5.9-inch longer wheelbase. It spreads an inch wider but sits an inch lower. That, along with numerous wind-cheating design features, gives it an impressive 0.32 coefficiency of drag (cd).

The Nexo bumps up the fuel cell’s electric motor

The new 161-horsepower/120-kilowatt (kW) motor replaces the 100 kW one in the Tucson, for 25 percent higher peak acceleration and a 0-60 time of just 9.5 seconds vs. the Tucson’s 12.5. The motor’s 291 pounds-feet of torque is 70 more than the Tucson. The new lithium-ion 40-kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery is way ahead of the Tucson’s 24 kWh, giving the standard model Nexo a range of 380 miles–a 115-mile boost. The entire powertrain is lighter and more efficient.

The EPA numbers are 65 city/58 highway/61 combined for miles-per-gallon-equivalent (MPGe). I averaged 57.7 MPGe during my test week.

The Science Behind the Car

The science of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is simple to explain, but very complicated to do. Here, we’ll accept that H1—half of the H2 in H2O (water) is combined with O (oxygen) to form only water as a byproduct. By passing the compressed hydrogen fuel through the 95-kW fuel cell’s membrane, the fuel cell generates electricity to charge the battery that powers the Nexo’s motor.

Hydrogen isn’t found as H1 in nature—it likes to combine with things—so it needs to be split off to create a transportation fuel. That takes energy, so how the fuel is made (and transported) contributes in varying degrees to carbon dioxide production.

Refueling is easy–if you can find an open station

The other complexity is that the existing hydrogen fuel distribution network is tiny. The current FCEV fleet is small and mostly confined to California (which has programs to support it), so if you live in a major urban area, fuel is available—but not elsewhere. [ed. note: The refueling situation was complicated further when soon after Steve tested his Nexo, a facility that was the chief hydrogen supplier for the region experienced an explosion that resulted in most of the stations running out of hydrogen.)

There currently are 11 hydrogen stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live (and 40 in the state). I went down to the closest one and found a line of four Honda Claritys and Toyota Mirais ahead of me. I was happy to see the cars’ popularity, but this could become a problem if more people take on ownership of one of these high-tech rides and there aren’t enough stations built to fill them.

Beyond the Fuel

The 2019 Hyundai Nexo absolutely hits the mark in styling. It looks like a nice crossover, while the Honda and Toyota models are both oddly rendered sedans. My test car, in handsome Dusk Blue hue, was the Blue trim level. It comes with loads of safety and convenience features, while the Limited model above it grows the wheels from 17s to 19s and adds a sunroof, power liftgate and Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA). RSPA lets you park in either a parallel or perpendicular parking space without being inside the car!

Eco beyond the tank

Dr. Woong-chul Yang, Hyundai’s Vice Chairman, called the new Nexo an “earth-saving effort.” Besides the cleaner powertrain, it uses various ecological materials, including soybean-oil-based polyurethane paint, bamboo-thread-based bio fabric, and bio-plastic and bio-carpet extracted from sugar cane. These materials are employed in 47 different parts, reducing CO2 by 26 pounds during manufacturing.

My test Nexo provided a splendid driving experience, with an attractive light-gray interior. Its dramatic center-console bridge reminded me of Volvo interior design. The 12.3-inch center screen is well laid out, and as in other new Hyundais, everything is easy to find and use.

Both trim levels are filled with premium features, so are premium-priced as well. My blue tester started at $58,300 plus shipping. The Limited starts at $61,800. Currently, for a limited time, you can choose 1.9 percent APR financing for up to 60 months with $7,500 off or a $399/month lease for 36 months with $2,999 down. Either way, of course, you have to live in California.

A step up–and the only fuel cell SUV (for now)

So, how adventurous are you? While plug-in electric vehicles are great, they can have issues with charging and range. Hydrogen fuel-cell electric cars let you pull into a station (as long as you can find one) and fill up in five minutes (as long as there’s not a big line). However, you can’t go far out of California with one, which is another form of range anxiety. Regardless, Hyundai’s new Nexo FCEV is a huge step forward.

