Blog: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Kelli B. Kavanaugh is Model D's development news editor and writes a weekly column, Green Space, for metromode. She also frequently writes for the Metro Times.

Prior to becoming a full-time freelance writer, she worked for eight years in community development in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, where she still resides. She is still involved in her community, serving on the boards of the Greater Corktown Development Corporation and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy.

Kelli moved to Detroit in 1994 to attend the University of Detroit Mercy, from which she graduated with a degree in civil and environmental engineering.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni
Kelli B. Kavanaugh - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 5

The last two trends I saw in green technologies at the Auto Show...

Guilt-Free Luxury: For those consumers who can afford to have their environmental cake and eat it too, manufacturers are rolling out the red carpet. This high-end market is promising: Tesla has already pre-sold all of its $98,000 2008 Roadsters.

Two manufacturers you might not have heard of, Fisker and Visionary, both rolled out high-end hybrids. Fisker's uses a lithium-ion battery that can run for 50 miles before it has to use its small four-cylinder gasoline engine. It can also accelerate from 0 to 60 MPH in 5.8 seconds. It will set its buyer back a mere $80,000 and will go into production in late 2009.

Visionary Vehicles is a relative bargain -- its sedan (comparable to a Mercedes S-class) will cost $35,000 and can travel 40 to 50 miles on its plug-in hybrid battery. BMW is also jumping into the hybrid market with its X6 coupe.

As for biofuels, the Ferrari F430 Spider concept and GM's Hummer HX both burn E85 ethanol.

Clean Diesel:
I've already written about clean diesel at some length (check it out here for info about emissions and such), so I'll skip the science lesson, but it is safe to say that it has become an option in the arsenal of cleaner fuels. Mercedes Benz and Volkswagon have kind of been out in front on this, at least stateside, but Jeep (Cherokee and Renegade concept) and BMW (X5 xDrive35d and 335d) are entering the race.

Toyota announced that it will offer a diesel option for its Tundra and Sequoia and Daimler showed its GLK compact sport utility vehicle with a diesel option that can get up to 35 MPG. Finally, Land Rover unveiled a diesel-electric hybrid concept that gets 50 MPG.

Thanks for reading me this week.

Post No. 4

There is so much hype surrounding the Auto Show, it's kind of grody. But it is what it is, one of this region's biggest annual events and a major economic stimulus.

I pray that something -- expansion, remodeling, anything, please -- happens to Cobo Hall, as it is literally one of the most depressing public structures to which I've ever been. Can a new Joe Louis just be announced already, for god's sake?

Also, an elevated walkway to the Sheraton is one thing, but to the Renaissance Center? Um, that's a really, really long walkway. And isn't there a People Mover stop at both places? Just sayin'.

</end rant>

Anyhoo, when it comes to green technologies at the show, there were many and myriad. I definitely get the impressions that no manufacturer wants to put their eggs in one energy basket, which is reasonable, but I wish I felt more of a sense of urgency, like a full-on race to the future (or maybe that's the AXP vibe rubbing off on me!).

I sorted through the green technologies presented at the show and divvied them up roughly into four categories: plug-in hybrids, guilt-free luxury, standard engine fuel efficiency and diesel. I'll tackle two today and two Wednesday.

Plug-in hybrids: Of course, the Chevy Volt, last year's Auto Show superstar, led the mainstream charge for plug-in hybrids, but will not be available until 2010.

Chrysler, widely acknowledged to be the perennial tortoise in this race introduced three concept plug-in vehicles, the eco-Voyager, a four-door passenger sedan, the two-seater Renegade and the all-electric Dodge ZEO sport wagon. But will concept become reality?

And finally, Toyota announced it will have a plug-in ready for purchase in 2010 -- for a face-off with the Volt -- and promised to announce two more models at next year's Detroit Auto Show.

Fuel efficiency:
A push for fuel efficiency with good-old fashioned internal combustion engines could be seen as well. Ford is putting its chips behind the EcoBoost engine, a more fuel-efficient powertrain that it plans to use in about 500,000 vehicles in North America during the next five years. The engine uses direct-injection and turbocharging technologies and costs less to make than a hybrid -- and Ford is claiming a 20% increase in fuel efficiency.

Another example of this is in the Smart Car which simply gets 60 miles per gallon. No mumbo-jumbo, just a smaller, lighter vehicle that uses less gas. Overall, small car sales are expected to grow 25% through 2012 so look for cars -- like the Ford Verve -- that are already available overseas to be rolled out over here to meet that demand.

