Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Continues Without the Cash

White House says Cash for Clunkers is still running, even if they don't have the money for it???

Source:White House Says Cash for Clunkers Is Up and Running

The White House insists the too-successful cash for clunkers program, despite running out of money, remains up and running Friday and will continue to operate through the weekend as the administration seeks additional funding for it.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program remained "up and continuing to run," according to For those intending to buy a car over the weekend, "the program will be in place," Gibbs said.

But Gibbs did say the administration is trying to find additional funding the program even as Congress recess for the August break. Congress reportedly is voting Friday on an additional $2 billion for CARS. An update is expected later in the day.

What happens if they spend another billion over the weekend? Even if Congress hasn't OK'd it?

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Another $2 Billion for Cash For Clunkers?

Democrats are looking to add $2 billion to the Cash for Clunkers Bill.  And when that's gone in another eight days?

According to a Reuters report, legislators are working to put another $2 billion into the CARS program, a move that would keep the popular program ($1 billion in the first four official days of the program) alive. But if it took four days to spend $1 billion, will it take just another eight days to spend another 2?

The vote, if it comes, would come as early as Friday in the House. Since the House goes on recession late on Friday, it would have to.

The Senate would also have to approve the funds immediately.

The original intent was to provide $4 billion over a period of one year, but the program was cut back to 1 over 3 months. The money lasted four days.

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2010 Highlander Hybrid Price Remains the Same

Toyota announced the Highlander Hybrid for 2010 will be priced the same as a 2009 Highlander Hybrid.

The base MSRP price for the 2009 Highlander Hybrid ranged from $34,700 for the two-row, four-wheel drive with intelligence base model up to $41,020 for the three-row, four-wheel drive Limited model.

The 2010 Highlander gas model, which will be assembled at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (TMMI) beginning in October, will have an available backup monitor on the multi-informational display for the Base grade V6, and a power tilt/slide moonroof for the Base grade four-cylinder. Highlander Hybrid carries over unchanged for 2010. The MSRP for the 2010 Highlander gas and hybrid models remains unchanged except for the Highlander Sport, which adds a stainless-steel exhaust tip and will increase $50. The base MSRP for the 2010 Highlander ranges from $25,705 for the base four-cylinder 2WD to $41,020 for the Limited 4WD hybrid model.

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Cash For Clunkers May be Done?

The Detroit Free Press is reporting the Cash for Clunkers program has been so successful that it may already be finished, four days after its official start.  It was supposed to last up to three months, but the government made it clear it would only last until the money was spent.

On Wednesday night, sources said the National Automobile Dealers Association surveyed its dealers to gauge how many Cash for Clunker transactions they had in the works. The average number of working deals for the 1,900 dealers who responded amounted to nearly 14 transactions, with more deals qualifying for the top $4,500 voucher than the $3,500 voucher. (Source; Edmunds AutoObserver)
$1 Billion, blown through in four days.  That's mind-blowing.

The big question may be what vehicles have been scrapped, and what cars have been put out on the road.  Autobytel looked at the vehicles being searched for on their site and came up with a list of trucks being checked for their eligibility:

1. Ford F-Series
2. Ford Explorer
3. Chevrolet C/K/Silverado
4. Jeep Grand Cherokee
5. Dodge Ram
6. Chevrolet Blazer
7. Jeep Cherokee
8. Dodge Grand Caravan (minivan)
9. Dodge Dakota
10. Ford Ranger

I hope the government puts some numbers out on what cars were bought using the taxpayers money. 

In the meantime, consumers and dealerships are starting to get worried.  What happens if the CARS program gets suspended, even though a dealership has already sold a new car?
Ken Czubay, Ford Motor Co.’s vice president of U.S. sales and marketing, said many Ford dealers are worried that they will be out thousands of dollars per car if they sell a vehicle to the consumer, disable the engine, and find out later the funding has been exhausted.
Oh, and remember the 'refresh' of the mileage data which forced some people who had already made the deal to suddenly lose out, when their 'clunker' went from 18 mpg to 19 mpg, making them ineligible?
Federal officials also said today that the government would honor any deal agreed to before changes made in a federal database of mileage figures last Friday.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

House Bill Will Set Aside Half a Billion a Year For Research into Hybrids, Batteries, and Other Alternatives

House Committee on Science and Technology unanimously approved a $550 million bill (H.R. 3246) that begins in 2010 and would grow to $590 million by 2014 to fund research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of vehicles and related technologies.  Another $200 million, again increasing each year to $240 million in 2014, would go to Medium and Heavy Duty Commercial Vehicles.  Another $35 million, decreasing down to $15 million by 2014,  would go to user facilities and $20 million is being set for three years running (2010-2012) to a non-road pilot program.

The funds will go towards the Energy Dept for conducting research on advanced vehicle technologies, including batteries and storage devices, hydrogen fuel cells, engines and communications. It would also provide support for construction and modification of new vehicle, engine, and component research and testing facilities.

The intention of the bill would be to provide for a program of research, development, demonstration and commercial application in vehicle technologies at the Department of Energy (DOE) with a goal of reducing or eliminating petroleum fuel use and their associated emissions. The bill highlights critical research needs and emphasizes needs in medium- to heavy-duty commercial vehicles.

This legislation will help ensure the vehicles of the future are built in the U.S., creating new jobs here at home,” said bill author Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI). “To sufficiently transition our transportation sector off of foreign oil, we must develop more fuel efficient passenger vehicles and commercial trucks. The Advanced Vehicle Technology Act will help America take a major step toward energy independence.”

