Friday, September 28, 2007

GM Brings the Hybrid Yukon and Hybrid Tahoe Home to Texas

2008 GMC Yukon HybridAs GM gets closer and closer to bringing their first full hybrids to market, they are starting to promote them more and more. Their latest showing is happening in Texas, at the 2007 State Fair. Fair goers will get a chance to see the two full size SUV hybrids: the 2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid and the 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, which GM has said will improve fuel economy by 30% using their new two-mode hybrid system.

Texas is an appropriate place to showcase these two new hybrids, since they will be built at at the GM Arlington Assembly Plant.

While the EPA rated mileage of 21 city/ 22 highway for 2WD and 20/20 for 4WD models won't exactly wow most hybrid enthusiasts (who expect to see 40+ mpg), for a full size SUV that's very, very good. And the important thing, for those who worry about how much fuel the US uses every year, big gains at the lower end of the fuel economy spectrum mean a lot more than big gains at the higher end.

2008 Chevy Tahoe HybridFor instance, going from 15 mpg to 20 mpg in a vehicle means the driver will go from buying 1,000 gallons of fuel to 750 gallons over 15,000 miles, a savings of 250 gallons. But going from 40 to 45 mpg will only save the driver 42 gallons.

GM expects to sell 10,000 units per year, combined, of the hybrid SUVs. Prices won't be announced until closer to launch, but are expected to start in the low- to mid-$40,000 range.
Source: Autonews
The Yukon and Tahoe hybrid engines are the first to use the two-mode hybrid system co-developed by GM, BMW and DaimlerChrysler. Inside the engine, you will find two different powertrains, electric and gas. By pairing the two, you get a hybrid engine.

The electric motor will be capable of moving the SUV under its own power up to 32 mph, making these hybrid SUVS full hybrids. The electric motor is powered by the battery pack, which is powered through regenerative breaking and, when needed, by the gas engine. But the gas savings don't end there.

They are also being equipped with cylinder deactivation, which means four of the eight cylinders in the monster V-8 gas engine will shut off when the car is cruising on the highway. The gas engine will also shut itself off when the SUV slows down or comes to a stop.

The full size SUV hybrids will also have lightweight body panels and wind cheating bumpers covers.

Oh, and did I mention they can still tow? 6,200 pounds (2WD); 6,000 pounds (4WD).

"The new Tahoe and Yukon Hybrid SUVs offer the best of both worlds to customers and complement the Texan lifestyle – all the capability expected of an SUV with better-than-ever fuel economy," said Ed Peper, Chevrolet general manager.

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Worried About the Battery?

Prius Hybrid Battery ModuleAlmost from the moment hybrid cars were re-introduced to the world by Toyota and Honda a decade ago, there have been two big questions everyone asks.

1) Will you save enough on gas to make it worth the extra money to buy it?
2) What happens if the battery dies? How much does it cost?

And so you see a lot of posts talking about these two questions again and again. The problem is no one really knows the answer until it happens. Will you save money in the long run depends on the highly variable cost of gas. When you can't tell me how much gas is going to cost tomorrow, how can I tell you whether or not you're going to make out in the next three to five years?

And as for the hybrid car battery packs, we just haven't heard about massive failures (which is a good thing) happening. And even those that do happen, the warranty usually covers it. When Honda covers the battery pack for 80,000 miles and Toyota covers it for 100,000 miles, the cost of replacement is usually covered by the car company. * Note the warranty in California is for 150,000 miles.

But, now that hybrid cars have been around for a decade, we were bound to see some issues arise that occur after the warranty:

Source: - Battery Problems on First-Gen Hybrids

The real-world experiences of owners with first-generation hybrids—now clocking mileage into six-figures—will be the real test of the longevity of hybrid batteries. And the commitment from carmakers and dealerships to respond to any bona fide problems.

And, unfortunately for those owners of the first generation hybrids, that's what a few of them are starting to see. When the replacement cost can range from $4 - $6,000, it's not a light decision to make as to whether it's worth it to replace the battery.

I would like to point out that every car has it's possible issues. As one commenter points out, if your transmission breaks, it's going to cost you thousands to fix it. There are several other parts on a car that are just too expensive to even contemplate replacing if something goes seriously wrong.

And then there are those who are in the majority and our car can last for a decade or for several hundred thousands of miles without a major issue. We should count ourselves as being fortunate.

But as for the question about if you should be worried about the battery, I would say you should be, but only as much as you should worry about anything breaking on the car.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

All Politics are Local Hybrids

When it comes to local politic, anything goes. While we've seen some local politicians jump on and do what they can to encourage hybrid cars (see this previous story on how Connecticutt politicians want you to buy a hybrid), but it doesn't always work.

And unlike national politics, sometimes Republics really do love hybrids, while democrats are not so much...

In Vernon, CT, the town council voted 6-5 to enact a tax break for owners of hybrid vehicles (or other environmentally friendly vehicles) that manage to get 40 mpg. Unfortunately, they needed 7 votes to get the ordinance passed.

If it had passed, local owners would have gotten $32.91 net savings ($1,000 off the property tax value). There are currently 371 vehicles in Vernon that would have qualified for the tax relief.

The strange part, for those who are used to national politics, is the Republicans voted for the tax break, while the Democrats voted against it.

The local Republicans were looking to do what they could to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The Democrats feel that hybrid cars are pricey, which means they would be giving a tax break to the rich.

I would point out to those Democrats that's the whole point. Right now, hybrid car prices are higher than their counterparts, making people who have moderate or lower incomes less likely to buy them. Which is why they are the ones who need the incentives.

