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EVs and Rare Earth Mining

Rare earth metals.

Where are all the earth’s rare metals mined?  Are electric vehicles (EVs) really so environmentally sound and friendly?

Rare earths are difficult to find and obtain in most parts of the world, and they are used a lot in all sorts of common and accessible products like mobile phones, cars, aeroplanes, missiles, radars etc.  Rare earths are also abundantly used in EVs.  EVs use special magnets to power their engines, and most of the magnets in EVs that can cover longer distances on one battery charge are made from rare earth metals.  The metals aren’t necessarily rare, but they can be dirty and difficult to process.  Many of the processes related to rare earth extraction (getting the rare earths out of the ground) are dangerous, environmentally unfriendly, and, in many cases, the mining workers are older boys and younger men.  The process to obtain many of the rare earths is environmentally destructive and produces radioactive waste.

Of the 17 rare earths, neodymium is possibly the most needed rare earth in the world right now.  EVs cannot function without neodymium, and lithium – which is currently mostly found in Bolivia.

China has a large portion of the rare earth mining pie and supply network.  Back in 2010, China produced as much as 90% of the rare earths that the world needed, and it now seems obvious to me why China’s economy and infrastructure was booming so much at the time.  Also, around this time, the rest of the world started to see just how China ruled the rare earth market and power struggles commenced.

Without the rare earth metal, neodymium, an iPhone cannot vibrate and wind turbines would not work.  In order for EVs to gain more milage between charges, Rare Earth Permanent Magnets (REPM), which use neodymium, are required.  REPMs are the most powerful magnets currently available.

So, though rare-earth elements are used in trace amounts, their unique properties, which include magnetic, heat-resistant, and phosphorescent qualities, make them essential in the production of products like batteries, car engines, EVs and LCD TV displays.  EV motors, iPhones, military jet engines, batteries, and even satellites all have something in common: They require rare-earth elements to function.

Other elements like terbium, tritium and europium are crucial to targeting mechanisms in all high-tech weaponry systems.  The higher-tech that an EV becomes, a corresponding increase in the level of rare earth mining will be required.  The more EVs that are run on the roads (resulting from strict emission standards and government taxing), the more the rare earth resources will be called upon to build and maintain the EV fleet.  Currently, an EV battery doesn’t last much longer than 10 years, so EV battery replacement requirements will mean that much more rare earth metals will be needed to maintain the ever-growing global EV fleet.

As of 2018, China had 37% of the world’s rare earth deposits.  Brazil currently has 22%, Vietnam 18%, Russia 10% and India has 5.8%. The rest of the world, including the US and Japan, have the rest.

Despite having more rare earth ore than the US, India only mined 3,000 tonnes of rare earths in 2020.  During 2020, the US mined 38,000 tonnes. Meanwhile, Australia mined 17,000 tonnes and China mined 140,000 tonnes.  In 2020, the US had 16% of the production rate of the world’s rare earths; Australia had 7%, and India had 1%.

In 2020, the following countries were the biggest producers of rare earth metals:

China, mine production: 140,000 MT

United States, mine production: 38,000 MT.  The US is also a major importer of rare earth materials, with their demand for compounds and metals worth US$110 million in 2020.  The US has classified rare earths as critical minerals, and it is a distinction that has come about from recent trade issues between the US and China.

Myanmar (also known as Burma), mine production: 30,000 MT.  Myanmar mined 30,000 MT of rare earths in 2020, up from 22,000 MT the previous year.  Myanmar provided 50% of China’s medium to heavy rare earths feedstock.

Australia, mine production: 17,000 MT.  Australia holds the sixth largest-known rare earths reserves in the world.  It is poised to increase its output, where the production of neodymium-praseodymium products is projected to increase to 10,500 tonnes per year by 2025.  Northern Minerals opened Australia’s first heavy rare earths mine in 2018.  Its main products are terbium and dysprosium, the latter of which is used in technology for things like permanent magnets.

Madagascar, mine production: 8,000 MT.

India, mine production: 3,000 MT.  India holds almost 35% of the world’s total beach sand mineral deposits.

Russia, mine production: 2,700 MT.  Russia intends to increase the nation’s share of global rare earths production from the current 1.3% level to 10% by 2030.

Thailand, mine production: 2,000 MT.

Vietnam, mine production: 1,000 MT.

Brazil, mine production: 1,000 MT.

Rare-earths are also mined in South Africa, Canada, Estonia, and Malaysia.

Is an internal combustion engine’s resultant emissions and fossil fuel use really worse than the rare earth metal production mining for EVs and other high-tech electronics?  I would question whether a modern and new internal combustion engine with its catalytic converter to capture any emissions is worse than an EV’s definite connection to negative environmental impact and questionable work-force ethics.

Sometimes it is easier to disregard these pre-showroom EV facts and talk about the post-showroom EVs being so wonderful and environmentally-friendly with their so-called zero emissions.  Perhaps hydrogen-fuelled cars (to a certain extent), solar energy, and, definitely, cars running on biofuels are a sounder transport investment, but I guess money, power and business links still talk louder for some.

