Wednesday, April 30, 2008

California is Buying Less Gas

With the rising cost of gas, we're starting to see a real shift in the way people drive and consume. Interest in gas saving techniques is rising, smaller cars are gaining market share, hybrid cars are selling faster than ever, and now people are just buying less gas than they used to.

Green Car Congress is reporting the State Board of Equalization (BOE), which monitors gas consumption through tax receipts has released the numbers on January. And gas sales were down by 58.2 million gallons than last January. But that's just a continuation in the trend, since sales in 2007 were down 0.97% than 2006.

But for those of you who are worried how that affects tax revenues, don't worry. Since the price of gas has risen so much, sales taxes have actually increased.

GCC has a remarkable graph on the trend in sales, so head over and take a look. The graph is based on the report from the BOE.

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Can Plugging School Buses in Improve Them?

School BusesEnova Systems announced test results from a plug-in hybrid school bus and the results are good. A 70 percent increase in fuel economy over a standard diesel powered bus, plus a significant reduction in emissions.

  • Over 40% reduction in CO2
  • Over 30% reduction in Particulate Matter
  • Over 20% reduction in NOx
That sorts of results could have a serious impact on school buses and their effects in local communities. Along with the announcement from IC Bus of their intention to drop the price by $40,000 and the reality of plug-in hybrid school buses has just gotten a lot closer.

Although it should be noted that the price of these plug-in hybrids will still be significantly higher than their standard counterparts.

Press Release Follows:

Enova Systems Announces Plug-In Hybrid School Bus Testing Shows 70 Percent Improved Fuel Economy and Significantly Reduced Emissions

TORRANCE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Recent dynamometer test results conclude that IC Bus school buses using post-transmission hybrid drive systems from Enova Systems (AMEX:ENA)(AIM:ENV)(AIM:ENVS) can improve fuel efficiency by more than 70 percent compared to standard diesel-powered school buses. The Enova hybrid drive systems installed in the IC Bus school buses also significantly reduce carbon dioxide, NOx and particulate matter emissions. Advanced Energy, a resource for innovative and market-based approaches to energy issues, has facilitated the adoption of IC Bus plug-in hybrid school buses in school districts in the U.S. and Canada.

These route-specific test results, along with the recent announcement by IC Bus of their intention to reduce the price of their school buses equipped with plug-in hybrid electric systems by up to $40,000, shows that significant progress has been made in developing, engineering and deploying fuel efficient and cost competitive hybrid electric buses.

“Our unique post transmission system offers original equipment manufacturers a non-invasive solution to enter the hybrid vehicle market in either the retrofit or new vehicle segment. Being the only supplier of this technology offers us and our customers a tremendous competitive advantage,” states Mike Staran, Enova’s President and CEO.

The extensive series of fuel consumption and emissions tests were conducted to simulate actual route cycles and conditions using the West Virginia University Suburban Test Cycle. The tests were conducted at an independent commercial laboratory accepted by the California Air Resources Board that is properly equipped to perform specialized tests in accordance with applicable federal and California test procedures.

Tests were conducted on the following buses equipped with the Enova plug-in hybrid electric systems:

* 2007 model year IC Bus CE Series school bus with a VT365 engine and Allison 2500 transmission
* 2008 model year IC Bus CE Series school bus with a MaxxForce 7 engine and Allison 2500 transmission

The results shown below reflect a comparison of the plug-in hybrid buses to identical IC Bus school buses with standard diesel engines and drive systems. These results are based on the route-specific conditions defined by the West Virginia University Suburban Cycle and do not necessarily reflect fuel consumption and emissions data that may be generated from other route conditions. Selecting routes with frequent stops and starts and minimal highway miles allows the bus to get the most out of the hybrid system and is a key element to obtaining similar results.

Test Results from Both 2007 and 2008 IC Bus CE Series with Enova Systems

Fuel Economy:
Over 70% increase over the standard diesel system

Over 40% reduction in CO2
Over 30% reduction in Particulate Matter
Over 20% reduction in NOx

“We are very pleased with the test results, and will now focus our attention to understanding school bus routes and determining the types and duration of routes that can strongly benefit from plug-in hybrid electric systems,” says Ewan Pritchard, Hybrid Program Manager for Advanced Energy. “This proves that significant benefits are available as long as we put these in the right place,” Pritchard states.

“We believe these results show the success of our system in obtaining fuel economy and air quality improvements without major changes to standard production engines,” said David Hillman, Marketing Director for IC Bus. “But this is only the first phase of development. IC Bus and Enova are committed to developing ‘engine off’ technology to obtain additional fuel economy and emissions control improvements.”

In March 2007, the first plug-in hybrid electric school bus was delivered to Manatee County Schools in Bradenton, FL., by IC Bus, Enova Systems and Advanced Energy. Today, 19 hybrid school buses are on the road in 11 states thanks to the efforts of Advanced Energy and its partners.

Enova’s unique post transmission parallel hybrid system is one in which the electric drive system is integrated behind the factory-installed transmission. The Enova Hybrid has proven to be a non-invasive system that requires little or no modification to OEM chassis, body or instrumentation. However, the hybrid systems are designed to communicate with many other electronic systems on the bus, such as engine, transmissions, emissions and ABS systems controllers. An important competitive advantage that IC Bus and Enova Systems have generated by working together is to integrate and coordinate all of these electronic systems on the bus.

Photo from flickr by mrcam.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sweden Pushes For Plug-in Hybrid Cars

Stockholm SwedenSweden is working to expand on its own research and development of plug-in cars by investing $40 million into reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The Swedish State and the Swedish Energy Agency will be working with Volvo, SAAB, energy company Vattenfall, and ETC Battery and FuelCells Sweden to develop the next generation of hybrid cars.

The delegates from the Swedish automotive industry will be meeting at the Advanced Automotive Battery and Ultracapacitor Conference and Symposia in Tampa, Florida on May 12-16.

Fredrik Arp, president and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation, said: "I see this project as a positive further development of sustainable personal transport. We have a unique opportunity to take the lead when it comes to innovations for advanced green-car technology," he said.

"Within the next decade, electric vehicles are going to be needed if we are to meet forthcoming CO2 legislation," Arp added.

The Swedish delegation will be showing off their Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre (SHC) located at Chalmers University of Technology. Volvo, a subsidiary of Ford, announced the hybrid research center in Goteberg back in June of 2006.

"Sweden can be a world leader when it comes to creating the solutions needed to adapt means of transport - solutions that are now in demand throughout the rest of the world," said Andreas Carlgren, Sweden's minister for the environment.