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Fuel Cell contenders

Road Test: 2019 Hyundai Nexo Fuel Cell CUV (Gary’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Tucson Hydrogen Fuel Cell

First Drive: 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Electric

Road Test: 2019 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell

News: Toyota Mirai Sales Mark

Flash Drive: 2017 Toyota Mirai FCEV

News: Mercedes GLC F-Cell Coming

In order to give you the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Clean Fleet Report has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. This comes under SRO-Second Road Test Opinion. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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Now With A Hybrid, Ford’s Electrified Future Is Here

Expected to hit dealers this fall, the anticipation is high for the 2020 Ford Explorer as it will come in two gasoline-only engine choices and—for the first time—as a hybrid. There will be something for everyone looking for a three-row, seven-passenger large SUV.

New from the ground up and a hybrid for the first time

All-new in the case of the 2020 Ford Explorer means exactly that, especially when it comes to the Explorer Hybrid. But the change-over from the 2019 Explorer to the 2020 Explorer sees more than just an electrified option. How about going from front-wheel drive bias to rear-wheel drive and a 200-pound weight reduction? Plus, with three engine options, in either 2WD or 4WD, Ford is making a statement that the 2020 Explorer is a force to be reckoned with in the large SUV class.

Three Engines, One Transmission

Built on the MHT platform, for modular hybrid technology, the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid drivetrain comprises an electric motor that is sandwiched between the engine and a 10-speed transmission. There is also a disconnect clutch so the Explorer Hybrid can run in pure EV mode. The electric motor provides 35 kilowatts of power, good for 44 horsepower. Combined with the naturally aspirated 3.3-liter V6, total output is 318 horsepower (hp) and 322 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. This allows the Explorer Hybrid to tow up to 5,000 pounds, by far best-in-class for a hybrid SUV. Fuel economy numbers have not been released, so we will have to wait just a bit longer to see if the hybrid technology is worth the premium over the Explorer Base, XLT or Limited that come with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine (which turns in EPA numbers of 21 city/28 highway/24 combined). The third engine option is the 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 that puts out either 365 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque in the Platinum model or 400 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque in the ST.

The middle row can handle two or three persons

Our impression of all three engines is that they are quiet upon idle and take little effort getting up to speed. The hybrid system is designed so the electric motor doesn’t come all-on at initial acceleration, but adds oomph when needed. We particularly noticed this when towing up a 10 percent grade from a standstill. Move over to the ST with the 400 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque—and baby does this thing perform great. Drop the ST into Sport, blip the paddle shifters and let her rip. Of course, this type of fun driving doesn’t do anything for the fuel economy, but heck, sometimes you just have to go for it.

Hitting the Road

I personally am familiar with the 2018 Explorer, having driven it often over the past couple of years. I can flat-out say the difference between the last generation and the all-new 2020 Explorer is not only noticeable, but dramatic. Where the outgoing Explorer had a soft suspension and numb steering feel, the 2020 Explorer is taut on the corners, and the steering has been programmed to make you feel connected to the road. One of the main reasons for the improved handling and ride is the switch from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive.

The hybrid’s towing capability is best-in-class

Clean Fleet Report drove both the rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid. The former provided good stability and grip, but the all-wheel drive was even better. The computer seamlessly engages the front wheels when maximum torque and traction are called for. The all-wheel drive could be felt biting in as the wheels, shod with 20-inch Michelin self-sealing tires, were planted around sweeping arc turns. The ride quality was solid and quiet; the 4,969-pound Explorer Hybrid that never felt heavy. The 1.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery has been mounted under the rear seat so as not to take-up any cargo space. It also adds to a low center of gravity and improved handling, something tall SUVs are not known for. Off-road, the 2020 Explorer is very capable with seven driver-selectable drive modes to make easy work when leaving the comfort of paved roads.

During the Explorer media introduction in Stevenson, Washington, there were no long, open stretches of highway to test the fuel economy. Knowing the only other full-size hybrid SUV, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, is rated at a combined 28 mpg, we were a bit surprised with a dash read-out of 24.7 mpg on the Explorer Hybrid. To be fair, this was almost exclusively driving on curvy and sometimes mountainous roads through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, east of Portland, Oregon. Our results are premature for what may be higher official fuel economy numbers; Clean Fleet Report will have a full Road Test review in the coming months, where we will give real world miles per gallon over several hundred miles of highway and city driving alongside official EPA numbers when they are available.