Why We Need More Information on Vehicle Reliability

Local car manufacturers have long been reluctant to release information about vehicle reliability, just as they were with repair data until  developments prompted a change. While those changes were a promising sign for motorists, not much else has changed on the reliability front.

Still, the current standards and practices just aren’t good enough. Your new vehicle is likely to be the second largest individual purchase you’ll make in your lifetime. No one wants to end up with a ‘lemon’, so it follows that manufacturers should be more open when it comes to publishing information about vehicle reliability. That is, if they genuinely value their customers loyalty.

What’s the current situation?

From an owner’s perspective, having full and complete information is invaluable when engaging in a decision making process. It’s necessary in order to filter out options that do not align with our needs. This is something that has been recognised abroad. From the US to the UK and other parts of Europe and Asia, industry surveys with motorists surrounding vehicle reliability are common practice and the results are published for all to see.

In turn, this ensures manufacturers not only receive feedback but are compelled to embrace it – to act upon it and improve their vehicles. Tesla, one of the industry’s most-recent entrants to the motoring space, has been one of the most prominent stakeholders in accepting feedback and it goes some way to explain why their growth has been off the charts as it becomes the most-expensive, publicly-listed car brand in the world.

Tesla is one of the first to admit they have had several notable problems with their ‘high end’ vehicles, however, their approach is all about finding the right solution(s) to improve motorists’ driving experiences.

In Australia, only half the feedback cycle is being undertaken. Motorists are often surveyed for their thoughts on vehicle reliability, but the results are rarely if ever made public.

In fact, it’s hard to know in what way this information is being used given its guarded nature. That being said, it’s widely accepted that mechanical issues have improved some way in recent years – even if we are seeing an abundance of recalls that never seem to stop – but it has generally been the car companies with global reach, under pressure from research in other territories, that are amongst the frontrunners in terms of reliability.

What’s the other side of the equation?

If there is one thing to recognise in defence of manufacturers, the human mechanics of operating a vehicle cannot always be recorded. That is, whether a driver has adequately maintained their vehicle, followed through with appropriate servicing, and ultimately how they drive their car.

Now you’re probably saying these things shouldn’t matter. And they shouldn’t. But for the purpose of a direct comparison between cars and manufacturers, it’s hard to compare the likes of a BMW driven by a P-plater, with a Toyota Camry driven by a retiree.

The other element to consider is that reliability data is only one piece of the puzzle. The type of failure, as well as the cost of repairs, should also be considered. One might expect that ‘luxury’ vehicles encounter fewer reliability issues, however, if each time this vehicle requires repairs that cost three times that of a ‘regular’ sedan, what are the results really demonstrating? Furthermore, with the majority of problems these days encompassing technology problems, can these issues be compared on the same scale as that of vehicles with mechanical problems?

Nonetheless, these points shouldn’t really take away from the point that we need further disclosure around vehicle reliability. The introduction of ‘lemon laws’ in recent time is certainly beneficial, but that’s a reactive response when buyers deserve more up-front information and certainty. In fact, manufacturers owe it to motorists, particularly if they are in search of brand loyalty and a vision to improve future cars.

Most Reliable Cars in 2021

How reliable a car is directly correlates with our ownership satisfaction rating, right?  So, if we own a car that is always needing something fixed or repaired to make it properly functional, our contentment levels will be lower than if our car was reliable all or at least most of the time.  It won’t take long for an unreliable car to start to irk us.  Reliability is always a black and white area when it comes to car ownership satisfaction.

What car? has recently published their survey findings for 2021.  They questioned more than 16,000 people across the UK who owned a car no older than 5 years old, and this is the results that show which cars and brands are the most reliable, and which ones are not.  Is it possible that the more reliable a car is, the more green and sustainable the car is?

First place goes to Lexus who claims the top spot as the most dependable brand of car you can buy.  Lexus cars suffer from very few faults.  The Lexus NX SUV is the highest-rated hybrid you can buy.

Second place brand is Dacia, which is considered to be a budget brand.  Here is a prime example of reliability and low cost going hand in hand.  Dacia’s star performer is the previous generation Dacia Sandero.

Hyundai takes the bronze, where the previous generation Hyundai i10, the larger i20, and the current Hyundai i30 being standouts.  It was revealed that the problem areas included the brakes and gearbox, however the brand’s 5-year unlimited km warranty meant that most problems were fixed for free.

Suzuki

Suzuki takes fourth place for brand reliability; an excellent result.  The little Suzuki Swift is the third most reliable car – a star performer for Suzuki.

Mini

Mini cars are generally pretty reliable cars.  Mini’s Countryman scored well in the small SUV class.  Mini’s little Hatchback is the sixth most reliable small car overall – a great result.

Toyota

Toyota has long been an impressively reliable brand, though it’s slipped slightly from third place last year.

Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi ranked 7th, their place unchanged from last year. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross is the most reliable family SUV on the market, boasting a 100% reliability score!