They could have also pointed out that it's not just hybrids they would be giving the incentives to (if I'm reading this correctly). The smaller cars that are capable of getting 40 mpg are not for the 'rich' and are basically cheap (for cars) to buy.

Either way, a $32 tax break isn't going to push anyone one way or the other, and certainly can't be seen as giving a break to the rich. It's more of a symbolic gesture about what the town could do to help promote our addiction to oil.

Follow the category link below for other state and local incentives being discussed and implemented across the country.

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How Popular is the Toyota Prius?

The Toyota Prius is the most popular choice when it comes to hybrid cars by a long shot. The next hybrid car in line for popularity is the Honda Civic Hybrid. Honda has sold 21,736 Civic Hybrids through the month of August in the U.S. Prius sales are about 6x higher with 124,620 sold so far this year. Overall, around 1 out of every 2 hybrids sold in the U.S. is a Prius.

But that's not the whole story.

In the U.S. last month, 712,163 cars were sold. Through the month August that brings the total to 5,416,759 cars sold. But that means that 2.0% in the month of August and 2.3% year to date of the cars sold have been the Prius.

Think about that for a second. 2 out of every 100 cars sold in the U.S. is a Prius. And you thought you were imagining things when you thought you saw the Prius everywhere you go.

Toyota, which has become the most popular car company in the US sold 135,507 cars in August and have year to date sales of 1,045,631 cars. Which means 10.4% of the cars Toyota sold in August and 8.9% YTD have been Prius.

Again, think about that. 1 out of every 10 cars sold by Toyota is a Prius.

Is it a wonder why other car companies are looking so hard to bring hybrids to market?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Recall on 2007-2008 Toyota Camry Floormats

There is a recall on the 2007-2008 Toyota Camry and Lexus ES 350 models over safety issues concerning the floor mats. It seems the floor mats may not be secured correctly, which may lead to the mat moving forward and interfering with the acceleration pedal.

Owners should receive letters in mail next week, letting them know when they can come in and replace the mats at no charge.

"Until the replacement all-weather floor mat for the driver's seating position is made available, customers should regularly verify that their floor mat is properly secured using the retaining hooks provided."

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Fords New Ad Campaign

And I do mean campaign, as in presidential campaign. Ford has decided to trumpet how they build the vehicle of choice for the presidential hopefuls. I've talked about this before, telling you what the candidates are driving and how President Clinton was given a Mercury Mariner Hybrid, not because I think it's a relevant political point, but simply because I find it interesting how many candidates want to be seen as green.

But what Ford wants you to know is how everyone is choosing a Ford (or Mercury) Hybrid. What they fail to point out is they have the only domestic full hybrid to choose from. GM and DaimlerChrysler have yet to bring their full hybrids to market (GM does have mild hybrids on the market, for instance the Vue Greenline). So, in order for any candidate to look green and 'buy American', they have to get a Ford Escape Hybrid or Mercury Mariner Hybrid.

And despite all of Fords reasons (see below) for the candidates to choose them, a limited choice is no real choice at all.

Press Release follows:

With the 2008 Presidential campaign in full swing, Ford is touting the fact that the Escape Hybrid is the “candidate’s choice” for transportation, whether at home or on the campaign trail, in ads on Capitol Hill.

Reported by major news organizations – including the Associated Press, USA Today, and BusinessWeek – the Escape Hybrid, and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid, are playing a role in the transportation of the current crop of Presidential hopefuls and even in that of the leaders of the previous Presidential administration.

The Escape Hybrid is the first American-made hybrid to hit the market, and it remains the cleanest and most fuel-efficient SUV on the planet. Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid are produced at Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo.

The Escape Hybrid “Candidate’s Choice” ad features a headline reading “We May Not Know Where All of the Candidates Stand, But We Do Know Where a Lot of Them Sit.” An image of a campaign button featuring an Escape Hybrid is the centerpiece of the ad. The new ads will appear beginning the week of September 24 in several Capitol Hill publications including CongressDaily AM, CQ Today, Roll Call, The Hill and Politico.

Escape Hybrid owners, no matter if they are Presidential candidates or not, receive multiple benefits from the hybrid electric SUV, including:

* Hybrid Technology – Ford Escape Hybrid is a “full” hybrid that maximizes fuel efficiency with the ability to run on electric or gasoline power alone, or a combination of the two to deliver up to 34 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway.

* Greener Living – Escape Hybrid makes it easy to drive “green” by emitting 76% less smog-forming emissions than the average new car. Escape Hybrid is PZEV-certified (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) in the states adopting California Emissions standards. Escape Hybrid also features fabric seating surfaces produced from 100 percent recycled post-industrial materials.

* No Compromise – Featuring a rugged new look for 2008, the Escape Hybrid not only offers low environmental impact and outstanding fuel economy, but has all the capability and roominess of a traditional SUV.

* Saving Green 101 – With considerable savings from fewer visits to the gas pump, the highest available federal tax credit for a hybrid (up to $3,000 for front-wheel drive and $2,200 for all-wheel drive models), various state tax credits and local incentives, and insurance discounts from major providers (Travelers Insurance offers up to a ten percent discount in certain states), Escape Hybrid is good for an owner’s bank account.

About Escape Hybrid

The Ford Escape Hybrid is the cleanest and most fuel-efficient SUV in the world, combining the fuel economy and emissions benefits of a full hybrid with the go-anywhere capability, toughness and spaciousness of the Ford Escape – America’s favorite small SUV.

The Escape Hybrid is a “full” hybrid, meaning it automatically switches between pure electric power, pure gasoline engine power or combined operation to maximize efficiency and performance. Its gasoline engine and electric motor work in concert, providing performance similar to that of a V-6 engine. In less demanding situations, the Escape Hybrid can run on its electric motor alone (at speeds up to 25 mph), its gasoline engine alone or the most efficient combination of the two.

