Thursday, July 31, 2008

More Minis Will Not Be On The Way

MINI Cooper is in short supply
Like hybrid cars, the fuel efficient Mini Cooper from BMW is very popular right now. So much so that dealers have no inventory on the fuel sipping mini sedan.

And so, if you're looking for a Mini Cooper for the rest of the year, be prepared to end up on waiting list. The good news, however, if you're willing to wait, is you don't have to settle for what's on the lot. You can order exactly what you want, so the Mini of your dreams is practically being built to your specs.

Mini sales are up 33.6 percent through the first half of the year, but overall production is being upped by just 2 to 3,000 to satisfy the current demand. And that increase is coming from the Mini convertible ending production on July 31. The convertible is being switched to a new body and will resume production next spring.

Base prices for 2009 models are increasing, but dynamic stability control is being made standard.

Photo from flickr by themullett.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Volt and Cruze Engine Plant to be Built in Flint

GM will be building a $326 million plant in Flint to build the 1.4-liter turbo engine for the Chevy Volt EREV (plug-in hybrid) and Chevy Cruze. The Flint City Council will meet on August 25 to consider granting tax incentives for the 530,000 square foot plant. GM is hoping for some state incentives, too. (Source: GM to let workers see Volt).

The Volt will be built at their Hamtramck plant and will begin production in 2010.

GM will give a sneak peek to employees of the Volt at the 100th anniversary celebration in September (no cameras, please!). Wind tunnel testing showed the original prototype had a lousy drag coefficient and was redesigned, so there is a lot of curiosity about the new design. The official showing will occur at the LA Auto Show in November or the Detroit show in January.

More about the Cruze

In a related matter, GM won tax breaks in Ohio this week to build the Cruze, which will get 45 miles per gallon, at its Lordstown assembly plant. The automaker won a 15-year, 75 percent state tax credit worth $77.7 million. It also won a $4.4 million tax credit to create at least 200 jobs at the plant.
The Cruze will replace the Chevy Cobalt and if the small sedan gets 40+ mpg, we may not need to spend as much to buy the Volt, after all.  And it will borrow it's looks from it's popular cousin, the Malibu.

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Truck and SUV Resale Values Fall, Compacts and Hybrids Are Rising

Compact and more fuel efficient car resale values are up, while truck and SUV resale values are falling according to Automotive Lease Guide Inc.

While this is not news to anyone who's been paying attention, the size of the drop may be shocking. Compact cars with high fuel efficiency, including hybrid cars, rose 5 percent, while full-size pickups and SUVs and midsize SUV fell 8 percent.

Cars like the Fit and Aveo saw a rise of 10 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively, in predicted resale value from last year. The Ford Expedition and Chevy Suburban saw their predicted resale value fall by 12.2 and 9.5 percent, respectively.

NADA has said for every $1 increase in gas, pickups value drop by $2,200 while compact cars go up by $980.

Maybe those people who made a run on selling their trucks and SUVs at the beginning of the gas hikes knew what they were doing.

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Government Takes Big Picture Approach

Over the past seven months, November 2007 to May 2008, Americans have driven 40.5 billion fewer miles than they did from November 2006 to May 2007.  In May, Americans drover 9.6 billion miles less than they did in May 2007. (Source: FHA Press Release)

High gas prices are driving people from the roads and the Federal Government, or at least the Federal Highway Administration, is unhappy about it.

As Americans drive less and rely increasingly on mass transit, carpooling or other options, the federal Highway Trust Fund receives less revenue from gasoline and diesel sales – 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon, respectively.

"Less driving means less money for the Highway Trust Fund," said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Jim Ray. "The status quo cannot and will not work in the 21st century."

Is it me or is this taking a very narrow viewpoint on what's happening?  Is oil dependency a priority?

Before we go too far, I understand this is a problem.  The Fund pays for the upkeep of the infrastructure we depend on and if that number starts decreasing, we may see issues crop in how well the infrastructure is kept up.  But I'm not sure it's exactly a crisis moment, either.  The budget may not be met this year, but the department will have to adjust for next year.

Update: But, of course, they'd rather try juggling the numbers around.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Honda Looking to Cut Hybrid Costs in Half

According to the latest reports from Honda VP Koichi Kondo, Honda hopes the global hybrid due out in 2009 will cut the hybrid-related systems cost in half over the Honda Civic Hybrid.

By reducing the size and weight, while simplifying the IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) system, Honda will be "building up a framework where hybrids can establish a healthy business." 

The Integrated Motor Assist from Honda is akin to the Toyota Synergy Drive from Toyota.  It's the powertrain found in their hybrid cars.  If they are successful in developing an hybrid motor for half the cost in their newest model, the new system would likely find it's way back into the older model, the Civic Hybrid.

Honda has had three attempts at building hybrids.  The first was the two-seater Insight, which never got out of low production numbers, despite being one of the first hybrids on the market.  The Honda Accord Hybrid, which emphasized power instead of fuel economy, was popular for a short time.  But as other models came on the market, and gas prices started to creep up, the Accord Hybrid fell out of the lime light.  Both were retired.

Honda's newest hybrid model, the global hybrid or "Prius Killer," is supposed to slingshot Honda back into the hybrid marketplace.  It's supposed to be a five door passenger car with room for five and a size in between a Fit and a Civic.  It will reportedly cost under $20,000 (MSRP).  

It will be very similar in appearance to a Toyota Prius according to the latest spy shots.  I suppose there are only so many ways to build a car that size with a really low drag co-efficient.

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Audi Q7 Hybrid is Off the Table

Audi Q7
Audi is pulling the plug on their Q7 hybrid project according to motortrend.  The projected sales just wouldn't cover the cost of developing and producing a hybrid of their flagship vehicle.

The rumors surrounding Audi's development of hybrid cars has been hot over the past year, with rumors that first they would, then they wouldn't, then they will in the US, then they won't bring it to the US any time soon.  But it sounds like this report is coming straight from an Audi spokesperson.

The numbers probably looked better a year ago, but the weakness of the dollar, while good for producing things here in the US, aren't so good for importing a high priced vehicle like the Q7.

Motortrend projects the Q5 hybrid won't be coming to the US any time soon, either.  The same issues that kept the hybrid Q7 will likely affect the production value of a Q5 hybrid. A diesel may be a better bet.

Source: German Reports: Audi Q7 hybrid gets the axe while R8 V-10 bests the 'Ring | Automotive News Blog - Wide Open Throttle. Photo from flickr by Ruben Bos.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Police Deparmtments Are Beginning to Rethink Hybrid Cars

More and more police departments are opting for hybrid cars to replace their cruisers.  Although many police departments still worry about power output, more are opting for fuel efficiency as high gas prices are impacting state and local budgets.

In the past, when confronted by the possibility of buying hybrid cars, most police departments have reacted with some valid questions.  Will a hybrid produce enough power if we need to chase someone down? What about the battery pack, will we have room for our equipment?  And what about the pricetag?  Not everyone can win a hybrid SUV for their department.

High gas prices are pushing them to rethink what's best, though.  And, local and state officials are beginning to realize there's more choices out there when you're considering a hybrid car.  Yes, a Prius that gets over 100 mpg makes news, but nobody said you had to buy a Prius.

And if Ford can make a hybrid fit for beach duty, maybe they can make one fit for police duty.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Will the Prius Bottleneck be Broken?

According to the Nikkan Kogyo industry daily, as reported by Automotive News (Toyota to boost Prius output by 70% - Automotive News), Toyota will be moving some more production around so they can almost double the number of next generation Prius for next year.

The 2009 Toyota Prius is a re-model, with a few improvements over the 2008 model year.  With the possible changes, they could produce 480,000 units next year.  Toyota produced 281,000 Prius in 2007 and are on track for a similar number in 2008.

Given the current state of affairs with gas prices, the Prius has been one of the hottest selling vehicles, but Toyota can't keep up with the demand.  Waiting lists are months long and there's a 4 day turn around to sell them.  In other words, it takes a few days for the new Prius owner, who may have ordered the car months ago, to come pick it up.

Toyota is moving the production of the Wish minivan out of the Tsutsumi plant to make room for the Prius.  The change may not occur until April, so I'm sticking with my assertion that it really isn't a good time buy a hybrid.