General Motors Co., Chrysler Group LLC and Ford Motor Co. endorsed the bill, as did the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association and many major auto suppliers. (Source: DetNews)

"Development of advanced technologies for both heavy-duty trucks and passenger vehicles is a worthwhile national investment and requires a coordinated effort at the federal level," said Charles G. "Chip" McClure; chairman, CEO and president of auto supplier ArvinMeritor, Inc.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Toyota is Answering Your Questions

Toyota representatives are answering questions all week long at the guardian in the UK.  Although there is some European slant on some of the questions and answers, the answers are interesting and thoughtful.  For instance, when asked about diesel-hybrids, the reps from Toyota have some good points to make:

Hybrid technology can be applied to diesel and we actually sell a diesel hybrid truck in Japan. The main reasons we do not have a diesel passenger car are:
- Technical: Vibrations on a diesel engine are much stronger during starting and stopping than for a petrol engine. This would make the switch from electric drive to engine drive less comfortable and not ideal for a passenger car. This is less essential in a commercial vehicle which is why we sell diesel hybrid in a small truck in Japan.
- Environmental: Diesel engines cannot achieve the same low particulate emission level as petrol engines, for example NOx is still considerably higher than with petrol engines. This means a petrol hybrid is better for air quality issues as well as low CO2 emissions.
- Cost: A diesel engine is more expensive than a petrol engine to manufacture, even before you add addition components (turbos, catalysts). So a diesel hybrid would be more expensive and not as clean overall.
I've never thought of the vibration detail, so that's something new. The Toyota reps are also face the whole environmental impact of building a hybrid.
Over its lifetime, a Prius emits 37% less CO2 than a similarly sized, UK-built petrol vehicle (with a conventional 2-litre engine) and 47% less NOx than a diesel vehicle.

The short video in the attached link explains the environmental impact of Prius over its entire lifecycle. It also includes information about the recycling of the battery:
Want to know more about the future of lithium-ions?  What's coming next from Toyota?  What you can expect from Toyota hybrids?  Or just make a comment about how you're car already gets XXX mpg, why do I need a hybrid?  (These are some of the questions or issues already raised).  Or do you want to know something else?  Go get your questions in while you can.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Smith Newtons Roll Out to Fortune 500 Companies

AT&T, Coca-Cola, Staples, Frito-Lay, PG&E, and KCP&L were all presented with the keys to their all new Smith Newtons, the world's largest commercially available battery-electric powered truck on the National Mall.  Missouri Senator Kit Bond attended the ceremony.

"The next generation electric vehicles Smith is producing demonstrates exactly the kind of technology we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and end our dependence on foreign oil," Senator Bond said. "Missouri is a growing leader in exciting new battery technology making it an ideal partner for all-electric vehicle manufacturing."

"AT&T, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Frito-Lay, KCP&L, PG&E and Staples are demonstrating their commitment to environmental sustainability and green fleet vehicle technologies that will drive the future of the automotive industry," said Bryan Hansel, CEO of Smith. "As more depot-based truck fleet operators come on board and adopt all-electric vehicles, battery technology will advance and manufacturing costs will be driven down, spurring new growth in the commercial electric vehicle industry, creating new high-tech jobs, and reducing fuel emissions and our dependency on foreign oil."

"AT&T is committed to minimizing dependence on imported sources of fuel and exploring new automotive technologies to reduce our environmental impact," said Jerome Webber, Vice President of Fleet Operations. "This type of truck can help us accomplish both by further decreasing our emissions and increasing our fuel savings."

AT&T will use the truck primarily to transport cargo to various AT&T locations within its service territory.  AT&T will assess the repair and maintenance costs associated with an electric battery vehicle, maximum and average mile range between charges, energy costs to operate an all electric vehicle, acceleration and performance of the truck and driver feedback on the overall performance.
The Smith Newton, the plug-in electric vehicle, has a top speed of 50 mph and a range of 100 miles. It can carry a payload of over 16,000 lbs.
 Smith Newton Truck Specifications:

  • Motor - 120 kw Induction Motor
  • Battery - Lithium-Ion Batteries Payload - 7,392 lbs to 16,280 lbs
  • Gross Vehicle Weight - 16,535 lbs, 23,148 lbs or 26,455 lbs
  • Range - In excess of 100 miles (one battery charge)
  • Top Speed - 50 mph
  • On-board Battery Charger
  • Full Battery Recharge - 6 to 8 hours

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Toyota Plans a Low Cost Compact Hybrid 'Yaris'

Toyota is looking to sell a hybrid compact at a lower price (under $16,000) starting in late 2011 according to the Asahi newspaper (via Reuters). That's well under the $20K the Honda Insight costs today, the lowest priced hybrid sold in the US or in Japan.

The Toyota compact hybrid will be based on the Yaris platform, with a 'new cost competitive and fuel-efficient hybrid system.'

According to the report, the new compact hybrid would be produced in France and Japan. It's unclear if it would make it to the US.

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Cash For Clunkers Worries

Be careful if you attempt to use the Cash for Clunkers Program.

Another Cash for Clunker Glitch: Mileage Ratings Change, Disqualifying Some Deals - Auto Observer learned of the EPA's mileage rating changes over the weekend from consumers who had checked their trade-ins' combined mileage rating as recently as last Thursday to make sure the vehicle qualified. They then discovered while shopping for a new vehicle over the weekend that they no longer qualified because of the EPA's mileage ratings refresh.

A few examples brought to's attention by shoppers through its forums are a 1993 Camry station wagon with a V6 engine, a 1988 Toyota 4Runner and a 1992 Saab 900S. Initially each had a combined mileage rating of 18 mpg so they qualified as clunkers, but their "refreshed" rating came in at 19 mpg, so they ended up not qualifying. has contacted the EPA for an explanation of the mileage ratings refreshed: no response yet.
I wonder what the government will do if a week from now, they attempt another 'refresh' of the data? Who's going to pay if someone trades in this week, but finds out they don't qualify next week?

This is the second big issue the program has faced. The first day the program was open for registration, the website crashed. High interest from dealers wanting to register forced the government to split the consumer site from the dealer site.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Nissan Electric Vehicle Preview on Tiida-based Prototype

Nissan demonstrated their new electric vehicle (EV) using a Tidda-based prototype.  Powered by a lithium-ion battery pack set beneath the vehicle floor, the EV has a range of 99 miles (160 km) with a full charge.

Nissan has pushed ahead with EV even as Toyota and Honda have seen great success with their hybrids recently. Nissan has said they want to develop their own hybrid technology for smaller vehicles, and will have a hybrid Infiniti in the next year.

