Friday, April 28, 2006

Two hybrids chosen by PC Magazine in the Digita Drive Awards

The Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius were chosen by PC Magazine as two of the top ten most technologically advanced cars on the market.

The Honda Civic Hybrid was described as the best affordable car you can buy today. Noted for its reliability, its technologies make it "exceptionally eco-friendly." Honda's version of a hybrid uses the electric motor to give a boost to it's engine, not as a replacement (unlike the Prius which can run on the electric engine alone at low speeds).

The Toyota Prius was ranked lower than the Honda Civic based on it poorer navigation system, even though its fuel economy is phenomenal.

Ratings in the Digital Drive Awards were based on the toys and tech available (even as options) in the car, rather than the car itself. In other words, the hybrid engine was a plus, but not a deciding factor.

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Senators protest high gas prices

Too bad most of them hopped into SUVs afterwards.

The Washington Post ran a story by Dana Milbank outlining the protest by Senators using rhetoric similar to the following:

"Since George Bush and Dick Cheney took over as president and vice president, gas prices have doubled!" charged Sen. Barbara Boxer. "They are too cozy with the oil industry."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) posed in front of the fuel prices and gave them a thumbs down. "Get tough on big oil!" he demanded.

Sen. Barbar then hopped in a waiting Chrysler LHS which only gets 18 mpg and Sen Charles Schumer jumped into a Hyundai Elantra. Too bad the trip back and forth to the gas station was only one block.

Don't think that Republicans got away from Milbank's keen observations on being 'addicted to oil.' It seems the Republicans were having their weekly caucus around the same time. The House driveway was jammed with cars, many idling, including eight Chevrolet Suburbans (14 mpg).

Amazingly, Senators are routinely shuttled back and forth from the Senate to their offices, even though it's only across the street. The greenest senator (in this context) is the Republican from Indiana, Richard Lugar, who was picked up by his hybrid Toyota Prius (60 mpg).

Self-serving self-service for senators --

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

GM, DaimlerChrysler, BMW Premiere Unprecedented Hybrid Technology

BMW Group, GM and DaimlerChrysler got together to create the Global Alliance for Hybrid Drive Development. GM and DaimlerChrysler signed binding, definitive agreements on August 22, 2005. BMW Group signed on September 7, 2005. Their goal was to research and create a base two-mode hybrid design. Today they announced success.

They've developed a low and high-speed electric continuously variable transmission (ECVT), commonly known as the 2-mode hybrid. They've also put in place four fixed gear ratios for higher efficiency and power handling.
In summary, the four fixed gears overlay two ECVT modes for a total of six operating functions:

  • Input-split ECVT mode, or continuously variable Mode 1, operates from vehicle launch through the second fixed gear ratio.
  • Compound-split ECVT mode, or continuously variable Mode 2, operates after the second fixed gear ratio.
  • First fixed-gear ratio with both electric motors available to boost the internal combustion engine or capture and store energy from regenerative braking, deceleration and coasting.
  • Second fixed-gear ratio with one electric motor available for boost/braking,
  • Third fixed-gear ratio with two electric motors available for boost/braking.
  • Fourth fixed-gear ratio with one electric motor available for boost/braking.

  • The full hybrid system being co-developed by General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and the BMW Group has an overall mechanical content and size similar to a conventional automatic transmission, yet this full hybrid transmission can operate in infinitely variable gear ratios or one of the four fixed-gear ratios.

    A sophisticated electronic control module constantly optimizes the entire hybrid powertrain system to select the most efficient operation point for the power level demanded by the driver.

    Traditional hybrid systems typically have only one torque-splitting arrangement and no fixed mechanical ratios. These systems are often called “one-mode” hybrids. Due to their less capable mechanical content, one-mode hybrids need to transmit a significant amount of power through an electrical path that is 20 percent less efficient than a mechanical path. This requires usually substantial compromise in vehicle capability or reliance on larger electrical motors, which can create cost, weight and packaging issues.

    Existing internal combustion engines can be used with relatively minimal alteration because the full hybrid system imposes no significant limitation on the size or type of engine. It enables the three global automakers to package internal combustion engines with the full hybrid transmissions more cost-effectively and offer the fuel-saving technology across a wider range of vehicles.

    Initial applications are suitable for front-engine, rear- and four-wheel-drive vehicle architectures, but the full hybrid system has the flexibility to be used in front-engine, front-wheel-drive architectures in the future as well.

    The Global Alliance for Hybrid Drive Development is centered in Troy, Michigan at the "GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW Hybrid Development Center"

    The group hopes to move into production of the two-mode hybrid next year.

    Source: Press Release

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    Baltimore rolls out hybrid buses

    Baltimore will be rolling out 10 new electric-diesel hybrid buses this spring. And if it works out, 300 more will be on the road by 2012.

    Eighty percent of the funding for the buses is coming from the federal government. Considering conventional diesel buses cost $370K and the hybrid costs $600K, that's quite a savings.

    The buses are 20 percent more fuel efficient and can reduce emissions of particle matter up to 90 percent more than standard diesel engines, state officials said.

    The buses are full hybrids, capable of all electric power at lower speeds (under 12 mph).

    Baltimore Business Journal

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    Ghosn predicting Nissan's deal with Toyota won't last

    Nissan CEO, Carlos Ghosn, says the deal to buy Toyota's hybrid technology (synergy drive) won't last long. Toyota's hybrid techology will be used in the new Nissan Altima Hybrid, available in late 2006 or 2007.

    At a press conference to announce Nissan's earnings for the fiscal year, Ghosn had this to say about the deal with Toyota: "I don't think this agreement will go for a very long time. We have other projects and are developing our own technology."

    Nissan is currently working on their own hybrid technology but is far behind in its development. They have made some promising claims about their research, claiming their hybrid engine will be 35% smaller and cost 30% less than current hybrid systems. Its inverter alone will cost 30% less and be 20% smaller, with double the power.

    The Nissan approach to hybrids has been cautious. For instance, the Altima Hybrid will only be available in eight states which have a zero emissions vehicle mandate. And just recently, Ghosn stated "Hybrid is a serious technology and it may be a very competitive technology. But until a consumer decides what he wants, we are cautious." And: "I hate selling cars at a loss," saying hybrids were not a profitable proposition.

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    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Review those hybrid costs

    MSN Money has put together a nice review of the cost to own a hybrid vehicle today. They wanted to know if buying a hybrid is worth the up front cost (on average $3K more). They review the Toytoa Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Accord Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid (as a side note, they mention the Mercury Mariner Hybrid as the luxury version of the Ford Escape Hybrid), Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Lexus RX 400h. They left out the Honda Insight, since it's a low production vehicle.

    The cost savings comparisons (see quote below for how they evaluated cost savings) for the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius are favorable, but the same can't be said for the SUVs (Highlander, Escape, Lexus RX400h) and the Honda Accord Hybrid. All four will cost more to own ($1880 for the Escape up to $3750 for the Toyota Highlander) over a five year period. Of course, estimates of fuel savings are hard to evaluate, given how much gas prices have fluctuated lately.

    I have some questions about how they reviewed these cars. First, why include the Toyota Camry hybrid if you can't evaluate it, yet? I suppose mentioning it, as it is the next big hybrid to come out, makes sense, but why give it its own evaluation?

    Also, why compare the Prius to the Corolla? I've seen this done before, and I understand why it's 'comparable', but that doesn't mean everyone does. They should have explained their choice. All other comparisons are against the gas-only counterpart.

    All in all MSN Money came out with a good succinct review of the hybrids that are available today.

    MSN Money

    * The MPG numbers are the Environmental Protection Agency's, and therefore inflated, but they work for relative comparisons. You can get gas-mileage estimates from hybrid drivers at

    * Green scores are based on ratings from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a Washington, D.C., think tank. The 1-to-5 scale (5 is the most environmentally friendly) reflects fuel economy as well as pollutants from vehicle tailpipes.

    * The five-year cost estimate includes car-loan payments, fees and taxes, fuel, insurance, maintenance, repairs and depreciation, plus the interest you'll lose on the extra money you pay for the hybrid. The federal 2006 tax credit is also reflected. This credit starts to phase out after a carmaker's 2006-or-later sales reach 60,000, so if you buy a Toyota or Lexus hybrid later this year, you might get a smaller credit. The numbers come from Vincentric.

    * Finally, we say how much you would save (a negative number) or lose over five years versus a non-hybrid equivalent.

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    Ford plans on hybrid growth

    Ford is hoping to get in on the hybrid sales growth by upping the number of hybrids available. Although there are only 11 hybrids on the road today, there may be 52 available by 2012. JD Powers is predicting 780,000 hybrids will be sold in 2012.

    Read all about Ford's hybrid plans: Press Release follows:

    Ford Readies to Ramp up Hybrid Program
    By: Michael J. Ureel | Ford Communications Network

    DEARBORN, April 24, 2006 - As Ford Motor Company ramps up its hybrid program, the Ford Escape Hybrid continues to be a leader among stiff competition in a burgeoning U.S. hybrid market.