Full hybrids achieve their greatest improvement in fuel economy during stop-and-go driving, when the electric motor is most efficient. In fact, the Escape Hybrid provides approximately 80 percent better fuel economy in city driving than the conventional V-6 Escape and can travel more than 500 miles in city driving on a single tank of gasoline.

It is an extremely clean vehicle to operate – an amazing 99.4 percent cleaner, on average than an unregulated vehicle. Escape Hybrid meets strict Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV II) and Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) standards.

The 2008 Escape and Escape Hybrid are believed to be the first U.S. automotive applications of 100 percent recycled fabric seating surfaces. The new fabric, supplied by Interface Fabrics, Inc. of Atlanta, Ga., is produced from 100 percent post-industrial material – defined as anything intended for retail use but never makes it to the consumer. This can be anything from plastic intended for soft drink bottles to un-dyed polyester fibers.

This plastic and polyester is processed, spun into yarn, dyed and woven into seat fabric. Recycling waste otherwise intended for landfills has obvious environmental benefits. Interface Fabrics estimates that Ford’s use of post-industrial recycled materials, rather than virgin fibers, could conserve an estimated 600,000 gallons of water, 1.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents and more than 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Volkswagen Wants All Their Cars to be Hybrids

According to Ulrich Hackenberg, head of product development at VW, Volkswage wants to offer hybrid version on all new models. They hybrid vehicles could be full or mild versions.

Hackenberg was quoted in the Automobilewoche magazine (via Forbes). Hackenberg also indicated VW was considering an electric motor for the New Small Family car, while the new rear-engine compact car due out in 2011 could offer both a mild and a full hybrid option.

VW also wants to implement their BlueMotion technology across the board to increase their fuel efficiency.

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Audi Delays the Lauch of the Hybrid Q7

In order to avoid the year end sales events, Audi is looking to delay the launch of its new hybrid and diesel Q7 crossovers, as well as the Q5. By pushing it back to 2009, they will be able to sell them as 201 model year.

Read more on what little is known on the Audi Q7 Hybrid.

Source: Autonews via Motortrend

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Recondition Your Hybrid Battery to Help it Last Longer

A big question mark for those buying hybrid cars is how long the battery pack is going to last. Since the nickel-metal hydride batteries are said to cost $3,000 or more to replace, that's not a minor worry for most people.

Toyota (and the other auto makers) are currently giving customers lifetime warranties (80 or 100K miles), so that if anything occurs to the battery pack, the company will replace it for free. That's good news for most people, and has certainly helped fuel the sales of hybrids. But Toyota is saying that they may not need to replace the battery pack.

If the battery does have an issue after the warranty has run out, Toyota says they have a new lower cost solution, that of reconditioning the battery. If something goes wrong with a battery pack, the issue is probably within only one of the 28 modules that make up the whole battery.

So, according to Jim Gatzke of Toyota's National Alternative Fuel Vehicle Service and Support group "The module must be replaced with one that matches the chemistry of the other 27 modules." A match is created by harvesting from a battery pack from another vehicle with similar age and mileage. Once replaced, Gatzke believes the 'reconditioned' battery pack may last another six years.

Toyota says reconditioning the battery will cost about one-fourth that of replacing.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is the US Ready to Plug-In Their Car?

Harris Interactive released the results of their latest survey on plug-in cars. When asked "How likely would you be to purchase this technology on your next new vehicle?", 27% of the respondents answered they were at least likely to do so. 23% (30% male, 16% female) felt they were at least familiar with the technology. Those are pretty good numbers considering there are no plug-in vehicles in production as of today.

Harris got 965 people to respond to their on-line poll (this is a subset of their entire pool). They were U.S. adults ages 18 and over and who own or lease a vehicle, have a valid driver’s license, have at least one household vehicle, own a listed North American model – 2003 or newer, and are at least 50 percent involved in the decision to buy their next household vehicle. But this isn't a random sample of people and all the results should be treated as suspect. But, there are some interesting tidbits in the numbers.

27% Would Likely Purchase a Plug-In Hybrid Next Time

In case it isn't clear everything in the following paragraphs up until the conclusion is in regards to those 27% (n=259) who would likely purchase a PHEV.

Although the 27% for those who would likely purchase a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) was evenly distributed across gender, it was not evenly distributed across the type of vehicle the respondent owned. The percentages ranged from 16% (Luxury Car or Light Pickup Owners) to 45% for those who owned Entry (small or compact) SUVs.

For those 259 respondents who were likely to purchases a plug-in, not surprisingly, 84% would prefer plugging in at night rather than purchasing gas. I think someone needs to tell them in a hybrid car you would have to do both, although you would need to gas up a lot less often depending on what type of plug-in hybrid it is. A series hybrid like the the Volt (concept plug-in hybrid from GM), for instance, may get you up to 40 miles without having to use any gas at all. Which means you may never have to stop and buy gas again, although on longer trips you could do so.

Also, 34% expected the recharge to take less than 4 hours. That may be unrealistic, but I'm not sure about that.

For those who felt they would purchase a PHEV, their expectations for performance and logistics seemed a little bit off to me. For instance, only 45% expect to have to recharge once a day, while 7% would expect to need to charge more than once a day. That means over half would expect to recharge less than once a week, which just isn't likely.

Then there's the expectation of how long you could go without recharging. Only 2% expected to get less than 40 miles between recharges. The most recent projection on the Volt is a maximum of 40 miles and current hybrids (albeit not plug-in hybrids) can only go a mile or two without engaging the gas engine. That's quite a disparity between reality and expectation. The good news is 65% of these respondents drove less than 40 miles a day.