Photo from flickr by Hector Melo A.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

NHTSA Proposal Will Require Different MPG for Different Companies

The NHTSA proposal to increase fuel economy standards by 2015 to 31.6 mpg keeps getting stranger. As analysts wade through the (over) 400 page document, the following little tidbit has been discovered. It seems that because car manufacturers have different mixes of vehicle sizes, and the new rules are being set based on size of the car (footprint), each manufacturer will end up with a different standard to pass before they face any penalties.

Required CAFE Levels (mpg) for Passenger Cars

Manufacturer MY 2011 MY 2012 MY 2013 MY 2014 MY 2015
BMW 33.3 35 36 36.8 37.7
Chrysler 28.7 29.3 32.2 32.6 33.6
Ferrari 30.4 32 33.1 33.9 34.9
Ford 31 32.7 33.7 34.5 35.5
Fuji (Subaru) 36.9 38.7 39.6 40.1 40.8
General Motors 30 31.7 32.8 33.7 34.7
Honda 32.1 33.8 34.8 35.5 36.4
Hyundai 33.4 35.1 36 36.7 37.5
Lotus 38.1 40 40.8 41.2 41.7
Maserati 28.9 30.6 31.8 32.8 34
Mercedes 31.7 33.3 34.4 35.3 36.2
Mitsubishi 33 35.1 35.9 37 37.9
Nissan 31.2 33.2 34.2 35 35.9
Porsche 37.6 39.4 40.3 40.7 41.3
Suzuki 37.3 39.2 40.1 40.6 41.2
Toyota 30.1 31.5 32.7 33.6 34.6
Volkswagen 35.4 37.2 38.2 38.8 39.5
Total/Average 31.2 32.8 34 34.8 35.7

Required CAFE Levels (mpg) for Light Trucks

Manufacturer MY 2011 MY 2012 MY 2013 MY 2014 MY 2015
BMW 28.2 29.9 31.2 31.4 31.7
Chrysler 25.2 26.6 28 28.5 29.1
Ford 24.7 26.1 28 28.3 28.8
Fuji (Subaru) 30 31.7 33.1 33.2 33.4
General Motors 23.9 25.4 26.5 27 27.4
Honda 26.1 27.7 28.9 29.2 29.6
Hyundai 27.5 29.1 30.4 30.6 31
Mercedes 28.4 30.1 31.4 31.6 31.9
Mitsubishi 29.4 30.8 32.2 32.3 32.6
Nissan 24.9 26.2 27.3 27.7 28.2
Porsche 25.9 27.4 28.7 29 29.4
Suzuki 30.3 32.1 33.5 33.5 33.7
Toyota 24.9 26 27.2 27.6 28
Volkswagen 26.2 27.8 29 29.3 29.7
Total/Average 25 26.4 27.8 28.2 28.6

As you can see, the larger companies, because of their mix of cars, are going to have lower standards to pass than the smaller companies. Lotus, for instance, will need to get up over 38.1 mpg in 2011, while at the other end of the spectrum, Chrysler only has to get 28.7 mpg.

The NHTSA estimates that if each manufacturer meets the minimum requirements each year, they industry wide average for mpg will reach 31.6 mpg by MY 2015.

MY 2011: 27.8 mpg
MY 2012: 29.2 mpg
MY 2013: 30.5 mpg
MY 2014: 31.0 mpg
MY 2015: 31.6 mpg

The proposal also outlines the ways the manufacturers could meet their obligations, specifically, by using fuel saving technologies. The NHTSA estimates the mix of technologies could look like the following for the seven major manufacturers by MY 2015. The following table shows both an average and a maximum value of technology penetration.

Estimated Technology Penetration Rates in MY2015 for Passenger Cars and Light Trucks

Average Among Seven Largest Manufacturers Maximum Among Seven Largest Manufacturers
Passenger Cars Product Plan Adjusted Baseline Under Proposed Standard Product Plan Adjusted Baseline Under Proposed Standard
Automatically Shifted Manual Transmission 10% 10% 39% 59% 59% 86%
Spark Ignited Direct Injection 22% 22% 30% 76% 76% 82%
Turbocharging & Engine Downsizing 5% 5% 17% 11% 11% 51%
Diesel Engine 0% 0% 2% 0% 0% 5%
Hybrid Electric Vehicles 5% 5% 15% 14% 14% 19%
Light Trucks

Automatically Shifted Manual Transmission 10% 14% 55% 41% 41% 72%
Spark Ignited Direct Injection 23% 24% 40% 46% 46% 73%
Turbocharging & Engine Downsizing 9% 11% 31% 32% 32% 44%
Diesel Engine 3% 6% 10% 7% 29% 45%
Hybrid Electric Vehicles 2% 6% 25% 5% 13% 32%

I'm very surprised to see the low rates for diesel cars, but not by the high rate of hybrid electric vehicles being projected.

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Plug-in Conversion Kits from Hymotion

Over the weekend, I was contacted by a rep at the PR Firm of FAMA, who alerted me to the new hymotion website and to the article at the NY Times on the hymotion plug-in conversion kits. It's always interesting to me when someone contacts me about getting the word out on their company, since I think of this site as more of a hobby than anything else.

But, nevertheless, I try to be careful about how I treat such information. I also feel like I would have seen the article at the NY Times, anyways. Since I don't have any direct contact/monetary transcations with hymotion or A123, I feel it's alright for me to talk about them one way or another.

Anyways, enough about my scruples, back to the kits.

Hymotion can convert an existing Prius into a plug-in hybrid, doubling or even tripling your fuel economy. While that's a truly significant jump, as I've pointed out in the past, you have to make a really big jump once you get out of the 30's or 40's in the mpg range to really make a difference. As the NY Times writer points out "the A123 module is an add-on to an already-efficient car, and thus saves a substantial fraction of a number of gallons that is small to begin with."

But at $10,000 for a kit, is it really worth that much money? The article does a good job of pointing out you may void your warranty when you install this kit. That's not an insignificant thing, given how expensive the batteries are to replace.

On the plus side, it's pretty cool to really convert your car into a such a huge gas saver. If you bought your Prius to make a statement, making the conversion would certainly prove to be an even bigger one.

Another consideration, if you're worried about such things, is your ability to sell the car later on. Will a conversion kit add value, or will it be like adding a pool, so that when it comes time to sell your vehicle, it's all in the eye of the beholder? I would suspect the kit would add to the overall value to someone who's in the market for a used hybrid for fuel economy reasons, but you're not going to make up the $10,000 cost.

You may also want to discuss the conversion with your insurance company. I would guess they wouldn't have a problem with it, but it would be safer to talk it over first. If nothing else, they may think it adds value and you would want to make sure it's covered in case of an accident.