    While hybrid sales are still relatively small, volumes are anticipated to grow by 268 percent between 2005 and 2012, according to the most recent update of the J.D. Power and Associates Automotive Forecasting Services Hybrid-Electric Vehicle Outlook. Hybrid vehicle sales are expected to grow from approximately 212,000 vehicles in 2005 to 780,000 by 2012.

    "Future growth will be the result of more vehicle manufacturers entering the hybrid-electric market and a greater number of hybrid models," said Anthony Pratt, senior manager of global powertrain forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates, in a news release. "There are currently only 11 hybrid models available in the U.S. market, and by 2012 that number could increase to 52 models."

    Ford Motor Company is set to add to its own hybrid fleet. The Mazda Tribute Hybrid is expected out later this year, and by 2008/2009, Ford will have five hybrids on the road, including the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Mazda Tribute. By 2010, Ford plans to increase its global hybrid production to approximately 250,000 hybrid units annually, offering a hybrid power option in up to half of its Ford, Lincoln and Mercury nameplates.

    "The Fusion/Milan will be our second generation of hybrid system, which will take all the lessons learned from the Escape/Marineer hybrid and build upon them," said Tom Watson, Manager, Propulsion System Implementation, Ford Research & Advanced Engineering. "We will provide a system that is even more capable for performance and fuel economy, than what we have in the marketplace now.

    And by late 2009, early 2010, Ford will be introducing its third generation of hybrid system on products like the new Ford Edge CUV. The third-generation system, said Watson, will be V6-capable, and the lead applications will be V6 engine hybrid systems. Ford will also be working more closely with Volvo, Land Rover and Mazda to deliver hybrid vehicles globally, he said.

    To meet future hybrid program demands, Ford is in the process of strengthening its hybrid team and building its supply base.

    "There's going to be some really key things to meet the commitments we have to our hybrid plans," said Nancy Gioia, director, Sustainable Mobility Technology and Hybrid Programs. "One is we have to have the right people and skills in place - and we have a tremendous, strong team we've built over the last year with over 300 talented people. And the other part is we have to have product that is out there and meets customer needs."

    Ford is also revamping its hybrid supply base, moving away from one dependent on Toyota-based suppliers.

    "As we grow and our volumes grow, we need to make sure our North American supply stream is there to grow with us," said Gioia. "And we've made good progress in developing, and continuing to develop, a supply community that will be able to be there with us as we expand."

    So far, Ford's efforts in hybrid technology has earned some accolades from the automotive press, like the recent rave review of the Escape Hybrid from Road & Track Magazine.

    "The Escape is the most non-hybrid-like hybrid I've driven," said Jim Hall, Road & Track online editor, in the article in the May issue. "In its propulsion, brake feel and handling, Ford's fuel-efficient entry performs just like a 'regular SUV.' This is an excellent choice for those who want a hybrid without the funky driving dynamics."

    Bert Swift, the magazine's associate art director said: "The Ford Escape Hybrid certainly provides an improvement in fuel economy and less hunting of rpm on climbing hills, while being near-transparent around town."

    The magazine tested Ford, Toyota and Honda hybrids against the same non-hybrid models in their fleet. The Ford Escape Hybrid had the best fuel economy and performance against the non-hybrid Escape-making it a better value.

    Last year, the Escape Hybrid earned the coveted 2005 North American Truck of the Year award, and was named the 2006 Top SUV under $30,000 by AAA. The Mercury Mariner Hybrid was named the first-ever "2006 Green Car of the Year" by Green Car Journal.

    "The Road & Track report is yet another indication of the performance, quality and value of our hybrids," said Gioia. "Consumers are more and more coming to see that they can own an environmentally friendly hybrid without compromising on anything."

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    Bush wants to lift cap on hybrid tax credit

    Once an automaker sells 60,000 eligible vehicles, the tax credit phases out for that company's customers. In an effort to deal with high gas prices, President Bush said Tuesday he wants to remove that cap. Bush spoke to a convention of Renewable Fuels Association, which represents producers of ethanol.

    The cap was designed as an incentive for sales of GM and Ford hybrid cars. Toyota, with its popular Highlander and Prius, is expected to hit the cap later this year. But it should take Ford and GM a lot longer to hit that cap.

    The tax credit allows consumers who buy hybrids to get a tax credit ranging from $250 up to $3,400, depending on how efficient the car is and what type of car it is.

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    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    Bush temporarily halts switchover to ethanol

    According to an AP report, President Bush has ordered a temporary suspension of the new environmental rules for gasoline. Which means refineries can mix additives (MBTE) at the refineries, rather than mixing ethanol at the pump. He also halted the purchase of crude oil for the government's emergency reserve for the summer months.

    This should relieve some of the gas price increases we have been seeing nationwide, but at what cost? Despite the political timebomb for Bush and the Republicans, the environmental measures were created for a reason. Ethanol being mixed at the filling station, rather than MBTE at the refinery was an environmental initiative passed by Congress and signed by the president.

    The properties of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MBTE) allow more oxygen into gasoline and as such it falls into a category of chemicals referred to as "oxygenates." MBTE is being phased out because it was being found in the water supply all across the nation. But then, Congress is currently considering blocking any lawsuits against MBTE industries, which will protect them in the future. AP News

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    One in three seriously considering buying a hybrid

    The Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Personal Finance Poll conducted a poll on April 4 - 6th in the US. They asked respondents a series of questions on their interest in buying or leasing a new vehicle, how they would pay for it and how interested they were in buying a hybrid/alternative-fueled vehicle.

    They estimate that one of three US adults planning on purchasing or leasing a new vehicle would seriously consider an alternative-fuel vehicle. Top reasons include the effect on the environment and lower fuel costs.

    Of those who would seriously consider buying hybrids, 92% would pay more for it than a traditional, gasoline powered version.

    Harris Interactive interviewed 2,516 US adults. 25% of those interviewed said they would consider a hybrid (7% ethanol and 2% diesel). Of those who would consider buying an alternative car, 28% live in the West, 36% are 18 to 34, 44% are college graduates and 40% have an income of $75K or more.

    92% said they would pay more for an alternative fueled vehicle (question was 'a penny more'). Of those who would consider paying more, the average extra they are willing to pay is $9,258.

    Those in the south are willing to pay more ($10,786) than those in the West ($9,343 extra), Midwest ($8,648 extra) or Northeast ($7,418 extra). Women are more willing to pay more ($11,274 extra) compared with men ($7,506 extra).

    47% of those who would seriously consider buying a hybrid stated that their main reason for doing so is to better the environment. Another 45% stated their main reason is lower fuel costs. Only 3% mentioned the federal tax credit and 1% mentioned HOV or carpool lanes.

    Women are almost twice as likely to cite environmental concerns (62% to 34%), while 52% of men cite fuel costs compared to only 36% women. Northeast (54%) and Midwest (55%) regions are most likely to cite fuel costs, while Western region are more likely (64%) to cite environmental concerns.

    Source: First seen at greencarcongress. Poll results located at Harris.

    These results contradict a recent Gallup poll that said 57% of Americans would consider buying or leasing a hybrid when they next purchase a car.

    According to a recent Gallup poll, 57% of Americans would consider buying or leasing a hybrid when they next purchase a car. Upper-income Americans are slightly more likely than lower-income Americans (62% vs. 55%) to say they would seriously consider buying a hybrid when purchasing their next car.

    In the Gallup poll, 59% of lower income ($50K or less) families had cut back on driving, while only 36% of those who made more had cut back on driving because of fuel costs.

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    Hybrid interest grows as gas prices increase

    As gas prices soar, there is growing talk and general interest in alternative engine types, including hybrid cars.

    Gas prices have increased for several reasons the past few weeks. The switchover from the additive called MBTE to ethanol and the normal hike due to the summer traveling season have combined to set new highs in gas prices in areas across the country.

    But there is a lot of misinformation going around about hybrid sales increasing (1,2, and 3) and decreasing at the same time. It seems that most reporters would just like to make a surface examination and move on without exploring further.

    It seems that most reporters feel the Prius sells well because of its distinctive look, but the other hybrids have not succeeded since their designs are so similar to those of their gas only counterparts. But what's really making a difference in sales is the reputation of the car maker and design of the hybrid car itself.

    For instance, despite the increase in gas prices, performance hybrid sales have slipped in the past few months as consumers have shyed away from the extra cost without a gain in fuel economy. A Honda representative even suggested they may cut back on production of the Accord hybrid.

    These performance hybrids have been losing ground to those hybrid cars developed for fuel economy, such as the Honda Civic and the Toyota Prius. Obviously, consumers are willing to pay extra for performance cars. But they do seem to be reluctant to spend more on hybrid performance.