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2009 Toyota Hybrids Price Goes Up

Toyota has announced they will be raising prices on their hybrid car lineup for 2009. The 2009 Toyota Prius, Camry Hybrid, and Highlander Hybrid will all have a sticker price of at least $500 more than they did in 2008.

The base MSRP gas-electric Prius Hybrid will range from $22,000 for the Standard grade to $24,270 for the Touring grade. The overall average price for Prius will increase $500, or 2.2 percent.

The base MSRP for the 2009 Highlander mid-size SUV will range from $27,600 for the Base front-wheel-drive  model with a V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission to $34,520 for the Limited four-wheel-drive V6 with a five-speed automatic. The overall average MSRP for Highlander will increase by $47, or 0.2 percent. The base MSRP for the gas-electric Highlander Hybrid will range from $34,700 for the two-row, four-wheel-drive with intelligence base model to $41,020 for the three-row, four-wheel-drive with intelligence Limited. The overall average MSRP for the Highlander Hybrid increases by $518, or 1.4 percent.

The 2009 Camry sedan will receive an MSRP adjustment reflecting an increase of $225, or 1.0 percent. The base MSRP will range from $19,145 for the Camry four-cylinder with a five-speed manual transmission to $28,695 for the XLE V6 with a six-speed automatic. The gas-electric Camry Hybrid will receive a price adjustment increase of $500, or 1.9 percent. The new MSRP will be $26,150.

Update: Toyota announced a price increase for a Lexus hybrid, too.
The 2008 RX 400h front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive hybrid luxury utility vehicles will carry base MSRPs of $42,080 and $43,480 respectively, an increase of 1.2 percent or $500.

In all Toyota announced a price increase on 13 models.

Series Price Change % Change
Corolla 100 0.6%
Matrix 100 0.5%
Prius 500 2.2%
Camry Gas 225 1.0%
Camry HV 500 1.9%
Avalon 520 1.7%
FJ Cruiser 275 1.1%
Sienna 100 0.4%
4Runner 225 0.7%
Highlander Gas 47 0.2%
Highlander HV 518 1.4%
Land Cruiser 655 1.0%
Scion xD 100 0.7%

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Start Stop Technology Will be Everywhere

Start Stop technology may become universal equipment in the next five to 10 years, according to top environmental executives from Chrysler, Ford, and GM.

With fuel economy becoming such a big concern, as well as all the new regulations they have to meet, car makers are looking for cheap ways to increase fuel economy. Ranging from turbo boost, tweeking the frame for better drag coefficients, low rolling resistance tires, and now start-stop technology.

Start-stop switches the engine off whenever you come to a stop (say at a red light). But you can't just do that without putting some thought into the matter, given the engine powers things like climate control, the radio, the lights, and everything else that comes in a car.

But it does create a small increase in fuel efficiency and car makers are working hard to make any little changes they can to meet the new CAFE rules.  GM, especially, has focused in on start-stop technology for their mild hybrid cars.  All hybrids have start-stop technology, all the other systems can be powered by the electric motor and battery pack.

The experts from Chrysler, Ford and GM were speaking at NextCruise, a showcase for upcoming environmental technology for car makers.

Press Release for NextCruise Follows:

PLEASANT RIDGE, Mich., July 23 /PRNewswire/ -- The 2008 Inaugural NextCruise(TM), to take place on August 15-16, is a new event - new in both concept and content. Staged in the City of Pleasant Ridge, NextCruise(TM) introduces an environmentally friendly and future-looking dimension to the Woodward Dream Cruise, widely viewed as the world's largest automotive spectator and participation event.

Nine of the world's largest automakers are supporting NextCruise(TM), by providing the public with multiple opportunities to check out - and drive - the latest in "Green Machines" (including hybrids, clean diesels and those with other, new super-high-mileage and ultra-low-emission technologies).

"NextCruise(TM) marks a number of important firsts," said Paul Eisenstein, Event Chairman." It's the first-ever public event that brings together such a large array of leading automakers, specifically to display environmental vehicles and technologies; the first-ever event where the public has the chance to drive such a wide assortment of clean, high-economy cars, trucks and crossovers; and it's the first-ever official Woodward Dream Cruise event that is specifically future-focused.

"NextCruise(TM) helps expand the relevance of the Woodward Dream Cruise from what is primarily a retrospective into a celebration of the automobile, past, present and future," Eisenstein added.

NextCruise(TM) will also feature displays of even more advanced green concepts and technologies, such as fuel cells and hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines, together with experts to provide insight into how those developments can reach production in the not-too-distant future.

"As Pleasant Ridge has the longest stretch of green space on the entire Woodward Corridor, it's highly fitting that the City should be the host of this "Green" event as part of the Woodward Dream Cruise," said George Lenko, Pleasant Ridge Commissioner and NextCruise(TM) organizer. NextCruise(TM) will be based in Memorial Park, immediately adjacent to Pleasant Ridge City Hall.

"Today's and tomorrow's Green Machines challenge the stereotype that environmentally-friendly automobiles require customers to make significant sacrifices: in size, features, comfort and, especially, performance," said Eisenstein. "NextCruise(TM) provides a venue for manufacturers to display current and future Green technologies and engage the public in understanding that the newest Green Machines are roomy, well-equipped and, in keeping with the spirit of the Dream Cruise, able to deliver surprising performance and fun."

NextCruise(TM) also will include a look at the next generation of "green" motorsports, including the ethanol-fueled IndyCar Series, and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), which features a unique Green Racing Challenge this season. The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix - which takes place on Labor Day weekend - includes both IndyCar and ALMS races. The motorsport display will include race cars and appearances by key IndyCar and ALMS drivers.

"Because of the press of competition, motorsport has traditionally developed technologies that have found their way to production cars," Eisenstein stated. "Motorsport can be exciting, competitive and environmentally friendly, all at the same time.

"NextCruise(TM), put simply, is lean, mean ... and green."

NextCruise(TM) will be held in Pleasant Ridge's Memorial Park along Woodward Avenue, north of Nine Mile Road. There will be a public preview on the evening of August 15. NextCruise(TM) itself takes place concurrent with the Woodward Dream Cruise on August 16. Major auto manufacturers supporting include General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen. Other sponsors and exhibitors include Bridgestone, Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, IndyCar Series, American Le Mans Series, PR Newswire, G-2 Communications and ESI. For information go to or email

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Ford Will Double Production of Their Hybrids in the Next Year

Ford Hybrid Car Sales FigureFord is promising to double production of their hybrids over the next year.  Ford, like the other car companies is struggling this year.  The downturn in truck sales, especially, is really hurting.

Without knowing more, I'd say that 'doubling' their production comes from adding the Ford Fusion Hybrid to the lineup. But part of that will be the move to increase Escape and Mariner Hybrids.  As with all the car manufacturers cut production of trucks and SUVs and start producing more fuel efficient vehicles, Ford is working on producing more Escape and Mariners in the third quarter.  They are adding a third shift to their plant at Kansas City.

Ford has shown no interest in increasing sales in the hybrid cars in the past (see the figure).  They simply haven't made any money from selling them, and only with the additional units and the time to absorb the research cost, are they ready to do so.

Ford said the 2010 Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid will begin production late this year and will be on sale early next year.  The expect the new hybrids to beat the Camry Hybrid mpg values.

Press Release follows:

DEARBORN, Mich., July 24, 2008 – Ford Motor Company [NYSE: F] today announced a significant acceleration of its transformation plan with the addition of several new fuel-efficient small vehicles in North America and a realignment of its North American manufacturing.

The actions represent a considerable shift in Ford’s North American product plans and investments toward smaller vehicles and fuel-efficient powertrains in both the near- and mid-term in line with rapid changes in customer buying preferences.

In addition to bringing six small vehicles to North America from the company’s acclaimed European lineup, Ford is accelerating the introduction of fuel-efficient EcoBoost and all-new four-cylinder engines, boosting hybrid production and converting three existing truck and SUV plants for small car production, beginning this December.

“We continue to take fast and decisive action implementing our plan and responding to the rapidly changing business environment,” said Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally. “Ford is moving aggressively using our global product strengths to introduce additional smaller vehicles in North America and to provide outstanding fuel economy with every new product.”