Behind the Wheel

The wheelbase has been stretched over the outgoing model, making for more rear leg room. The interior has also been widened for better shoulder space. A power liftgate is standard, as are Captain’s Chairs in the second row (a second-row bench seat is optional) and a third-row seat that can fold flat. Ford designers also were clever in squaring-off the rear door cup holders so juice boxes now can be easily secured.

The big picture in the new Explorer

The dash on the 2020 Ford Explorer is far more attractive and user-friendly than the 2019 model. This extends to the base 8.1-inch horizontal center display, which is twice the size of the previous version, and an optional 10.01-inch vertical center display. Leather trim and power everything can be found on most models, along with Ford’s Co-Pilot360 driver-assist features.

Pricing

The 2020 Ford Explorer comes in six models of Base, XLT, Limited, Hybrid, ST and Platinum, with an MSRP range of $36,375 to $58,250. Options will be added on as will the $1,095 destination charge. Your local Ford dealer will see the 2020 Explorer in the fall of 2019.

Observations: 2020 Ford Explorer

In mid-March 2018, Ford announced it would be introducing 24 battery electric hybrids during the next few years. The sixth generation Explorer, a nameplate dating back almost 30 years, is one of them. Ford is in its fourth generation of hybrid technology, with developments over the past few years having resulted in smaller and lighter controls and batteries, but with improved power, fuel economy and driving range.

6th time’s a charm

In upcoming Road Test reviews of the 2020 Explorer, Clean Fleet Report will dive deep into the interior and safety features, as well as more details on the performance and drivability.

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

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Fully Redesigned Full-size Sedan

Toyota’s fifth generation, all-new flagship 2019 Avalon was designed with what Toyota calls a “braintrust that represents multilevel progressiveness.” Clean Fleet Report will not attempt to unravel these five words, but will agree that the team strove for “authenticity and exhilaration” in Toyota’s largest sedan, and they did a very good job of it.

Powertrain

The 2019 Toyota Avalon offers two engine options: hybrid and non-hybrid. Clean Fleet Report drove the naturally aspirated non-hybrid, 3.5-liter V6 that put out 301 horsepower and 267 pounds-feet of torque, with the eight-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. The EPA rates fuel economy at 22 city/31 highway/25 combined miles per gallon. Running on 87 octane, driving 386 miles throughout Southern California, we averaged 28.7 mpg. However, in two 100-mile freeway runs with the dynamic radar cruise control set at 65 mph, we exceeded the EPA by averaging 32 mpg. The 0.27 coefficient of drag (Cd) and the active grille shutters helped the Avalon slip through the wind.

The latest version of the Avalon adds slipperier looks

The driver has Eco, Normal and Sport to choose between for the most performance and efficiency. I spent most of my time on the highway in Eco, which tuned throttle response for the best fuel economy. But for fun, and a 6.5-second zero-60 time, opt for Sport. We didn’t feel the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters added any straight-line performance, but the rev-matching when blipping downshifts through the twisties was a blast to hear and feel.

There was no engine lag, and when stomping on the accelerator, a very satisfying throaty growl emanated from under the hood. With the engine sound enhancement and the intake sound generator, engine sound was sent through the speakers, resonating in the cabin. Maybe the Avalon is a bit sportier than it is marketed to be.

Driving Experience: On the Road

Planning on taking any road trips or vacations? How about a daily commute? The driving comfort on long trips continues over to what theAvalon does for your daily driving. This is a very good sedan, with driving attributes that will make you go—Ahhh.

To begin, the 2019 Toyota Avalon has a supple ride and its 3,638 pounds never felt heavy. The electric power steering was not so light as to remove feel for the road, but did allow for easy in-town driving and parking. Handling is exactly how it should be for a car designed for comfort, but it never floated or felt soft. The Avalon isn’t marketed as a sport sedan, so don’t expect it to do what it isn’t meant to do. However, on sweeping mountain corners the Avalon was confident and never gave a feeling of being out of control or losing grip. Overall it offered an excellent driving experience that was quiet, partially due to the acoustic noise-reducing windshield and front side windows.