    For those who are looking for larger SUVs, but still want hybrid economy, the Toyota Highlander and the Lexus Rx400h have been the big winners so far. Not because they are that much better than the Ford Escape or Mercury Mariner, but because Toyota has a better reputation for quality than Ford does. And even though sales at Ford had slowed, sales of Ford hybrids have been increasing, especially in this past month, with the spike in gas prices.

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    Monday, April 24, 2006

    Gas shortages are minimal and scattered

    With the switchover to ethanol in gasoline from the additive MBTE, gas shortages are occuring at some filling stations across the US. The disruption may continue for several months according to US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

    It's not the supply of ethanol that's the problem. It's the logistics of shipping it to where it needs to be that is causing the issues relating to the shortages. The ethanol is actually mixed at the stations, rather than at the refineries, as MBTE was. That and the filling stations need to empty out and clean the tanks before the switch-over. The cleaning process can take up to two days.

    In early April, up to 60 service stations in Dallas ran out of gasoline, because the tanker trucks that would normally be delivering their gas were delivering ethanol instead.

    The average price of gasoline is rising to $3 a gallon with concerns over the switchover, the summer traveling season, and leftover issues relating to Katrina all contributing to the climbing rate.

    Source: Bloomberg.

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    Hybrid Sales up for Ford

    According to , Ford is expecting April to be its best hybrid sales month ever. Ford sells the Ford Escape hybrid and its luxury model, the Mercury Mariner hybrid. Despite recent reports of slowdowns for Ford hybrid sales, they are getting close to their highest numbers of hybrids sold (1808 combined sales in September 2005).

    Ford sales of hybrids have been increasing from in the past three months from 1341 in February to 1589 in March after dropping to 899 units sold in January. April sales of hybrids were strong across the board last year, with 20,974 units from all manufacturers sold, the highest total ever at that time. It wasn't until August, 2005 that they beat that with 23,307 units sold.

    Ford is attributing its success to the recent spike in gas prices (including gas shortages in some places). Also, Ford recently offered 0% financing or $1000 cash back sales in some areas. They have also rolled out a new toll-free number for information on the tax breaks available to those who buy hybrids. And they have continued to aggressively market hybrids with Kermit the Frog as their spokesman appearing on recent shows of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

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    Toyota Camry hybrid an experiment in progress

    Toyota is launching its new Camry hybrid next month. While they have been advertising the new hybrid with an ad campaign targeting the hispanic market, they are hoping the new camry will have mass appeal.

    According to a report at, even Toyota is unsure of how well this hybrid family car experiment will go. Despite their success in the hybrid market, recent downturns in Honda sales of its Accord have to make Toyota nervous in roling out their latest hybrid.

    But despite any concerns, the Toyota Camry hybrid has several advantages over the Accord hybrid. First, its not emphasizing the hybrid performance, but hybrid economy. With a smaller engine and better mileage, its more likely to appeal to those who would think about paying more money for a hybrid.

    But more likely to appeal to a mass audience is its sticker price. At $5000 less than the Accord hybrid, the Toyota Camry hybrid will certainly be more successful.

    Toyota is also timing the release of the Camry hybrid well. With the recent increase in gas prices, hybrid sales have accelerated this month and will most likely continue to do so.

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    Montgomery rolls out hybrid buses

    GM announced the addition of five hybrid buses to the Montgomery County mass transit fleet.

    "Montgomery County is a nationally recognized leader in its commitment to environmental quality," said Duncan. "Under our Air Quality Protection Strategy, we have been aggressively acquiring a multi-technology fleet of alternative-fueled vehicles. We are proud to add new, cleaner hybrid buses to help our region meet nationally mandated air quality goals as we lead the way to adopting even more environmentally friendly technologies."

    GM on the other hand has sent out hybrid buses (diesel-electric hybrid propulsion) to 36 communities in the US and Canada. GM estimates with over 440 hybrid buses in use, over 650,000 gallons of gas have been saved since 2004. Hybrid buses from GM produce 60 percent fewere oxides of nitrogen emissions and 90 percent fewer particulate, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions.

    Also, hybrids tend to save costs on maintenance with longer oil and transmission life and less wear and tear on brakes. Brakes in hybrids tend to last longer since hybrids partially regenerate their batteries using the brakes.

    By the end of the year, another 236 GM hybrid-powered buses are expected to be delivered to several cities.

    Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    Hybrid cabs are doing well

    According to story at the Autochannel, hybrid cabs have been doing very well in the streets of San Francisco and New York City. Hybrids that are capable of shutting the gas engine off while the car is parked are theorized to be perfect fits for the stop and go traffic most cabbies in big cities are used to. Although some New Yorkers would prefer hybrid Crown Victorias, the cabbies aren't unhappy with their new SUV hybrids.

    Although its too soon to tell how the New York cabbies are faring, the 30 hybrid SUVs in SF are now reaching the 100,000 mile mark and there's good news and bad news to report. First, they are saving money on fuel. When your average cabbie pulls 150-300 mile shift, they are reporting savings of between $20 to $31. Air conditioning is costing $5 less (runs off the battery in these SUV hybrids). And the brakes are lasting longer, since the regenerating system acts as a second braking system.

    The bad news is several water pumps blew at the 50,000 mile mark. Whatever was causing that has been reportedly fixed, however.

    The cabbies appreciate them, as well. "It’s nice to have an SUV that does so well environmentally and saves me about $5,000 a year," adds Allen Gotschberg, a Luxor driver who just rolled over 102,000 miles on his Escape Hybrid taxi.

    The cab companies are waiting till they get to 150,000 miles on the cabs before making final judgements (i.e. will they buy more of them).

    Environmental groups are trying to get more hybrids into more cities now, while Chicago will be putting hybrids into service beginning in 2007.

    Probably the best news for the cabbies? "Everybody is most definitely enjoying the green benefits of the hybrids ... And drivers are reporting larger tips because of the environmental and novelty aspects."

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    Hybrid vans are needed, too.

    Most environmentalists would want (if you couldn't have an electric car) only Prius or Insights on the road. What thye often forget is how often larger vehicles are needed as well for shipping in business or even how often a larger vehicle is needed to just for normal people to get around with their things.

    The following story is just one example of why hybrid technology should be rolled out to larger vehicles, as well.
    Dear Mother Earth: How 'bout a hybrid van? |

    Max Allen's Earth Day wish list includes a hybrid vehicle that's at least twice the size of Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight.

    The vocalist-guitarist says fuel prices are a headache for traveling musicians, so he'd rather drive himself, his bandmates and their gear across the Midwest in a part-gas, part-electric cargo van -- if such a vehicle existed.

    "I think gas is out of the question in 20 years," Allen says. "What's the point? Oil is a fossil fuel, and it won't last."

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    Nissan Altima hybrid to be sold in limited states

    Nissan continues to be cautious in their approach to hybrids. Not only are they so far behind in hybrid tech that they have to buy their first 100,000 hybrid drivetrains from Toyota, but now they are only going to sell the hybrid altima in the Northeast and in California.

    Nissan is only selling hybrids in order to comply with California's (and states with like mandates) zero emissions vehicle mandate. Japan

    The 2007 model will be available early next year in California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New Jersey, Nissan said in a statement. Sales are being limited to states that have adopted versions of California's so-called zero-emissions vehicle mandate, which requires the largest automakers to offer hybrids, spokesman Kurt Von Zumwalt said.

    "We have capacity to make up to 50,000 hybrids, which is more than we expect to sell in those states," said Von Zumwalt, who is based at Nissan's North American unit in Gardena, California. "If there's more demand, we'll have capacity to do more."

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    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    A 1 Litre Car from VW

    A very impressive 285 mpg, too bad its the size of a motorcycle. And they describe it as looking more like a sports car than a research car... I'm not sure I buy that.

    Press Release:
    Volkswagen has once again demonstrated its position at the cutting edge of modern technology by presenting the world's most economical road car: the 1-litre or 285 mpg car.

    It has an average fuel consumption of just 0.99 litres per 100 kilometres. It manages to combine driving pleasure with a level of fuel consumption never seen before.

    The 1-litre car is a vehicle which looks more like a sports car than a typical research vehicle.

    It is 3.47 metres long, but just 1.25 metres wide and just over a metre in height. To save weight, it is made of carbon composites and is not painted.
    The interior is sportingly simple in design, yet offers enough space for two people.

    The concept of the 1-Litre car - four wheels, low height, with two seats in tandem - gives an idea for a possible new family of vehicles, which could cover new requirements ranging from the ultra-economical vehicle, through the low-cost performance sports supercar.

    Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at

    Woods Dual Power - Hybrid Car of 1917

    The first hybrid gas electric car did not come out in 1983, but in 1917. The Woods Dual Power was built by the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago. Because the gas engine was so rough, but supplied more power and electric cars were smoother, but had limited range, the Woods Motor Vehicle Company wanted to supply a car that gave you the best of both worlds.