Mazda

Eighth place goes to the Mazda brand.  Mazda highlights include the CX-3  (a very reliable small SUV), the CX-5 (petrol version), and the MX-5 sports car.

Kia

Star performers for Kia are the XCeed and Ceed family cars, which are among the most reliable in their class, while the Kia Optima is the second-most reliable executive car.  Kia’s affordable E-Niro is the third most reliable EV.

MG

MG is the brand that takes out 10th spot.  The classy MG ZS EV is the second-most reliable EV in the survey.

11) Citroen – Citroen’s C3 Aircross is the third most reliable small SUV.

12) Skoda – Skoda’s Superb is the most reliable executive car.

13) BMW – BMW’s previous model 1 Series is the most reliable family car.  The BMW 5 Series is the most reliable luxury car.  The BMW 3 Series also ranks 3rd in the executive class.  Current BMW Hybrids are not quite so reliable.

14) Honda – The previous model Jazz was fifth in its class, while the HR-V is the most reliable small SUV.

15) Tesla – the Tesla Model 3 ranked 5th in the EV class.

16) Renault

17) Seat

18) Audi – Audi’s TT is the number one sports car for reliability.

19) Volvo

20) Volkswagen

Jaguar, Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, Vauxhall, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Ford, Nissan, Land Rover, and then Fiat takes out 30th spot.

Of the last 10:

Porshce’s Macan took 1st place for the luxury SUV class.

Nissan’s LEAF is 1st for the most reliable EV.

Honda’s Latest

As with many other automotive manufacturers, Honda is on the hunt for having its fleet become fully electrified.  Honda’s vision is to have 100% of its new vehicles with zero emissions by 2040.  There are some neat EV models in the pipeline, but also some vehicles that help transition the gap from petrol to hybrid to 100% electric.  Honda’s 2022 Civic models are set to be enjoyable.

Honda recently announced that their Prologue SUV, which will be Honda’s first new EV sold in big volume, will be a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) that will go on sale in 2024.  It is likely that the Prologue SUV will be an American-only seller first, so how that fits in with Australia remains to be seen.  As EV infrastructure expands, and customer interest grows nationwide and globally, the company will expand sales and marketing efforts accordingly.  Following the launch of the Honda Prologue, the company will create additional EVs based on the new e-Architecture that is currently being developed and customer demand.

Honda Prologue SUV

Honda has a long history of being a leader in creating hybrid and electrified vehicles.  Honda’s Insight still is a very good example of how a hybrid should perform, and it remains a strong seller with people who are looking for low emissions and frugality in fuel usage.  As Honda prepares for the launch of the Honda Prologue for America, the company will introduce hybrid-electric systems to other core models to continue to reduce CO2 emissions while helping create a bridge for customers to move from fossil fuels to hybrid to EVs.

Honda’s management have stated that they are aware that customers who have a good experience with a hybrid vehicle are more likely to buy an electric vehicle in the future.  We can see that their hybrid sales have increased over the last few years.  Led by models such as the CR-V Hybrid and the Accord Hybrid, Honda just recorded its best-ever first-half year of electrified vehicle sales.  The Insight has also sold well.

2022 Honda Civic Sedan

Now what about now?  Let’s take a look at the all-new Honda Civic Hatchback!  In 2022, Honda will be selling the latest Civic in Australia.  The car is aimed predominantly at young buyers who are captured by its fastback design and sporty driving character.  The new Civic will offer a slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission as well as an automatic CVT option to go with the 2.0-liter normally aspirated motor or the 1.5-liter turbo engine.  High-performance Si and Type R models are to be available, and they are cars I’ll be keeping my eyes out for.

The largest back seat to ever be inside a Civic Hatchback comes with 2022 models, and the cars also features new standards of safety technologies.  All 2022 Honda Civic Hatchbacks include Honda’s new next-gen driver and front passenger airbags and an expanded Honda Sensing suite of driver-assistive and safety technology that adds Traffic Jam Assist and a smoother, more natural feeling to functions like Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and the Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS).  It will also include Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) with Pedestrian Detection, Forward Collision Warning, and Road Departure Mitigation (RDM).

2022 Honda Civic Dash

2022 Honda Civic EX-L models will boast all the luxury features, so big color touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, push-button start, partial digital instrumentation, blind-spot information (BSI), leather upholstery, an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, a one-touch power sliding moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control and LED headlights are the go.

Sportier Civics will have racy looks thanks to things like a short shifting 6-speed manual transmission (or CVT), Berlina Black 18-inch wheels, low-profile 235/40R-18 tyres, black exterior accents, an 8-speaker audio system, sport-specific upholstery, a leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel, paddle shifters (CVT only) and sport pedals.

As the automaker prepares for the launch of the Prologue SUV in America, expect to see more hybrid variants of current core models to ease the transition to full electrification.