The power is there and the ride is smooth

Our Avalon came with 19-inch, black-painted machine finished alloy wheels and 235/40R all-season Michelin tires. The Avalon is nicely balanced, with a feeling of being planted to the ground. The 3.5-liter V6 and eight-speed automatic are perfectly mated for smooth operating at any speed.

Stopping comes from an electronically controlled brake system. The front ventilated and solid rear disc brakes, with ABS and electronic brake force distribution, produced straight and consistent stops. The pedal offered a medium-hard pressure, which was easy to modulate for smooth and predictable stops.

Driving Experience: Exterior

Toyota says the all-new 2019 Avalon “beams effortless sophistication, style and exhilaration.” Let’s pause just a moment to contemplate the front end and what is probably the largest grille on any sedan. When the Avalon is painted in a darker color, the new nose looks fine, as it is not quite as noticeable. And as Clean Fleet Report discovered, there is much to like on the Avalon, with the grille making a statement that is bold and says, “Hey, look at me!” Don’t want to be looked at? Then there are many cars out there offering complete anonymity.

Looks like it could scoop up plenty

The Avalon XSE has a piano black grille with sport mesh inserts. Sans chrome, except for the Toyota logo, it was set against the Ruby Flare Pearl body, presenting a menacing look. The dark front end drew the eye to the squinty-eyed LED reflector headlights that wrapped onto the fenders.

The sleek roofline, with a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, is interrupted only by the color-keyed shark fin antenna. The trunk lid has a very subtle spoiler; LED tail lights sit below with dual, round chrome exhaust tips peeking out each side of the lower fascia.

Driving Experience: Interior

The 2019 Toyota Avalon’s interior is built with high craftsmanship, tailoring and an attention to detail. The XSE package came with black, perforated SofTex front seats with Ultrasuede inserts. SofTex is a synthetic leather seat material designed for wear, easy cleaning and resisting spills, and uses a manufacturing process that is more environmentally sensitive than conventional synthetic leather. The power, eight-way adjustable, heated and ventilated (driver and passenger) seats, combined with the power tilt and telescoping steering wheel column made it easy for the driver to find a comfortable driving position.

It’s got technology, easy-to-use controls—and Ultrasuede

The cockpit design is driver friendly, featuring large gauges for easy reading and controls for easy access. The interior also has a dual-zone automatic climate system, power windows, door locks and mirrors, electronic parking brake, Smart Access with push button stop/start, multiple power outlets, folding heated power side mirrors with turn signals, and a Qi-compatible wireless charging system.

The rear seats, that comfortably hold three adults, split 60/40 and fold flat, with a drop-down armrest and cup holders. Behind the seat is a very large trunk that can hold all the gear for four on a weekend road trip. Two 2.1-amp charging ports are found at the rear of the center console as well as air vents.

The centerpiece of the Avalon’s infotainment system is the 9.0-inch touchscreen that rises from the dash. Here you will find controls for the JBL premium audio system and navigation with Entune. The 14 speakers, a subwoofer and 1,200-watt amplifier produce high-quality sound for the AM/FM/HD radio, Siri Eyes Free, Apple CarPlay and SiriusXM (free trial for 90 days). There are two USB ports and a 12V/120W up front. Toyota’s Safety Connect includes Wi-Fi by Verizon with a six-month trial. For those long, fuel-efficient road trips, having Wi-Fi for multiple devises will keep the back seat passengers happy and quiet.

Gauges are big and clear

A big thank you to Toyota for having radio volume and channel selection knobs and large wheels to control the automatic climate control.

The leather-trimmed, multi-function heated steering wheel has controls for the audio, plushands-free Bluetooth telephone operationand voice controls. The rearview mirror is HomeLink equipped. Aluminum pedal covers and aluminum door trim are nice touches.

Safety and Convenience

The 2019 Toyota Avalon comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense, Safety Connect and the Star Safety System. Active and passive safety features including 10 air bags, a tire pressure monitoring system, hill start control, push button start, anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer, rear view camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.