In the meantime, Nissan will be launching an EV in 2010 with a unique design and body. The actual design of the production EV will be revealed on August 2nd, while the prototype shown today is just for demonstration purposes. A Nissan Zero-emission Website ( will also go live on Aug. 2nd.

Nissan has put together some innovative support functions for its new EV, which may help the adoption of the all electric vehicle with 99 miles of range.

EV-IT support function
Nissan has developed an sophisticated IT system for its zero-emission EVs, connecting the vehicle’s on-board transmitting unit to a global data center to support EV driving 24 hours 7 days a week.

Maximum range display

  • With a simple touch of a button, the navigation map shows the driving radius within range under the current state of charge.
  • The system can calculate if the vehicle is within range of a pre-set destination.

Update on charging stations

  • The navigation system points out the latest information on available charging stations within the current driving range.
  • Detailed information for each charging station will also be displayed.

Timer function

  • The timer function enables the air-conditioner or battery charging to begin at a specified time. The air-conditioner can be pre-set while the vehicle is plugged-in to cool the cabin to a desirable temperature before driving begins, without taxing the vehicle’s battery. Meanwhile, the battery charging can be set to start at a specified time at night to benefit from more favorable electricity rates.

EV remote control and monitoring function

  • The driver can monitor the state-of-charge of the EV via an online website and a cellular phone. For example, when the battery is fully charged, a message alert is sent to the cellular phone. Additional remote control functions range from switching the charging system ON/OFF or setting the air-conditioner timer.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Boston Cab Owners Block Hybrid Taxis in Court

The plan to roll out hybrid taxis in Boston has hit a legal impasse once again.  Just as the latest case in New York on their efforts to bring hybrid taxis to the streets, a judge has sided with cab owners to block an enforced switch to a more fuel efficient fleet.

US District Judge William G. Young granted a temporary injunction against the rules set by the city of Boston to force fleet cab owners to switch over a 7 year period to hybrid taxicabs.

Boston has been insisting the long time period will help ease the transition, but cab owners want more choices. They insist they are all for improving the environment, but don't want to be forced to buy hybrids. They want more options.

The flexibility would help save them money since hybrid cars are a little more expensive than other options.

The current models being phased out are Crown Victoria's which cab owners say cost them as little as $4,000, but that can range up to $10,000. A new hybrid taxicab can cost them as 2-4X times as much to purchase and outfit.

The Boston cab owners were protesting using the same argument they made in NY saying the city requirements are unreasonable and infringe on federal authority to set fuel-economy and emissions standards.

Source: Judge blocks Hub’s rule on hybrid cab fleet - The Boston Globe

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pros and Cons of Free Hybrid Car Parking

You may have seen the signs by now, free or preferred parking if you own a hybrid.  In towns and cities across the US and Canada, hybrid car owners are given the opportunity to obtain a 'green' sticker.  Once placed on the vehicle, the owner can then park in spots with meters, without paying.  Some retailers have also gotten into the act, allowing hybrid cars to park closer to the store in designated spots.

Free parking for a Prius from flickr
Some call it a perk, others a motivator to buy a hybrid, while others are not so kind in their descriptions of what they think about it.  I'd like to go over some of the pros and cons of free or preferred hybrid car parking, so we can at least define the issues involved.

It's a bit unfair to those who don't own a hybrid but do own fuel efficient cars. If you're promoting fuel efficiency, why not put a lower limit on how fuel efficient a car has to be to say that car can park here? Is a Hybrid Escalade that gets 20 mpg really better than a Honda Fit that gets 29 mpg?

It's a bit elitist, since hybrid cars are not cheap to buy. The cheapest hybrid vehicle you can buy in the US is the Insight, which comes in at $20K. Used hybrids are still sold at high prices. So, only those who can afford a hybrid can get the perk. That means you're 'giving to the rich' when you set up free or preferred parking for hybrid owners.

That cost factor also means that most customers will not be able to use this perk at retail stores. You are setting up a class system and preferred status for some is always worth questioning.

Given the weight issues in America, shouldn't we all be parking at the back end of the lot and walking a little bit more to get to the entrance? Leave all the spots close to the entrances for those who really need it (disability). It would be healthier for us and better for them.

It is an incentive to buy a hybrid. Maybe not a big one, but it can certainly help tip someone over the edge into buying a hybrid.

It promotes social awareness for some very important global issues, whether we're talking about the environment or dependency on oil, even in common situations like running an errand at the local store or driving downtown.

While hybrids are not necessarily built for fuel efficiency, and there are cars out there that can be very fuel efficient and not be a hybrid, the electric motor does promote using less gas. Hybrid engines are still a new and expensive technology, and promoting it now will benefit others in the future.

Yes, they are expensive now, but the more hybrids that are bought, the less they cost to build (economy of scale). By buying a hybrid, you are sending a clear message to the car makers that fuel efficiency is a priority, which makes them focus more on it. That's why more and more car makers are building more and more hybrids.

In the long run, that also promotes electric and plug-in cars, which burn even less fuel. And that promotes fuel cell cars. And so on...

As for putting aside spots for fuel efficient cars, rather than hybrids, how do you police that? Hybrids are easy to spot. Fuel efficiency, unless you leave the sticker on the window from the dealership, is not.

Like other pros and cons of hybrid cars, the issues are not clear cut and easy to resolve.  We all come in to the argument with our own agendas and preconceived notions about what's right and what's wrong.  But for me, in the long run, I'm against putting aside spots for hybrids, although that may surprise you.

I do want to promote hybrid car buyers. Not all hybrids are built equally, but each one of them does help on the long road of promoting fuel efficiency and in the long run, that will pay off for all of us.

Right now, only those with more money to spend can afford hybrids, but the more they buy, the more economical they become. You only have to look at the price war between the Prius and the new Insight to see that.

No, I really do think we should all walk a little bit more to become healthier (or ride a bike, although that's rarely feasible). So, I wish they would put aside more spots for those who need it or deserve a break (I love how expectant mothers get closer spots at Babys 'R' Us, for instance).