A good point to keep in mind is 73% of those likely to purchase a PHEV either had a private driveway or parked in a garage connected to a house. In other words, they would not have any issues related to plugging in their car at night.

It seems there would be a market for plug-ins, and it may be even larger than I thought. But there are still a lot of issues dealing with expectations vs. reality in this soon to emerge technology.

Auto makers should, if they want to turn this projected market into a reality, start informing the public sooner rather than later about the strengths and weaknesses of PHEVs. Without addressing those issues, plug-ins will be relegated to a niche market with little profit to be made despite all the research money being thrown into it.

Follow the link to read more on my take on the issues car makers need to address on plug-in hybrids before they come to market.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

USABC Invests $6.5 Million in Lithium Ion Battery Production

Ener1 Inc., a subsidiary of Enerdel Inc. was awarded $6.5 million to develop production capable Lithium-Ion batteries. Enderdel, which is located in Indianapolis, hopes to bring production costs down to $1,500 per battery, which would be half of what current nickel-metal hydride batteries are reported to cost. They are also hoping the new Li-Ion battery packs will be ready for car manufacturers to use in their 2010 lineups. In other words, they should be in production by September, 2009.

Ener1 won the grant from the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC). The USABC is comprised of the Big 3: Chrysler, Ford and GM as well as the U.S. Dept of Energy. The consortium is part of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research. The Dept. of Energy provides half the budget for the consortium.

The grant is part two of a three phase program. Enderdel completed part one in June. The second phase involves the development of a production-caliber cell, extensive lifetime testing and evaluation, and demonstrating the technology in battery modules.

"The program is essential to advancing the goals of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership, yielding both near- and long-term benefits for hybrid electric and hydrogen-fueled transportation," said Don Walkowicz, executive director of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research.

The battery is lithium titanate, as opposed to the lithium potassium batteries A123 is creating. According to Charles Gassenheimer, vice chairman of Enderdel, the lithium titanate runs cooler and is therefore safer than their competitors. It will also be cheaper for car manufacturers because it won't require a separate cooling system for the battery. The basic technology was developed by Peter Novak, formerly of the Russian Academy of Sciences, technology from Japan and packaging know-how from Delphi.

According to Enerdel, the battery is intended for use in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), but would also be available for use in the next generation of hybrid electric vehicles (HEV).

Read more about it at Lithium ion battery project gets more funding - Automotive News and Start-up promises to slash the costs of plug-in hybrids | Tech news blog - CNET

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are Hybrids Popular in Hawaii?

HawaiiAfter seeing yesterdays report from R. L. Polk & Co. showing Hawaii was the only state to have a decline in sales through the first seven months of 2007 compared to last year, you might think hybrids are losing their charm in Hawaii.

But Polk only gave out the percentage change. That makes it hard to evaluate the changes going on. For instance, Oklahoma had the biggest increase with 143% increase in registrations, but that doesn't tell you what the real change was. If they sold (I'm making the number of sales in Oklahoma up for illustration purposes. I have no idea how many were registered in Oklahoma last year.) registered 10 hybrids last year and increased that amount by 143%, that wouldn't compare to an increase of 5% in California, where they sell thousands of hybrids.

In Hawaii last year, the Prius was the 21st most popular vehicle with 686 Prius sold. And because they are so popular, local dealers have trouble getting new models in. So, reporting a 5% decrease in sales doesn't really tell you the whole story.

Which brings up the questions on the highlight of the story. The Midwest was shown to have the biggest percentage increase in hybrid sales, but without the denominator, it's really hard to tell what the real underlying story is.

I just wish if Polk were going to release the percentages, they would trow in the denominators, too.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Corsa Hybrid Concept From GM

GM introduces the Corsa Hybrid concept vehicle. The short film itself is not very informative, but still of interest to those who are into hybrid cars.

The Hybrid Corsa has a Belt Alternator Starter (BAS) mild hybrid system (similar to the Vue Hybrid) and is based on the 55 kW/75 hp Corsa 1.3 CDTI (turbo-diesel). The diesel engine turns off when the vehicle is coming to a stop or when stopped and the electric motor assists the gas engine when moving. But the electric motor would not be capable of moving the car on its own.

The battery is lithium-ion and is recharged through regenerative braking or the diesel engine. The car is rated at 3.75 liters of diesel per 100 km and will emit only 99 g/km of CO2. GM has no plans to bring it into production, however.

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California Still Sells More Hybrids, But MidWest Shows Biggest Growth

According to the latest study by R. L. Polk & Co., the Western region, especially California, still sells more hybrids than any other region. But the Midwest showed the biggest increase in sales over the first seven months of 2007.

Table 1 - Regional Hybrid Growth
(Percent change from Jan. - July 2006 to Jan. - July 2007)

  1. Midwest 56.9%
  2. West 51.8%
  3. Northeast 49.3%
  4. South 41.5%
  5. Total U.S. 49.3%
With almost 50% growth in registrations, R. L. Polk & Co. is projecting over 300,000 by the end of the year which is over 2% of the U.S. vehicle market.

Toyota and Lexus continue to dominate the marketplace, with 78% of registrations. That is in comparison to 74% through the first seven months of 2006.

Oklahoma saw the biggest gains (143% growth), while Hawaii was the only state to decline (down 5.3%). All other states saw hybrid registration increase by at least 9.9%.