A note to remember

The Avalon has earned a Top Rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Good rating, while the US Government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded it their highest rank of a Five Star rating.

Pricing

The 2019 Toyota Avalon with the gasoline engine comes in four trim levels, with these base prices.

  • XLE — $35,650
  • XSE — $38,150
  • Limited — $41,950
  • Touring — $42,350

The 2019 Toyota Avalon XSE Clean Fleet Report drove, including options totaling $1,323, had a MSRP of $39,473. All prices exclude the $930 delivery, processing and handling fee.

The 2019 Avalon comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain — Five years/60,000 miles
  • Basic — Three years/36,000 miles
  • Corrosion Perforation — Five years/Unlimited miles
  • Maintenance/Roadside Assistance — Two years/25,000 miles
Observations: The 2019 Avalon XSE

The 2019 Toyota Avalon, built in Georgetown, Kentucky, was redesigned for 2019 using Toyota’s TGNA platform that underpins everything in the Toyota lineup from the Prius, Corolla and C-HR to the Camry, Avalon and Highlander. The styling is sharp with an elegant, comfortable and spacious interior that can seat a family of five while hauling their luggage on road trips. The handling and ride are improved compared to the 2018 model and the 30+ mpg fuel economy is impressive for this size car. Note: For even better fuel economy check-out the Avalon Hybrid, which is rated at 43+ mpg.

If the front end stops you, check out the rear

If the front end design is a hang-up, just remember when you are driving the Avalon, you cannot see it. Plus, this would be a weak excuse not to consider owning this impressive full-size sedan.

Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!

[See image gallery at www.cleanfleetreport.com]

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Other Big Car Options

As was mentioned in the review, if your focus is fuel economy, the Toyota Avalon Hybrid is the leader among large cars, which we’ve reviewed here and here.

The best of the rest:

Road Test: 2018 Buick LaCrosse Avenir

Road Test: 2017 Chrysler 300 S

Road Test: 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

Road Test: 2016 Nissan Maxima

Road Test: 2016 Dodge Charger

Road Test: 2014 Chevrolet Impala

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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EV Pioneer Is Competitive Again

The Nissan Leaf is a true pioneer—the car that brought all-electric vehicles mainstream when it was introduced in 2010 as an 2011 model. It’s the best-selling EV ever (for now), with nearly 400,000 sold worldwide (130,000+ in the U.S.).

It looks like last year, but now goes like this year’s competition

However, as competitors appeared, the venerable Leaf showed its largest flaw—lack of range. The 2018 model partially remedied that with a larger 40-kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery that pushed range up to 150 miles, but it wasn’t until the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus arrived that the Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, Tesla and other EVs got real competition.

The 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus boasts a new 62-kWh battery, with up to 226 miles of range in the base S Plus model. Its larger 160-kilowatt (kW) motor produces 214 horsepower and 250 pounds-feet of torque—a 45 percent improvement—and good for 50-75 mph sprint that’s nearly 13 percent faster.

Bigger battery now feeds a bigger motor

The new higher-density battery is virtually the same size as the older, less powerful one, so passenger and cargo capacity are unaffected. You can carry 23.6 cubic feet of stuff with ease.

Features That Stand Out

Two features stand out in the new models. One is Pro-Pilot, which combines adaptive cruise control with a lane-positioning feature. While not actual autonomy, it does make long trips easier and is a starting point for the true autonomous cars of the future.

The button that initiates advanced driving

The other exciting tech feature is e-Pedal. It provides regenerative braking to not only charge the battery, but slow down, too, just by lifting your foot off the accelerator. The Leaf can slow down to almost a complete stop with just one pedal. Once you get used to this, you’ll never go back.

The Leaf Plus comes in three levels—S, SV, and SL. All are mechanically the same; with each trim level the feature list grows longer as the price rises.

The S model the gets slightly better range—226 miles vs. 216—likely due to lower weight. The SV Plus adds 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, a heated steering wheel, NissanConnect with Navigation and smart-phone connections (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), upgraded audio and some of Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility technology.