The gas savings, if you drive well, or just drive for short distances, could be huge. But I would caution you to look at the plug-in hybrid car results from ReChargeIT, the google sponsored study, before you jump in if that's your motivation. They have noticed so far, with lots of short trips, the plug-ins they are using are not getting the significant jump in mpg they expected. It seems the gas engine runs for a short time in most of their runs because the gas engine is used to power other systems. That gas use keeps their overall mileage low when they use it on short trips all the time.

If you have a plug you can use at work, that could make a huge difference.

Like hybrids in general, a tax cut or rebate would really make an impact on the market and help these sorts of businesses get off the ground in a big way. But then, in a couple of years, there are supposed to be Volts and plug-in Prius direct from the manufacturer on the road, which may make this business moot.

If you are interested in getting converted, A123 has six locations currently. They are in Boston, Seattly, D.C., Minneapolis, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Governors Protest NHTSA Proposal

When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Proposal first came out on Earth Day, I bet most people were excited to see the 4.6% increase per year to over 31 mpg standard by 2015. But now that the fine print has come to light, a lot of people, including Governors and other lawmakers are getting very upset with their efforts.

The NHTSA inserted language into their proposal which would preempt states abilities to regulate vehicle emissions. This is particularly upsetting, given the federal government and automakers recent losses in Vermont and Fresno courts which sided with states who wish to do so. (See the previous post on the NHTSA Proposal on fuel economy and how the language has come to light).

See the Press Release below and the letter sent to President Bush and the Congressional leadership by the group of governors who are ready to protest the language in the new proposal by the NHTSA.

The Governors signing on to this protest come from Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Governor Rendell Expresses Disappointment at Bush Administration's Latest Effort to Impede Greenhouse Gas Reductions

Joins 12 Other Governors in Writing President, Congress Criticizing NHTSA Proposed Rulemaking

HARRISBURG, Pa., April 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell called on President Bush today to reconsider a regulatory maneuver by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to undermine and impede the efforts of states working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

In a letter sent yesterday to the president, Governor Rendell and the governors of 11 other states, including California, criticized NHTSA for inserting language into a proposed rule making that would preempt states from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles--defying the principles set in the Clean Air Act.

The governors called the language in the proposed rule a disappointment as the federal government continues to obstruct states' efforts to address this pressing environmental challenge.

Governor Rendell said the NHTSA language seems to contradict the president's recent call to begin working to cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

"The president stood outside of the White House last week and laid out a goal for the nation: stopping the increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025," said Governor Rendell. "Yet, here we are again focusing our actions against counterproductive measures by the federal government when we should be focusing on how to deal with this problem."

In a separate letter to the congressional leadership, the governors made the case that the U.S. Department of Transportation, of which NHTSA is a part, was attempting to unilaterally rewrite the Clean Air Act and subvert the will of the legislative branch.

The letter to Congress stated that the department was using the proposed rulemaking to exploit the opportunity it was provided under the Energy Independence and Security Act to enact new fuel economy rules. Instead, the department is claiming authority over greenhouse gases, saying such emissions are "related to" fuel economy.

That move, argue the governors, "is a direct assault on the authorityof the United States Congress and the states," and also defies the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that found "the authority on which the states rely in regulating greenhouse gases from automobiles is, 'a statutory obligation wholly independent of DOT's mandate to promote energy efficiency'."

In addition to Pennsylvania and California, the letter was signed by the governors of Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Governor Rendell has challenged repeated attempts by the federal government to restrict or delay efforts by Pennsylvania and other states to improve air quality by limiting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

In January, Pennsylvania joined a multi-state lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency challenging the EPA's refusal to grant California a waiver to enforce its stronger greenhouse emission standards. In testimony before the U.S. Senate that month, Governor Rendell said the EPA 'wrongfully and illegally' blocked state efforts to ensure cleaner air and water to protect public health and safety.

Pennsylvania has adopted California's stricter vehicle emission rules, but it will not realize greenhouse gas reductions from the rules unless California is permitted to enforce that portion of its clean vehicle program. Sixteen other states have adopted or are in the process of adopting California's greenhouse gas emission standards.

A year ago, in the Massachusetts v. EPA case, the Supreme Court decided the EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide as air pollutants. This decision paved the way for states to adopt regulations controlling greenhouse gas pollutants from automobiles sold within its borders.

The Rendell administration is committed to creating a first-rate public education system, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and continuing economic investment to support our communities and businesses. To find out more about Governor Rendell's initiatives and to sign up for his weekly newsletter, visit

EDITORS NOTE: The text of the letters to President Bush and congressional leadership follows:

April 23, 2008

The President

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We are disappointed that your administration used Earth Day as a
backdrop for an assault on efforts to make real progress in controlling
greenhouse gas emissions. Yesterday, the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA) used a proposed rulemaking on Corporate Average Fuel
Economy (CAFE) standards to preempt California and other states across the
nation that are working to control greenhouse gas emissions. States are
taking this action due to the utter failure of our federal government to
respond to this urgent threat.

NHTSA has no authority to preempt states from regulating greenhouse
gases. Congress and two federal district courts have rejected NHTSA's claim
to such authority. Furthermore, this attack completely undermines the
cooperative federalism principles embodied in the Clean Air Act, and is an
end run around 40 years of precedents under that law.

California intends to comment on the proposed rulemaking and, if
necessary, will sue NHTSA, just as California and other states have sued
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to ensure that states retain the
right to attack global climate change emissions. I hope that you will agree
that your administration's use of a rulemaking on CAFE to attack state
efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions is inappropriate, and I await a
clear statement from you to that effect.


April 23, 2008

The Honorable Harry Reid

Majority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House

U. S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Minority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable John A. Boehner

Minority Leader

U. S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Madam Speaker, and Mr. Boehner,

We are writing to bring to your attention a cynical attempt by the U.S.
Department of Transportation (DOT) to unilaterally rewrite the Clean Air
Act and claim authority over greenhouse gas emissions.

Yesterday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
used a proposed rulemaking implementing the Energy Independence and
Security Act (EISA) to preempt California and states across the nation that
are taking steps to control greenhouse gas emissions. NHTSA's proposed
action is a direct assault on the authority of the United States Congress
and the states.

In passing EISA, Congress expressly provided that increasing fuel
economy standards would not limit the authority of existing laws and
regulations. Yet DOT has taken the charge given it by Congress - to issue
new fuel-economy rules - and used it to propose a radical redefinition of
federal law that would sabotage critical provisions of the Clean Air Act.
NHTSA argues that because fuel economy is "related to" greenhouse gases,
DOT has authority to deny state greenhouse gas regulations.