Mulally said the company is more focused than ever on its transformation plan, which calls for:

  • Aggressively restructuring to operate profitably at the current demand and changing model mix

  • Accelerating the development of new products that customers want and value

  • Financing the plan and improving the balance sheet

  • Working together effectively as one team, leveraging Ford’s global assets

“The progress we have made in working together to create a ‘One Ford’ global enterprise during the past two years gives us a unique competitive advantage in today’s environment,” Mulally said. “We are in a stronger position than ever to leverage Ford’s global assets to address the North American business environment. We also are building on the past few years of progress in continuously improving our quality, reducing our cost structure and introducing strong new products.”

Aggressively Restructuring

Ford will convert three existing North American truck and SUV plants for small car production, with the first conversion beginning this December.

The moves are in addition to Ford’s announcements in May and June that it is reducing its North American production plans for large trucks and SUVs for the remainder of 2008, as well as increasing production of smaller cars and crossovers.

“We are transforming Ford’s North American manufacturing operations into a lean, flexible system that is fully competitive with the best in the business,” said Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas. “We remain committed to matching our capacity with real consumer demand, and we are equipping nearly all of our assembly plants with flexible body shops, ensuring we can respond quickly to changing consumer tastes.

“In addition, we are adding four-cylinder engine capacity to meet the growing consumer demand, while expanding production of our new EcoBoost engines, six-speed transmissions and other fuel-saving technologies,” Fields said.

Among the manufacturing realignment actions:

  • Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Mich., which currently builds the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator full-size SUVs, will be converted beginning this December to production of small cars derived from Ford’s global C-car platform in 2010.

  • Production of the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator will be moved to the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Ky., early next year.

  • Cuautitlan Assembly Plant in Mexico, which currently produces F-Series pickups, will be converted to begin production of the new Fiesta small car for North America in early 2010.

  • Louisville (Ky.) Assembly Plant, which builds the Ford Explorer mid-size SUV, will be converted to produce small vehicles from Ford’s global C-car platform beginning in 2011.

  • Twin Cities (Minn.) Assembly Plant – which was scheduled to close in 2009 – will continue production of the Ford Ranger through 2011 to meet consumer demand for the compact pickup.

  • As previously announced, Kansas City Assembly Plant this year will add a third crew to its small utility line for the Ford Escape, Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner and Mariner Hybrid.

In tandem with the realignments, Ford will continue to offer targeted hourly buyouts at its U.S. plants and facilities, working with the UAW to secure competitive employment levels. Ford also said it remains on track to reduce salaried-related costs by 15 percent in North America by Aug. 1.

Ford North America still expects to reduce annual operating costs by $5 billion by the end of 2008 – at constant volume, mix and exchange, and excluding special items – compared with 2005. In addition, the company said it plans to continue to reduce structural costs beyond 2008.

The company also confirmed Ford, Lincoln and Mercury will remain in its North American brand portfolio. Ford said it will work with its dealers to broaden and accelerate its dealer consolidations, which will result in a dealer network that reflects the changing industry size and model mix.

Ford also updated its current North American planning assumptions, which include:

  • U.S. economic recovery to begin by early 2010

  • U.S. industry sales to return to trend levels as the economy returns to health

  • Product mix changes are permanent, but some recovery will occur from the current share-of-industry for full-size pickups – though not back to levels experienced previously – as the economy and housing sector recover

  • Oil prices to remain volatile and high

  • No near-term relief from current level of commodity prices

  • About 14 percent U.S. market share for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands

Accelerating New Products

Ford is adding several new North American products in the near- and mid-term, and shifting from a primary emphasis on large trucks and SUVs to smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles. By the end of 2010, two-thirds of spending will be on cars and crossovers – up from one-half today.

“We are accelerating the development of the new products customers want and value,” Mulally said. “We sell some of the best vehicles in the world in our profitable European and Asian operations, and we will bring many of them to North America on top of our already aggressive product plans.”

The new products include six European small vehicles to be introduced in North America by the end of 2012. Ford’s acclaimed European products are set apart by their world-class driving dynamics, exciting design and outstanding quality.

“While we have no intention of giving up our longtime truck leadership, we are creating a new Ford in North America on a foundation of small, fuel-efficient cars and crossovers that will set new standards for quality, fuel economy, product features and refinement,” Fields said.

The Ford, Lincoln, Mercury line will be almost completely upgraded by the end of 2010, including:

  • 2009 Ford F-150, on sale in late fall with the most capability, most choice and most smart features of any full-size pickup, and with more than a 7 percent fuel economy improvement

  • 2010 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln MKZ sedans, on sale in early 2009, with Fusion’s and Milan’s four-cylinder fuel economy expected to top Honda Accord and Toyota Camry

  • 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid, beginning production late this year and on sale in early 2009 – with fuel economy expected to top the Toyota Camry hybrid

  • New Ford Mustang – coupe, convertible, and glass-roof models – in early 2009

  • New Ford Taurus sedan – with EcoBoost engine and even more advanced safety and convenience technologies – in mid-2009

  • New European Transit Connect small multi-purpose van in mid-2009

  • New Lincoln seven-passenger crossover – with EcoBoost engine – in mid-2009

  • New European Ford Fiesta, in both four- and five-door versions, in early 2010

  • New European Ford Focus, in both four- and five-door versions, in 2010

  • New Mercury small car in 2010

  • New European small vehicle that will be a “whitespace” entry in North America in 2010

  • Next-generation Ford Explorer – with unibody construction, EcoBoost, six-speed, weight savings and improved aerodynamics for up to 25 percent better fuel economy – in 2010

With every new product, Ford expects to be the best or among the best for fuel economy. This is aided by one of the most extensive powertrain upgrades ever for Ford. By the end of 2010, nearly all of Ford’s North American engines will be upgraded or replaced. In addition, within two years, nearly all of Ford’s North American lineup will offer fuel-saving six-speed automatic transmissions.

The improvements build on several Ford fuel economy leaders today, such as:

  • 2009 Ford Flex, which is the most fuel-efficient standard seven-passenger vehicle on the market, topping the 2009 Honda Pilot

  • 2009 Ford Focus, with highway fuel economy of up to 35 mpg – better than the smaller 2008 Honda Fit and 2009 Nissan Versa SL and a key reason Focus retail sales are up 50 percent

  • 2009 Escape, with a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed transmission delivering best-in-class highway fuel economy of 28 mpg – ahead of Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V

  • 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, delivering 34 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, making it the most fuel-efficient utility vehicle available

Coming in 2009 are the first applications of Ford’s new EcoBoost engines. EcoBoost uses gasoline turbocharged direct-injection technology for up to 20 percent better fuel economy, up to 15 percent fewer CO2 emissions and superior driving performance versus larger-displacement engines.

EcoBoost V-6 engines will be introduced on several vehicles next year, beginning with the Lincoln MKS and Ford Taurus sedans, and Ford Flex crossover. Four-cylinder EcoBoost engines will debut in 2010 in both North America and Europe. Ford will offer EcoBoost on more than 80 percent of its North American lineup by the end of 2012.

Ford also plans to double capacity for North American four-cylinder engines to more than 1 million units by 2011, to meet the consumer trend toward downsized engines for fuel economy. The smaller engines will deliver significant fuel savings.

In addition, Ford plans to double its hybrid volume and offerings next year – and is looking to expand further going forward. Production of the all-new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid begins in December – with fuel economy expected to top the Toyota Camry hybrid.

With these new models, the Ford Escape Hybrid – now in its fifth year of production – and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid, Ford will offer four hybrid vehicles. That will make Ford the largest domestic producer of full hybrid vehicles in North America, second only to Toyota in sales volume.

Ford also is introducing six-speeds with PowerShift that offers the fuel economy of a manual transmission and convenience of an automatic; start-stop engines that shut off when the vehicle stops; electric power steering; direct injection, and Twin Independent Variable Cam Timing engines. These technologies will be progressively introduced within the North American lineup by 2012.

“One Ford”

Driving Ford’s product transformation is the company’s “One Ford” global product development vision, which will deliver more vehicles worldwide from fewer core platforms, further reduce costs and allow for the increased use of common parts and systems.