Bottom 5 Hybrid Growth States
(Percent change from Jan. - July 2006 to Jan. - July 2007)
Rank State Percent Change
  1. Hawaii -5.3%
  2. Mississippi 9.9%
  3. Virginia 12.1%
  4. Montana 15.2%
  5. Louisiana 21.5%

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Green ENVI for Chrysler

I spend a lot of time talking about Ford, GM, Toyota and Honda (and to a lesser extent, Nissan) because they are the companies with hybrid cars on the market today. But lately, a lot of other companies are starting to get their green initiatives going, either through partnerships or their own hybrid research. Smaller automotive companies, including Porsche, are getting in on hybrid technology because of government pressure on them to reduce emissions.

However, of the Big Three, DaimlerChrysler has been the one company completely behind the others. Chrysler did develop a hybrid diesel Dodge Ram a decade ago for testing, but it never made it past that point.

In the coming years, Chrysler will be introducing their first full hybrid models, the Dodge Durango Hybrid and Chrysler Aspen Hybrid. Both SUV models will be based on the two-mode hybrid system they developed with GM and BMW. The dual-mode hybrid system is said to improve fuel economy by 25% over the gas only models.

Chrysler also has the ForTwo Micro Hybrid. A small two seater, the Smart Micro Hybrid has a mild hybrid system which can improve fuel economy in the Smart vehicle from 8 to 20%. But the car itself is so small I have a hard time envisioning the hybrid making a huge impact here in the US, if it even comes to these shores. I imagine it will be similar to the Insight, and appeal to a certain segment, but won't have a mass appeal.

In the meantime, Chrysler is finally setting up their own engineering division to design and build hybrid vehicles. It will be called ENVI (short for environment) and will be located in Detroit. Chrysler is hoping the new engineering division will bring about the next generation of hybrids under the nameplates of Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.

"The creation of ENVI allows us to focus on the development of a new generation of environmentally responsible Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles," Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said.

It seems ENVI is focusing in on developing hybrid or electric vehicles that can stand on their own, rather than reworking existing models. For that, they'll use the dual-mode hybrid system (or mild hybrid systems).

Part of the success of the Prius has been not having a more conventional gas-only engine for comparison. Toyota is looking to expand the Prius line into several different models, but as hybrids only. Honda is looking to produce a hybrid only family sedan to replace the Accord Hybrid (built for performance, not fuel economy) and the Insight (small two seater). So Chrysler could be following a very successful trend by creating a hybrid only vehicle in the coming years.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Honda Recalls 2006-2007 Civic, Including the Hybrids

Honda announced a recall on their 2006 and 2007 Civic coupes and sedans. This recall affects hybrid Civics, as well.

Honda told the NHTSA improperly assembled O-ring on a wheel speed sensor housing allows water and road salt to reach the wheel bearings, which may then fail. The fault affects over 180,000 Civics.

In a separate issue and during the recall visits, 20,000 Civics built in 2006 will have new brake light switches with protective coverings installed. Lubricants from the telescoping mechanism of the steering column may cause the brake light switches to fail.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chicago Goes Hybrid for $8.7 Million

Over the next three years, the city of Chicago will buy 300 hybrid vehicles from a local Toyota dealership. For a price tag of $8.7 million, that comes to roughly $29,000 per vehicle.

They will purchase 100 Prius, 100 Camry Hybrids, and 100 Highlander Hybrids. The new vehicles will be used primarily by the police and the fire depts.

The city is looking to boost the number of alternative vehicles by 10% each year. They currently have 5,400 vehicles.

Source: Chicago signs $8.7 million contract for buy hybrid vehicles --

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A New Look for the Prius?

The next generation Prius had been highly anticipated. It was supposed to come with the new battery type (Lithium-Ion), which would have given it a giant leap in fuel efficiency. But, for now at least, the next generation Prius due in 2008-2009 will (originally) be powered by nickel-metal hydride batteries instead.

But it is still going through a redesign and Jalopnik has spotted the new look (Found via autoblog). It seems the front end is being remodeled after the Camry or Yaris, while the back end is staying the same.

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Saturn Plug-In Vue in 2009-ish?

Saturn is looking to be the first to market with a plug-in, and is hoping to bring it in using the Vue. The Vue has had a mild hybrid system and will be updated with the dual mode hybrid system in 2008. And now, we have a possible time line on when to expect the plug-in version.

The Vue may be available in "2009-ish" according to Jill Lajdziak, brand general manager for Saturn. The Vue will likely be able to run for 10 miles on electric power alone. It will then be powered (or recharged?) by the gas engine.

GM has been very serious about its development of plug-in hybrids. But GM has also said the plug-in Vue would be powered by a Lithium-Ion battery. I wonder if that is still true given the 2009 figure?

Source: Saturn's plug-in hybrid coming around 2009

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mercedes-Benz Expects to Make a Profit

I know, a car maker expecting to make a profit shouldn't be headline news, right? But GM says the new two-mode (or dual mode) hybrid system developed with BMW and DaimlerChrysler is expected to cost $10,000 more than the conventional vehicle to build. And so for DamilerChrysler (soon to be known as Daimler) CEO Dieter Zetsche to say they expect to make money on the new ML 450 Hybrid, that becomes news.

Zetsche expects to make up the cost difference simply because Mercedes-Benz sell for more money than GM vehicles do.

In case you don't know it, GM is coming out with their dual mode hybrids first; the Yukon and Tahoe Hybrid. GM has said they expect to absorb some of the costs, rather than raise the price dramatically on the hybrid versions. Despite saving 25% of the fuel costs, a $10,000 premium would be a huge pill to swallow for anyone looking to upgrade to a hybrid.

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Some More Information on the Audi Q7 Hybrid

Audi is looking to bring a hybrid Q7 to market some time in 2008. They developed their hybrid system with Volkswagen and Porsche, but will be first to market.