NHTSA's proposal flies in the face of court rulings on existing law.
The U.S. Supreme Court found in Massachusetts v. EPA that the authority on
which the States rely in regulating greenhouse gases from automobiles is,
"a statutory obligation wholly independent of DOT's mandate to promote
energy efficiency." Two federal district courts have also specifically
ruled that State vehicle regulations are not preempted by Congress'
improvements to CAFE.

In issuing this interpretation, NHTSA is also doing an end-run around
Congress in claiming authority over greenhouse gas regulation from
automobiles. In the Clean Air Act, Congress granted EPA authority over air
pollution, including greenhouse gases - not NHTSA. While Congress is in the
midst of careful deliberations and debate on its approach to greenhouse gas
regulation in the future, it should not permit the Executive Branch to
dictate an outcome to that discussion.

This action by the Administration would directly usurp Congressional
authority and patently subvert the clear intent of Congress in important
legislation related to energy use. We urge you to protest this provision of
the NHTSA rulemaking and insist on a CAFE regulation in keeping with the
intent and prerogative of Congress.


Governors signatures here, with state seal at the top

cc: Members of the California Congressional Delegation

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Tesla vs Fisker, Fisker vs Tesla

At the end of the day, neither company will win when Tesla vs Fisker plays out in the courts. But it's going to happen anyways.

Tesla claimed in their lawsuit Fisker "used fraud and deceit to gain access to and exploit Tesla's highly confidential and proprietary information and trade secrets in order to develop a competing electric-hybrid sports sedan."

Fisker Automotive responded via press release to the lawsuit by Tesla saying they stole company secrets, and provided substandard design when putting together the styling of the Tesla White Star.

Tesla noted they had to reject the $800,000 design provided by Fisker.

"It caused a slight delay in White Star because we could not use the Fisker styling," Tesla Chairman Elon Musk told The New York Times. "The styling was substandard compared to what he unveiled for his product. He gave us an inferior work product, and it's obvious why."

Both cars are plug-in hybrids and will compete for customers when they arrive in the next couple of years.

Fisker fired back saying the Karma's powertrain was developed by Quantum Technologies and didn't use Tesla technology.

Source: Green Car Advisor - Fisker Denies Tesla Allegations of Stealing Secrets

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

NHTSA is Sneakier Than You Might Think

NHTSA LogoCalifornia has requested a waiver to increase fuel economy standards in their state. The EPA denied the request and now California is suing the EPA in an effort to force the administrations hand. This is after losing two recent cases on environmental controls being set by states in Vermont and California.

Then, on Earth Day, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the new fuel economy standards of 31.6 mpg auto makers must meet by 2015 as part of EISA signed into law in December. But the NHTSA just couldn't resist putting in a few items in that proposal that would reinforce their role vs any state role.

"(The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has consistently taken the position that state regulations regulating CO{-2} tailpipe emissions from automobiles are expressly and impliedly preempted."

"A conflict between state and federal law arises when compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility or when state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress."

"We respectfully disagree with the two district court rulings" in Fresno and Vermont in which federal judges sided with California and other states.
Source: SFGate

California Attorney General Jerry Brown feels this is a 'covert assault on California's rules', while some environmentalist groups have said this language will be used in the automakers attempts to appeal the rulings in Fresno and Vermont.

But of even greater significance would be a new passage being considered:
The agency said it is considering adding language to its final rule stating that "any state regulation regulating tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles is expressly preempted" under federal law.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, was not quiet on the new proposal by the NHTSA.

"Despite two federal court rulings and Congress' decision to reject the administration's position that enacted energy legislation should preempt the authority of states to regulate greenhouse gas vehicle emissions, the administration has chosen to trot out the same tired old arguments," she said.

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Toyota Sued Over Hybrid Patent

Toyota, like most companies, has to face a lot of lawsuits over the years. The latest comes from engineer/former patent attorney at Boeing, Conrad Gartner, who lives in Seattle.

Gartner filed a U.S. patent, #7,290,627 -- dubbed "Extended range motor vehicle having ambient pollutant processing", in 1992. It is a computer control system that shifts power to the internal combustion engine or electric motor.

Although he applied for the patent back in 1992, the patent was not issued until last Fall. In the meantime, Toyota applied for a patent in 1994 which was rejected, in part because of Gardner's prior claim.

Gardner says he has attempted to come to some sort of settlement with Toyota over the years, but has had no success. But with newly issued patent in hand, he can now try to force the issue by suing Toyota.

Seattle engineer sues Toyota on hybrid system

"I just want them to respect the patents of others," said Gardner when asked what he hoped to gain from the lawsuit. "I am trying to teach them a lesson, you might say. That a small fellow, an independent inventor, is going to stand up for his rights. That's all."
The full complaint is here.

Toyota has been sued in the past by Solomon Technologies over patent infringement.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The GM Possibilities

GM currently has five hybrid vehicles on the market, or to put it another way, 1/3 of the total number of models being sold come from some part of GM. Whether it's the Saturn Vue, Saturn Aura, GMC Yukon, Chevy Malibu, or Chevy Tahoe, GM is serious about providing options when it comes to hybrid powertrains.

Too bad that many options isn't turning into more sales. In the first quarter of 2008, GM sold 843 hybrids in the US. That's about 2% of the total number of Prius sold by Toyota in the same time frame.

The problems have been detailed by GM pointing to a recall on the battery packs involved in the mild hybrids and the lack of production so far on the full hybrids, which in itself is understandable since they are so new.

And it's probably unfair to compare sales of a more established car like the Prius to sales of even five different models. GM, despite the low production numbers so far, still target 10,000 sales of their Yukon and Tahoe Hybrids this year. That would take a considerable ramp up, but it's certainly do-able.

But there's a real problem here. None of the hybrid vehicles from GM compete in the same class or fuel economy with the Toyota Prius. They don't even come close. They are either much larger or too mild.

Even with the addition of the Escalade, Sierra and Silverado, along with updates on the mild hybrid Vue into a dual-mode hybrid in the next couple of years, you will be seeing more of the same. More options, it's true, but not in the class of car most of the people who have shown the most interest in hybrid cars are buying.

Aren't these the customers GM should be looking to?

GM has admitted it was a mistake not to pursue hybrid technology 10 years ago. And in compensation, they are now pushing hard to produce the Chevy Volt, which may be capable of standing toe-to-toe with the plug-in version of the Prius.

But why not try to produce a car that can compete with the Prius?

Is this attempt at building the Volt just greenwashing? They already use the Volt in all of their 'green' commercials. They certainly talk about it a lot, to the point where I think it's being overhyped. But that doesn't mean it won't happen.

It's just hard to remember when GM is still focusing so hard on a goal that's still far away. They are at a real hard point, given their low sales numbers so far, to prove they are serious about their effort to sell hybrid cars.