But for the short term, I do support these and other measures to promote hybrid car buyers. Like other perks for hybrid car owners such as HOV access or lower taxes, these incentives do help people to make the decision to buy hybrids, a decidedly expensive purchase. But by helping the people do it now, even though the payoff can be questionable (some hybrids will 'pay you back' in fuel savings, while others will not), it will help us all in the long run.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Honda is Speeding Up the Insight

According to Autocar, Honda has decided to speed up the mid-cycle upgrade to the Honda Insight. It seems they are worried about the impact the Toyota Prius has had on their new dedicated hybrid.

Honda had expected to compete favorably with Toyota, with their lower cost hybrid. But Toyota cut the price on the Prius, putting the Insight and the low-end Prius only a couple thousand dollars apart.

Fuel efficiency improvements is the highest priority, but work will also be put into refining 'the Insight's unsettled low-speed ride'.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nissan to Re-Tool Tennessee Plant With Federal Loans

Nissan is making plans to spend the money from the low cost loan from the government to re-tool the plant in Smyrna, Tennessee (Source: Nissan Plans Both Electric, Hybrid Cars at U.S. Plant (Update2) - The plant employs 3,900 people and its current capacity is 550,000 cars and light trucks annually, including the hybrid Altima sedan.

The electric vehicles will be phased in “to avoid under-utilizing the plant while the market is developing,” said Senior Vice President Andy Palmer.

Perhaps they are talking about building their new hybrids here in the US?  We'll have to wait and see about that.  Nissan has been focusing in on the electric vehicle, leaving hybrids to Toyota and Honda.  With the recent spike in hybrid sales, however, Nissan is showing a renewed interest in developing their own hybrid technology.

Nissan builds and sells a Hybrid Altima, but uses Toyota hybrid technology to do it.  They have plans to sell an Infiniti Hybrid in the coming years, but an electric vehicle is also due.

Nissan will spend the $1.6 Billion on the plant to build electric vehicles along with hybrids, plus they want to build a plant to create a Li-Ion battery factory next door. The battery factory will be set to make packs for up to 200,000 cars a year, although Nissan expects the demand for electric and plug-ins to be much lower at first.

With an expected demand to be around 60,000 plug-ins and 7,500 electric vehicles expected in 2011-2013, mostly due to the new California rules, Nissan doesn't want the new plant to be underutilized, thus the dual nature planned for the re-tooled plant.

"I would suggest that the EV market in the U.S. will basically be the California regulatory requirement, plus perhaps 20,000 units," Anderman said. "As long as the gasoline price is under $5 a gallon, there’s no real market for EVs."

Another interesting tidbit from the article. Lithium-Ion battery packs capable of moving a vehicle 100 miles was estimated to cost $30,000. That cost is expected to drop rapidly over the next few years down to $15,000. (Estimate was made by Menahem Anderman, president of Advanced Automotive Batteries, a consulting firm in Oregon House, California)

That seems high to me, as other estimates I've seen have put battery packs at $10,000 for the new Chevy Volt. But that may be because the Volt is only expected to travel 40 miles on a full charge, with the gas motor recharging the batter after that.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

2010 Lexus HS 250h Hybrid Price

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h price tag has been set at an MSRP of $34,200, while the premium version is just a couple thousand more at $36,970. That price does not include the processing and handling fee of $875.

The HS 250h (the h stands for hybrid) is the new dedicated hybrid from Lexus, which comes with the best combined EPA mpg of any luxury vehicle in the US according to the press release. The EPA estimates a fuel efficiency of 35 mpg city and 34 mpg highway with a combined 35 mpg.

The base model includes
  • leather-trimmed seats;
  • 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat;
  • a 10-speaker, 137-watt audio system with a six-disc CD changer, a subwoofer and center speaker;
  • Bluetooth® for phone and music streaming capabilities;
  • integrated subscription satellite radio (includes 90-day trial);
  • USB/ iPod® connectivity operated via steering wheel controls or the display screen;
  • 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
  • Standard class-leading 10-airbag Supplemental Restraint system and front active head rests.
The premium model includes all of the prior plus
  • heated/ventilated front seats trimmed in semi-aniline leather; 
  • 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels; 
  • rain-sensing windshield wipers; 
  • heated electrochromic exterior mirrors; 
  • genuine wood interior trim; 
  • and a new memory system that allows individual driver settings for seat, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, outside mirrors and air conditioning settings to be recalled automatically by individual key fobs.

Keep reading for more features included in the press release:

TORRANCE, Calif. (July 20, 2009) – Lexus today announced the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the new HS 250h hybrid, which has the best combined EPA mpg rating of any luxury vehicle in the U.S.

The 2010 HS 250h, Lexus’ first dedicated hybrid and the fourth offering in its lineup, is available in standard and Premium models. The standard version will have an MSRP of $34,200, while the Premium model will carry an MSRP of $36,970. They will arrive at dealerships in late August. The MSRPs do not include a delivery, processing and handling fee of $875.

Both models, which emit 70 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new car, received EPA-estimated ratings of 35 mpg city and 34 mpg on the highway for a combined 35 mpg utilizing regular 87-octane gasoline . The HS 250h has the best combined EPA mpg rating of any luxury vehicle in the U.S. and its MSRP is nearly $10,000 less than one of its entry luxury sedan segment competitors.

“The creation of a dedicated luxury hybrid vehicle speaks volumes about Lexus’ commitment to our customers and hybrid technology,” said Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president and general manager. “Forward-thinking, well-informed entry luxury consumers are seeking a social statement and technology with a clear benefit in their next car. HS 250h delivers this with its unique package and modern luxury that fits their advanced lifestyle.”

Standard features on the HS 250h include leather-trimmed seats; 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat; a 10-speaker, 137-watt audio system with a six-disc CD changer, a subwoofer and center speaker; Bluetooth® for phone and music streaming capabilities; integrated subscription satellite radio (includes 90-day trial); USB/ iPod® connectivity operated via steering wheel controls or the display screen; and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. The HS 250h incorporates a standard class-leading 10-airbag Supplemental Restraint system and front active head rests.