The Audi AG's head of powertrain electronics unit was quoted as saying the system is modular and can be easily adapted to different model ranges. Since the system is modular, Porsche will be using the hybrid system in the Cayenne and the Panamera.

Some details on the Audi Q7 Hybrid:

  • 3.6 liter, 280 hp fuel injected engine
  • Capable of 23 mpg.
  • The gas engine may turn off at 75 mph if the driver does not step on the accelerator.
  • Parallel hybrid system
  • Air conditioning, automatic transmission and brake booster run off the electric engine
  • regenerative braking
  • nickel metal hydride battery with a peak of 288 volts.
  • Total added weight is 309 lbs from the hybrid system
  • Battery is located in the spare wheel well.
Source: Audi will launch first U.S. hybrid, diesel next year - Automotive News

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Official Blog: Drivers, start your batteries!

Official Blog: Drivers, start your batteries!

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Google is Giving Away $10 Million, Can You Plug-In?

In a follow-up to their big promotion on plug-in vehicles back in June, is setting up the $10 million it promised in RFPs. If you have a technology or service that will help promote the commercialization of plug-in hybrid cars, Google wants to hear from you. is seeking companies with technologies, products and services that will accelerate widespread commercialization in the following fields:

* Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)
* Electric vehicles (EVs)
* Vehicle-to-grid solutions (V2G)

Some examples of companies or individuals that might want to apply:

* An early stage technology venture coming out of a university or lab looking to develop and commercialize a product (a new type of battery, for example)
* An innovative services business that can play a key role in the widespread adoption of PHEVs, EVs and/or V2G solutions
* A company focused on one of these markets which can use additional investment capital to scale up adoption of its products
* A company active in the automotive or power space that could modify an existing product that addresses a key need in one of these markets
Google is awarding the money on a rolling basis, so it should be better to get your proposal in earlier. They will stop accepting submissions on October 22, 2007.
This open RFP process is a new approach to mission-focused investing, and we're interested to see what we can learn from it, both in terms of opportunities and gaps that exist in this space today, as well as ways that we can improve on this solicitation process for future investments. Our focus on learning is the primary reason we decided to narrow this first RFP to investments in private companies, rather than a combination of grants and investments.
Google recognizes that $10 million is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the necessary funding to get the plug in vehicles mass produced, which is why they are looking for anyone who can multiply the effect their money can produce.

Google Sources: and Drivers, start your batteries!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

First to Market With a Lithium Ion Battery is... Not Toyota or GM?

With all the emphasis on Toyota and GM and when they are going to get a lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery operated hybrid, it seems no one was expecting anyone else to play. But Mercedes-Benz is looking to make history by being the first to use Li-Ion batteries in their new mild hybrid S-class sedan, the S 400, in 2009.

The mild hybrid will use the Li-Ion battery to power the electric motor, which will assist the gas engine in powering the vehicle (boost the acceleration, for instance). The electric motor (20 hp) will not be able to power the vehicle on its own and is being set in between the (279 hp V-6) gas engine and the transmision. The mild system was co-developed by Daimler and BMW.

The battery will be recharged through regenerative braking and the gas motor.

The battery will be produced by Johnson Controls-Saft. The batteries are designed to last the life of the vehicle, according to CEO Mary Ann Wright.

Its unknown when such a vehicle will make it to the US.

Toyota has the Vitz, a non hybrid, which utilizes lithium-ion batteries (I've never heard of this vehicle?)

Despite being able to offer greater power for less (they are lighter than equivalent nickel metal hydride batteries used in current hybrids), Li-Ion batteries are considered dangerous to use at this point. They have a tendency to overheat and catch fire (see Sony recall on laptops). For a car company to overcome these difficulties would be a huge step in attaining the next generation hybrids.

Source: Mercedes hybrid vehicle will be first to use lithium ion batteries - Automotive News

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Bosch, one of the top auto parts supplier, is predicting hybrid car production will be 4 percent in North America and 9 percent in Japan by 2015. Current figures (by Bosch) set production levels at less than 1 percent in the US and 4 percent in Japan.

Bosch is predicting less penetration by hybrids in Europe, where diesels are the norm. Diesel hybrid engines are a hard sell, since that doubles the extra cost to build compared to engines that incorporate only one or the other.

Source: Bosch readies for boost in hybrid, diesel production - Automotive News (subscription req'd)

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Hybrid Car Sales, August 2007

Hybrid Car Sales Through August 2007August has been a funny month for hybrid car sales. Toyota is switching over from the 2007 to the 2008 models and it has caused a severe drop in sales for the Highlander (down 85.4%) that will most likely be recovered next month. Also, lower gas prices and a flat month in car sales (overall) led to a 3.2% decrease in hybrid car sales. That's the first time (I believe) there has been a decrease in hybrid car sales year-to-year. And this is despite a huge increase in sales from the Toyota Prius, which was up 25.7%.

Please note that I do not keep track of mild hybrid car sales from GM. First, they make it difficult to do so by not breaking out the sales of their hybrids. Second, mild hybrid cars are considered by some not to be 'real' hybrids.



Unit Sales

Year to Year % Change


























GS 450h




RX 400h




LS600h L









The other big news is how Honda has 'unofficially' broken through the 60,000 hybrid car sales mark set by the federal government. That means in a few months, the IRS will begin cutting the federal tax credit in half for those who buy a Honda Hybrid.

August 2006 to August 2007 Hybrid Car SalesToyota Hybrid Car Sales, August 2007
Toyota continues to dominate the hybrid car market by selling four out of every five hybrids in August. That number now includes the LS 600h L, the latest luxury hybrid from Lexus (if you have to ask how much it costs, you shouldn't even bother). And, as I previously mentioned, with the switchover from the 2007 models to the 2008 the Highlander Hybrid saw a stiff decrease in sales this month.