In the next five years, Ford will build more than 1 million vehicles a year worldwide off its global B-car platform and nearly 2 million units worldwide off its global C-car platform.

“Ford is investing most where consumer growth is taking place – and that’s in highly fuel-efficient global small cars,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford group vice president of Global Product Development. “One of every four vehicles in the world today is a ‘C’ or Ford Focus-sized vehicle, and we expect the segment to grow more than 20 percent to 6 million units in North America and 25 million worldwide by 2012. We see similar strong growth in the B-segment, where the Fiesta competes.”

With Ford’s global product development plan, all of the company’s vehicles competing in global segments will be common in North America, Europe and Asia within five years. In addition to B- and C-sized small cars, the company’s Fusion- and Mondeo-sized C/D cars and utilities will be common globally. The same will be true for commercial vans.

Ford said it is uniquely positioned to take advantage of its scale, already acclaimed global products and the strength of the Ford brand around the world to respond to the current changing marketplace and to begin to grow profitably. The company said its success in growing market share and profits with smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles in Europe is now the template around the world.

“We remain absolutely committed to creating an exciting, viable Ford going forward – and to transforming Ford into a lean global enterprise delivering profitable growth over the long term,” Mulally said. “We continue to make progress on every element of our transformation plan, and we are taking decisive steps in the near term to ensure our long-term success.”

Risk Factors

Statements included herein may constitute “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements are based on expectations, forecasts and assumptions by our management and involve a number of risks, uncertainties, and other factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those stated, including, without limitation:

  • Continued decline in market share;

  • Continued or increased price competition resulting from industry overcapacity, currency fluctuations or other factors;

  • An increase in or acceleration of market shift away from sales of trucks, sport utility vehicles, or other more profitable vehicles, particularly in the United States;

  • A significant decline in industry sales, particularly in the United States, Europe or South America, resulting from slowing economic growth, geo-political events or other factors;

  • Lower-than-anticipated market acceptance of new or existing products;

  • Continued or increased high prices for or reduced availability of fuel;

  • Currency or commodity price fluctuations;

  • Adverse effects from the bankruptcy or insolvency of, change in ownership or control of, or alliances entered into by a major competitor;

  • Economic distress of suppliers that has in the past and may in the future require us to provide financial support or take other measures to ensure supplies of components or materials;

  • Labor or other constraints on our ability to restructure our business;

  • Work stoppages at Ford or supplier facilities or other interruptions of supplies;

  • Single-source supply of components or materials;

  • Substantial pension, postretirement health care and life insurance liabilities impairing our liquidity or financial condition;

  • Inability to implement Retiree Health Care Settlement Agreement with UAW to fund and discharge retiree health care obligations because of failure to obtain court approval or otherwise;

  • Worse-than-assumed economic and demographic experience for our postretirement benefit plans (e.g., discount rates, investment returns, and health care cost trends);

  • The discovery of defects in vehicles resulting in delays in new model launches, recall campaigns or increased warranty costs;

  • Increased safety, emissions (e.g., CO2), fuel economy, or other regulation resulting in higher costs, cash expenditures, and/or sales restrictions;

  • Unusual or significant litigation or governmental investigations arising out of alleged defects in our products or otherwise;

  • A change in our requirements for parts or materials where we have entered into long-term supply arrangements that commit us to purchase minimum or fixed quantities of certain parts or materials, or to pay a minimum amount to the seller (“take-or-pay” contracts);

  • Adverse effects on our results from a decrease in or cessation of government incentives;

  • Adverse effects on our operations resulting from certain geo-political or other events;

  • Substantial negative Automotive operating-related cash flows for the near- to medium-term affecting our ability to meet our obligations, invest in our business or refinance our debt;

  • Substantial levels of Automotive indebtedness adversely affecting our financial condition or preventing us from fulfilling our debt obligations (which may grow because we are able to incur substantially more debt, including additional secured debt);

  • Inability of Ford Credit to access debt or securitization markets around the world at competitive rates or in sufficient amounts due to additional credit rating downgrades, market volatility, market disruption or otherwise;

  • Higher-than-expected credit losses;

  • Increased competition from banks or other financial institutions seeking to increase their share of financing Ford vehicles;

  • Changes in interest rates;

  • Collection and servicing problems related to finance receivables and net investment in operating leases;

  • Lower-than-anticipated residual values or higher-than-expected return volumes for leased vehicles; and

  • New or increased credit, consumer or data protection or other regulations resulting in higher costs and/or additional financing restrictions.

We cannot be certain that any expectation, forecast or assumption made by management in preparing forward-looking statements will prove accurate, or that any projection will be realized. It is to be expected that there may be differences between projected and actual results. Our forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of their initial issuance, and we do not undertake any obligation to update or revise publicly any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. For additional discussion of these risks, see “Item 1A. Risk Factors” in our 2007 Form 10-K Report.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Google Gets 90 MPG

The Google RechargeIT study just went one step farther in testing their plug-in hybrid cars.  By setting up a controlled test of their fleet of cars, they were able to produce a remarkable 90+ mpg.

RechargeIT Blog: Our plug-ins perform: 90+ MPG

We were curious to see how the cars would perform under controlled conditions - and how they would stack up against other conventional automobiles typically found in U.S. households. With that, the RechargeIT Driving Experiment was born!

In total, it took just over seven weeks to complete all the trips in all the vehicles. And with the results in, our plug-ins did great, with the Priuses getting more than 90 miles per gallon. The PHEVs not only greatly outperformed the average American fleet fuel economy of 19.8 MPG, they did significantly better than the standard hybrids – 53% fuel economy improvement for the plug-in Ford Escape and 93% improvement for the plug-in Prius.

The rechargeit experimental fleet of plug-in hybrid cars, up till now, was not achieving very good results.  At 60 mpg or so, their mpg numbers could be matched by carefully driving  an unmodified Prius.  The problem, according to the researchers at google, was the short range trips.  The employees were taking the cars out for their daily commute, which were pretty short.  Since the cars would start up the gas engines at the beginning of every trip to power up the internal systems.  Since the vehicles aren't traveling that far, the proportion of gas running time was still higher than most people would see.

Thus, the team decided on a 7 week experiment.  They created 38 routes, 12 city routes of 1 to 30 miles, 14 city/highway routes of 7-60 miles and 12 highway routes of 15 to 92 miles surrounding the Mountain View headquarters where the experiment was taking place.  They sent out each of their cars 257 times across those 38 routes for a total distance of 2228 miles.

They randomly assigned cars and 5 professional drivers to the trips, although they did control the order of the trips so all vehicles completed the city trips first, then the combined, then the highway trips.

They note the weather was pretty mild (in general) and so the heaters were never used, and the A/C was used only occasionally.  Also the terrain was fairly flat.

 One last (important) note, each plug-in car had to be 'sufficiently charged' before a driver could take it out on it's next trip.  In the real world, you won't have that luxury.

Not surprisingly, the Toyota Prius Plug-in outran the competition in mpg numbers.  Especially in the city routes, where they hit 115 mpg and they could take advantage of 1) the full charge, and 2) regenerative braking.  On highway routes, the results for the PHEVs were a more modest 68 mpg.  The Ford Escape plug-in hit 45 mpg in city driving, but was actually better at highway driving at 51 mpg.  At the end of the day, the Ford Escape plug-in matched up pretty evenly with the unmodified Prius which got an average mpg of 48 mpg.

You can read up on the results and methodology by following the link.

Overall, I'm impressed by the test.  They tried to control for what they could and, aside from allowing the battery to fully recharge for the plug-ins, treated each car the same.  The drivers were professionals, but weren't trained on how to drive the hybrids.  Someone who had more experience in driving hybrids, who knew how to hypermile, might make the results even more lopsided. 

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GM May Build Hybrids in the UK

GM is offering to build flexstream hybrid cars in Europe by 2011-2012, but UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown felt they weren't going to build enough.

According to the Telegraph, via bloomberg, GM wants to build 30,000 units at the Vauxhall Motors plant in Eleesmere Port. But England needs to support its bid to gain extra credits against the European Union (EU) fuel consumption goals.