The SL brings in LED headlights and daytime running lights, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, leather-appointed seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat, and Bose premium seven-speaker audio. You also get a host of the worthwhile safety features, including blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, the Intelligent Around View Monitor and more.

Second Generation Style

The new Leaf, introduced as a 2018 model, gave the car a thorough style update inside and out, while retaining the same basic structure. You can see carryover pieces in the unique windshield pillars and interior door panels, but the front and rear body sections and the rest of the interior are brought stunningly up to date. The new dash, part of the “gliding wing” design language, offers a larger 8.0-inch center screen with all the easy-to-use features of a smart phone.

Now with styling that puts it in the family

The first-gen Leaf’s styling was meant to stand out, but today’s car is a bit more angular and wears the corporate V-Motion grille, with blue 3D mesh (blue means “clean” in car design language, not green). The taillamps are now horizontal, creating a harder edge compared to the softly integrated vertical ones in gen one. The odd headlamps are swapped for more conventional units.

My test car, an SL Plus, wore optional white and black two-tone paint ($695). Kick plates ($130) were the only other option. The sticker, with shipping, came to $44,270. As a result of its sales success, the Leaf no longer qualifies for the full $7,500 Federal tax break, but legislation hopefully will extend that program. Base S Plus models start at $37,445, including shipping, while the base Leaf S starts at just $29,990 plus shipping.

The Competition

You may ask why Nissan didn’t just replace the 40 kWh-battery, 150-mile-range standard Leaf with the new one. The answer is contained in the above paragraph. Since 150 miles is plenty of range for most people, the standard Leaf offers a significantly less expensive EV choice compared to other EVs—by thousands of dollars. With remaining tax breaks and rebates, it can become a very affordable way to go electric.

A more conventional dashand a near-luxury ambiance

The new Leaf feels smooth and powerful. Its seats are more comfortable than the ones in the Bolt EV. Quality is high, offering a near-luxury ambiance found in cars like the Jaguar I-Pace. I was surprised that my top-level Leaf Plus didn’t have a telescoping steering wheel, but otherwise it felt loaded.

However, things are changing fast in the world of electric transportation. With the Leaf Plus, Nissan is keeping up with the competitors, but not surpassing them. It’ll be interesting to see what the pioneer brings out for its next act—a EV crossover, perhaps?

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—The Long-Range EV Competition

Clean Fleet Report has looked at the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus before—by taking it on an almost 500-mile to challenge its long-distance potential. Those miles are recounted here.

Road Test: 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Road Test: 2019 Kia Niro EV (John’s view)

Road Test: 2019 Kia Niro EV (Gary’s view)

Road Test: 2019 Kia Niro EV (Steve’s view)

Road Test: 2019 Hyundai Kona EV (Gary’s view)

Road Test: 2019 Hyundai Kona EV (Steve’s view)

Flash Drive: Tesla Model 3

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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A Best Buy for a BEV with a Big Asterisk

It’s been a long road for the Nissan Leaf. Introduced in 2011, the Leaf was the first mass-market all-electric vehicle and, despite other EV upstarts making gains, the best-selling electric car in history with more than 450,000 sold worldwide. It’s won about every award for green automobiles, including the World Green Car award twice.

The 40 kWh Leaf is back

In 2018, Nissan delivered a fully updated and improved Leaf that included a new 40 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery architecture with more power, more exceptional durability, and range. We tested a 2018 Leaf to see how it did on a 526-mile round trip drive, and while the results were mixed, overall we felt it was an enjoyable and quality vehicle .

A Great Car Carries On

For 2019, the Nissan Leaf 40 kWh continued with no obvious changes, but with many small changes that are a fact-of-life with cars today. Even though cars look the same, and may cost the same or less, there are usually hundreds of small improvements that enhance the overall quality or tweaks that improve the driving experience. The 2019 Nissan Leaf is no exception. The range is unchanged with an EPA rating of 150 miles, and it’s the best BEV available for under $30,000.  

We wanted to see how the 2019 version of the 40kWh Leaf stacked up to the 2018 Leaf, so we asked Nissan to provide us with the newest version to check it out. They obliged and delivered a Leaf SL complete with ProPilot Assist to our door.