It's an unfortunate point in time that they could have avoided if they could point to stronger sales in their other hybrids (the Vue, Malibue and Aura). No one expects huge numbers from these mild hybrids, but at less than 100 a month for the Vue and Aura combined, it's very hard to take GM seriously when they say they are serious about hybrids.

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2009 BMW X6 Hybrid Crossover May Make a Bigger Difference Than You Think

BMW X6 Efficient DynamicsThe BMW X6 crossover two mode hybrid will probably come out in 2009, with an improved fuel economy of about 25%. That will bring it up to 18-19 mpg combined according to Autoblog.

While not obvious, the big changes in gas and oil consumption come at the lower end of the spectrum. By going from 15 mpg to 19 mpg, an owner of the BMW X6 Hybrid will actually save around 170 gallons a year (assuming 12,000 miles driven per year). Someone who goes from 25 to 35 mpg will only save around 140 gallons of gas a year.

I've often thought the best thing the politicians could do is focus on the lower levels. If they mandated a minimum fuel economy by class, they might make a huge difference.

Photo by alexdumi82 from flickr.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NHTSA Sets New Standards for Fuel Economy by 2015

According to the Detroit News (Feds: 36 mpg for cars by 2015), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is putting forth a proposal to raise the average car mpg to 35.7 mpg and light trucks to 28.6 mpg by 2015.

The proposal is part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), passed by Congress and signed by Bush in 2007 as part of his "Twenty in Ten" initiative. The end goal is at least a 35 mpg standard for both passenger and light trucks. The new CAFE standards passed this year will force car makers to a 35 mpg fleetwide average by 2020.

The NHTSA proposal sets an annual increase of 4.6 percent per year and is higher than the 4 percent required by Congress.

There will be a 'credit transfer/trading system, allowing automakers to move credits from their car fleets to their truck fleets, or even sell credits to their less efficient brethren.

The mpg numbers quoted above will not be uniform to each fleet. They are being set based on size or attributes of each car, although it's not clear what those attributes or the final numbers are.

The Detroit News points out these new regulations are unlikely to be challenged by the automakers, who are under pressure from the states who wish to enact even more stringent rules. So far, California is still fighting to gain a waiver from the EPA, but if they do, other states will quickly follow suit.

The Auto Alliance has already reacted to the news, issuing a statement which states:

"Congress has set an aggressive, single, nationwide standard and automakers are prepared to meet that challenge. This proposal represents an important mile marker on the road to at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020."--Dave McCurdy, President and CEO, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers

  • In supporting the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) the Alliance and its member companies acknowledge that we have a responsibility to increase fuel economy and limit greenhouse gas emissions from new automobiles.
  • When fully implemented EISA will result in a minimum 40 percent increase in fuel economy standards and a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through 2020.
  • Achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from automotive sector will require a comprehensive approach involving the vehicles, fuels, and drivers.
  • Automakers believe this tough, nationwide, proposed fuel economy increase will be good for both consumers and energy security. While these increases will present a challenge, it is critical that automakers and consumers have the certainty that this nationwide, 50-state fuel economy rule provides.
  • Automakers are committed to enhancing energy security and reducing carbon dioxide emissions through the use of alternative fuel autos. Our goal as manufacturers is to offer fuel-efficient vehicle options, with a wide range of attributes, at an affordable price. Last year, more than 1.8 million hybrid-electric, ethanol capable flexible fuel vehicles and clean diesel vehicles were sold in the U.S. That was a 15 percent increase over 2006. This year, more than 70 models of alternative fuel autos are available on dealer lots throughout the country.
ABG points out how strange the scenario really is, given the NHTSA, a safety board, sets the standards, while the EPA will be the one to enforce it. More details on the standards being set are available at GCC.

The end result will be obvious. Smaller engines, more hybrids, more ethanol (I believe there is a loophole on ethanol fueled vehicles) and the re-introduction of diesels in a major way to the US marketplace.

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Hybrid Car Cost of Ownership According to IntellichoiceIntellichoice has released its 2008 Hybrid Car survey, in which it analyses the cost to own a hybrid vs its gas-only counterpart. And according to them, except for the LS 600h l from Lexus, the 23 hybrid cars they tested will result in savings for the owner. In the end, "half of the 24 hybrid models on the market in 2008 perform better than their non-hybrid counterparts in terms of overall cost to own."

The key difference comes from resale value (depreciation). Add in similar maintenance costs (slight gain on the side of hybrids, since brake work and oil changes occur less frequently) and gas savings and, long term, hybrid cars can save their owners money.

Keep in mind that, given their higher MSRP, hybrid cars cost more at first. Not only do you have to pay more for the purchase, but taxes, insurance and excise taxes may be higher. Some of that can be offset by federal or state tax breaks. And some insurance companies do offer discounts to anyone who owns a hybrid car. Add in access to the HOV lane or free parking in your community and the savings can really start adding up. But that depends a great deal on your location and how much you value HOV access.

Intellichoice has pointed out the cost savings associated with hybrids before. In 2007, they made the point that hybrid cars can save you money in the long run, and they have the Prius listed as the best new car value for 2008.

Read the full press release from Intellichoice.

IRVINE, CA (April 22, 2008) -'s Hybrid Survey for 2008, released in time for Earth Day, punctures some of the myths around hybrids and shows that several hybrid car models are cheaper to own than their non-hybrid counterparts. A keen observer of how environmental concerns are impacting the auto market, is the leading source for automotive ownership cost and value analysis and is part of SOURCE INTERLINK MEDIA.

"The long-standing myth about hybrids is that they cost more to own and struggle to justify their higher sticker prices," said James Bell, publisher and editor of "This is not true. In fact, half of the 24 hybrid models on the market in 2008 perform better than their non-hybrid counterparts in terms of overall cost to own. The bottom line is that hybrids are also a Smart economic choice and not just about 'going green' anymore."

Bell added, "Our third annual survey provides a comprehensive, across-the-board analysis of how hybrids perform as soon as they are driven off the lot."'s Hybrid Survey compares hybrid and non-hybrid versions of the same vehicle for the 2008 model year. The survey examines how each vehicle performs based on a projected Total Cost of Ownership figure over five years or 70,000 miles. Besides fuel costs, which are considered the primary savings point for hybrid cars, the survey factored in other major cost items that consumers often overlook such as maintenance and repair costs and car insurance.

"We want to show that the argument for or against hybrids is larger than just expected fuel costs," said Bell. "You have to look at all of the driving factors like maintenance, repairs, and resale value. You have to look at the whole picture."