The EU has been working hard at building new regulations for car companies and hybrid cars are a good way to reduce emissions and fuel consumption numbers.

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The Poulsen Hybrid: A Follow-Up

There was a lot of excitement about the Poulsen Hybrid, and for good reason. It seems like a good, relatively cheap way to convert just about any vehicle into a mild hybrid.

For just a few thousand dollars, you can get better fuel economy by plugging your car in overnight. All of a sudden, you wouldn't have to wait several years and pay $40 thousand for a plug-in hybrid. If it works, you may not have to trade in your big car for nothing or wait six months and overpay for a Prius.

Projected Prices

  • At this point the projected price of the basic kit is app.: $3,500

  • Deep cycle lead acid batteries (not included): $400-450

  • 72V 15 A charger for lead acid. (optional): $300

  • Installation: $500-600

  • 4.3 KWh Lithium Ion battery pack with battery management system and dedicated 25A charger: App. $4,500

But that's a little bit too optimistic and, truthfully, the system is still a few months away and there are still a lot of questions to be asked. Which is why I sent an e-mail off to the makers of the Poulsen Hybrid with some questions. They let me know they would be putting together a FAQ and I should check for it. Well it's up and there are some answers, but still some questions.

When Can I Get it?  Where?

The Poulsen Hybrid system will be available in the Fall of 2008, but you'll have to bring your car to Shelton, CT to have it done. Right now, they are the only ones who can do it, although they've seen a lot of interest from others who are very interested in doing it themselves or by dealerships who would like to be authorized to do the work.

The motor is attached to the wheels and the battery pack and controllers are placed in the trunk of the car. The motor adds about 2” each side at curb height and 3-4” inches at the center of the hubcap.

Any type of car with 15" wheels or larger can be converted, but not all models are built the same. The torque bar needs to be attached somewhere, and there is no one size fits all kit. Larger vehicles are not eligible, yet, but they hope to have something for SUVs and such by 2009. They are planning on concentrating on fuel efficient or popular cars at first. Trunk space is important, as well. The batteries and controllers take up a lot of space.

The DOT has not approved the system, yet. They don't expect there to be any issues with the DOT, but until they go through the process, it's anyone's guess.

The controllers are not connected to the accelerator pedal, but are controlled by potentiometers located in a pot box which is connected with the power supply in the trunk by a 10 ft, cable. A toggle switch serves to turn the system on and off.

They are working on some (optional) instrumentation to give the user readouts on mpg, remaining charge, instantaneous horsepower delivered by the ICE, etc.

The torque bar connects the motor stators with the vehicle body. The attachment hardware consists of a combined ball- and telescoping- joint, which compensates for possible misalignment during installation as well as relative movement as the car is traveling on the road. The connecting point may be forward or rearward of the wheel center, and in one form is a plate shaped after the fender contour and mounted by means of 6 self-threading screws. The relative forces are translatory, parallel to the body surface and directed downwards while driving and upwards during regenerative braking. (vice versa if the attachment point is forward of the wheel center). The choice: Rearward or forward of the axle depends on the vehicle architecture.

An alternate form of torque bar attachment includes a plate, which is mounted internally in the wheel well and protrudes close to the fender next to the wheel. The plate ends in a pinion, which connects with the ball joint. This form of attachment is suited for some car models and avoids drilling holes in the fender or elsewhere in the body.

The torque bar is a rectangular tubular aluminum extrusion and doubles as a conduit for the power and control cables leading from the power supply in the trunk to the motors. The cables exit the bar on the inside next to the ball joint and may be guided beneath the sub-fender, through a bore in the spare wheel well and on to the power supply components in the trunk area.

How Many Batteries? The standard batteries will be 6 standard deep cycle lead/acid 12V 100 Ah batteries connected in series. The system requires 72 volts, but the batteries are optional when the system is installed. They will also offer an optional 72V 15A lead/acid charger. A lithium-ion battery pack may be in the future.

Converting a Prius/Hybrid? 

They are going to convert a Prius with their system, although they feel it's redundant to do so. They will report on the results after their trial.

Bottom Line, What Kind of Difference Does it Make With the MPG?

They'll post third party performance reports on fuel economy when they start coming in.

How is the Battery Pack Recharged?  What About Regenerative Braking? 

Regeneration (braking) is engaged via a relay connected with the brake light circuit. A light touch of the brake pedal, without the pads actually contacting the drums or disks, will enable recovery of most of the kinetic energy. Practically zero energy will be recovered in an emergency brake situation.

Safety Concerns?

Some concerns have arisen over changing a tire. They estimate it will only take 10 minutes longer if you have a flat with the system.

Other Questions?

I've seen some question how easy it would be to steal such a system.  Since it only takes a few minutes to remove the motor, how easy would it be to steal one?

It's nice to see there will be a regenerative braking system, but that leaves the question of how long you can expect the system to run for (how many miles) before it needs to be plugged back in.  Also, what's the durability of the system?  How often will you need to replace the battery packs?  What if you wanted to remove the system?  Would you be left with any holes in your car? 

Still, all in all, this still seems like a very exciting system.  We'll have to see whether it makes a real difference in fuel economy or not (I'm looking forward to those third party reports).

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

GM Works With Utilities to Make Sure There Will Be a Market for the Chevy Volt

GM has announced a partnership with over 30 electric utilities, who belong to the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), to accelerate the introduction of plug-in electric vehicles.

GM is working to bring a Saturn Vue Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehilce (PHEV) and the Chevy Volt to the marketplace. The Saturn Vue PHEV should be first in 2009, but GM seems to be betting heavily on the Volt (more on that later).  But before they get here, they need to answer some tough questions.

According to studies done, the utilities are capable of handling the load put on them by the oncoming fleet of plug-in hybrids, but there questions.

  • Can the cars be set to re-charge overnight, when the load is lowest and the charge to "re-fuel" will be lowest for the customer?
  • What about those who live in apartments? How will they able to plug-in?
  • What about at workplaces, or on trips (hotels)?
  • Will local substations need help in providing power at night, when they expect lower needs?
  • Can they stagger charges somehow to avoid that.
  • What about some sort of recharging station?
These questions and more need to be addressed, and the customers need to hear the answers before they will buy into the new type of car. The partnership between GM and the EPRI is part of that.

GM is also putting together six groups to handle these questions. One group will focus on codes and uniform standards for recharging. They will also be working to encourage the government to set aside some tax incentives, just as they did with hybrids. McCain has already stated he would want a $5,000 tax credit for plug-ins.

GM and the EPRI received a federal grant from the Dept of Energy (DOE) to create a demonstration plug-in Vue to the tune of $10 million. The University of Michigan Transport Research Institute and Michigan Economic Development Corp. are also involved. They won the money for a project to enhance lithium-ion battery packs, charging systems, powertrain development and vehicle integration.

GM Betting Heavily on the Volt Succeeding
The Chevy Volt, due out in 2010, will be a plug-in hybrid vehicle and GM is betting quite a bit on its success. Although the cost of the Volt is predicted to be in the upper $30K range, GM will lose money on each Volt sold.

GM has termed the Volt an EREV, Electric Range Extended Vehicle. The small gas engine will not power the vehicle, it will be used to recharge the battery pack. The electric motor will provide the power. After being plugged in overnight, the Volt will be able to travel 40 miles (or at least, that's the promise) on electric power alone. After that the gas engine will kick in to recharge the battery pack. If your commute is less than that, you may never need to refuel according to GM.

The Volt will need about 8 kilowatt hours to re-charge. If a utility charges 10 cents per kilowatt hour, then you would only pay about 80 cents to go 40 miles according to Britta Gross, a GM engineer.

GM Press Release Follows:

San Jose, CALIF - General Motors announced today that it will collaborate with the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) - more than 30 of the top electric utilities in the United States and Canada -- to accelerate the introduction of plug-in electric vehicles.

General Motors will work with EPRI and the utility companies on everything from codes and standards to grid capability to ensure that when the Volt goes to market, the infrastructure is ready - and customers can realize the full potential of these revolutionary vehicles as soon as they leave the showroom.

Details of the alliance, which is by far the largest and most-comprehensive between an automaker and the electric utility industry, were announced today in San Jose during the Plug-In 2008 Conference.