Post No. 3

Green overload, green overload! It seems like every single article I've read in the past week has talked about the greening of the North American International Auto Show, the Big Three's new commitment to alternative energy and blah blah blah.

Forreals, it is great to see every manufacturer include green elements in their displays. But we also saw the pick-up battle continue, with the Dodge Ram, Ford F250 and Toyota Tundra going toe to toe.

A lot of talk was about the fact that there was no Chevy Volt this year -- meaning a singular vehicle that captured the world's attention like the Volt did in 2007.

In my estimation, the biggest announcement was not about a vehicle or a technology, but that General Motors is investing into an Illinois ethanol company that will produce 50 to 100 million gallons of fuel a year by 2011. The best part is that the company, Coskata, will use waste products to create the fuel rather than corn or other food products. (I'm of the belief that the whole corn thing is a house of cards.)

What is revolutionary about this -- think about it -- is that an vehicle manufacturer is getting into the fuel business. I think this is a very strong strategy for GM, and I would not be surprised if it becomes more common industry-wide.

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about some of the trends that stood out at the NAIAS, so today I'll conclude with a few snippets of green stuff that I just couldn't fit into one of my categories. Jerks.
  • Plymouth-based Johnson Controls introduced a headliner (it's the fabric on the interior of a  car's roof -- I had to look that one up on Wikipedia) called Ecoband that uses natural materials like hemp, flax and knaf instead of fiberglass along with a soy-based adhesive.

  • Some Cadillac Escalades will have LED headlights.

  • A limited number of Honda customers in California will start test-driving the fuel cell-powered FCX Clarity later this year.
Next up: diesels and plug-ins and luxury, oh my!

Post No. 2

Any initiative of any kind would give their left hand to land a cover story in Wired the very month it makes its formal public debut. But that's exactly what's going on with the Auto X Prize, featured in this month's issue.

But the Auto X Prize (AXP) has the type of back-story that lures media like mice to cheese. A (minimum) $10 million prize will be awarded a team that produces a vehicle that achieves 100 miles per gallon while emitting less than 200 grams of greenhouse gases per mile -- and has a business plan in place that demonstrates that 10,000 of the cars can be produced in a year. Any team that passes that threshold will then compete in a series of races throughout 2009 and 2010.

Funded by the X Prize Foundation, an organization with a history of big cash prizes for scientific innovation, the contest has lured more than 50 teams from seven countries. The X Prize Foundation was founded by Peter Diamandis, who was inspired by Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic (I didn't realize Lindy's Hop netted him a $25,000 prize!).

It's exciting to think of the inspired minds hard at work across the globe on this problem -- but it raises the question: Why is there not a 100 MPG car already? If a large manufacturer had put serious energy in this years ago, it would already be the norm.

AXP executive director Donald Foley sees the contest as one that has the potential to grasp the public's imagination, much the way that Lindbergh's flight once did. "It excited American people, the world," he says. "It spurred further innovations."

Further innovations in this case might mean that the letters MPG become relics of a silly, wasteful era in which humans came to depend on a finite resource.

One last thing: AXP has issued an RFP for cities interested in hosting one of the 10 on-road races. How cool -- and fitting -- would it be for Detroit to be one of them?

On Monday, I'll start in on the Auto Show itself.

Post No. 1

I write about environmental issues. A lot. Sometimes I do get bored of always researching and talking about the same thing over and over, but it's something I've always been passionate about -- I was that annoying kid who started up a recycling program at my elementary school.

What is unfortunate is that this week, the very week I am to blog about the greening of the Auto Show and other environmental issues, I am tired of it all.

I am discouraged by the fact that although I see more shoppers at Eastern Market carrying tote bags, there are still way more who carry like six plastic bags at once.

Although sprawl is a well-documented social and environmental ill, I saw McMansions being built in Oakland County just the other day. In this economy, that is just madness.

And the presidential candidates are getting more coverage for their race and gender than than issues like water and transit. On that note, how about the fact that transit is still not here in Southeast Michigan -- and that there are people alive who are actually against it?

OK, enough bitching. We all know we are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to environmental issues. Which is why it is heartening that, despite this area's less-than-progressive track record when it comes to such things, there are some really good, albeit nascent, programs and people and stuff around us. At least enough to give me something to write about every week!

For the purposes of this blog, I will be focused primarily on the automotive world (which is why I wrote about transit in this week's Green Space). Tomorrow, I will be writing about the Auto X Prize, a contest "going public" at the Auto Show that is pretty exciting. And next week, I will talk about the greening of the Auto Show in general as well as some of the specific technologies showcased.

And I promise not to bitch so much.