Get the IntelliChoice 2008 Hybrid Survey as a PDF from intellichoice website

The Survey's 2008 Hybrid Survey pits hybrid cars against their non-hybrid counterparts in a number of important cost areas. For instance, the Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD is compared against the "regular" or gas-only Ford Escape 4WD. The chart below, just one set of data from the survey, shows how hybrids' higher sticker prices can be offset by savings in their overall cost of ownership.
2008 Model and Trim MSRP Difference 5-Yr Cost of Ownership Difference
Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid $1510 -$439
Toyota Prius (vs. Camry) $2,855 -$3,430
Honda Civic Hybrid $3,090 -$2,634
Lexus GS 450h $2,280 $965
Saturn Aura Hybrid $2,395 -$631
Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD $2,500 -$5,549
Mercury Mariner Hybrid $3,140 -$5,031
Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD $4,950 $2,413

The excerpted data above shows that, of the eight models selected, the hybrid versions of each model carry a higher MSRP. However, six of the hybrid cars deliver lower cost of ownership over five years, and three of them--the Prius, the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid--deliver cost savings that exceed the MSRP.

In addition to a more comprehensive look at the data above,'s 2008 Hybrid Survey examines how hybrids perform against the marketplace in terms of resale value and maintenance.

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2007 Hybrid Car Registrations Hit New High

Chart US Hybrid Car RegistrationR. L. Polk & Co. are reporting a 38% increase in hybrid car registration for 2007 for a total of 350,289. In 2006, they reported 254,545 new hybrid car registrations across the US, which was a 28 percent increase from 2005.

California remains the clear leader in total numbers, while the other states moved around slightly in the rankings. The same top 10 states still account for over 61% of the hybrid car registrations. Oklahoma once again showed the biggest gain (148%) from 2006, but that is more indicative of the small numbers being sold.

2006 Rank

State Total New Hybrid Registrations, 2006 CY Share of US Hybrid Volume, 2006 CY (%) Total New Hybrid Registrations, 2007 CY Share of US Hybrid Volume, 2007 CY (%)

California 67,533 26.5% 91,417 26.1%

Florida 12,900 5.1% 19,283 5.5%

Texas 12,550 4.9% 17,196 4.9%

New York 11,634 4.6% 17,385 5.0%

Virginia 10,424 4.1% 11,952 3.4%

Illinois 9,495 3.7% 13,094 3.7%

Washington 8,650 3.4% 13,107 3.7%

Pennsylvania 8,407 3.3% 11,089 3.2%

Massachusetts 7,365 2.9% 9,982 2.8%

New Jersey 7,021 2.8% 9,645 2.8%

    SOUTHFIELD, Mich., April 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Nationwide registrations
for new hybrid vehicles rose to 350,289 registrations in 2007 - a 38
percent increase from 2006, according to R. L. Polk & Co. The Toyota Prius
continued to lead the segment with 179,178 total new registrations - 51.2
percent of hybrid market share.

"Auto buyers are benefiting from new hybrid launches, and fleecing of
old models that didn't work. There is a lot of excitement being generated
within the industry as manufacturers adjust plans to adapt to consumer
demand," said Lonnie Miller, director of Industry Analysis at Polk. "While
the Toyota Prius has a stronghold on the midsize car hybrid segment, the
Toyota Highlander and Ford Escape share leadership positions in the SUV
hybrid segment. As hybrid buyers migrate within a brand, manufacturers have
to be prepared to meet their expectations for offerings if they want
consumers to remain loyal."

While most of the market continues to see hybrid models enabled by
various forms of gas-electric powertrains, the entire hybrid segment will
evolve as other technologies are developed and tested. With the end-goal of
providing more fuel-efficient vehicles, future offerings will expand beyond
the current generation of hybrid models.

"Hybrids are a great foray into the world of fuel-efficiency for many
buyers," said Miller. "Unfortunately, we still have an uphill battle for
diesel and ethanol adoption given the need for more consumer education and
improvements with filling station infrastructure. It will be interesting to
see how more advanced technologies progress this whole category, but they
can't come soon enough."

Segment Affinity

Polk's analysis shows that buyers of specific hybrid models
predominantly come from the vehicle segment shared by their new hybrid
purchase. In 2007, 55 percent of new hybrid buyers previously had a midsize
car, midsize SUV or small car model. These vehicle segments represent the
majority of the volume in the hybrid category and indicate consumers may be
predisposed to a body style first before choosing a hybrid model.

"In cases such as the Lexus LS600h, more than half of these buyers came
from the prestige luxury segment," said Miller. "In the case of Honda Civic
hybrid buyers, nearly 30 percent already had a small car in their driveway.
There's a strong relationship between the vehicle previously owned and the
segment they may buy when selecting a hybrid."

For manufacturers' marketing departments, these findings mean they may
be able to repurpose some of the brand research and customer studies for
non-hybrid models when creating new hybrid offerings or hybrid marketing
campaigns. In addition, more luxury hybrids are available than ever before,
allowing customers to obtain a hybrid without sacrificing features,
amenities and performance they might otherwise be used to.

Regional Dominance

Geographic trends for the segment remain largely unchanged in 2007,
with California continuing to hold 26 percent of hybrid market share
followed by Florida, New York, Texas and Washington (Table 1). For the
second year in a row, Oklahoma had the greatest increase, up nearly 148
percent. Similarly, Los Angeles and San Francisco led cities nationwide
combined with more than 19 percent of the segment's market share (Table 2).

"The coasts continue to dominate the hybrid segment, though we continue
to see gains in the Midwest as fuel prices hit home for the 'manufacturing
belt' states," said Miller.

About R. L. Polk & Co.

R. L. Polk & Co. is the premier provider of automotive information and
marketing solutions. Polk collects and interprets global data, and provides
extensive automotive business expertise to help customers understand their
market position, identify trends, build brand loyalty, conquest new
business and gain a competitive advantage. Polk helps automotive
manufacturers and dealers, automotive aftermarket companies, finance and
insurance companies, advertising agencies, media companies, consulting
organizations, government agencies and market research firms make good
business decisions. A privately held global firm, Polk is based in
Southfield, Mich. with operations in Australia, Canada, China, France,
Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. For more
information, please visit

Table 1 - Top 10 Hybrid States (2007 Calendar Year)

Rank State Total New Share of U.S. Volume Increase
Hybrid Hybrid from
Registrations Volume 2006 CY (%)
2007 CY 2007 CY (%)

1 California 91,417 26.1 35.4
2 Florida 19,283 5.5 49.5
3 New York 17,385 5.0 49.4
4 Texas 17,196 4.9 37.0
5 Washington 13,107 3.7 51.5
6 Illinois 13,094 3.7 37.9
7 Virginia 11,952 3.4 14.6
8 Pennsylvania 11,089 3.2 31.9
9 Massachusetts 9,982 2.8 35.5
10 New Jersey 9,645 2.8 36.1