Among the many things the coalition will address include ensuring safe and convenient vehicle charging, raising the public awareness and understanding of plug-in electric vehicles, and working with public policy leaders to enable a transition from petroleum to electricity as a fuel source.

"Together with EPRI and the utility companies, we can transform automotive transportation as we know it, and get our nation and the world past oil dependence - and heading toward a future that is electric," said Jon Lauckner, GM VP of Global Program Management. "This group is taking significant steps toward making electric vehicles a reality and in helping our customers enjoy the tremendous benefits these vehicles will provide."

Using electricity to power vehicles such as the Volt and the Vue Plug-in is attractive to GM because it can simultaneously reduce the industry's dependence on petroleum and vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers will also see a tremendous benefit as the cost per equivalent mile of a vehicle powered by electricity is roughly one-fifth of the cost per mile when powered by gasoline.

The coalition of utility companies plays a critical role in developing universal technical standards that will facilitate ease of use and commercial feasibility of electric vehicles.

"EPRI is pleased to collaborate with GM and utility leaders in electric transportation to work together in advancing plug-in hybrid electric vehicle transportation," said Arshad Mansoor, Vice President of EPRI's Power Delivery & Utilization sector. "This collaboration is critical in the development of standards that will lead to the widespread use of electricity as a transportation fuel."

Last month, GM, along with EPRI, received a conditional award from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a plug-in demo program using the Saturn Vue.

In June, GM's Board of Directors committed to production of the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle -- due in showrooms in late 2010. And, at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, GM announced its intention to produce a plug-in hybrid electric version of the Saturn Vue. Given the huge potential vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt and Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid offers for fuel economy improvement, these programs have emerged as top priorities at GM.

"This coalition shares a vision of bringing plug in vehicles to market so we can accelerate the use of electricity as a substitute for gasoline," said Lauckner. "We are focused on creating affordable, highly desired vehicles that will take advantage of the grid - and providing accessible, reliable, convenient low cost electricity to plug-in customers. Collectively, we can realize all of the benefits of the plug-in revolution."

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The Shift to Smaller Cars Has Begun

For years, the automakers have said if customers wanted smaller, more fuel efficient cars, all they need to do is buy them. In the meantime, we're going to continue to build SUVs and trucks, with concentration on safety and power because that's what people are buying.

Well, people are no longer buying as many SUVs and trucks, and so the automakers are living up to their word.  They are making the shift to smaller cars and they are doing so as quickly as they can.

Hyundai, who for years was working to build larger, more luxurious cars, is 'happily' moving back to their focus on smaller cars.  They were one of the few automakers who showed a positive increase in sales last month.   They are also considering switching production at their plant in West Point, GA from a pickup and SUV for Kia Motors into the Elantra and another small car.

"This new era of high oil prices will be a good opportunity for us to expand our reach ... We must press on with our campaign to move into the premium segment," says Hyundai's top strategist Yoon Mong Hyun, "but the focus right now is on small cars."

Honda, because of their small car focus, also showed an increase in sales last month.  But they are also switching away from their larger vehicle segment and increasing production of their smaller cars like the Civic.  Their North American production will increase the number of Civics, while decreasing the number of Odyssey minivans and Pilot SUVs.

"There will be no layoffs. We're just adjusting production given market conditions," spokesman David Iida of Honda said. "We want to manage our stock of vehicles, and not let it get too high."

Toyota, despite the high demand on their hybrids, has seen their sales fall in recent months.  They will be cutting production of the Tundra and Sequoia, while working to increase production of the Prius by starting production in the US in 2010. 

Nissan is cutting production of their Titan and Armada SUVs, although they will produce a large pickup they are under contract for with Chrysler.

Nissan Motor Co., the third-largest Japanese automaker, has also said it will stop building the full-size Titan pickups and Armada SUVs at its Mississippi plant, and instead sell a large pickup produced under contract by Chrysler LLC.

Ford is considering making Mercury their small car nameplate.  According to the NY Times, they will be converting three production plants, including the Michigan Truck plant which builds the Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, into producing smaller cars.  Ford has been focusing on their ecoboost engines and is planning on bringing six of their European models to the US.

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Even Cathy Has to Wait for a Prius

Today's Cathy comic says it all about how popular, and how hard it is to get, a Prius.

I love how Irving is trying to play it cool for the salesman.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Toyota Hopes for One Hundred Thousand Dedicated Lexus Hybrids a Year

Toyota is looking to produce 100,000 of their new hybrid Lexus, starting in 2009. Some have speculated their new dedicated hybrid, only the third of it's kind, will be like the Prius, with high fuel economy figures, and yet also live up to the luxury you would expect from a Lexus.

Currently there are only two dedicated hybrids, the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. The two-seater Insight was retired. In the meantime, Prius sales have taken off, leaving some to wonder if by making the Prius without a gas-only version contributes to it's sales.

That's why Toyota is looking to bring a new dedicated hybrid out as a Lexus, and why Honda is looking to replace the Insight with what they hope will be a Prius-killer.

The new Lexus hybrid, slated to be at the Detroit Auto Show next January,will be produced at the Toyota Motor Kyushu Inc, in Fukuoka prefecture. It may have a 2- to 2.5-litre engine mated to the electric motor.

Toyota is also bringing another dedicated hybrid to the Auto Show under the Toyota brand.

Source: Toyota to make 100,000 units of hybrid car: paper | Technology | Reuters

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hybrid Cars Get Preferred Parking at Office Buildings in Long Island

Hybrid car owners tend are finding there are more rewards to buying their cars than they thought in New York City. RexCorp, one of the largest real estate developers and property owners on Long Island, are reserving prime spots for hybrid cars at their office buildings.

Other 'perks' for hybrid drivers I've seen include some retail companies setting aside spots for hybrid cars, including solo HOV lane access, free parking in some towns and cities, and better/discount/free parking in some parking lots.  Some companies have even offered money to employees who buy hybrid cars, including Bank of America, Google and Timberlake.

Buying a hybrid can be an expensive proposition.  By offsetting the costs with these perks, companies, towns, cities, states and the federal government are encouraging people to go ahead and spend a little more in order to use less fuel. 

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Officials Guarantee Hybrid Taxi Cab Availability With Auto Manufacturers

hybrid altima taxi cab in NYC
Ford, GM and Nissan have agreed to ensure 300 hybrid vehicles are available each month for New York companies to purchase for use as taxis.  With NY City mandating hybrid technology in all the cabs, the fleet owners were complaining not enough hybrid cars were available.

Officials dealt with their complaints by ensuring 50 Ford Escape Hybrids, 50 Chevy Malibu Hybrids and 200 Nissan Altima Hybrids were available.  Taxi cab owners would have preferred Ford Escape Hybrids, because they are roomier and you can fit in more luggage, but Ford was concerned about the high demand.  They're having trouble enough keeping up with the customers who want the Escape Hybrid in the first place.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission estimated 210 hybrids would need to be available each month to make a successful transition.  Fleet owners are required to replace their cabs every three years, while individuals have to flip their car every five years.

According to Daus, the Commission's chairman, the hybrid taxi's are saving drivers $6,500 a year and they have better rates of passing inspection.

In a response to the announcement, Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, stated the savings to drivers go in one hand and out the other as fleet owners charge more for hybrid rentals.  Also, Desai wanted a fuel surcharge put in place to make up for the extra cost in gasoline.

Photo from flickr by lucky 327.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Micro Hybrid System to Become Standard in Smart Car

The Smart fortwo vehicle is being updated with "micro hybrid technology" across the board, just not in the US.  Daimler announced they would place the micro hybrid drive technology as standard technology in the 45 kW/61 bhp and 52 kW/71 bhp fortwo models.  The technology allows the car to stop the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop (under 5 mph) and re-start it once you step on the gas pedal.

The micro hybrid system should increase fuel efficiency by eight percent.  But according to Edmunds, the new micro hybrid system won't be available in the US.  At least not for now. If that's even true.

The micro hybrid system does not really make the Smart car into a hybrid.  It's just start/stop capability.  There's no electric motor propelling the vehicle and it really does take two engines to make the term 'hybrid' right to use.

