Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What is a hybrid car?

I've been looking into the hybrid car market for a while now, and I thought it might be time to put together some basic information.

What is a Hybrid Car?
A hybrid car, by definition, is any car with multiple power sources. In most cases, there are only two power sources, but there can be more. A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) comes about when an internal combustion engine (ICE) is mated with an electric power source (generator/motor) to move the car along. But there are other possibilities, including a fuel cell coupled with an electric motor, or a fuel cell mated to a gas engine, or you name it. For the most part, though, HEVs have become synonymous with the term hybrid.

Hybrid Car Features
Hybrid cars tend to come with several things. Regenerative braking helps restore power to the large battery packs necessary for the electric motor (more on that later). Some people claim that the regenerative braking makes the braking feel different.

Also, HEVs tend to shut down the gas engine when the car is stopped. Which means you won't hear the engine start when you turn the key (or push the button, or whatever starts your car up). Also, it can be disconcerting for some people to come to a stop sign and have the engine turn itself off. But, as soon as you start up, or when you attain a certain speed, the gas engine will turn itself back on again.

It's this stop-start feature, or in full hybrids the low speed electric motor only mode, that gives hybrid cars those strange EPA fuel economy ratings. For most ICE cars, the city mpg rating is lower than what the EPA rates the car for on the highway. In hybrids, it's reversed. This causes some people to argue that hybrids are best if you are going to do a lot of city driving. (Read more about the new EPA ratings and how they affect hybrid cars).

Benefits of Hybrid Cars
But why build a hybrid car in the first place? For an answer, check out this previous post on the pros and cons of hybrid cars. I'll summarize the benefits here.

The electric engine allows the gas engine to shut off when the car is stopped. That means you're not wasting gas when you're not moving. Also, electric engines are better suited for low speed engines, while gas engines are better suited for high speed situations. Hybrids allow you to optimize these operations. Fuel economy is higher (one of the more obvious benefits), but you also tend to pollute less. Pollution levels depend on the hybrid car, though, so be warned.

Mating the Two Engines in a Hybrid Car
The mating process between the two engines can be in series or in parallel. When the two powertrains are mated in series, only one of the motors controls the cars movement. The other one simply assists the first, dominant engine. This occurs most often in mild or assist hybrids. The Saturn Vue Green Line Belt Alternator System (BAS) is a good example. The concept vehicle named the Volt from GM is another good example of a series (but not a mild) hybrid.

When the hybrid engine is in parallel, both engines can propel the car alone or together. A good example would be Toyotas' Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD). Capable of being propelled at low speeds by the electric motor, the gas engine takes over at higher speeds. This allows both engines to perform in their optimal situation.

Hybrid engines tend to be symbiotic. The gas engine powers the car and the electric motor by powering up the battery. Regenerative braking helps power up the battery pack, which powers the electric motor. The electric motor assists the gas engine or moves the car by itself. It's all quite complicated, but fun to watch happen in the nice graphical screens Toyota gives you in their hybrid cars.

Battery Packs in Hybrid Cars
Obviously, ICE are powered by the gasoline you buy when you fill up at a gas station. The electric motor/generator is powered by a large (and by large, I mean large and heavy) battery pack. Most hybrids on the road today have large Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery packs somewhere near the trunk, or under the seats. (Read about the Lexus Hybrid battery pack).

Most automakers would like to see Lithium-Ion battery packs (you probably have a Li-Ion battery in your cell phone) which can store more energy. But as of right now, they are still too volatile/unreliable when placed in large packs for major carmakers to use. But that should be changing in the next few years. Both GM (with their Plug-In Saturn Vue) and Toyota (next generation Prius/ Hybrid Systems) believe the next generation of hybrids will come with Li-Ion battery packs.

These large battery packs take up a lot of room and are pretty heavy, which adversely affects the fuel economy and the storage space in most hybrid cars. These batteries get their power from regenerative braking and/or from the gas engine. Also, they are very expensive, costing thousands of dollars to replace. Which is why they are guaranteed for the life of the car (read you warranty, some states make automakers guarantee the battery for 100,000 miles).

There are some concerns when it comes to these high powered batteries and how good they are for the environment. But all hybrid batteries are set to be recycled (Toyota has a $200 bounty on each battery pack), and so unlike some lead batteries from conventional cars, they shouldn't end up in landfills.

Plug-In Hybrid Cars
Some groups are advocating the concept of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). Plug-ins are capable of recharging the large battery packs by plugging into wall outlets. This brings together the best of two worlds (all electric and all gas engines). By plugging in at night, you get much higher fuel efficiency (on the order of 2 to 3 times what you get with current generation hybrids), because you are able to drive farther on the electric motor alone.

But, plugging in requires larger battery packs, which means Lithium-Ion, which isn't quite ready. Also, some claim that switching the pollution affects from gas engines to power plants isn't going to help much. Advocates claim it's easier to regulate the power companies.

The future of hybrid cars
In the past few years, hybrid car sales have taken off. Despite being only 1.5% percentage of the overall car sales market, hybrid car sales are still seeing phenomenal growth (a 28% increase over last year).

More discounts on hybrid cars are already being seen. The reasons I see for this are 1) federal tax credits are lapsing, 2) production costs are coming down, 3) there's more competition, 4) sales goals are still high, and getting higher, and 5) inventory is up.

Used hybrid car prices should start dropping. While they are still high, they are not as high as they used to be. Consumers don't have to wait three to six months to buy a new hybrid, so they won't be as willing to pay new car prices for a used hybrid car.