    The best part is, it was a full hybrid (listen up GM) with regenerative braking. The engine was a parallel hybrid that included a 12-hp, 4-cylinder gasoline engine as an auxiliary drive system in addition to the electric drive train. The electric engine could propel the car up to 20 mph. Together with the gas engine, the dual wood power could get up to 35 mph.

    The gas engine and electric engine were connected using a magnetic clutch. The gas engine became magnetized when activated (by a lever controlled by the driver). The copper disk was pulled against the flywheel connecting the electric motor to the gas engine.

    Only the electric motor could be used while going in reverse. Why? Because the engine had no clutch and so the gas engine had no gears!

    The car battery designed for this car was about half the size of the batteries in other electric cars of the time. Once the car got up to 20 mph, the gas engine could be engaged, allowing the electric motor and gas motor to work together. The battery could be recharged or discharged by another lever. Recharging was done by the gas motor (at speeds over 6 mph) or by braking on level ground or when coasting down hills. A conventional brake pedal was only used at speeds of less than 6 mph.

    Available for only $2650 (remember this was 1917). Wire wheels were a luxury, costing an extra $25. Or you could 'pimp' your vehicle out for another $100 (paint and trim).

    Ultimately, the first hybrid was a commercial failure. It was built only in 1917 and 1918. It was too expensive, too slow, and too difficult to service to be a commercial success.

    Want to learn more about this remarkable vehicle? Take a look here or go to the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. They have one of only three Woods Dual Power vehicles known to be in existence. There is (reportedly) a 1916 Woods Dual Power (hybrid) in the holdings of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

    I saw a story on the 1917 Woods Dual Power at CNN Money and had to research it further. Yahoo Autos has a history of hybrid electric cars, starting in 1905.

    Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at

    Wednesday, April 19, 2006

    Pros and cons of hybrid cars

    Hybrid cars can be very beneficial to car drivers everywhere, but they, like every technology, have their own problems that we the consumer should be aware of. So, let's go over the pros and cons of hybrid cars.

    Higher mpg
    Saving money on gas is a possibility for hybrid car owners. Even mild hybrid trucks who improve their mileage from 17 to 19 mpg have made a difference. And if you start talking about getting 50 or 60 mpg, you are really beginning to save money on gas. At the same time, you are making a difference in the dependence we all have on oil and its byproducts. Also, you may just hate going to the pump so often.

    Less Pollution
    Hybrid cars have lower pollution levels than other cars. When running on their electric motors, hybrid engines are not putting out any of the pollutants we worry about when it comes gas engines. As ranked by American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 3 of the top 12 'Greenest Cars' were hybrid cars.

    Better Performance
    Hybrid cars can be designed for power, rather than economy. The Honda Accord Hybrid and the Lexus GS450h are good examples of 'performance' hybrids. The electric engine is used to boost the power performance of the gas engine at lower speeds, rather than replacing it.

    Hybrid cars can get better than the EPA rating for mileage. Unlike gas engines, the hybrid is capable of exceeding the EPA rating for mileage on a regular basis with a few simple changes to your driving patterns. These techniques are called hypermiling and allowed a group to get over 100 mpg in a long distance trial of a Toyota Prius.

    Tax Breaks
    The federal government is offering up to $3400 in a tax credit for those who buy a hybrid car this year. Mind, that's only for the first 60,000 qualifying cars by each manufacturer, so if you're looking to buy a Toyota hybrid and you want to get that tax break, you should buy one this year. Several states are also offering tax breaks to consumers who purchase hybrid cars.

    Local Perks
    Some states offer HOV access (Virginia and California) to drivers of hybrid cars. Some localities even offer free parking. Some states are looking into tax breaks or may already offer them. Some companies offer money to those who go hybrid. So you should look around for your local perks (Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri, etc...)

    Hybrid Batteries
    There are concerns about hybrid batteries. Most of those center around how long they will last and how expensive they are to replace and are these bigger nickel metal hydrid batteries bad for the environment? The truth is these bigger batteries are supposed to be recycled, just as the lead batteries in gas only cars are supposed to be. Also, the batteries are being guaranteed for 8 year (10 if you are in California). But they are very expensive to replace if you do need to do so. A bill for several thousand dollars would come your way if it dies and its not under warantee.

    If you are in an accident with a hybrid car, is that bigger battery a possible danger? High voltage electricy can be dangerous, but manufacturers are making these batteries shut down in an accident. But things can go wrong, which is why some emergency crews are getting special training relating to hybrid car accidents. But otherwise, these cars are just as safe as their counterparts.

    Saving on gas is not enough to make up for a huge initial cost, i.e. the purchase price. When the manufacturer prices the hybrid $3000 more than its gas only counterpart, its hard to justify the initial layout of money. According to a recent study of hybrid cars by Consumer Reports, only two of the six hybrids studied made up for their initial cost (Prius and Civic) in the first five years of ownership. And they did take into account the federal tax credit being offered, (although not the local ones).

    Also, you may want to keep in mind that repair costs may be more. Although hybrid cars have been reported to be extremely reliable, if something goes wrong with the electric engine or the 'hybrid' part of the car, you will probably need to take it to your local dealer, who usually charges more for repairs. Of course, this is true whenever a major 'system' in a car goes kaput. On the other hand, some basic maintenance will cost less. For instance, you won't have to change the oil as often.

    Just like buying any other car, you need to look into what your needs are and why you are buying it. Did you want a bigger car? Or how about better fuel efficiency or perhaps pollution is your biggest issue? Is price the most important thing? Or how about quality of manufacturing? Hybrids have their own issues, but what it always comes down to when buying an auto is personal choice.

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    Lexus GS450h orders exceed targets in first month

    Toyota's new Lexus hybrid is exceeding its target within its first month of sales according to a Japanese news report. Toyota had a target of 150 orders in the first month, but has totaled 1,000 cars so far.

    Named one of the hottest cars by Forbes, the Lexus GS450 hybrid has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 25 city/28 highway. Of course, this luxury car comes with a luxury price with a base MSRP of $54,900.

    First Lexus hybrid off the showroom floor - MSN-Mainichi Daily News

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    South Caroline house approves tax credit for hybrids

    According to a news report from wistv, South Carolina House subcommittee passed a House subcommittee on Tuesday. The bill, if passed, would give $500 to $700 tax break to those who purchase a car powered by a hybrid, bio-diesel, fuel cell, or other alternative engine. Columbia, SC: House subcommittee approves tax credit for hybrid car buyers

    Officials estimate it will cost the state $1.5 million in annual tax revenue.

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    GM celebrates Earth Day by featuring the Saturn Vue

    From the press release:

    According to the press release: GMÂ’s vehicle brands, manufacturing facilities and corporate activities are also recognizing Earth Day 2006 with a variety of initiatives. On the brand side, Saturn is sponsoring the Green Apple Music Festival in New York City featuring live music in over 30 venues around the city, and an Earth Fair showcasing environmental displays and demonstrations from a variety of organizations. SaturnÂ’s new hybrid vehicle, the 2007 Saturn VUE Green Line, will be on display and product experts will be on hand to talk with the public. The new vehicle is expected to achieve an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, the best highway mileage of any SUV.

    Unfortunately, as with other GM 'hybrids'. the Saturn Vue hybrid is referred to as a mild hybrid. Capable of shutting off when stopped and regenerating the battery during braking, the GM 'hybrid' falls short of the capabilities available in a full hybrid. The Saturn Vue (gas only FWD 4) has an EPA rate of 23/29 mpg with a manual transmission and 22/27 mpg with an automatic. The hybrid improves that to 27/32 mpg, which isn't a huge increase in fuel economy.

    But the Vue hybrid will be a more economical hybrid. With the base MSRP being estimated at 23 - 24 thousand, its certainly cheaper than the Ford Escape Hybrid (MSRP $26,900) or the Toyota Highlander hybrid (in the low $30's). So if you're looking to make a difference, but still looking for a good price, the Saturn Vue hybrid may be what you want to look for.

    CNN Money has an article on the 'tightwad' aspect of building and buying a VUE hybrid

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    Mercury Mariner hybrid sponsors Wild Oats Earth Day events

    As part of Earth Day celebration by Wild Oats, the mercury mariner hybrid will be highlighted through test drives and product specialists providing driving tips to help maximize fuel efficiency.

    Ford is also sponsoring a sweepstakes to win a Mercury Mariner Hybrids. More information can be found on the Wild Oats website and in the Wild Oats online magazine.

    Mercury has also set up an online driving game for educating consumers on how to drive in urban and suburban settings. The game is an educational tool designed to help drivers maximize safety and efficiency. It is supposed to be available at, but I couldn't find it there. I suppose it may not be up, yet.