The Smart Fortwo was rated at 33/41 and was rated as one of the most fuel efficient vehicles in the US.

Press Release Follows

From October 2008 the standard equipment of the 45 kW/61 bhp and 52 kW/71 bhp petrol-engined smart fortwo models will include micro hybrid drive (mhd) technology with a user-friendly automatic start-stop system. This reduces the NEDC consumption of the two naturally aspirated engines by an average of 8 percent. In city traffic fuel savings of almost 20 percent are even possible. Furthermore, from the autumn of 2008 the smart fortwo cdi will be equipped with a closed diesel particulate filter that almost completely eradicates particulate emissions. The equipment of the innovative two-seater is being upgraded by an instrument cluster with a new design featuring enhanced indicating instruments and new door net pockets among other things. Two new colours "grey metallic" and "rally red" are a fresh new highlight, as are the optional new sporty six-spoke alloy wheels.

smart is resolutely continuing its philosophy and making the smart fortwo even more environmentally friendly and attractive: further reduced consumption, even more uncomplicated driving pleasure and upgraded equipment will characterise the comfortable two-seater in future.

45 kW and 52 kW petrol engines with micro hybrid drive (mhd) as standard

The smart micro hybrid drive (mhd) automatic start-stop function has proven itself since 2007, although to date it has only been available for the 52kW/71 bhp model. To reduce the fuel costs for the smart fortwo, the two petrol models with 45 kW/61 bhp and 52 kW/71 bhp engines are now being fitted with the start-stop automatic function as standard**. This reduces the consumption of both versions in the combined cycle by around eight percent (to 4.3* litres, NEDC). CO2 emissions are reduced to 103* grams per kilometre. In urban traffic with frequent stop-and-go situations savings of almost 20 percent are even possible. 7 out of 10 customers in Europewho opt for a petrol engine will now drive with this environmentally-friendly technology.
smart has realised the idea behind the automatic start-stop system in a particularly clever way: the control electronics shut down the engine as soon as the driver brakes and the vehicle's speed falls below 8 km/h - for example when approaching traffic lights.

The engine starts again in the fraction of a second as soon as the driver releases the brake pedal. In this way the fuel consumption is reduced even further. The smart fortwo's automated manual transmission is perfectly tuned to the automatic start-stop system. The driver only needs to accelerate and brake - no clutchwork or gear changing is ever needed. This fully automatic function of the smart fortwo with mhd technology makes it easy to save fuel and emissions.

Closed diesel particulate filter for the CO2 champion smart fortwo cdi

smart is also improving the environmental footprint of the diesel model in model year 2009 with a new closed diesel particulate filter instead of the open version that was previously used. The new system reduces the particulate mass in the exhaust gas to a minimum and, thanks to intelligent engine control, it is virtually maintenance-free with a long filter service life. With combined consumption of 3.4 litres per 100 kilometres (NEDC), the smart fortwo cdi with a 33kW/45 bhp engine continues to be the world's production car with the lowest consumption and, with emissions of 88g/km, it is still the CO2 champion. In future it will also hold a top position in terms of particulate emissions.

Fresh colours and new sporty alloy wheels

smart is also freshening up its palette with striking new colours. The elegantly pleasing "grey metallic" and the sporty intensive "rally red" are new in the portfolio. This means that customers still have a choice of six colours, which enable a total of twelve colour combinations in conjunction with the two colours for the tridion safety cell.

New sporty six-spoke alloy wheels in titanium silver measuring 175/55 R 15 at the front and 195/50 R 15 at the rear are optionally available. The new alloy wheels are also available in a chrome look as an accessory product.

Interior features new highlights

To match the new "rally red" paintwork the colour "design red" has now been updated and harmonised for the upholstery and fabric elements in the interior of the passion line. A redesigned instrument cluster with an enhanced LCD display will be an eye-catching feature on the instrument panel in future.

The fuel gauge is now positioned centrally at the bottom and is supplemented by a permanently displayed digital clock and exterior temperature indicator. Further new equipment details include net pockets in the doors on the driver and passenger side which offer greater storage space.

The updated smart fortwo models can be ordered from smart dealers now.

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Interest in Hybrid Cars is Rising, Even as Interest in Diesel Falls

The latest J.D. Powers and Associates Alternative Powertrain Study indicates 70 percent of consumers want manufacturers to invest in existing and emerging powertrain technologies.  80 percent of consumers believe the US is already in an energy crisis, but they are split on how to deal with it.

18 percent believe car companies should focus on small vehicles with better fuel economy, but 39 percent believe manufacturers should focus in on developing emerging technologies such as fuel cell and electric vehicles.  Approximately 30 percent believe the current line-ups should be changed over to diesel, hybrid and flex-fuel vehicles.

62 percent of the respondents are interested in hybrid technology, up from 50 percent last year. Flex-fuel vehicles interest fell from 47 percent to 43 percent, while clean diesel interest declined from 23 percent down to 16 percent. That big drop in diesel may come from the spike in diesel costs over the past year.

It's easy to understand why the interest in hybrid cars is increasing.  When you look at the pros and cons of hybrid cars and then compare them to the alternatives, most people quickly fall on the hybrid technology side.

The Alternative Powertrain Study examines the reasons why consumers consider or avoid alternative powertrain vehicles, such as hybrid, flex fuel and clean diesel fuel models. The study includes the Automotive Environmental Index, which combines U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publicly available information related to fuel economy, air pollution and greenhouse gases for 2008 model-year vehicles and J.D. Power and Associates' voice of the customer data related to stated fuel economy. Feedback from verified vehicle owners is also used to help determine the relative importance of these environmental factors.

"Nearly 80 percent of consumers believe that gas prices will continue to rise, which will have a significant effect on the vehicles they will consider," said Mike Marshall, director of automotive emerging technologies at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, some consumers still want more than small cars to choose from in the auto market. They still want their SUVs and pickup trucks, except with better fuel economy and more environmentally friendly."

Among the top 30 models in the Automotive Environmental Index, Toyota has the highest number of vehicles (6), followed by Chevrolet, Honda and Nissan with three models each. All of the vehicles can be found in my list of fuel efficient cars.  Additionally, eight models in the Automotive Environmental Index top 30 are hybrid-electric vehicles. It should be noted that not all hybrids are built for fuel economy, but those that are tend to float to the top of any such list.  They are:

  • Ford Escape Hybrid
  • Nissan Altima Hybrid
  • Honda Civic Hybrid
  • Toyota Camry Hybrid
  • Lexus RX 400h
  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • Mercury Mariner Hybrid
  • Toyota Prius
The remaining models in the Top 30 Automotive Environmental Index are:
  • Chevrolet Aveo
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Smart Fortwo Coupe
  • Chevrolet Aveo5
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Nissan Versa
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Chevrolet Cobalt
  • Kia Rio
  • Pontiac G5
  • Toyota Matrix
  • Ford Focus
  • Kia Spectra
  • Pontiac Vibe
  • Toyota Yaris
  • Honda Civic
  • MINI Cooper
  • Saturn Astra
  • Honda Fit
  • MINI Cooper S
  • Smart Fortwo Convertible
The following statement from the J.D. Powers press release is pretty interesting:
"It's also interesting to note that among hybrid vehicles included in the top 30, all but one model receives a consumer-reported miles per gallon rating that is lower than the stated EPA rating," said Marshall. "However, for the 2008 model year, the EPA has implemented a new methodology for estimating mpg, which has resulted in much smaller variances from consumer-reported fuel economy than seen in previous years."
It makes me wonder what the rate is for all vehicles, not just hybrids. The EPA rating system takes a lot of heat from consumers and analysts, even though it has been revamped. But it's still better than self reported fuel economy figures.  Your fuel economy depends on the individual driving the car a lot more than most people think. Take a look at hypermilers, for instance, and then tell me about the EPA rating system.

The 2008 Alternative Powertrain Study includes responses from more than 4,000 consumers who plan to purchase a new vehicle within the next two years. The web-based study was fielded in May and June 2008. The voice of the customer components of the Automotive Environmental Index are derived from the 2008 Alternative Powertrain Study and the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Initial Quality Study(SM).