Source: R. L. Polk & Co. U.S. New Hybrid Registrations, 2007 Calendar

Table 2 - Top 10 Hybrid Metro Markets (2007 Calendar Year)

Rank Market (DMA(R)) Total New Share of U.S. Volume Increase
Hybrid Hybrid from
Registrations Volume 2006 CY (%)
2007 CY 2007 CY (%)
1 Los Angeles 40,634 11.6 31.1
2 San Francisco 27,292 7.8 32.3
3 New York 20,692 5.9 45.2
4 Washington D.C. 12,744 3.6 12.2
5 Seattle 11,098 3.2 53.2
6 Chicago 10,611 3.0 39.2
7 Boston 10,438 2.8 33.9
8 Philadelphia 8,670 2.5 26.4
9 Sacramento 7,871 2.2 59.9
10 Phoenix 7,829 2.2 85.4
Source: R. L. Polk & Co. U.S. New Hybrid Registrations, 2007 Calendar

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Friday, April 18, 2008

NOVA Presents the Car of the Future

Click and Clack will be on NOVA, presenting their look into the Car of the Future.

A less 'goofy' preview can be found on The show will air on Earth Day, April 22nd at 8 PM on most PBS stations. You might want to check your local listings for any changes in your area.

Update: I admit it, I thought this show was going to be goofier than the preview. But it really was a good overall view of the situation facing the automotive world today. If you missed it, take some time and watch the show in it's entirety. If you want to focus in on hybrids and plug-in hybrids, skip ahead to chapter 5.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

San Fran Gives Discount to Hybrid Rentals

San FranciscoSan Francisco is in the process of creating a $15 rebate for hybrid car rentals at the International Airport. The program was passed by the airport commission and announced by Mayor Gavin Newsom, but will need to be passed by the Board of Supervisors.

It's not being restricted to just hybrids, but to those who have a certain quality score, the way hybrids do according to the Toyota Blog. Vehicles like the Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry Hybrid and Honda Civic Hybrid qualify by receiving an EPA SmartWay rating of 17 or better. That's a combination of EPA’s air-pollution and greenhouse-gas test.

Also being proposed is a 20 percent price break on airport concession fees for companies if they can prove that 15 percent of their cars being rented are rated at being 'especially' fuel efficient.

If the proposal is accepted by the board, a two year trial period will begin in December. The cost is estimated at $2.1 million which will come out of the revenue the airport receives from the car rental company leases.

Photo by brothergrimm from Flickr.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Free Parking in Boston on Earth Day for Hybrid Cars

The Convention Center is offering free parking on Earth Day to anyone who drives a hybrid. They are also using the offer to promote their new affiliation with ZipCars, a car-sharing service.

Earth Day is on April 22.

Source:Boston Common Garage to give hybrid car owners a free day of parking - Boston Business Journal:

"Allowing drivers of hybrid vehicles the opportunity for free parking is a gesture we can make to attract attention to a large environmental movement that promotes healthier driving conditions for the City of Boston," said MCCA Executive Director James E. Rooney.
In order to get free parking, you just need to notify the cashier at the exit you are driving a hybrid.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dodge Ram Hybrid in the Works for Chrysler

Dodge Ram PickupChrysler, as part of a deal with BMW and GM, co-developed the two-mode hybrid system we've only seen so far from GM. But both Chrysler and BMW have their own vehicles in mind to hybridize, and Chrysler just confirmed the Dodge Ram will have a hybrid version in 2010.

The pickup is part of the reshaping Chrysler hopes to do over the next several years after being sold to Cerberus Capital Management LP, who acquired an 80 percent stake in the automaker last year. They already have the Dodge Durango Hybrid in the works, along with a Chrysler Aspen Hybrid. They have set up a hybrid division called ENVI.

Chrysler development chief, Frank Klegon, said the Ram Hybrid will use nickel metal hydride batteries. It will also reduce the engine to just four cylinders at highway speeds up to 70 mph.

"We are going to need to expand our hybrid offerings and we are doing that, we just haven’t announced which specific vehicles are going to show up beyond the truck."

Source: Reuters. Photo from flickr by Scott Ingram Photography.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Ford Escape Hybrids Going to the Beach

LA Lifeguard Beach SceneFord is donating 45 Escape Hybrids to the L.A. County lifeguards in exchange for some 'marketing tie-ins' according to the chief lifeguard.
The lifeguards got a tour of the Claycomo, MO Ford plant, where they got a glimpse of their bright yellow hybrid SUVs. By May, you should see them out serving time on the beach.

Source: MyFox Kansas City | Claycomo Ford Plant Donates Hybrid SUVs

Surprisingly, there's no quote from the 'Hoff' on how this will play out on the surf.

Photo by stevelyon from Flickr

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SAE Gives GM Tahoe and Yukon Hybrid 2008 Best Engineered Vehicles

GMC Yukon HybridThe SAE International's Automotive Engineering International (AEI) magazine awarded the 2008 Best Engineered Vehicles to the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrid. The dual-mode (sometimes called two-mode) hybrid engines, co-developed by Chrysler and BMW, has impressed many with it's ability to increase the fuel economy of these large SUVs by 50% in city driving.

But many hybrid enthusiasts feel that getting your city driving just over 20 mpg isn't all that impressive. GM hybrid have had limited sales so far, but given the price tag (over $50,000), that's not surprising. The federal tax break on hybrid cars does help, but not much.

Press Release Follows:

WARRENDALE, Pa., April 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Readers and editors of SAE International's Automotive Engineering International (AEI) magazine crown General Motors' Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrid as 2008's Best Engineered Vehicles.

"General Motors has significantly re-engineered its class-leading full-size sport utility vehicles - the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon - with the first application of groundbreaking hybrid technology," Kevin Jost, Editorial Director of Automotive Engineering International, said. "The vehicles' advanced technology enables consumers looking for an efficient SUV a choice that does not involve sacrificing a cargo-hauling and trailer-towing capacity in return for improved fuel economy."

The Tahoe and Yukon Hybrids boast improved fuel economy compared to their gasoline-only counterparts. This is due to a state-of-the-art two-mode hybrid system developed in partnership with BMW and DaimlerChrysler.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ratings for the two-wheel drive models are 21 miles per gallon (mpg) for city driving and 22 mpg for highway driving. The four-wheel drive models achieve an EPA rating of 20 mpg city/highway.

The vehicles still deliver full-size SUV performance, with a 6,200-pound towing capacity for the two-wheel drive models, and a 12,000-pound Gross Combination Weight Rating for the four-wheel drive models. Both seat eight passengers.