Ford Movements

Hot off the Press News has Ford investing big money in EV production.  All up, Ford and a South Korean supplier will spend $11.4 billion US on Ford’s EV production and expansion.  Ford hopes this spend will enable them to produce more than one million EVs per year in the second half of this decade.  The buzz words used in new and future cars include the term electric vehicles or EVs.  Established automakers like Ford are racing to try and close the gap on Tesla’s EV lead.  As you may be aware, Tesla produces a range of EVs, and Tesla are currently on the way to selling more than 800,000 electric cars this year.  Tesla is currently the most valuable automaker in the world, with a market capitalization of nearly $800 billion US.  Ford’s market value is $56 billion US.

Ford F-150 Lightening

Ford’s big spend will be its 2nd biggest spend in its history.  Under the climate change banner and the Biden government, this latest US multibillion-dollar move to quickly transfer production plants to EV production is seen as a fast track phasing out of gasoline-powered cars and trucks as part of the global push to combat climate change.  I won’t debate the science here.

Ford is to build 2 battery plants in Kentucky and 1 in Tennessee under the joint venture with its main battery cell supplier, SK Innovation of South Korea.  In addition, Ford will build an assembly plant at the Tennessee location to churn out EV trucks. Ford will invest $7 billion and SK Innovation $4.4 billion, the companies have said.  Ford expects electric vehicle models to make up 40% of their vehicle production by 2030.  That’s only a little over 8 years away!

Ford’s new truck plant and battery factory in Tennessee is likely to be the place that will produce a new battery-powered Ford F-Series pickup truck, this following the previously announced F-150 Lightning pick up truck.  I have to say that the F-150 Lightening is an impressive beast!  Ford has said a mix of both the public and businesses had already placed 150,000 reservations for purchasing the F-150 Lightning.

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Also this year, Ford began selling the Mustang Mach-E, which has taken a sizable market share from Tesla.  Ford also plans to add an EV delivery van into the mix by the end of the year.  Then, in early 2022, the electric F-150 Lightning will roll out of their showrooms and silently onto the tarmac.

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Mr. Jim Farley, Ford Motor’s  president and CEO, has recently said that making electrical vehicles affordable should be among the top priorities for automakers, so that the average vehicle-buyer can purchase one.  This is good news, as a new EV is well out of most people’s budget.

He also made a couple of rather poignant comments: one on a key issue on questioning how EV production will impact labour/jobs (a subject rather close to home with our relatively recent Ford and Holden closures), and the other on materials.  So, apparently, it costs 30% less to manufacture the Ford electrical vehicles.  This will definitely affect production rates and employment long term.  Then there is also the issue of battery supply and the rare minerals (i.e., lithium, cobalt) needed to power them, said Farley.   Mr Farley stated, “We have to bring battery production here, but the supply chain has to go all the way to the mines.  That’s where the real cost is, and people in the U.S. don’t want mining in their neighbourhoods.  So, are we going to import lithium and pull cobalt from nation-states that have child labour and all sorts of corruption, or are we going to get serious about mining? …  We have to solve these things and we don’t have much time.”

Here in Australia, we haven’t jumped on the EV wagon just yet, and if we are going too, then there is so much infrastructure that will be needed to be implemented before owning an EV becomes a viable option for people like me.  Even the thought of the costs involved in getting the right infrastructure is eyewatering, and, like most impatient home renovators and idealistic politicians, the job must be done yesterday!  The hard working folk pay for it, of course!

There seems little patience on offer by many governments and climate change activists for making the move to EVs (and other new transportation technology like an EV repower on your existing car) a more balanced and delicate affair.  For now, owning an EV is very much for the elite, so Farley is on the right track when he says that the cost of EV ownership must be addressed very quickly.

Ford still has many plants throughout the U.S.  However, like other big automotive manufacturers, Ford also has locations right around the world.  Ford has many production plants scattered about the globe, and these include assembly plants, engine plants, forging plants, stamping plants and transmission plants.  Here, in Australia, Ford still has special engine production and stamping plants.

On a more local note, Ford has a new feature called ‘FordPass’ offered on all their new models sold in Australia.  FordPass has a few systems worthy of a mention that include:

Remote Start+, where minutes before leaving, you can start your connected vehicle’s engine from your mobile device in order to heat or cool the cabin using the last known climate control setting.

Vehicle Status, where you can check key variables such as fuel level and your odometer on the FordPass App to help plan your journey.

Remote Lock/Unlock, where, conveniently, you can use your mobile device to make sure the car doors are locked or unlocked without being anywhere near your vehicle.  If only it could do that for my house front door!

Vehicle Locator, where you can check your vehicle’s exact location in the FordPass App, which is particularly useful if you share your vehicle with one or more members of your household or if you have forgotten where you parked it.  However, if you’ve forgotten where you’ve parked it, then maybe you better get breath tested!

Vehicle Health Alerts, where the FordPass App sends Vehicle Health Alerts directly to your mobile device, pre-empting service needs and general maintenance such as low washer fluid.

Live Traffic, where this feature enhances your SYNC 3 Navigation system by delivering up-to-date traffic updates.  This technology allows you to adjust your recommended route based on the traffic conditions, helping you to arrive more relaxed and on time.