    Tips on maximizing fuel efficieny:

  • Allowing plenty of distance to slow the vehicle to a stop; a unique feature in a hybrid vehicle is the ability to recapture energy during braking, known as regenerative braking; extending the period of deceleration by decreasing the rate in which the vehicle slows down will store more energy in the high voltage battery;

  • Avoiding aggressive driving since quick acceleration and deceleration decreases fuel economy;

  • Driving at a smooth, constant speed as excessive variation in pedal input creates more operating mode changes and subsequently reduces fuel economy;

  • Driving at reasonable speeds (for instance, traveling at 60 mph uses approximately 20 percent less fuel than driving at 70 mph);

  • Storing hybrid vehicles in garages where there is less fluctuation in storage temperature ;

  • Keeping tires properly inflated and using only the recommended size;

  • Keeping wheels properly aligned;

  • Using recommended engine oil;

  • Performing all regularly scheduled maintenance.
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    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    Honda Civic Hybrid wins the 2006 World Car of the Year Award for Greenest Car

    The 2006 Honda Civic hybrid won the 'World Car of the Year Award' for Greenest Car. 46 international automotive journalists were on the panel in New York.

    AutoWeb - 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid Wins 'World Car of the Year Award' for Greenest Car

    "Honda continues to be a leader in producing environmentally responsible vehicles that set the standard for fuel economy and low emissions," said John Mendel, Senior Vice President, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. "The award-winning 2006 Civic Hybrid is the latest embodiment of Honda’s long-term commitment to the development of environmentally friendly technologies that are also fun to drive."

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    Prius and Civic receive top ratings in Safety

    The Honda Civic received the Gold Top Safety Pick for front and side impact protection. The Toyota Prius also got top marks for front and side impact protection when outfitted with optional side airbags. Without them, however, the Prius got a "Poor" rating in side impact protection.

    Insurance Institute: Safest small cars and minivans - Apr. 17, 2006

    These cars received top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for front and side impact protection.

    Honda Civic (Gold Top Safety Pick)

    Subaru Impreza/Saab 9-2X (Gold Top Safety Pick, excludes WRX and Aero versions.)

    Toyota Prius ("Marginal" for whiplash protection)

    The complete review of the Toyota Prius follows. It was taken from the Insurance Institute press release. It was the first hybrid tested by the Insurance Institute. All other tests of hybrids have been of both the gas only counterpart and the hybrid version, including the Honda Civic hybrid.

    First Institute test of a hybrid: The Toyota Prius was a good performer in the frontal crash test and, equipped with optional side airbags, also good in the side test. But it's rated marginal for seat/head restraint design, so it isn't a TOP SAFETY PICK. The movement of the driver dummy was reasonably well controlled during the frontal test. Although the dummy's head did hit the pillar between the doors and the roof rail, head accelerations were low. Other injury measures also were low, and the Prius's structure held up with minimal intrusion into the occupant compartment.

    "The way a hybrid model earns the top rating in the frontal test is the same way any other car does," Lund says. "Its front structure has to crush to absorb crash energy, and it has to have a safety cage that stays intact so the safety belts and airbags can protect the occupants."

    The Institute conducted two side tests of the Prius, with and without its optional head-protecting side airbags. Without the airbags the Prius earns the lowest rating of poor. The intruding barrier struck the driver dummy's head. Measures recorded during the crash indicate that a serious skull fracture and brain injuries would be likely to occur in a real-world crash of similar severity.

    "The result for the Prius with its optional side curtain airbags was dramatically different," Lund says. "This time the airbag kept the dummy's head from being struck by the barrier, and injury measures all were low. These results show the importance of head-protecting side airbags in reducing the risks for car occupants, especially when their vehicles are struck in the side by a pickup or SUV."

    Another important aspect of crashworthiness is how well seat/head restraints protect people from whiplash in rear impacts. The ones in the Prius earn the second lowest rating of marginal. They can be positioned high enough and close enough to the backs of most people's heads, but good geometry alone isn't enough to provide adequate protection from whiplash. Seats and head restraints have to work together to protect the neck, and the Institute's test indicates that in a real-world crash the seats in the Prius wouldn't keep the forces on the neck as low as in other vehicles.

    When a vehicle is struck in the rear and driven forward, the vehicle seats accelerate the occupants' torsos forward. Unsupported, their heads will lag behind the forward movement of their torsos. This differential motion causes the neck to bend back and stretch. The higher the torso acceleration the more sudden the motion, the higher the forces on the neck, and the more likely a neck injury is to occur.

    "If a seat is too stiff, without enough 'give' to it so a person sinks into it during a crash, then the head restraint can move back and away from the head. This can lead to higher forces on the neck, and whiplash injury is more likely," Lund notes.

    For most vehicles with hybrid variants, the Institute's ratings apply to both the hybrid and conventional versions. These vehicles include the Honda Civic and Accord, Lexus RX, and Toyota Highlander. The Prius is sold only as a hybrid.

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    Hybrid Car Rally in Oregon

    The Douglas County Global Warming Coalition will hold its 4th annual Hybrid Car Rally on April 22 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. They would like to invite all hybrid car owners out to display from 10 AM to 4 PM.

    This is part of the Earth Day celebration in Oregon.

    Oregon News

    Information and reservation: 679-8889.

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    Friday, April 14, 2006

    Honda worried about slow sales for the Accord hybrid

    Unlike its other hybrids, the Honda Accord hybrid is a 'performance' hybrid. Designed not for fuel economy, but for power. The electric engine is mated to the V6 gasoline engine to help boost power. And consumers may not be ready to shell out so much money for a V6 hybrid Accord.

    When the price differential from the Accord non-hybrid (Base $18,225 - $29,400), and the hybrid (starts at $30,990) is so great, its hard to justify buying the hybrid version. Especially when you're not talking about fuel economy, but performance. But the price difference for the Accord hybrid isn't due to the hybrid engine. Honda is trying to make the hybrid version of its Accord a luxury item, with leather interior, heated seats, XM satellite radio and dual automatic climate control.

    Honda Accord hybrid sales fell from 1862 to 581 units sold from last March to this March, a 68.8% drop. And now, Honda executives may be considering cutting back on production.

    "We've had to re-evaluate our position," Honda Executive Vice President Dick Colliver said. "It's having a hard time in the market."

    "We're still looking at where's the best package for hybrids," Colliver said. "We're going to have to watch the market."

    Colliver is the second executive to question where hybrids are in the marketplace at the New York Auto Show. Nissan chief executive Ghosn was also cautious in his comments on hybrids yesterday. But, Ghosn has always been cautious about hybrids, which is why Nissan is so far behind in the hybrid market.

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    LiX-75, 200 mph Electric Car

    Following in the tradition of the tzero (2002) and the Venturi (2005), a new electric sports car is being introduced the LiX-75 at the New York Auto Show on Apr. 14.

    The LiX-75 will reportedly get 200 mph and get 100 miles for each plug-in. Its acceleration is phenomenal at zero to 60 miles per hour in three seconds. It will take 4-6 hours to recharge the battery.

    The LiX will use lithium ion batteries (hence the name). Lithium ion batteries (the same as can be found in laptops, writ large) stores more energy and degrades slower than nickel metal hybride batteries.

    The LiX-75 is built on the Mullen GT frame, refitted with an electric engine.

    Meet LiX-75: The 200-mph Electric Car - Tech Trends - NewsFactor Network

    Oh, you want to know the price tag for such extravagance? That will be 125 Grand, please.

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    Thursday, April 13, 2006

    Virginia opts to keep hybrids in the HOV

    Despite some of the recent news stories of the backlash (1, 2, 3, 4, and a recent lampoon by South Park - Smug Drivers) suffered by hybrid drivers, specifically due to their eligibility to drive in the HOV lanes in California, Virginia has opted to allow hybrid drivers to stay in the HOV lanes for another year.

    Hybrid drivers who opt in before July 1 must apply for a Clean Special Fuel Vehicle license in order to take advantage of the extension. After that, a distinctly different license plate will be issued and drivers with these plates will not be allowed into the HOV lane with only one passenger during restricted hours.

    The annual fee for the special license plate is being raised from $10 to $25. But so is the fine for HOV violators. First time offenders will incur a $125 fine, second offenders should expect that to double.

    22% of cars in an October traffic study by the Virginia Department of Transportation were found to be hybrids. The findings about hybrids in the HOV lane in Virginia caused quite a stir in Virginia. - Hybrid drivers get to stay in HOV lanes

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    Nissan Chief Executive Ghosn not surprised by slowdown in hybrid market

    Ghosn, Chief Executive of Nissan says "I have some kind of satisfaction in being a little bit right on this one" when asked about the recent slowdown in the hybrid market.

    Ford has recently offered 0% financing or $1000 in a move to induce sales of the Ford Escape hybrid SUV. Sales of hybrids have also been slowing for other auto makers, although the term slowdown is relative when it comes to hybrids, which increased sales by 7.5% over last years hybrid sales in March.

    Ghosn has been cautious in his approach to hybrids. He previously stated "Hybrid is a serious technology and it may be a very competitive technology. But until a consumer decides what he wants, we are cautious." And:
    "I hate selling cars at a loss," saying hybrids were not a profitable proposition.