Inside the 2019 Leaf carries on with little change

It’s hard to see any differences between the interior and exterior of a 2018 and 2019 Leaf. The interior of the Leaf is still one of the most spacious ones available for a mid-priced BEV and leads the pack when it comes to cargo space.

The conventional dashboard and controls remain untouched from 2018. Many enjoyed the quirky interior dash of the original Leaf over the newer one, but it is functional with an extensive amount of information available to the driver. The seats in the Leaf are built around Nissan’s “Zero-G” seat architecture and are adjustable enough to be very comfortable for a wide range of driver and passenger sizes. The 2019 Leaf is also one of the quietest BEVs on the market today with interior cabin noise of only 62 dB at 65 mph. That is Rolls Royce quiet, better than other BEVs costing twice as much. Improved door sealing, Michelin LRR tires, excellent aerodynamics and extra cabin insulation keep road and wind noise at a minimum.

The Leaf is the space captain

In 2018 Nissan introduced two new driving aids for the Leaf—e-pedal, and ProPilot Assist. The e-Pedal allows for one pedal driving by integrating motor regeneration, friction brakes and front safety systems to manage braking and acceleration. It’s been described as like driving a golf cart and doesn’t take any time at all to master.

ProPilot Assist is Nissan’s Level 2 autonomous driving suite, much like Autopilot for the Tesla. It includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind-spot-assist and forward collision emergency braking, to name a few. For 2019, ProPilot has been improved with better lane keeping assist, and the adaptive cruise control can better cope with heavy traffic situations. For example, in the 2018 version, ProPilot Assist could get confused if a motorcyclist who was lane splitting would drive by too fast or too close. This would cause the Leaf to start to accelerate to match the speed of the motorcycle only to jam on the brakes once the bike had passed to avoid hitting the car in front. For 2019, that behavior has been fixed. How the adaptive cruise control accelerates and slows down in traffic is more refined, and arguably in the top five L2 systems available today.

Under the Hood and Under the Floor

In 2018, the Leaf received a new, more powerful 110-kilowatt AC synchronous electric motor with 147 horsepower, up 37 percent over the previous model, and more torque, up 26 percent at 236 pounds-feet. This gives the 40kWh Leaf a 0-60 time of around 7.4 seconds compared to the 9.0-10 seconds of previous versions. This motor remains unchanged for 2019 and is a very smooth and compliant powertrain. The transmission also remains as a single-speed reducer gear driving the front wheels. This entire powertrain system remains unchanged for 2019.

Under the hood the solid 2018 motor remains in same

In 2018, the big news for the Leaf was a new battery pack with a capacity of 40 kWh (the real value was around 39.5 kWh, and only 37 or less was available). The battery was also much more powerful than previous versions with output power now at 110kW vs. 80kW in the earlier cars.

That extra power carried over to 2019 unchanged, with the new battery chemistry, structure, and module layout. Earlier versions of the Leaf’s battery used a lithium manganese oxide cathode material in a spinel structure. The new 40 kWh battery uses a lithium nickel cobalt manganese oxide cathode in a layered structure. The battery still has 192 cells, but the module layout of the 40kWh battery is new with 24 modules of eight cells each vs. 48 modules of four cells each in the older 24 and 30 kWh batteries.

An issue raised by some 2018 Leaf owners is that the pack seems to run hotter than previous versions of the Leaf battery, and there was a concern that the new battery may be more prone to degradation than the earlier versions of the 24 and 30 kWh batteries. This seemed counter-intuitive, that the leading manufacturer of BEVs would make a less reliable version of their battery, so we reached out to Nissan for clarification. We spoke with Owen Thunes, who is Nissan’s senior manager for powertrain management and who has been involved with the Leaf’s battery and motor development since its earliest days.

Nissan says the Leaf can handle the heat

When asked about why the new battery seemed to run hotter than previous versions and Thunes said “One thing that you should be aware of is that the power throughput into the 40kWh car is much higher than in previous vehicles. You’re actually putting in more energy in a shorter amount of time than you do in the 30kWh or 24kWh battery that preceded it. Consequently, it’s a much larger energy transfer in the same or less time, so the input load to a thermal mass is higher. If you treat the battery as a thermal mass, there’s going to be a higher load input. So consequently, it may register as more of a temperature gain to the battery itself. But the battery itself is designed to manage it. From a chemistry point of view, it’s built for that.”