The Best Engineered Vehicle award winners will be announced at the SAE 2008 World Congress, to be held April 14-17 at Cobo Center, Detroit. The winners also will be published in AEI's May 2008 edition.

Photo by dethtrip99 at flickr

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Comparison Between the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius

Plug-in Hybrid Car WarsWith the Chevy Volt making so many waves in the automotive world, it's no surprise to see so many comparisons being made with the hybrid cars of today. But Toyota also has a plug-in version of the Prius coming, plus the next generation Prius is due in the next couple of years.

But which is going to be better? Obviously, GM has collected quite a few fans of the new Chevy Volt, but according to the truth about cars, the Prius will still come out on top.

The Comparison
There are three comparisons: owner economics, environmental benefits and “green cachet” (to both owner and manufacturer). The Prius comes out on top in economics because the Volt pricetag is going to be so much higher than the Prius (either the next generation or the plug-in version). Until the Volt price comes down, the savings in gas just cannot make up the difference.

That argument is a little bit naive, but until we know what the used price will be, it's really hard to estimate the cost to own. Since there are no other plug-in cars out there to compare to, how can we guess how much a used Volt will go for?

Environmentally, they say it's almost a draw, but I would think it would depend on how long your drive is and where you get your electricity from. But there's no doubt the Volt will consume less gasoline.

The last argument could go to GM. While the Prius has given Toyota a green 'halo' to work with, it has been around for over a decade. People may decide to flock to a new banner, partly to make a change, and partly in a real effort to move off of gas altogether.

In summary
It's clear the Prius will be a better economical choice, while the true environmental impact is (and will be) muddied. But the Volt may just steal the show when it comes to image.

Honda and Toyota competed fiercely for the hybrid banner a decade ago. Despite the Insight getting better mileage, the Prius has clearly come out on top because the two-seater just wasn't practical for most people to even consider. Will the Volt end up like the Insight?

What's your opinion? Who will come out on top in the next hybrid war?

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Oil Jumps Up to New Record, What Else is New?

Chevron refinery in Cape TownA Reuters report has oil up over $112 today. This time, it's not just the weak dollar, which has seemed steady, but inventories have been reported at low levels prior to the summer season.

U.S. crude stockpiles fell 3.2 million barrels last week as imports declined, countering analyst expectations for a build, while gasoline and distillate inventories also tumbled, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported.
The jump in price is despite the prediction by the Energy Information Administration that demand will be down 36,000 barrels a day to 9.404 million bpd. This is the first time since 1991 the demand is likely to be lower.

The reason the EIA gave for lower demand is they are also predicting higher gas prices at $3.60 a gallon in June. With the price differential across the country, a $3.60 average means up over $4 for some parts of the country.

If the price of oil keeps jumping up, we'll see that average even sooner.

The EIA predicted an average of $103 a barrel in May and June.

Diesel users (truckers) have even more to worry about.

For May and June alone, EIA said the average price for U.S. oil was expected to be about $103 per barrel. Prices are expected, according to the EIA, to hit $3.73 a gallon. The peak will be in April, when it goes to $3.90 a gallon.

Photo from Garlyn at flickr.

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Congress Moves to Require Minimum Sound Levels For Cars

Unnecessary Noise ProhibitedAccording to an AP story, Congress is about to introduce a bill to investigate a mandatory noise level for all cars. If implemented, it would be targeted at hybrid cars, which can run silently on battery power alone when they are at low speeds.

The danger being addressed is to blind pedestrians, who may not hear the oncoming hybrid or electric vehicle as it approaches. A study at the University of California-Riverside has, so far, shown hybrids at low speeds must be 40 percent closer to be heard.

According to the press release from Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), who is cosponsoring the bill with Cliff Stearns (R-FL) said:

Because blind pedestrians cannot locate and evaluate traffic using their vision, they must listen to traffic to discern its speed, direction, and other attributes in order to travel safely and independently. Other people, including pedestrians who are not blind, bicyclists, runners, and small children, also benefit from hearing the sound of vehicle engines. Many new vehicles, particularly those using hybrid or electric engine technology, are silent, rendering them extremely dangerous in situations where vehicles and pedestrians come into proximity with each other. This bill will ensure the safety of pedestrians who, for whatever reason, do not see a vehicle approaching and are placed at risk for injury or even death.
The bill is being supported by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

If implemented, the Transportation Dept would conduct a two year study before issuing safety standards. Car makers would then need to comply within two years.

The NFB has been pushing for legislation for years now to force hybrid and electric cars to make more noise. The NFB is located in Maryland, so it's not surprising Maryland has already made moves to require a minimum sound level.

Photo from Jakob Lodwick via flickr.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Gas Prices Are Changing the Way We Buy

The latest Kelley Blue Book survey results are in and not that surprising given how high gas prices have gone. Nearly 60% of vehicle shoppers have changed their buying behavior based on gas prices, while 43% say they will seriously consider a more fuel efficient car if gas prices go up even 25 cents more.

That's 11 percent more than just last month.

High gas prices are really beginning to affect the way people act and buy. But it's not over yet. U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said on Monday he is concerned that average U.S. gasoline pump prices could hit $3.50 a gallon this summer. He wasn't all that certain whether we would hit $4 a gallon. Current averages have us at $3.29, so even if we hit the lower mark of $3.50, that puts us up above the limit set in the KBB survey.

Press Release Follows

IRVINE, Calif., April 8, 2008 /PRNewswire/ -- According to the latest
Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research study (, an
increasing number of consumers say their purchasing behavior has shifted
and will continue to change significantly if gas prices continue to rise.
The latest 2008 results revealed that nearly 60 percent of vehicle shoppers
say gas prices have changed their minds or strongly influenced their
purchase decisions. Furthermore, 43 percent indicated they would seriously
consider a more fuel-efficient vehicle if gas prices were to swell an
additional 25 cents above current levels. Both measures are up 11 points
from the previous month's Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research study.

With average gas prices jumping from $2.97 to $3.27 in March, there is
ample reason to see why consumer attitudes are shifting. While the vast
majority of shoppers are indicating an alteration in their purchasing
behaviors, only 25 percent still have no intentions in changing their
behaviors, compared to 34 percent in February. The results also showed
consumers considerably more interested in all the various alternative fuel
technologies for fuel economy benefits and less for environmental reasons.

"The cost of gasoline is continually hitting new record highs, forcing
consumers to reevaluate their spending," said Jack R. Nerad, executive
editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book and "This study shows just how many are willing to make better
economic choices in order to save money and increase fuel efficiency. More
fuel efficient models are available on the market and now consumers have
that choice."

The latest Kelley Blue Book Marketing Research study was conducted on
Kelley Blue Book's among 1,100 in-market new-vehicle shoppers
during March 2008.

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