    Because of that cautios approach to hybrids, Nissan is only now coming out with a hybrid, the Nissan Altima, and that is only possible with Toyota technology. Nissan is developing its own hybrid technology. In the meantime, however, Nissan is planning on buying 100,000 units of the Hybrid Synergy Drive from Toyota over the next five years. Nissan expects the Altima hybrid to sell for a loss, but is willing to do so in order to avoid fines on fuel economy standards.

    Nissan CEO says unsurprised about hybrid-vehicle market issues - MarketWatch

    "I didn't say I don't believe in it. It's just too early to tell" Ghosn said, referring to the chance that hybrids could gain steam once prices come down and the demand for good fuel economy grows.

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    2008 Lexus LS 600h L

    Toyota unveiled the new Lexus LS 600h L at the New York Auto Show. The Lexus LS 600h L has a full hybrid drivetrain unlike its counterpart the LS 460. Lexus newest luxury sedan has a 5-liter direct injection V8 engine coupled with a pair of high power electric motors. Its two-stage electronic continuously variable transmission delivers up 430 hp.

    Although the mileage has not been revealed, yet, it is expected to rate as a Super Ultra Low Emisssions Vehicle (SULEV) when it goes on sale in April, 2007.

    The long wheelbase version (the 'L') will be offered in North America.

    The luxury features are off the charts for new flagship. The Lexus LS 600h hybrid will be built at the Tahara assembly plant, where each car will be hand sanded twice during the painting process. LEDs will be used for low-beam forward lighting.

    An air suspension system equipped with Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) will be standard. Other luxury features include an XM real-time traffic system, an XM satellite radio as a factory-installed option, a rear seat DVD enertainment system, and a 19-speaker 450-watt Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound audio system. A voice-activated hard disk drive (HDD) navigation with Bluetooth technology and an advanced parallel park assist function will also be available.

    Lexus is also making standard its proprietary next-generation Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system which integrates variable gear-ratio electronic steering, electronic vehicle stability control and electronic brake assist.

    The LS 600h L has been designed for cabin quietness. The inherent noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is being lowered to half of what can be found in conventional cars. Extensive engineering of accesory motors and switches needed to be done to gain this quiet luxury.

    The eye-popping feature is the new Advanced Pre-Collision System (APCS). With three cameras, the new Lexus will automatically help drivers steer and brake in dangerous situations.

    Two forward mounted cameras are sensitive enough to detect large cars and smaller nonmettalic objects, such as humans ahead. A third camera is mounted on the steering column which monitors the driver using millimeter-wave radar. If the driver is not paying attention when an object is detected in front, an alarm sounds. If no change is made, the car will start applying the brakes for you. It will also cinch up the passenger restraints and the variable steering ratio is also automatically quickened to improve the vehicle's response to evasive maneuvers.

    The Lexus Hybrid Drive name is also being rolled out. It will be used globally for all Lexus hybrid models.

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    Tax deduction on hybrid cars for 2005

    Did you buy a hybrid in 2005? You are eligible for a tax deduction of up to $2000 on your taxes.

    If you are the original owner of a qualifying hybrid vehicle that was put into use in 2005, you are elegible to claim a one-time tax dedution on your federal income tax return.

    Qualifying hybrid vehicles include:

  • 2005-2006 Ford Escape Hybrid

  • 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid

  • 2006 Lexus RX 400h

  • 2001-2006 Toyota Prius

  • 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

  • 2000-2005 Honda Insight

  • 2003-2005 Honda Civic Hybrid

  • 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid

  • This deduction is taken as an adjustment to income. You do need to use Form 10400, but you don't have to itemize deductions to claim it. Include your deduction on the dotted line to the left of line 36 and identify it as "Clean-Fuel."

    For more information, see IRS Publication 535, Business Expenses. Note that despite the name, individual owners are eligible for the deduction.

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    The 2007 Saturn Aura Green

    The 2007 Saturn Aura is being unveiled at the New York Auto Show. The Aura Green Line will be available later in 2007. I've been reluctant to mention the Aura for the same reason I'm reluctant to mention the 'hybrid' trucks that are available. The Saturn Aura Green, as with the Saturn Vue Green are mild hybrids.

    Mild hybrids have start-stop features with regenerative braking. The Saturn hybrid system has a belt alternator system which allows for the start-stop features. Full hybrids allow the driver to drive at low speeds on the electric engine alone. Mild hybrids are no different from gas-only engines when the car is in constant motion, but they do give an added bonus in fuel economy, especially in congested areas.

    The Aura Green hybrid will have a 2.4L Ecotec-based engine with a hybrid powertrain similar to the Saturn Vue Green.

    Source: Green Car Congress

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    BMW will be making mild hybrids

    BMW will be making some changes to their 2007 cars. With brake regeneration, start-stop features, bigger batteries and turbochargers, BMW is hoping to get more performance with better economy. Unfortunately, most of these changes will be made in Europe, not North America.

    BMW will be equipping their cars with a stop-start feature (in Europe). So, when the engine comes to a stop, the gas (or diesel) engine will turn itself off, but when the driver releases the brake, the engine will re-start. They are avoiding this feature in North America, however, since the air conditioner is tied to the gas engine.

    In order to implement this stop-start feature, they need a specially modified starter and a heavy duty battery. They are also implementing a brake regeneration system to recharge the battery.

    They are using their Valvetronic system, which varies the duration and lift of the intake valves to maximize fuel economy in their 2007 Mini Cooper. They are also going to start using a turbocharger, rather than a supercharger across their fleet. These changes will give the Mini Cooper a 10 percent fuel economy gain.

    From Automotive News.

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    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    Illinois proposing tax credit for fuel efficiency

    According to Belleville, the Illinois House is proposing a $500 state income tax credit for fuel-efficient vehicles in 2007 and 2008. In order to qualify, the vehicle would need to get 35 mpg (gas, diesel, or hybrid) or 25 mpg for flexible-fuel vehicles.

    Apparently, the state legislatures were listening when Bush gave his State of the Union address. Bush charged that America was addicted to oil. Minnesota wants to produce plug-in vehicles and Missouri has a tax break bill pending.

    Belleville News-Democrat

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    Convert a Mini-Cooper into a plug-in hybrid

    The Castagna Milano's Mini Cooper hybrid conversion retains much of the orginal engine. They strengthen the suspension system and fit an electic motor to the rear of the vehicle. This allows the driver to switch to all electric with a switch on the dashboard whenever he wants.

    The batteries are guaranteed for a period of 5 years and they can be fully charged in 6 hours through a domestic power outlet.

    The real problem is the cost:

    The cost for the conversion is about 40,000 euros plus the cost of the Mini. Unfortunately they have to do the stretch to have the space for the batteries and that alone costs 19,500 euros. So the hybrid part costs 20,000, of which they say 11,000 is for the battery pack.

    Based on the current conversion rate of Euros to dollars, that's more than $48,000 for the conversion and more than $13,000 for the ZEBRA battery.

    I saw this story at evworld being quoted at autospies.

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    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    Missouri ponders tax break for hybrids

    Missouri has a bill pending that would allow Missourians hybrid buyers to earn a credit worth either 10 percent of the cost of the vehicle or $1,500, whichever is less. The bill would last for six years, but has yet to be passed off to the Senate.

    Missouri has been struggling to keep auto manufacturers in state. With both GM and Ford threatening cuts across the board, state legislatures have been making moves to entice the auto makers to stay. For instance, Minnesota has been attempting to keep auto makers in state by investigating how to convert their plant into a PHEV production plant.

    Missouri, in the meantime, passed a bill that would waive the state's 4.225 percent sales tax for all vehicle models built in Missouri. Critics are unsure how the recent bill would help keep jobs in Missouri, however, since the credit applies to hybrids no matter where they are built.

    News Tribune

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    2008 Toyota Prius to get 94 mpg

    According to the UK's Auto Express, Toyota is attempting to improve the Prius in its next generation. Not only are they hoping to improve its 10.9 second 0-62 acceleration by a second, they are also hoping to improve its mileage to 94 mpg!

    Most of the improvements will come from switching the battery from a nickel metal hydride (NiMH) to lithium cells. They will be streamlining the whole electrical system in order to up the ante in the hybrid tech world.

    Hybrids have not been as successful in Europe as they have been in North America. A recent poll indicated less than half of Britons know what a hybrid is. In Europe, diesel engines has become the success stroy, while hybrids have fallen behind.

    Auto Express

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    Monday, April 10, 2006

    57% of Americans would consider buying a hybrid

    According to a recent Gallup poll, 57% of Americans would consider buying or leasing a hybrid when they next purchase a car. Upper-income Americans are slightly more likely than lower-income Americans (62% vs. 55%) to say they would seriously consider buying a hybrid when purchasing their next car.