Ford Ranger Special Ediiton

In this second half of 2021, Ford Australia offer a nice broad range of vehicles that include the Puma, Escape and Everest SUVs; the Ford Focus car; the Ford Ranger Ute; the Transit Commercial range that has custom vehicles, vans, buses and cab-chassis models; the Ford Performance range that includes the Fiesta and Focus ST, the Focus ST-3, the Ranger Raptor, the Mustang and Mustang Mach-1; and the Special Edition Rangers and Everests.

It is good to see Ford keeping pace with any EV and hybrid automotive technology and movements; though at what societal and environmental cost?  New Ford vehicles are good, and Ford offers a very complete package for all new vehicles in the Ford range.  Once you’ve driven a Ford, its not so easy to change out of the brand come new car buying territory.

BMW Brilliance

BMW has always been a favourite standout brand of mine, and BMW is forging new models and technology even as we speak.  It has been a bit of a gruelling year-or-two with the covid shenanigans, and car manufactures are only one small segment of the global economic pie to have taken a sizable hit.  The shortage of semiconductors has been, and still is, a problem because cars rely on these items for controlling anything from your electric windows to all the fancy driving assistance aids.  However, the winds are changing, and the rebound is occurring.  Luxury car marques like BMW seem to be doing very well, and even with the electronic chip shortages being a bit of an issue it seems that BMW will get through this period in fairly good shape.  There is always a talking point re this special car marque; sometimes the designs might look great to some and not so flash for others, but there is always a gem being turned out from this great team of motoring designers and manufacturers.  BMW cars are more often than not great to drive, good looking, practical and advanced cars.

In this covid recovery period, various chief financial officers recently mentioned that, for now, luxury marques like BMW would consciously undersupply demand levels, which seems a prudent, sensible path to take, as BMW new car prices are holding up very well – quite bullish in fact.  The increased pricing power has already trickled down to the bottom lines for BMW and Daimler.  Mercedes achieved a 12.2% return on sales in the last reported quarter, which was up from 8.4% in the same period in 2018 (2018 being of a period not affected by the pandemic or diesel emissions litigation costs).  BMW achieved a 16% return on sales, which was up from 8.6% in 2018.  BMW also reported a $5.7 billion net profit in the second quarter of this year, suggesting global auto markets are continuing to recover from the pandemic — particularly when it comes to luxury cars like BMW and Mercedes.

BMW M4 Minty Green

This is great news for BMW and car lovers in general, but what’s new in BMW’s box of tricks?  A very cool thing that BMW revealed at the recent Munich Motorshow (early September 2021) was to be found in the BMW M4 corner, where this manic machine, with its impetuous acceleration, showed a jaw-dropping minty green sheen to its beautiful, sexy exterior.  The M4 Competition wore a Mint Green paint job and sat upon gorgeous bronze 20-inch rims.  Both of these options are available as part of the brand’s expanded BMW Individual customization line, which you can find on BMW’s online configurator, where more than 130 other paint options and eight different wheel options are available.  This latest BMW M4 Competition also had a new fibre front splitter, a restyled rear bumper, a rear wing, and some unique side skirts that were all made with carbon fibre.  Carbon fibre interior seating surfaces and trim pieces are also part of the online configurator.  So, try before you buy!

The Munich motor show also allowed the public to preview a hydrogen-electric BMW X5 that is due to enter very-limited production in 2022.  This is an exciting moment because the vehicle was first previewed in 2019 as the i Hydrogen Next concept.  It’s currently in the prototype stage, and early this month it was confirmed with the go ahead, going by the name of BMW iX5 Hydrogen.

A hydrogen-electric vehicle is like a battery-electric vehicle, but instead of drawing power from electricity out of the charged battery the hydrogen-electric vehicle relies on a hydrogen fuel-cell stack to produce electricity power.  BMW’s iX5 Hydrogen has the hydrogen fuel-cell positioned up front where it draws hydrogen from 2 tanks, one in the X5’s transmission tunnel and another under the rear seats.  The tanks are made from carbon-fibre-reinforced-plastic and can hold about 5.9 kg of hydrogen at more than 10,000 psi.  Tank filling takes only a few minutes.  The hydrogen fuel-cell combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to create electricity.  This process only has water (H2O) as a by-product – Wow!  The electricity primarily powers a single motor at the rear axle but is also used to charge a small battery that steps in from time-to-time to deliver extra grunt to the motor during high-load situations.

BMW iX5 Hydrogen Platform

The BMW iX5 Hydrogen will have a total system power output of 275 kW.  The hydrogen fuel cell, on its own, generates about 125 kW.  The vehicle’s aerodynamically shaped 22-inch wheels are wrapped in a new Pirelli tyre that is made from natural rubber and a wood-based synthetic fibre known as rayon.  These two materials replace much of the petroleum-based synthetic rubbers used in modern tyres.

The extensive field testing has already started in earnest within Europe.  Particular focus points have had the engineers examining how effectively the CO2-free drivetrain works in real-life conditions.  Also, they are measuring metrics which include reliability, safety, and efficiency during everyday conditions to ensure that the new model is perfect for mass production.  Hydrogen fuel cell technology has the potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems, and battery-electric vehicles.  The BMW iX5 Hydrogen has hydrogen tanks that can be filled quickly in only 3–4 minutes.