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Fisker to Produce Plug-in Hybrid Karma in Finland

Fisker Karma in 2009

Fisker Automotive has signed a letter of intent with Valmet Automotive to manufacture the Fisker Karma in Finland. The final contract will be done in the next few months.

The Karma will be Fisker's first production car, a four door plug-in hybrid sports sedan.

The first cars to be delivered in North America in late 2009, with European deliveries beginning in 2010. Projected projection numbers are 15,000 a year.

"Valmet offers us the quality and speed necessary to meet our production goals, and given that more than half of Fisker Automotive's sales are expected to be outside North America, Valmet represents an ideal international foothold", says Fisker Automotive CEO, Henrik Fisker.

"It is forecasted that the market of environmentally-friendly electric vehicles will grow very fast and we are proud to be in the pole position in this growth", says Ilpo Korhonen, President of Valmet Automotive. "Fisker Automotive leads the way by adapting the most innovative technologies to new, environmentally-friendly premium cars. The strategic partnership with Fisker Automotive will open a new window for Valmet Automotive. Our production process can be easily adapted to the production of electric and hybrid cars and new body designs. In line with our renewed strategy, engineering will have a strong role in the cooperation."

Valmet produce the Boxter and Cayman, but will stop production for Porsche in 2012 after Porsche decided not to renew their deal.

Holger P. Härter, Deputy Chairman of Porsche SE, and as Chief Financial Officer responsible for the allocation of commissioned production, comments: "Over the last eleven years, Valmet Automotive has built more than 200,000 sports cars of outstanding quality for us. Our decision not to continue the successful cooperation is in no way a vote against Valmet. Rather, it was the high development capacity and competence of our future partner that tipped the balance."

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The First Hybrid Minivan Will Come From Toy.... err... Chrysler?

Hybrid minivans have been demanded by some consumers for years. They need the extra room, but don't want an SUV and they want better fuel economy. Hybrid minivans, available in Japan for years, they say, are the answer.

And Chrysler, not Toyota, may be the first to bring a hybrid minivan to market. Since Chrysler has yet to put a full hybrid of any kind on the road (their first two models, the Aspen and Durango are due out next month), that's pretty surprising.

Or is it? Chrysler, even more than the other big car companies, depends on sales of larger vehicles. They don't have as many smaller vehicles they can switch production to. So, perhaps a hybrid minivan from Chrysler makes all the sense in the world.

And given the high gas prices of today leading to such a huge reduction in truck and SUV sales, the sooner the better for the company.

Although, the hybrid minivan from Chrysler may not be the full hybrid you would expect. The two-mode system may not be suitable for a minivan, as it was developed with over-sized SUVs like the Aspen (and GM's Yukon and Tahoe) in mind. But a mild hybrid wouldn't really cut it. You only need to look at the sales numbers for the mild Vue, Aura and Malibu to figure that out.

According to JD Powers, a Dodge Grand Caravan is in the works with both a hybrid and a diesel engine models. J.D. Powers is predicting that 7.5% of the 2010 lineup could sell as hybrid models. That would be 12-13,000 units.

Toyota plans on having a Sierra Hybrid on the road by 2010. VW has plans for a diesel Routan, while Honda is likely to bring a diesel Odyssey minivan, as well.

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Hyundai Working on an LPG Hybrid Elantra

Hyundai is working to create an liquid petroleum gas (LPG) hybrid car, but only for South Korea. 

This is typical of Hyundai, a company which has created a fleet of hybrid, but for the most part, only in South Korea and mostly for the government who sponsors them.

Considering how much they advertise in the US and seem to want to bring their profile up, you would think they would release some of their hybrid cars in North America.  After all, look what having a hybrid on the road has done for the reputation of Toyota and Honda.  While having hybrids isn't the be all and end all, of course, it certainly helps.

The LPG Hybrid Elantra will be available in 2010.  It will be powered by LPG and lithium polymer batteries

In their press release, Hyundai claims "Comparing operating costs among different types of hybrid vehicles currently available in the market place, the Elantra LPI HEV promises to be the cheapest of all to run."

Source:  Hyundai says to launch LPG hybrid car at home | Deals | Regulatory News | Reuters

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Lead Engineer for Toyota Camry Died From Overwork

A lead engineer on the Toyota Camry Hybrid team, in the midst of preparing for the Auto Show in Detroit, died after working up to 114 hours of overtime in the six preceding months.

They call it karoshi, and it's a real problem in Japan.

He died in January of 2006 at the age of 45.  The ruling allows his family to receive work insurance benefits, since he died at home in bed.

A second Toyota employee was also deemed 'worked to death' by Toyota in the past year.  A quality control engineer, he worked more than 80 hours of overtime a month for six months before dying at the age of 30 in 2002.

Toyota said they would try to improve their monitoring of employee's health.

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Solar Panels for the Prius in the Near Future

Anyone worried about the price of buying a hybrid probably won't go for this option. According to the Nikkei business daily, Toyota may offer solar panels on the roof of the next generation Prius as an option on their high end model.

Personally, I can't see how that would be at all interesting or necessary, but I know there are those out there who would be excited about the prospect. Aside from the 'cool' factor, solar panels would help them differentiate themselves from the crowd of other Prius owners. Also, the more solar panels are used, the more likely the price will drop and the more effective they will become.

The solar panels, if they are really used, would be used to power the air conditioner.

Source: Toyota to add solar panels to Prius hybrid: Nikkei | Reuters

Toyota plans to use solar panels made by Kyocera Corp (6971.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), the Nikkei said.

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Hybrid Car Sales, June 2008

Hybrid Car Sales June 2008 Compared to June 2007Hybrid car sales were down in June from the hybrid car sales in June, 2007.  That's the second time in a row, but it's not for lack of demand.  Car makers just can't keep up with the demand right now for hybrid cars and the strain is forcing the comparison to last year down.

Percent of Hybrid Car Sales by Make and Model

Hybrid car sales were down a total of 29%.  Except for the Nissan Altima Hybrid, every other hybrid car  with a history from last year showed a drop. Total sales were at 24,315, down from 34,300 in June, 2007.  But demand is so high the Prius is down to a 4 day turn around on dealer's lots.  The industry average is about two months.

Despite sales dropping for two months in a row, cumulative sales are even, with a slight positive from last year at this point.  Toyota sales are down slightly, but the difference is made up by the Honda Civic Hybrid and Altima Hybrid sales and the additional sales from the Yukon/Tahoe.


Make Model Jun-07 Jun-08 % Change
Honda Accord 342 7 -98%
Honda Civic 3,246 2,710 -17%
Honda Insight 0 0 -
Toyota Prius 17,756 11,765 -34%
Toyota Highlander 2,403 1,511 -37%
Toyota Camry 5,530 3,054 -45%
Toyota GS 450h 131 73 -44%
Toyota RX 400h 1,562 1,330 -15%
Toyota LS600hL 0 73 -
Ford Escape/Mariner 2,526 1,912 -24%
Nissan Altima 804 1,333 66%
GM Yukon/Tahoe 0 547 -
Total 34,300 24,315 -29%
Make Model Cumulative, 2007 Cumulative, 2008 % Change
Honda Accord 2,044 191 -91%
Honda Civic 17,141 19,032 11%
Honda Insight 3 0 -100%
Toyota Prius 94,503 91,442 -3%
Toyota Highlander 14,312 13,053 -9%
Toyota Camry 28,070 30,532 9%
Toyota GS 450h 994 459 -54%
Toyota RX 400h 8,657 9,038 4%
Toyota LS600hL 0 637 -
Ford Escape/Mariner 13,472 11,422 -15%
Nissan Altima 2,776 5,575 101%
GM Yukon/Tahoe 0 1,136 -
Total 181,972 182,517 0%

Hybrid Car Sales June 2008

Looking ahead, hybrid car sales for the year will likely remain flat from last year.  The car companies are selling hybrid cars as quickly as they make them, practically custom production.  High gas prices are fueling a sky high demand for hybrid cars.  The problem is, there are only so many to go around.  There are no additional hybrids that will make a significant addition to the sales, so we'll be left with a very similar picture that we had last year.

Hybrid Car Sales Through June 2008

BTW, Sorry about the report going out so late this month.  I was on vacation and didn't have a good chance to get this done.


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