The HS 250h Premium model adds heated/ventilated front seats trimmed in semi-aniline leather; 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels; rain-sensing windshield wipers; heated electrochromic exterior mirrors; genuine wood interior trim; and a new memory system that allows individual driver settings for seat, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, outside mirrors and air conditioning settings to be recalled automatically by individual key fobs.

The HS 250h utilizes Lexus’ first four-cylinder gas engine and the latest hybrid system to take advantage of the company’s continuous engineering advances to help minimize emissions and maximize fuel economy. The twin-cam Atkinson-cycle engine with Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) alone has an output of 147 horsepower (hp). In combination with the hybrid drive motor, the HS 250h generates 187 total system hp. HS 250h has nearly zero evaporative emissions.

The HS 250h features four drive-modes: Normal, Power, Eco and EV; which can help enhance efficiency and involves driver and car interaction. Each drive-mode changes the rate of throttle opening for a given throttle-pedal angle.

The HS 250h’s forward-thinking interior design implements extensive bioplastic material, or Ecological Plastic, for parts of the interior upholstery. It covers approximately 30 percent of the interior and trunk helping to result in a reduction of carbon emissions by approximately 20 percent over the estimated life of the vehicle.

The optional sixth-generation navigation system features Lexus’ exclusive Remote Touch controller with user-adjustable haptic feedback. The innovative controller, similar to a computer mouse, eliminates the need for touch screen controls, allowing the pop-up navigation system screen to be mounted further up the center stack and away from the driver. This helps the driver benefit with a clear, high-resolution screen, improved site lines and reduced eye movement. The navigation system also comes equipped a rear-view camera. Also on navigation-equipped HS vehicles is the availability of XM® Sports and Stocks, a new service that is included with an XM® satellite radio subscription.

HS 250h Premium models can add an optional Wide-view Front Monitor to help enhance the driver’s ability to see in certain areas around the front of the vehicle by sending images to the navigation system display.

Standard HS 250h models can also add an optional Touring Package; heated front seats; LED headlamps with Adaptive Front-lighting System, Intelligent High-Beam with headlamp washers; and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The optional Technology Package, available only on the Premium model, includes the Heads-Up Display (HUD); Lane Keep Assist (LKA) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW); Pre-Collision System with dynamic radar cruise control; Driver Monitor and Intuitive Park Assist. HUD projects a miniature display on a small portion of the windshield in front of the driver, helping to reduce eye movement to see frequently viewed information such as vehicle speed, turn-by-turn navigation arrows, drive-assist warnings, audio information and Touch Tracer (sensors on steering-wheel switches will show an image of switch layout in the HUD). Another new feature to the Lexus line, LKA, helps drivers stay within their chosen lane and works in cooperation with the LDW function and the dynamic radar cruise control.

Other optional equipment available for the Premium model includes a Mark Levinson® 5.1-channel Premium Surround Sound system with 15 speakers and 330 watts, and the Park Assist Package.

An all-new telematics system, Lexus EnformTM with Safety ConnectTM, available by subscription will also be available on HS 250h. Complimentary one-year trial subscriptions of Lexus Enform and Safety Connect are included with all new HS 250h purchases. One-year renewal subscriptions to Safety Connect alone will be available for $139.95 and to Lexus Enform with Safety Connect for $264.90 per year. Multi-year subscriptions will also be available. The Lexus Enform and the Safety Connect response center operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – every day of the year.

Safety Connect, the cornerstone of the services, is available on both non-navigation and navigation-equipped HS 250h and offers four safety and security features: Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, Emergency Assistance Button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance, which adds GPS data to the already included warranty-based Lexus roadside service.

Lexus Enform, available only on navigation-equipped vehicles, includes all of the Safety Connect features and builds upon them with the premium services of Destination Assist and eDestination. Destination Assist agents are available via the on-board cellular equipment and can help drivers find a specific address, a business by name, or a type of business (e.g., gas station, movie theater, etc.), and even Zagat®-rated restaurants, and then send the coordinates to the navigation system for routing. With eDestination, drivers can go online via to save and sort destinations in up to 20 folders, each holding as many as 10 destinations. Then drivers can send the locations – up to 200 at a time – to their vehicle, where they will be available for download into the navigation system. Online, drivers can create personalized location names (e.g., “Favorite sushi,” “1 PM Appt,” “Kids’ doctor,” etc.) and even list notes about their saved locations – all helping them see exactly the information they choose in the vehicle.

Lexus Insider™, a complimentary, opt-in service available without a subscription on all navigation-equipped HS 250h vehicles is launching at the same time as Lexus Enform. This feature offers in-vehicle audio casts that provide owners access to useful vehicle tips and event information, and insights into exclusive owners' benefits – all designed to further enhance the Lexus experience. As part of the all-new Lexus EnformTM navigation platform, the HS 250h also features XM NavTraffic®, XM NavWeatherTM , and XM® Sports and Stocks services. XM NavTraffic® and XM NavWeatherTM are available via individual XM subscriptions while XM® Sports and Stocks is included with an XM® Radio subscription. XM services offer a 90-day trial.

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Nissan, Once Again, Wants More Hybrids

With Toyota and Honda hybrid sales surging, especially in Japan, Nissan says it will now consider expanding its hybrid line-up in the near future.

Honda and Toyota, with the new Insight and next generation Prius, have seen their sales skyrocket in Japan with the new government policies benefiting hybrids and fuel efficient cars. Nissan may no longer be able to afford to wait on hybrids.

Nissan has been cautious (to the say the least) in their approach to hybrids. Nissan CEO Ghosn has stated he 'hates selling cars for a loss' (paraphrase), which is why Nissan has been slow to enter the hybrid marketplace. But they did buy hybrid technology for the Nissan Altima (even if they only sell it in eight states in the US), and have worked to develop their own hybrid technology, expected in an Infinity late next year.