BMW states that the small batch of iX5 Hydrogen models that are destined to be built in 2022 will only be used for demonstration and testing purposes.  BMW doesn’t expect to have any hydrogen-electric vehicles at dealerships until 2025 at the earliest and depending on the direction that the automotive markets take.

Newest off the showroom floor is the all-new BMW iX3 with its refreshed exterior design.  The new BMW iX3 has a sexier appearance and introduces the M Sport Package as standard.  BMW has achieved an impressive CO2 emission assessment for this next-generation iX3, and the vehicle boasts an exceptionally efficient drive system.  Extensive use of secondary raw materials in the manufacture of aluminium castings and thermoplastics combines with the new iX3 boasting an absence of rare earth materials and the use of more green electricity in its production.

BMW iX3 2022

The BMW iX3 has a kidney grille that is larger still, and it has a single-piece frame that comes in Pearl-effect Chrome with blue accents to match with the BMW i styling cues.  Its headlights have been made slimmer.  It also boasts 19-inch black aerodynamic wheels, an automatic tailgate, adaptive suspension, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, and Smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

BMW is a bit of a landmark in the automotive world, a benchmark, the perfect blend of performance, luxury and practicality.  In the future, BMW wants to be ready to supply customers with their powertrain of choice, whether it be gasoline, diesel, battery or hydrogen.  In the case of hydrogen, BMW sees it as an opportunity for customers that favour long-distance driving or who happen to live in regions without adequate battery recharging infrastructure.

I have so many favourite BMWs and other cars, including the 4.0-litre Falcons, which have rolled our roads over the last few decades of motoring, but let’s not be nincompoops and let’s embrace new ways of automotive power; let’s embrace the new BMW i technology.

Pay-as-you-go rego back on the table

The controversial topic of car registration is back on the table again, and the notion of a pay-as-you-go system is back in the spotlight as the Victorian Government reportedly leads the assessment of the proposal. Amid the impact of COVID, which has seen many of us not use our cars at all, the issue has gathered extra attention, and it could even bring the topic to a head sooner than otherwise might have been the case.

Central to the discussion has been a recommendation from Infrastructure Victoria, which has proposed car rego fees be abolished in favour of a ‘user pays’ system. Although they have set an extended timeline for this, advising it happen within the next 10 years, that may actually be earlier than other bodies have advocated.

In voicing its support for the proposal, Infrastructure Victoria, which is an independent state government advisory body, argues that the transition to a pay-per-use system would discourage unnecessary driving and promote the uptake of public transport and the like. It believes the current car registration system effectively gives motorists a reason to use their vehicles frequently. Furthermore, the authoritative body suggests that a fixed-price rego does “not reflect the relative costs of providing road infrastructure, the costs of congestion, air and noise pollution, carbon emissions, and road trauma”.

 

 

Changes could be much broader

However, it isn’t just a pay-per-kilometre system that is under review. Infrastructure Victoria is also suggesting that drivers entering the inner city be slugged with a congestion charge. The target here is quote clear, insofar as trying to decrease vehicle use. In turn, that would alleviate traffic on our roads, while also doing more for the environment, residents, as well as ensuring a more ‘efficient’ commute.

Motorists could also be faced with the prospect of paying fees depending on the type of vehicle they drive. That is, cars with a greater impact on our roads and the environment could pay more than those with a more modest impact when it comes to noise and air pollution. Electric vehicles would be one of the beneficiaries under such a proposal, while large trucks would obviously carry the burden. In some weighs, our current system already seeks to address this point, albeit the independent state government advisory body believes there may be more room to fine-tune this.

It may even seem all well and good as far as intentions go, but then again, electric vehicle owners have recently been stung with their own separate pay-per-kilometre levy as of the start of July, in addition to their registration fees, which is sure to raise eyebrows given Infrastructure Victoria is pushing for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to be banned by 2030.

Alfa Romeo and Stellantis

There is change in the air for Alfa Romeo.  At the beginning of 2021, a multinational automotive manufacturing corporation called Stellantis was formed on the basis of a 50-50 cross-border merger between the Italian/American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA Group.  The headquarters of Stellantis is in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Alfa Romeo will be among the first of the 14 brands of Stellantis vehicles that will take a full-electric approach to its new cars.  Mentioned at a meeting recently, the new Stellantis group will see Alfa Romeo become a fully electric brand that will compete globally as early as 2027 – its key markets being that of China, Europe and the US.

It is possible that the first all-electric Alfa Romeo could be an electric subcompact crossover that will arrive 2023/24 and combine with similar models from Fiat and Jeep.  Stellantis has announced plans to introduce four electric platforms that will eventually cover most vehicles across the company’s 14 brands, and the models should have a power range of 300 – 500 miles (480 – 800 km).  Alfa Romeo will use a platform known as the STLA Large, which will also be used by Maserati.  There will also be platforms known as STLA Small and STLA Medium.  Stellantis says that Alfa Romeo will pursue two battery chemistries for its vehicles.  Right-hand drive development was also to be assured, so all future EV Alfa Romeo models could easily be driven in Australia.