Thunes went on to say “The bottom line is that the chemistry and the construction of the 40kWh battery are designed so that it can handle this extra power and the extra heat that was generated by it without any concern for damage to the battery because it’s too hot. The car will actively manage itself to make sure that it’s safe, and it will limit as needed to protect the batteries both from short-term and longer-term concern. There’s also another difference between the 40kWh battery and the older batteries that preceded it, which is that the number of cells per module is changed to eight in the 40kWh battery. The 24 and 30kWh batteries have four cells per module with 48 modules total, but the 40kWh has eight cells in each module, with only 24 modules.”

The temperature gauge of the Leaf is like most other mid-range cars—a simple presentation with a region in the middle that is its normal range. When asked to specify the actual numerical temperature range it represented, Nissan deferred to answer, but in the owner’s manual, there is a hint that this range is between 30 degrees and 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Out of sight, some major changes upgrade the battery pack

We asked if the Leaf limits power to the motor as the car gets into or past the upper edge of the normal range, and Thunes responded: “The deeper you get toward the red, the more active the engagement. It affects both the charge side and the discharge side. But there’s a lot of margin especially on the discharge side and actual driving performance feeling in the lower end of the red to be very difficult to detect any particular concern. But as you get to the far end of the red, it will get potentially more restricted as the car is taking care of itself and will automatically manage the load on the battery.”

The Asterisk: *Is the 40-kWh Leaf right for you?

This is more of a philosophical question than an empirical one. The general Leaf community seems to have embraced the Leaf wholeheartedly, but are divided.

Those who say Yes cite these positives:

  • -Price
  • -Reliability
  • -Decent range
  • -Comfort
  • -Safety
  • -Charge primarily at home with occasional public charging
  • -Great for occasional overnight road trips of under 200 miles in each direction

Those who say No tend to cite these negatives:

  • -Unsure about battery cooling
  • -Takes too long to charge
  • -Suspicious about battery reliability
  • -Not enough places to charge
  • -Not enough range

How the car is used plays a major role in the equation. If the Leaf is used for commuting or just general use, and the average driving is less than 150 miles per day, the responses tend to be positive.

If the Leaf is used as part of a person’s job or profession, such as outside sales, service, support or delivery, and the Leaf is driven on an unpredictable schedule or route with daily driving of 150 miles or more at speeds that are with traffic, but above the speed limit, the response is less favorable.

If the vehicle is used as a ride-share vehicle, a service that is paid on a piece-rate basis, or a job where being idle while charging is money lost and daily driving demands easily exceed 150 miles, the answer is very unfavorable. Another common characteristic for those with an unfavorable response is the reliance almost exclusively on public charging.

The 40 kWh Leaf has a place, but it’s not for everyone or every job

We agree with drivers whose job is on the road all day and driving long, unpredictable distances dusk to dawn. The 40 kWh Leaf is not the best choice, and they would be better served in a long-range BEV like a Tesla Model 3 or a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) like a Toyota Prius Prime. If you fit this second category, then this Leaf is not for you. Driving this Leaf will set up a hot mess that will leave you frustrated and angry.

But if you fit into the first category, which is what most people do who are looking for a value-priced BEV, then the Leaf 40kWh is an excellent choice. The author of this review is one of those in the first category, who has been driving a 2018 Leaf SL for more than a year with zero issues, zero warranty claims and zero costs for charging. 

For 2019, the 40 kWh Leaf pricing in the US is:

  • $29,990 for the S
  • $32,600 for the SV
  • $36,600 for the SL
  • $895 for destination and handling for all models.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Looking Beyond the Leaf

Road Trip: 2018 Nissan Leaf

For Comparison, Road Trip: 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus

Flash Drive: Tesla Model 3 Long Range

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Prius Prime

Road Test: 2019 Chevrolet Bolt

Road Test: 2019 Kia Niro

Road Test: 2019 Hyundai Kona

Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Reportnewsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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