But now that Honda and Toyota have shown how well hybrids can do, Nissan is considering expanding their hybrid line-up (Source: AFP: Nissan Motor may expand hybrid range: official)

"It will be a waste to limit our self-developed hybrid system to just one model. It's only natural to expand the system to our other models," he said.

"Sales of hybrids are strong, and if we only have luxury hybrids, our market will become narrow," he added.
Nissan has said they want to expand into electric-only vehicles, with a plan to mass-market zero-emission cars to fleet customers in 2010.

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Toyota Exec Complains About Ontario Plug-in Rebates

Toyota is complaining, but the new policy by the Ontario Government could help them in the long run.

Ontario is going to offer up to to $10,000 to those who buy plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles. The car most likely to benefit from the new policy is the Chevy Volt from GM. Not by accident, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was standing in front of a Chevy Volt when he made the announcement. The E-REV will likely be the biggest benefactor from the benefit.

Toyota is complaining because Canada is now a part owner (like the US government) of GM. Which means they are offering a subsidy on a car they are selling (in a sorta-kinda way).

"The question is: Is this a well-thought-out industry strategy? Or is it sort of the next stage in advancing a particular product and helping a particular company?" Stephen Beatty, managing director of Toyota Canada Inc., said.

Which is a bit much, to be honest.

Government agencies around the world have been intervening in the auto industry for decades. The whole industry has been propped up over the past few years, and Toyota has benefited as much as anyone from the new rules being laid out for fuel efficiency.

For them to complain about a policy to promote hybrid technology, a field in which they are the current leaders by a fair margin, is a bit much. Yes, the Chevy Volt will most likely lead the way for plug-ins, but Toyota isn't likely to let that stand for long. And the more interest generated in the field will ultimately benefit Toyota the most.

If nothing else, the more plug-in and hybrids and electric cars sold, the more likely battery costs will drop. That will lead to savings for Toyota, the automaker who sells the most hybrids by a wide margin.

So, sorry Beatty, if we don't worry too much about a short term policy that will ultimately benefit you.

Source: Toyota slams Ontario's plan for electric-car rebates

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Will Plug-ins Continue to Disappoint?

With plug-in hybrids on the way, I think most people will expect too much from them. With possible claims like "never have to re-fuel again" or 100+ mpg, we may be setting the bar too high for popular adoption.

Looking at the recent study results from and now SDG&E (via GCC), we're seeing a consistent pattern of 60-70 mpg results in real-world driving (Google set up a controlled test where they got 90+ mpg). Toyota has already warned of high expectations for their plug-in Prius.

Not that 60-70 mpg is a bad fuel economy.  It truly is a great improvement over most hybrids fuel economy (although the 50 mpg from the Prius and 40 mpg from the Insight make the numbers seem less remarkable). But when you look at the price tag for the extra large batteries, are the numbers good enough?

According to the SDG&E test results over the past two years, the plug-in hybrid at 68 miles per gallon (MPG), achieved a 58-percent increase in gas mileage, a 37-percent decrease in carbon dioxide (CO2) tailpipe emissions, and a 10-percent reduction in fuel costs. Two 2007-model standard hybrid vehicles were tested and then converted them into plug-in hybrids, using a lithium-ion battery conversion kit. In the most recent study, the prototype battery was replaced with a production-model battery. The same pool of drivers was used during vehicle evaluation.

When compared with a conventional gasoline-fueled vehicle that averages 22 MPG, the plug-in hybrid achieved a 68-percent reduction in tailpipe emissions and a 54-percent reduction in overall fuel costs.

SDG&E points out the California electricity capacity could recharge as many as 4 million plug-in hybrids when charged during off-peak hours. The savings for these 4 million theoretical drivers could add up to $4.2 billion a year at today’s average gasoline price of $3 per gallon when compared to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity for 14,400 miles driven annually.

So perhaps the gas savings would be enough to offset the initial cost of a plug-in hybrid. But unless expectations are tempered, the initial reaction for new buyers will be "68 mpg? Is this all I'm getting for my money?"

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mazda to Buy Hybrid System From Toyota

According to a Nikkei report (via GCC), Mazda will be entering into a deal with Toyota for their hybrid system to be inserted into Mazda vehicles starting in 2013. (Sounds similar to the deal with Nissan and the Altima hybrid???)

The deal is expected to conclude soon, with Toyota supplying "batteries, motors, control units, and other components made by group autoparts manufacturers." Mazda will get to enter the hybrid market, while Toyota gets to make money off their system. It will likely reduce costs (economy of scale) for Toyota, as well.

The system is expected to be used in midsize vehicles, with Mazda targeting 100,000 vehicles a year.

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Chevy Volt Finds a Home

With the high level of interest in the Chevy Volt, it's no wonder GM is trying to capitalize on the social aspects by introducing the E-REV in as many places as possible. From fan pages to facebook, the Chevy Volt is everywhere it seems.

But GM has finally created a home base for their social plug-in hybrid.  The Voltage ( will now be their base of operations, complete with blog and discussion boards, the Voltage will now be the source for all your Volt needs and questions.  GM will also be posting their videos and photos here.  Want to know when the next Volt event will occur, go to the events page.

Looks like GM wants to take charge of the social aspects of the Chevy Volt.  Makes me wonder how the people who have been running the fan sites up till now feel about it.  And will those who are interested flock to the new 'official' site, or will they continue to go to the 'unofficial' sites?  I would like to think GM would be smart enough to approach the site leaders and talk to them about how to work together.  Otherwise, they just might lose their biggest fans (and most likely customers).

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chevy Volt Fanpage

By now, if you're interested enough in the Volt, you've probably already heard about the fanpage on facebook.  But what you might not know is who the other fans are.

The good news is the other fans seem to be as interested in the Volt as you are. The better news is some of them really do know what they're talking about. I/L points out "at least a few of the fans appear to be well-informed employees of GM or supplier firms or otherwise involved in the Volt's development."