Alfa Romeo Tonale

Next year we should see Alfa Romeo offering its first plug-in hybrid, which will be exciting.  I’m a big fan of hybrid technology.  The model will most likely be a compact crossover based on the recent Tonale concept.

Alfa Romeo Tonale

Until the arrival of the Alfa Romeo Tonale, Alfa Romeo Australia will still enjoy the fantastic-to-drive Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and Alfa Romeo Stelvio mid-size SUV.  For 2021, the Stelvio SUV and Giulia sedan boast some more new technology inside the cars, which includes Level Two advanced driver assistance systems such as traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed control, active blind-spot assist and driver attention assist.

Currently, the entry level Stelvio puts out 148 kW of power and 330 Nm of torque from the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.  You should be able to buy a new one of these for around the $65k mark.

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Fiat Happenings

Scattered around Australia are numerous Fiat outlets with showroom teams that are willing to buy, sell and service any of their special brand of car.  You’ll find a Fiat showroom in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong, Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast.  There are even more places around Australia who are experts in servicing or accessing parts for your Fiat or Fiat Abarth vehicles.  This leaves you very little need to hold off being the proud owner of a new or used Italian legend should you so desire.

New 2021/2022 Fiat vehicles offer a variety of small 4- and 5-seater cars that come as standard little hatchbacks or hatchbacks with a bit more Abarth pep and performance.  The Abarth brand are the performance models that are special Fiat 500s with lots of fun and plenty of zip to make your drive both entertaining and unique.  The standard Fiat 500 is a surprisingly roomy small car that is comfortable and efficient to drive.

Fiat also does a range of commercial vehicles that are mainly a variety of medium and large vans.  These are popular vans for businesses because Fiat offer their range of modern, safe vans at a reasonable price, and the team are willing to back their vans up with a competitive servicing and warranty package for any of their new Fiat-commercial-model buyers.  Fiat also offer the Ducato in a range of motorhome and camper styles.

Fiat really is a quintessential “Made in Italy” stamp with all its Italian history, style, constant innovation and decent quality being part of the modern range.  The recent Fiat 500 has seen 80% of its sales outside of Italy, and it is a model that leads the city car segment in Europe together with its cute little sibling, the Fiat Panda.

Recently, the introduction of the Hybrid Fiat 500 and Panda has given an extra boost to the sales of both models.  These are exceptionally economical cars.  In Italy, the stylish Fiat 500X has been refreshed, ready to continue playing a leading role in many Italian family’s lives.  Indeed, since its launch in 2014, the Fiat 500X has always led its segment in Italy, and the car regularly features in the European top 10 small-car segment.

Recent news from Fiat in Europe has seen some other new model launches, which would also be nice to see become available here in Australia – particularly for those of us who want to get the benefits of driving a small and efficient car with Italian style.  The final months of last year saw the new Fiat 500, Tipo, Tipo Cross and Panda range, and so Fiat has brought 2021 around with the entire line-up of cars being completely refreshed.

A lot of effort has gone into providing new Fiats and Abarths with all the latest technology, safety, comfort and style for each new variant.  New models also boast Euro 6D-Final-compliant engines across the entire range.  The Connect trim level is directed at customers who want to stay connected at all times.  Models with Connect come standard with the 7-inch Uconnect infotainment system with DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the easy and efficient way to exploit the services of your device while travelling in your car.

Standard features of the 2021 Fiat 500 also includes cruise control, a sports steering wheel with built-in controls, 15-inch alloy wheels and fog lights.  You can also select the dedicated new Perbene Grey/Vesuvius Black two-tone insignia.  The 2021/2022 Fiat 500X comes with black seats, a techno-leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels, blacked-out windows, fog lights, LED DRLs, parking sensors, along with dusk sensors and rain sensors.

Here is a picture of the stunning little Abarth F595.  Check out the gorgeous body kit and quad exhausts!

Abarth F595

New EV SUVs

We still seem to be desiring the SUV over other shapes and styles of car.  This is for reasons that I can understand; things like safety, space and ride comfort tend to be found in spades when you travel inside a decent-size SUV.  Because we are likely to go through a period of history where the EV may well rule the road, are there any SUV-type EVs available now?  EVs aren’t selling like hot cakes just yet, but there some EV SUVs bigger than a pint-sized Honda E that you might be interested in.  It turns out that, actually, there are some pretty decent EV SUVs available to the buyer loaded with cash.  As yet, they aren’t the cheapest vehicles on the planet, particularly if they are of the premium luxury brands, but it’s nice to know that if you did have the money, and wanted a spacious and desirable luxury model, they are already being sold out on the market.