The Prius has continued to out pace the competition. Despite 11 other (full) hybrid models being available, one out of every two hybrids sold is a Prius. Now that's a statement.

Honda Hybrid Car Sales, August 2007
Despite it's failing model (the Accord Hybrid has never shown a year to year increase in sales) and the retirement of the Insight, Honda still sells more hybrids than Ford or Nissan (or GM for that matter). The Civic Hybrid came in third place behind the Prius and the Toyota Camry.

The big news for Honda is the now to be set in stone change in their federal tax credit. Toyota was able to retain and even increase sales since their tax credit began to decrease by 1) offering incentives and 2) having the best hybrid car on the road. Honda may need to follow suit, incentive-wise, in order to counteract any tax credit changes. Honda plans on releasing a more practical family size sedan hybrid to compete with the Prius.

Ford and Nissan Hybrid Car Sales, August 2007
There's very little change to report for either Nissan or Ford. Ford sales were up 2.5% from last year. Both companies only offer one model (if you count the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and the Escape Hybrid as one, which I do) and have little to offer in the ways of variety or growth. Nissan seems to be of two minds on the whole hybrid thing, and has claimed to lose money on each hybrid sale. Ford would rather you switched to alternative fuels, rather than alternative engines.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

ML450 Mercedes Benz, a Two Mode Hybrid

DaimlerChrysler, BMW and GM partnered to produce their version of a hybrid and emerged with the two mode hybrid engine. GM is releasing the Tahoe and GMC Hybrid using the new technology this year, and now Mercedes-Benz is taking advantage of the dual mode hybrid system with its introduction of the ML 450 Hybrid.

Mercedes Benze ML 450 Hybrid SUVThe new luxury SUV Hybrid is being rated at 7.7 litres per 100 km (CO2 emissions of 185 g/km), which isn't bad considering the Lexus RX 400h is rated at 31 / 27 MPG 7.59 / 8.71 L/100km. The ML 450 Hybrid is capable of 340 hp and a maximum torque of 480 Nm.

The ML 450 Hybrid is being introduced at the 62nd International Motor Show in Frankfurt, but won't be available until at least 2009.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

GM Wants You to Rent the Battery, Buy the Car

In an effort to keep the costs down, GM is looking to rent the battery to anyone who eventually buys the Volt. That seems like a smart move to me, but I wonder how willing most people will be to 'rent' a part of the car that is essential. In a manner of speaking, you'll have to keep making payments to GM for the lifetime of your car.

However, if they truly keep the costs down to what you would normally spend on gas (would they charge by the mile?), some people may see that as acceptable. Of course, anyone with a long commute who is paying for gas and for the battery may second guess their choice.

Nick Reilly, the president of General Motors Asia Pacific, was quoted (link to AutoblogGreen) as saying,

  • "It looks as if it is going to cost a lot more to buy a car like this, however the fuel economy is enormous"
  • "People won't buy a full car. They will buy a car and rent or lease the battery and the cost of leasing the battery will be the same as, or less than, the cost they're paying today for petrol. So the motoring costs of an electric vehicle don't necessarily have to be much higher than the cost of today's vehicles"
  • "Before we were saying it will be an awfully long time before we can get the costs down so people can afford it, but actually if you offset the fuel costs, people can afford it."

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Volvo ReCharge... Coming ... Soon?

Volvo RechargeVolvo is coming to Frankfurt with its own version of the Volt concept. A redesigned C30, the Recharge is an electric car first, gas car second. In other words, it's a plug-in capable of getting 100 km before the gas engine is required to recharge the lithium-ion battery pack.

With a full charge (takes about 3 hours), it can give you 124 mpg over a 93 mile stretch. If you're daily commute is less than 62 miles, you may never need to stop for gas again.

Each wheel has its own electric motor, providing 'independent traction power.' A four cylinder 1.6L Flexifuel engine can recharge the battery pack (located in the back) when it gets low.

According to Ichiro Sugioka, project manager for the Volvo ReCharge Concept, "... our C30 with plug-in hybrid technology retains its lively and sporty driving properties. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes 9 seconds and top speed is 160 km/h."

To be clear, this is a concept car and is not likely to go into production.

Jalopnik has the press video up.

Press Release Follows:

Volvo Cars is introducing the Volvo ReCharge Concept, a plug-in hybrid with individual electric wheel motors and batteries that can be recharged via a regular electrical outlet for maximum environmental benefit. Recharging allows the car to be driven about 100 kilometres on battery power alone before the car's four-cylinder Flexifuel engine is needed to power the car and recharge the battery. Volvo ReCharge Concept makes its debut in a specially designed Volvo C30 at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

"A certain proportion of electrical vehicles will be necessary to meet the CO2 emission demands of the future. Since the Volvo ReCharge Concept combines an excellent battery range with a backup combustion engine, it is a very interesting concept," says Magnus Jonsson, Senior Vice President Research and Development at Volvo Cars. The ReCharge Concept has been developed at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center (VMCC), the Volvo Car Corporation's think-tank in Camarillo, California.

"This is a ground-breaking innovation for sustainable transportation. A person driving less than 100 kilometres a day will rarely need to visit a filling station. In the USA, this may apply to almost 80 percent of drivers," says Magnus Jonsson. Thanks to the excellent electrical range from a fuel consumption angle, the Volvo ReCharge Concept is exceptionally kind to the car owner's wallet. When driving on electric power only, operating costs are expected to be about 80 percent lower than that of a comparable petrol-powered car. When driving beyond the 100 km battery range, fuel consumption may vary from 0 to 5.5 litres per 100 km depending on the distance driven using the engine.