Autobloggreen pulled out this question and answer that fully support that:

One fan asked about what happens to "summer gas" that might sit in the gas tank all the way until winter. Phil (from GM) posted a response by Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer, who said that:

In order to meet strict evaporative emissions requirements the Volt has a fully sealed fuel system. This will cause the fuel to age slower. The real issue is seasonal fuel blends that can affect starting and driveability as outdoor temperatures change. Rest assured, we'll have a solution by launch.
For me, this has been a big question, and I'm glad to see the answer from someone who appears to be either working on it, or knows that the groups is working on it.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lexus Is Already Six Months Behind

"Thanks to the green-car tax and a hybrid boom fanned by the Prius in Japan, we've already gotten 3,000 orders," Senior Managing Director Toshio Furutani said at the launch.

With a sales goal of 500 units a month, that puts them six months ahead with their new Lexus HS 250h, the first dedicated hybrid from Lexus. It's also the cheapest hybrid starting at 3.95 million yen ($42,460) in the Lexus line-up while also being eligible for the maximum 267,000 yen ($2,870) tax break in Japan.

The tax breaks have proven a boon to Toyota and Honda as they've raced to outsell each other there.  It's put hybrids on top of the sales charts and created massive waiting lists for the new Prius and Honda Insight.  Given the market right now, it's no wonder Toyota and Honda have begun focusing more on hybrids than ever before.

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New Honda Chief Says Everyone is Going to Go the Way of the Hybrids

Talking about the upcoming CR-Z and Fit Hybrid, new Honda Chief Executive Takanobu Ito said "Bringing hybrids quickly to customers will be a major focus of our activities." (Source:Reuters)

He also noted the engineers that used to work on the Formula One team are now working on hybrid development. Honda is now working on a new hybrid system with two electric motors for medium to large sized vehicles.

Given that Japan outsold the US for hybrid car sales in June, it's not surprising to see the two main competitors from Japan (Honda and Toyota) are focusing more and more on hybrid development and sales.

The CR-Z hybrid sports car will be introduced in February, 2010, while the Fit hybrid isn't due until the end of 2010. I believe both dates indicate their introduction to Japan, with a rollout in the US to follow after.  The EU rollout date is still tenuous for the CR-Z as 'towards the end of the year.'

More interesting to me, is how Ito is attributing the slow start of the Insight in the US (they are under their own sales goal so far) to a prioritization set by Honda, not by demand. Apparently, Honda is filling orders in Japan first, where the company can make a bigger profit due to the yen's strength against the dollar.

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Lexus Contest to Drive HS 250h

Lexus is holding a social contest to see who wants to drive the new 250h the most. Contestants are posting their profiles at, where others can come and vote for them. The top vote getter will win a one year lease of a HS 250h, a weekend at a Fairmont Resort and a Lexus Hybrid Living gift package.

The next two runner up will get a weekend at a Fairmont Resort, plus the week-long drive of the HS and a Lexus Hybrid Living Package, while the next 98 vote-getters will get get a week-long drive of the HS and a Lexus Hybrid Living gift package.

Lexus is encouraging those who enter to "host a voting party, joining to do some campaigning, and posting a video on YouTube".  The contest ends on July 31.

Anyone who submits a vote will be entered into a random drawing to win the use of an HS for a year.

"There’s no other luxury car like the HS 250h hybrid and we know that people who get behind the wheel will be amazed by its innovation, luxury and sustainability," said Dave Nordstrom, Lexus vice president of marketing. "This promotion is an opportunity to introduce people to the HS and it gets them excited about the possibility of driving it."

And yes, I entered the contest.  Take a moment and vote me up.  I'd love to give a personal review of this one.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Peugeot and Mitsubishi Are Not Working Together to Develop Hybrids

Peugeot Citroen has denied rumors they were working with Mitsubishi Motors to develop hybrid cars.

"We deny the information. We are working well with Mitsubishi on electric vehicles," a PSA Peugeot Citroen spokesman told Reuters. He added "we have our own research into plug-in hybrids."

Peugeot has been working with Bosch to build a hybrid diesel and is expected sometime in 2011.

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Hybrid Car Sales, June 2009

As I mentioned a week and a half ago, sales were up this month for hybrids, for the first time since April, 2008.  Spurred by the new Fusion and Milan Hybrids, along with the new generation Prius, hybrid car sales increased 4.5% from last year.  Not a huge gain, but compared to the overall market, a huge difference.

Cumulative sales for the year are still down 33% from last year.

Prius sales were up 10.5% from last year as the new model Prius started arriving at dealerships.  The all new Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids had a strong start with 2,244 units sold in June.  Honda also had strong sales of the new Insight with 2,079 units sold.

Overall, Ford and Honda took 14.4% of the hybrid market each, while Toyota's share dropped to 66%.  Last year, their share was 73.2%, which may indicate a distinct shift in the consumers awareness of other hybrids.  Not that Toyota is going anywhere, since over half of all hybrids sold were once again a Prius.

But it's not all good news, as every other hybrid model except for the Prius was down from a year ago.  If it wasn't for the new models being sold, hybrid car sales would still be down by 14%.  It's important to keep in mind how strong sales still were in June 2008.  High gas prices had the Prius down to a 4 day turn around on dealerships.  But it turns out the drop in June, 2008 was an early indicator of the troubles to come as the economy started to wilt.  People may have been willing to line up for the Prius, but other models were beginning to suffer.