Tesla has the jump on its competition, and they already have a decent wodge of EV clients under their wings.  Because it was pretty much the first EV manufacturer to design and build a decent EV, it was Tesla who soaked up the early adopters of Tesla’s EV technology, and it was these buyers who were very keen to align and embrace the new EV technology early on.  What is happening now, is that because other manufacturers are only now getting fully into the swing of EV technology, the keenest buyers have already been wooed and taken by Tesla, so, for instance, if you are an Audi e-tron or Jaguar I-Pace, you have a slightly harder job of getting your buyers because you have to actually entice them away from their luxury ICE vehicles and into one of their EV variants.

Tesla Model X

Let’s first give credit where credit is due, and let’s talk about the Tesla Model X EV SUV.  The Model X can come with an optional six seats, the middle row boasting full-on Captain’s chairs.  The five-seat Model X is the standard guise.  I love the falcon-wing doors; they look so cool and make life very easy getting in and out of the car – even in tight parking spaces with as little as 11-inches on either side.  Tesla’s Model X cabin is nice, big, and comfortable.  Up the front, there is a big infotainment display screen on the dash.  This is as big and as good as it gets in any car.  The roof/ceiling is also a huge display screen, which is tinted so that the glare from the sun is minimised.  The Tesla feels extremely modern but also, at the same time, quite a simple car that is fun to live with.  It has funny features like a Fart Mode, which is an emissions testing mode that allows the car to perform fart sequencing and farting whenever it requires to do so.  People outside don’t escape the sounds either.  This feature does leave one in hysterics – you have been warned!  The Tesla Model X is very different to anything else on the road, and that makes it a unique drive.  Out on the road, the Tesla Model X is quick, and its ride does a pretty good job of soaking up the bumps.  There are better handling cars like the Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace, however.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 100kWh battery
  • Weight: 2459 kg
  • Range: Claimed at over 500 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 310 kW of power
  • 660 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 250 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.9 seconds

Tesla Model X

Audi e-tron

Audi’s new e-tron has five seats, all rather comfortable and impeccably crafted.  The touchscreen system is classy, right up-to-date, and detailed.  You do have plenty of menus to work through before finally getting to where you want to be in the infotainment set-up.  On the road, the Audi e-tron is exceptionally well-sorted.  It feels really tight around the corners, smooth and very quiet.  Though EVs are generally heavy vehicles, the e-tron disguises its mass very well, indeed.  There is plenty of well thought-out storage compartments throughout the cabin, and on a day-to-day basis this is a nice EV SUV to live with.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 95kWh battery
  • Weight: 2490 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 385 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 300 kW of power
  • 664 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 200 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 5.7 seconds

Audi e-tron

Volvo XC40

Volvo’s XC40 Pure Electric Hybrid is a smaller luxury EV SUV.  Safety features include autonomous emergency braking, run-off-road assist and up to Level 2 self-driving in heavy traffic situations.  It’s available with AWD and uses a nice silent, smooth electric set-up.  The Volvo’s version of an EV SUV is a gem.  The XC40 looks and feels very modern, and the XC40’s cabin is impressively spacious.  Standard equipment levels are high and include a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel with configurable EV-specific displays, panoramic sunroof, heated front power seats, and inductive charging for your smartphone. Also standard, is the full suite of Volvo safety features, including lane keep assist, blind-spot and cross-traffic alert, and rear collision alert.  The 460 litres of boot space opens up to 1336 litres with the rear seats folded down flat.  These can be bought new for around $85k, making this a well-priced premium luxury EV SUV that is comfortable and swift.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 78kWh battery
  • Weight: 2158 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 418 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300/350 km.
  • 300 kW of power
  • 659 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 180 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.7 seconds

Volvo XC40 Recharge Electric

Jaguar I-Pace

In my opinion, the Jaguar I-Pace wins the EV SUV beauty contest.  From every angle it looks nice, athletic, and the perfect blend of old and new design.  Even with its GT lines there is a nice amount of space inside the EV Jag.  To drive, the Jaguar I-Pace is wonderful.  It feels very crisp through the corners and it even has a satisfying growl that flows through the speaker system as you plant your right foot and accelerate hard.  Compared with its rivals, the new Jaguar I-Pace weighs in at a comparatively light 2.0 tonnes.  This is a lovely EV SUV and is probably the one I’d prefer most of all the snobbish EV SUVs currently on sale.

  • Twin electric motors
  • 90kWh battery
  • Weight: 2068 kg
  • Range: Claimed at around 420 km, real world driving more likely to be around 300 km.
  • 294 kW of power
  • 695 Nm of torque
  • Top speed: 200 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 4.5 seconds

Jaguar I-Pace

BMW’s latest iX and Mercedes Benz’s EQC are some other luxury EV SUVs worth a look at.  And then some other considerations that are substantially cheaper than the premium EV SUVs mentioned above would be the small Mercedes-Benz EQA and the very good MG ZS EV, Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro.

Some big reasons why you’d want to change to a EV SUV right now would be the driving smoothness, the driving silence, self-driving safety features, and the potential for saving money at the “pump”.  I think it was Top Gear who recently suggested that, on average, the running costs of one of these were on a par with an equivalent petrol car capable of 73 mpg (3.2 litres/100 km).  That’s if you were to do most of your charging at home and not at public charging stations.