    Younger (64%, age 18-49) and middle aged (55%, age 50-64) Americans are more likely to consider hybrids than seniors (39%).
    hybrids appeal much more to younger and middle-aged Americans than to seniors. Sixty-four percent of adults aged 18 to 49 say they would seriously consider a hybrid for their next car. This is only slightly lower (55%) among those 50 to 64, but drops to 39% among those aged 65 and older.

    Lower income Americans have been cutting back on driving due to gas prices. When making less than $50,000 a year, 59% of the respondents said they had cut back on driving, while only 36% of those making $50,000 or more have cut back. But 48% of those in the upper income bracket have cut back in other areas due to gas prices, while 60% of lower income have made cuts elsewhere in their spending.

    Gallup poll

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    Saving money by buying a hybrid

    A recent poll cited 'saving money' as one of the primary reasons consumers would purchas a hybrid vehicle. Most likely, however, those savings will not be in the short term.

    Despite the focus of the press release (see below), only 19% of consumers think of saving money when buying a hybrid. 47% simply want to improve their mileage. 22% want to help the environment.

    There are many reasons for buying hybrids, and cost savings is usually not the primary reason. Most buyers of hybrids go into the dealership with their eyes wide open. Usually, they know more about the vehicles and the issues surrounding them better than the salesman.

    Press Release Source: PEMCO Insurance

    PEMCO's Northwest Insurance Poll Reveals Most Washington Residents Believe Owning a Hybrid Will Save Money; Research Shows Owners Will Have to be Patient

    SEATTLE, April 10 /PRNewswire/ -- Most new-car buyers in Washington who are likely to buy a hybrid share a common misconception that owning a hybrid car will save them money through better mileage, according to PEMCO's Northwest Insurance Poll. The reality is that while the increased purchase cost of a hybrid can be offset in gas savings, it can take up to five years before the savings pencil out, according to published reports.

    PEMCO's poll data shows that 47 percent of drivers who plan to purchase a new car in the next year, and who are likely to buy a hybrid, report the primary reason they would buy a hybrid is to improve gas mileage. Twenty-two percent say their primary reason would be to save the environment, while 19 percent specifically said "to save money."

    "New-car buyers can consider hybrids because they reduce pollution and save the environment, but they shouldn't expect to save money in the short-term," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO's spokesperson. "Our poll data uncovered false expectations. Forty-four percent said a hybrid would cost less than a conventional car to drive and maintain."

    Consumers should be aware that in a recent study commissioned by the nation's leading consumer magazine, only two of six hybrid cars that were tested recovered the price premium in less than five years. Five years is also the typical period of car ownership, according to the magazine.

    In the coming months and years, virtually every car manufacturer has plans to introduce a hybrid car model. In 2005, hybrid cars accounted for 1.2 percent of auto sales -- more than double its market share from 2004. Auto manufacturers are having a hard time keeping them on the lot.

    Those looking to save money by purchasing a hybrid car need to know that hybrids can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000 more than their gas-powered counterparts.

    The timing of a hybrid car purchase also plays into savings. To help ease higher initial fees, new hybrid car owners currently can take advantage of federal tax credits ranging from $650 to $3,150. Consumers should know that after each manufacturer sells 60,000 hybrid units, regardless of model, the credits gradually will be phased out.

    In most cases, the tax credits offered on hybrids, combined with money saved on gasoline, are not enough to recover the purchase price during the first several years of owning the car.

    Despite the perceived cost savings, over half of Washington's residents who plan to purchase a new car this year do not plan to purchase a hybrid, according to PEMCO's poll data.

    "With such rapid growth of the hybrid car market, it's important for consumers to have realistic expectations. Hybrid cars can save owners money, but not as soon as most people think," said Osterberg.

    Other poll observations:

    -- Older drivers (age 35+) in Washington state are more likely to
    purchase a hybrid car than younger drivers (ages 18 - 34).
    -- 46 percent of Washington drivers who are likely to purchase a hybrid
    in the next year have a college degree, 37 percent report having some
    college or technical education, and 24 percent have no college
    -- Washington state drivers who own their home, and plan to purchase a
    new car in the next year, are almost twice as likely to purchase a
    hybrid car as those drivers who rent their home (43 percent of owners
    compared to 23 percent of renters).

    Anyone wanting to compare their answers with respondents to the PEMCO Northwest Insurance Poll can do so by visiting, where complete results are posted.

    About the Poll

    PEMCO Insurance commissioned the independent, statewide survey that asked Washington homeowners several questions about automobiles and other issues.

    Informa Research Services Inc. of Seattle conducted the poll. The sample size, 606 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study was conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4 percent.

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    Review the 2007 Lexus GS 450h hybrid

    Christopher Jensen of Cleveland reviews the 2007 Lexus GS 450h hybrid.

    Some comments on the GS 450h: This is a luxury car, with plenty of power. Unlike some hybrids, this car was designed not for mileage, but for power. The hybrid electric engine supplements the gasoline engine.

    The interior has all the features and saftey you would expect from a luxury vehicle.

    The batteries have reduced the trunk space to only 7.5 cubic feet, so don't expect to fit a lot into this hybrid suv.

    The mileage on the GS 450h gets 25 city/28 highway and is rated Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) by the EPA.

    Overall, the review is a positive one for driving enthusiasts. Forbes recently placed the GS450h as one of the top ten coolest cars to own.

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    Minnesota want Ford to produce PHEV

    In an effort to keep their Ford plant in Minnesota, Rep Frank Hornstein wants the plant converted to produce plug-in hybrids vehicles (PHEV). The PHEV can be plugged in overnight and will run a vehicle at low speeds (under 30 mph) under full electric power. PHEVs routinely get over 100 mpg in urban driving, where there is plenty of stop and go, slow moving traffic.

    Minnesota wants Ford to spend an estimated $500 million to convert the local plant from building the Ranger pickup to something else. Sales on the Ranger have been slowing and the locals are worried the plant will be closed as part of the downsizing plan for Ford.

    Ford executives have been reluctant to convert the plant to PHEV, given polls indicating consumers would be reluctant to pay extra for the technology.

    Hornsteins legislation is mostly 'investigative' in nature, including a panel that would research how to convert the plant.

    Read the story at skywaynews.

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    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Compare the Toyota Camry Hybrid to the Honda Accord Hybrid

    The New York Times compared the Toyota Camry Hybrid to the Honda Accord Hybrid in a publication on April 2nd.

    The Toyota Camry hybrid has a smaller engine (2.4-liter, 4 cylinder) but better mileage (40 city/38 highway) in comparison to the Honda Accord 3-liter V6 (25 city/34 highway). The major gains to the mileage for the Camry comes from its continuous transmission and full hybrid capabilities. Honda focuses on performance for its hybrids (Integrated Motor Assist system), while Toyotas Hybrid Synergy Drive tends to focus in on fuel economy.

    Both have great emissions ratings with Advanced Technology - Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) rating. But the Toyota Camry Hybrid came out with a sticker price $5000 below that of the base price of the Honda Accord Hybrid.

    Honda Accord Hybrid sales are down almost 20% in the first quarter in comparison to first quarter sales last year.

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    Dodge Durango Hybrid in 2008

    Engineers are preparing for the Dodge Durango Hybrid to be sold in 2008 by reworking the 2007 Dodge Durango. They modified the floor, second row seats and electrical system to make the transition next year simpler.

    The Durango hybrid will be a V-8 5.70-liter Hemi, but with a 25% increase in fuel economy.

    The 2007 Durango will go on sale in August, but Dodge is unveiling it on Wednesday at the Dallas auto show.

    Automotive News

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    Toyota expects self parking cars to come to the US soon

    New Toyota hybrids in the UK come with a parking assist option. The parking assist will park your car automatically. The computer will turn the wheel at the right time, but you control the speed using the brake pedal.

    When the car is parked, the assistant will announce the assist is over.

    Toyota expects parking assist to be available in the US soon. - Technology - Self-Parking Cars Coming To U.S.

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    Nissan developing hybrid technology

    Nissan will design its own electric motor, lithium-ion battery and inverter package, in order to create its own hybrid powertrain in the future. But for now, Nissan is dependent on Toyotas hybrid technology, which means its first hybrid, the Nissan Altima saloon hybrid will launch this year using Toyotas Synergy Drive. Nissan is planning on buying 100,000 units of the hybrid system from Toyota over the next five years.

    Nissan is making big claims for its new system. They hope it will be 35% smaller and cost 30% less than current hybrid systems. Its inverter alone will cost 30% less and be 20% smaller, with double the power.

    Nissan expects the Altima to sell at a loss for the first five years. But, Nissan is willing to start selling now in order to avoid the fines for fuel economy standards. Nissan has couched their cautious approach to selling hybrids with uncertainty in the consumer marketplace. They have been unwilling to jump in to the hybrid market, when they are unsure if hybrid technology will be the final answer.

    The full story is at bloomberg.