Monthly Sales June 2008 June 2009 % Change
Make Model N % N %
Chrysler Aspen/Durango 0 0.0 0 0 0
Ford Escape/Mariner 1,912 7.9 1,405 5.5 -26.5
Ford Fusion/Milan 0 0.0 2,244 8.8 0.0
GM Escalade 0 0.0 155 0.6 0.0
GM Silverado/Sierra 0 0.0 123 0.5 0.0
GM Tahoe/Yukon 547 2.2 392 1.5 -28.3
Honda Accord 7 0.0 0 0.0 -100.0
Honda Civic 2,710 11.1 1,583 6.2 -41.6
Honda Insight 0 0.0 2,079 8.2 0.0
Nissan Altima 1,333 5.5 666 2.6 -50.0
Toyota Camry 3,054 12.6 2,093 8.2 -31.5
Toyota GS 450h 73 0.3 27 0.1 -63.0
Toyota Highlander 1,511 6.2 1,098 4.3 -27.3
Toyota LS600hL 73 0.3 31 0.1 -57.5
Toyota Prius 11,765 48.4 12,998 51.1 10.5
Toyota RX 400h 1,330 5.5 527 2.1 -60.4
Total 24,315 25,421 4.5
Cumulative Sales Cumulative 2008 Cumulative 2009 % Change
Make Model N % N %
Chrysler Aspen/Durango 0 0 0 0.0 0.0
Ford Escape/Mariner 11,422 6.3 7,891 6.5 -30.9
Ford Fusion/Milan 0 0.0 5,939 4.9 0.0
GM Escalade 0 0.0 840 0.7 0.0
GM Silverado/Sierra 0 0.0 470 0.4 0.0
GM Tahoe/Yukon 1,136 0.6 2,711 2.2 138.6
Honda Accord 191 0.1 1 0.0 -99.5
Honda Civic 19,032 10.4 12,328 10.1 -35.2
Honda Insight 0 0.0 7,524 6.2 0.0
Nissan Altima 5,575 3.1 3,174 2.6 -43.1
Toyota Camry 30,532 16.7 13,007 10.6 -57.4
Toyota GS 450h 459 0.3 208 0.2 -54.7
Toyota Highlander 13,053 7.2 6,359 5.2 -51.3
Toyota LS600hL 637 0.3 157 0.1 -75.4
Toyota Prius 91,442 50.1 55,751 45.6 -39.0
Toyota RX 400h 9,038 5.0 5,798 4.7 -35.8
Total 182,517 122,158 -33.1

Ford and Honda have shown that Toyota does not have to be the only hybrid maker.  It remains to be seen if 'new GM' will break through with their two-mode hybrids.  More than likely, we'll just have to wait and see what happens with the Volt at the end of 2010.  And we're still waiting on Nissan to show up with a hybrid of their own.

Hybrid Car Sales, May 2009
Hybrid Car Sales, June 2008

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Hybrid Car Sales Will be Up for June

I don't have all the data I need to make my normal monthly report on hybrid car sales, but so far, the numbers look good. With just the reported values from Honda, Toyota and Ford, hybrid car sales so far are at 24,055. Total hybrid car sales in June, 2008 were 24,315 units sold. 

So, unless Nissan and GM sales come in under 260 units, hybrid car sales will be up for June, the first time they have been positive since April, 2008.

The numbers so far:

June, 2008 June, 2009 % Change
Ford 1,912 3,649 91%
GM 547 - -
Honda 2,717 3,662 35%
Nissan 1,333 - -
Toyota 17,806 16,744 -6%
Total 24,315 24,055 -1%

Prius sales were up 10% from last year, but most of the increase for 2009 comes from new models (Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Honda Insight) being sold.

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Hybrids and Highly Popular Models

This is a bit of a free thinking post, so forgive me if I ramble.

Kelley Blue Book released the 'most researched vehicles' for the first half of 2009 and there aren't many surprises.
1. Honda Accord
2. Honda Civic
3. Toyota Camry
4. Honda CR-V
5. Toyota Corolla
6. Toyota Highlander
7. Nissan Altima
8. Toyota RAV4
9. Toyota Prius
10. Ford Mustang
11. Honda Pilot
12. MAZDA3
13. Honda Odyssey
14. Ford Fusion
15. Ford Escape
16. Chevrolet Camaro
17. Volkswagen Jetta
18. Toyota Sienna
19. Chevrolet Malibu
20. Lexus RX350

What I found interesting is how many of the vehicles have hybrid models. Eight of the 20 models listed have (or just are) hybrids. The Accord, Civic, Camry, Highlander, Altima, Prius, Fusion, Escape, and Malibu all have hybrid engines.

To me that indicates two things.
1) People in first half of 2009 are still very interested in fuel economy and
2) automakers are making hybrids out of already popular models.

This is something I've noticed before, but I thought it would make a good discussion for today. Part of the reason (I believe) automakers pick high production models to insert hybrid engines into is to draw attention to the original model, making them more competitive.

Since one company did it, the others feel like they have to follow suit. Once Honda and Toyota picked the Camry, Civic and Accord; Nissan, Ford and GM had to follow suit with the Altima, Fusion and Malibu.

After all, they want to make sure the word gets out they are building hybrids. Given the profit margin on the first generation of hybrids (i.e. a loss), you might expect them to pick low production models. That way they would be able to justify not building too many of them (and losing money on each of them). That's how important the PR of hybrid technology is to the car companies.

As an aside, it's the initial research cost they have to overcome. Ford, Toyota and Honda are making money on their hybrid cars at this point. Since they were in the game first, they have been selling hybrids long enough to make a profit. GM decided to build cheaper hybrids, so it's possible they could have made money on their mild systems.

In order to keep the PR up, while minimizing losses, the car companies have, in the past, followed several different strategies. Ford and Nissan limited production of their hybrids as much as they can. And Nissan didn't develop their own hybrid engine, they just buy them from Toyota.

GM made a cheaper hybrid and talked as much as they could about it. Then they built a really expensive version or their SUVs and trucks. Unfortunately for them, the SUV and truck market have taken a big hit over the past couple of years. Plus, fuel efficient mavens don't tend to buy SUVs and trucks.

But Toyota and Honda decided they had to go for it, and spent the money to create the best hybrids they could. Honda has experimented with several different formulas (performance hybrid - Accord, fuel efficient hybrid - Civic, cheaper hybrid - Insight, most fuel efficient two-seater - original Insight). Toyota decided to stick with their winning strategy (Prius).

And so it's these two companies that have shown the way. Honda has shown what doesn't work more than what does work so far. But both have continued their research and cut costs in each successive generation of hybrid engines. It was the harder way to do it, but they have done it.

And now the others are playing catch up. GM has decided to try and 'leap-frog' the others with the development of the Volt. Ford has finally developed the Fusion and Milan hybrids (although they remain cautious and continue to limit production). Nissan is still behind, but hopes to have their own hybrid system soon.

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