"This plug-in hybrid car, when used as intended, should have about 66 percent lower emissions of carbon dioxide compared with the best hybrid cars available on the market today. Emissions may be even lower if most of the electricity in intended markets comes from CO2-friendly sources such as biogas, hydropower and nuclear power," says Magnus Jonsson.

An electric motor at each wheel
The Volvo ReCharge Concept combines a number of the latest technological innovations into a so-called "series hybrid" where there is no mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels.

The battery pack integrated into the luggage compartment uses lithium-polymer battery technology. The batteries are intended to have a useful life beyond that of the car itself. Four electric motors, one at each wheel, provide independent traction power. Four-cylinder 1.6-litre Flexifuel engine drives an advanced generator that efficiently powers the wheel motors when the battery is depleted.

Electric car with a combustion engine as backup
In principle, the Volvo ReCharge Concept is a battery electric car with an efficient generator, an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), that steps in when battery charge becomes insufficient for adequate driving performance. The APU is designed to distribute electrical power to the individual motors at each wheel. Since the combustion engine only powers the APU, it can operate in an optimal fashion, both for regulated emissions and CO2. The APU is sufficiently powerful to supply an entire villa with electricity. For example it could with minor modifications in principle give the car owner an electricity generator right at his front door in the event of a power failure.

The driver can choose the power source
The combustion engine starts up automatically when 70 percent of the battery power has been used up. However, the driver also has the option of controlling the four-cylinder Flexifuel engine manually via a button in the instrument panel.

This allows the driver to start the engine earlier in order to maximize battery charge, for instance when out on the highway in order to save battery capacity for driving through the next town.

"There is a considerable difference between our plug-in hybrid and today's hybrids. Today's hybrids use the battery only for short periods to assist the combustion engine. Our solution is designed for most people to run on electric power all the time, while providing the extra security that comes with having a combustion engine as a secondary source of electrical power," says Ichiro Sugioka, project manager for the Volvo ReCharge Concept. He adds: "What is more, our C30 with plug-in hybrid technology retains its lively and sporty driving properties. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes 9 seconds and top speed is 160 km/h."

Specially developed electric motors
The central electrical components in the Volvo ReCharge Concept demonstrator - the generator for the APU and the wheel motors - were developed together with British electromagnetic specialists PML Flightlink.

With an individual electric motor at each wheel, weight distribution as well as mechanical efficiency and traction are maximized. The friction in mechanical gears is eliminated. Since the car does not have the transmission found in ordinary cars, there is no need for a gear lever. To help maximize the environmental benefits, the Volvo ReCharge Concept has high-efficiency tyres developed by Michelin. They are specially designed to accommodate the wheelmotors. Further more, the car has All Wheel Drive in the truest sense of the term. Power to each wheel is controlled individually.

The energy that is generated during braking is transmitted to the battery pack. When the system is ultimately developed, traditional wheel brakes will be completely replaced by electrical brakes with minimal energy wasted through friction. To ensure reliable operation of the drivetrain and braking system, driver inputs are fed into a quadruple-redundant electronic control system.

Ecologically sound solution for commuters

The Volvo ReCharge Concept is best suited to car drivers who cover moderate distances every day. For example, a commuter who has less than 100 kilometres (62 miles) to drive between home and workplace can cover the entire round trip on electric power alone and the equivalent daily fuel economy will be zero litres per 100 km.

Even drivers who cover more than the battery-only range will benefit from the ReCharge Concept. For a 150 km (93 mile) drive starting with a full charge, the car will require less than 2.8 litres of fuel, giving the car an effective fuel economy of 1.9 l/100km (124 mpg).

"The only requirement is that the car owner has access to electrical outlets at convenient places, such as at home or at the workplace. A full recharge takes 3 hours. However, even a one-hour quick charge should provide enough charge to drive about 50 kilometres," says Magnus Jonsson.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Are You a Cheater?

HOV lanes are getting too crowded in California according to the federal government. The the Federal Highway Administration has ordered the state to do something about it. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is mulling several options for fixing the problems:

  • Banning hybrids
  • Raising penalties against cheaters
  • Limiting exit and entry points on some freeways
  • Raise the minimum-occupancy requirement from two to three people
The problem stems from a recent report from Caltrans which estimates speeds have fallen below 45 mph in over 40 percent of the carpool lanes in California. 13 percent are at stop and go levels.

As of right now, booting out hybrid drivers then "would only be as a last resort."

Source: San Jose Mercury News - Carpool cheaters could pay more

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Prius is Number 1... err... 14, no... 8

The Toyota Prius is the top selling hybrid by far. But now its number 14 on the list of top vehicles sold through August of 2007. That puts it above the Focus, Caravan, Econoline, RAV-4, Escape and Odyssey (numbers 15 - 20 on the list of 20 provided by Reuters). That places it firmly at number 8 if you restrict to cars.

Pretty impressive for an alternative vehicle.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Lithium Ion Batteries a No-Go for Toyota?

Toyota was the first to get a plug-in hybrid car on the road in Japan, and has the most popular hybrid car sold today. In fact, the Prius has become synonymous with the word hybrid. So, when the executive vice president for R&D at Toyota says lithium-ion batteries are too dangerous (subscription required) right now to put in hybrid cars, I have a hard time dismissing those concerns.

At the same time, GM has been keeping up the pressure by announcing they will have the Volt out sooner rather than later. According to all reports, GMs lithium-ion batteries have a different chemical aspect, making them more stable.

Of course, Honda was first on the scene with a hybrid in the US. And look at what that's gotten them, a very distant second place to Toyota's dominance of the hybrid marketplace.

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