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    Honda Hybrids March sales are way down, but Ford and Toyota are up

    Honda sales are down 39.9% in comparison to last March, but Toyota and Ford posted increases in their total hybrid sales at 30.7% and 1.3%, respectively. Ford and Toyota both benefitted from the multiple models introduced last year in boosting their sales.

    Honda Accord hybrid sales fell from 1862 to 581 units sold from last March to this March, a 68.8% drop. Honda Civic hybrid sales dropped 22.9% from 2896 to 2232 units sold, but the Honda Insight increased from 56 to 79 units sold, an increase of 41.1%. In total, Honda sold 2892 hybrid cars this March.

    Ford increased sales over last March with 1589 hybrids sold, an increase from the 1569 units sold last year. Ford benefitted from having two hybrid cars this year, with the Ford Escape and the Mercury Mariner, while last year they only had the Ford Escape.

    Toyota was the big winner this March. Despite losing ground with the Toyota Prius, with sales dropping from 10236 to 7922 (22.6% drop), the number of hybrids sold with the Toyota or Lexus brand increased with sales of the Toyota Highalander Hybrid (2987 units sold) and the Lexus RX 400h Hybrid (2470 units sold). The Highlander Hybrid was introduced in June and the Lexus RX 400h was introduced in April, so there are no comparison figures as of yet.

    Since Toyota increased sales, and it sells almost 75% of the hybrids in North America, the total number of hybrids sold increased 7.5% over last March.

    February Hybrid Sales, January Hybrid Sales, 2005 Hybrid Sales

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    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    Tax breaks

    Its never too early to think about taxes, especially when you haven't filed for this year yet. Hybrid owners are realizing their tax deductions if they bought their cars last year, but consumers who buy a hybrid car this year may realize an even better deduction in the form of a hybrid car tax credit being estimated at up to $3400. The tax credit has not been outlined by the IRS as of yet, and the amount depends on the mileage of the hybrid car being purchased.

    Ford has set up a hotline for buyers of Ford or Mercury Hybrids. They are promising to walk you through the federal tax breaks as well as the state tax breaks that may be available to buyers of hybrid cars.

    * New hotline provides Ford and Mercury dealers a single source of information on federal, state, and local incentives available for Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid owners
    * Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid qualify for a federal tax credit worth $1,950 to $2,600
    * 35 states have proposed or approved state tax incentives for hybrid vehicles; 11 states have proposed or approved HOV lane access for hybrids

    According to the dealer hotline statistics, the top places to own an Escape Hybrid or Mariner Hybrid currently are:

    1. West Virginia, where the $1,950 – $2,600 federal tax credit and $3,750 West Virginia Alternative Fuel Motor Vehicles Tax Credit combine to total between $5,700 and $6,350 in tax relief.
    2. Colorado, where the $1,950 – $2,600 federal tax credit is supplemented by the Colorado Alternative Fuel Vehicle tax credit, for a total of $4,806 to $5,358 in tax relief. In addition, the city of Aspen offers a $100 license registration discount, and free municipal parking.
    3. Oregon and Louisiana (tie), where the $1,950 – $2,600 federal tax credit is supplemented by $1500 in tax relief from either the Louisiana Alternative Fuel for Motor Vehicles tax credit or the Oregon Residential Tax Credit, for a total of $3,450 to $4,100 in government incentives.

    In these states, tax incentives more than offset the higher MSRP (approximately $3,500) of an Escape Hybrid or Mariner Hybrid over its gasoline-powered counterpart.

    The hotline will be continually updated with information sourced from both government and government-support agencies. Consumers looking for more information on incentives in their area are encouraged to contact their local Ford or Mercury dealers. In addition, consumers are advised to confirm processes and eligible redemption amounts with a tax advisor, or the IRS.

    In a side note on taxes, consumers who purchase hybrid cars may also be interested in upgrading their heating or other appliances in order to receive a 'green' tax break. Take a look at the article from Bloomberg discussing the possibilities, for example, of installing solar panels and getting a tax break next year.

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    Give your car a hydrogen boost

    A new system being developed will add hydrogen to the fuel/air mixture in a conventional gas engine, which can boost your fuel economy by 20 to 30 percent. A hydrogen-boosted gas engine has very little NOx emissions and doesn't cost much to install. The problem is a lack of hydrogen stations to refill your 'tank'.

    A new system could solve the problem. It was invented by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and is currently being worked on by ArvinMeritor in cooperation with the German automotive engineering firm IAV. It generates the hydrogen from gasoline, which is then added to the air/fuel mixture.

    The energy requirements for the new system are minimal. It requires less energy than a standard bulb at less than 75 watts.

    The hydrogen-boost system can be bolted on to an existing system, which means only low costs changes are needed to add this system to existing factory lines. Of course, this system is only a prototype, and many tests are needed before full production is ready. Plans are for full production to begin in 2010.

    I saw this story over at autoblog first. The whole article can be read here at

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    As part of its campaign for the Ford Escape Hybrid, Ford is replacing Ty Pennington on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" on April 9th with its spokesperson, Kermit the Frog.

    Kermit and his team will be making over a house in Texas. The Craft family, of Hondo, Texas, will also receive a brand new Ford Escape Hybrid as part of the makeover of their entire home in seven days.

    Extreme Makeover: Home Edition destroys and then rebuilds a home for a lucky family in a period of seven days. They pick families, usually of the hard luck kind based on letters sent in. The new home designs tend to be unique, but the building tends to be stressful. With a short time to do it in, the unique designs make it very difficult for the team of volunteers to complete all their jobs.

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    The problem with 'real world driving' reports

    Whenever someone writes about driving a hybrid and not getting the mileage they were promised by the EPA, they usually give you a number for their test drive. Unfortunately, that's not enough information to understand what's really going on.

    Car and Driver's Patrick Bedard explains it all in this article being reproduced courtesy of Lexus. Mileage will vary based on who's driving, where he's driving, and most importantly, how he's driving that day.

    Hybrid drivers routinely get higher mileage than other drivers for two reasons. The first is the technology in their car. The second is just as important, they pay attention to how they drive. There's even a group of hybrid drivers who routinely get better than the EPA estimates. Using techniques labeled hypermiling, some Prius drivers have gotten over 100 mpg.

    Sometimes how you drive to your destination is just as important as getting there.

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    Monday, April 03, 2006

    Lexus LS 460 hybrid to be unveiled at the New York Auto Show

    According to autoblog, Toyota has announced it will introduce the Lexus LS 460 hybrid, its latest luxury hybrid at the New York Auto Show. Its set to be unveiled on April 12th, between 9:25-9:50 AM (EST).

    The Lexus LS 460 V8 hybrid should be as powerful as its counterpart.

    Watch the unveiling live at If you're interested in the Lexus series, I'd head over there now to see some nice introductory videos on each of the Lexus models.

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    Lexus GS Forbes top 10 hottest cars

    Forbes placed the new Lexus GS hybrid in its top ten hottest cars of 2006. Despite its relatively low sticker price (half the cars on this list are up over 100K), the hybrid technology wedded to the luxury vehicle makes the new Lexus GS 450h hybrid 'most desirable' for car enthusiasts.

    Spring New Car Forecast 2006 -

    On the other hand, fancy technology can drive mass-market profits. Toyota Motor shocked the auto business by proving a company can make money on gas/electric hybrid cars, which are expensive to build; you just need to sell a lot of them. In the slide show, you can see Toyota’s new Lexus GS Hybrid--the first hybrid luxury sedan.

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    Hybrids cost more in energy than a Hummer?

    In a story I first saw at, research recently done by CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore. found that Hummers take less energy per mile than hybrid vehicles? Story over at USNews.

    It seems it takes more energy to produce hybrid cars than a gas only car. With its more complicated design and because it has more parts in its engine, the energy needed to create a hybrid is more costly than for simpler cars, such as the Jeep Wrangler. Hybrids also have oversized batteries that adds to disposal costs at the end of its life.

    Using hundreds of variables, CNW Marketing reduced the energy equation into a cost per mile for over 300 cars. The average cost to drive was $2.28. All five hybrids analyzed fell below that average.

    This doesn't change the cost equation for the consumer. Despite the higher sticker price, you can save money by buying a hybrid over the lifetime of the car.

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    Toyota to implement hybrid technology across the board

    According to an story in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, and picked up by the AP, Toyota is planning on placing hybrid technology across its entire lineup of cars. By doing so, they plan on selling 1 million hybrid vehicles by 2012.

    Currently Toyota sells the Prius, the Highlander hybrid and the Lexus RX 400h hybrid. They recently started selling the Lexus GS 450h hybrid (pictures, mileage and other info) in Japan, as well. Toyota currently sells more hybrid vehicles than all other companies combined.

    Toyota is hoping to keep production costs down and so keep the retail price between hybrid and gas-only cars under $2550. They are also hoping to sell 2,000 hybrid cars in North America alone this year.

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