Tax credits from the federal government are starting to lapse. Toyota/Lexus, which sold about three out of every four hybrid cars last year, has already had it happen. Anyone who buys a Toyota hybrid car today is only eligible for half of what they could of gotten six months ago. As of March 1st, that is going to be cut in half again. Then, in September, it will be gone. Honda will hit the 60,000 car limit sometime this year, which means consumers of hybrids from Honda will start losing their tax credit at the beginning of next year.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

GM Update on the Volt and PHEV Saturn Vue

GM wants everyone to know they are working on bringing concepts like the Volt and the plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) Saturn Vue into production. Apparently, they have been accused of 'greenwashing' the public (I like that... greenwashing. I need to remember that one).

So, what are they doing to make these ideas a reality?

  • Invested in an upgrade to battery testing and development facilities
  • Dedicated a battery team, with plans to increase staffing by 30% (over two years)
  • Promoted Denise Gray to be the new "battery czar," i.e. Director of Energy Storage Systems
  • Cobasys/A123Systems and Johnson Controls-Saft received development contracts for lithium-ion batteries
  • Testing to begin on the batteries for the Vue Plug-In Hybrid by the end of this year
  • first demonstration vehicles that use E-Flex.
  • Formed a special executive leadership council for the E-Flex program

GM seems to be taking this pretty seriously. Given their lackluster performance so far in hybrid technology, I believe most people will take a wait and see attitude, however.

GM Source: GM FastLane Blog: Getting a Jolt From Volt

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Kia Rio Hybrid

Kia will be unveiling a Rio hybrid at the Geneva Auto Show on March 6th. A 4 cylinder gas engine (90 hp) attached to a 12 kW electric motor won't get much excitement from anyone, but it does show how hybrids are catching on across the board.

The Kia Rio is a compact sedan with an EPA rating of 29 City/ 38 Highway. The 2007 model comes with a MSRP of $10,770 - $14,345 according to Edmunds. I would imagine the price range of the hybrid (if it's a full hybrid) would come in at at several thousand more. But the fuel economy savings could be in the 40's? But this is all speculation at this point

In order to test the new hybrid, Kia will release almost 4,000 Rio Hybrids to the Korean Ministry of the Environment.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

New EPA MPG Estimates on Hybrids

The EPA has recently revamped their fuel economy ratings. The old tests were criticized for being outdated and just not very good at measuring what people were getting in 'real world' driving conditions. So, in 2008, all new vehicles will be rated using this new system.

The big question is, how are these new ratings going to affect hybrid cars? Most analysts predicted hybrids would be hit harder than other car segments. But first, let's see what the EPA has changed about their rating system.

The new rating system takes into account

  • Faster Speeds and Acceleration
  • Air Conditioner Use
  • Colder Outside Temperatures
MPG estimates will also be adjusted downward to account for factors that are difficult to replicate in a laboratory, such as
  • wind and
  • road surface resistance.
The FDA has set up a new site where you can view the changes in mpg ratings for individual vehicles if the new mileage tests were to be applied to the old cars.

New MPG Ratings for 2007 HybridsWhen I looked at how the new ratings would be applied to hybrid cars, I saw a 10% to 18% drop in fuel economy ratings (See table at the end of this post for New EPA MPG Estimates on 2007 Hybrids). This rate of change seems to be consistent whether you are talking about full hybrids or mild hybrids. Although, it's interesting to note the two cars with the most to lose (Prius and Civic Hybrid) did drop the most percentage-wise.

But, it seems that most cars are seeing about that much change. As you can see, I looked up the Toyota Corolla and Camry (non-hybrid, automatic, 4 cylinder), and both cars dropped 12% and 11%, respectively. According to GreenCarCongress, all cars will see some drop in their ratings, from 8% to 30%
Compared to today’s estimates, the city mpg estimates for the manufacturers of most vehicles will drop by about 12% on average, and by as much as 30% for some vehicles. The highway mpg estimates will drop on average by about 8%, and by as much as 25% for some vehicles.
But it looks like hybrid cars can still claim top position, especially over their conventional counterparts (gas only, same type), which are seeing just as big a drop, percentage-wise. The fuel economy improvement is slightly lower than it used to be, but that difference really is slight.

One other thing to keep in mind. Despite the drop in ratings to indicate a more 'real world' estimate, individuals are still going to see their mileage vary from these ratings. Some will continue to see higher (see hypermilers), while others will see lower (see your 16 year old cousin who just got his/her license).

New EPA MPG Estimates on 2007 Full Hybrids
Make Model Old/ New City
Hwy Combined
% Dropped
Toyota Prius Old 60 51 55 16%

New 48 45 46
Toyota Highlander Hybrid 2WD Old 32 27 29 10%

New 28 25 26
Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD Old 31 27 29 10%

New 27 25 26
Toyota Camry Hybrid Old 40 38 39 13%

New 33 34 34
Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD Old 32 29 31 13%

New 28 27 27
Ford Escape Hybrid FWD Old 36 31 34 12%

New 31 29 30
Lexus RX 400h 2WD Old 32 27 29 10%

New 28 25 26
Lexus RX 400h 4WD Old 31 27 29 10%

New 27 25 26
Lexus GS 450h Old 25 28 26 12%

New 22 25 23
Mercury Mariner Hybrid 4WD Old 32 29 31 13%

New 28 27 27
Honda Accord Hybrid Old 28 35 31 13%

New 24 32 27
Honda Civic Hybrid Old 49 50 51 18%

New 40 45 42
Mild Hybrids
Saturn Vue Hybrid Old 27 32 29 10%

New 23 29 26
Chevy Silverado Class 15 Hybrid 2WD Old 18 21 19 11%

New 16 19 17
Chevy Silverado Class 15 Hybrid 4WD Old 17 19 18 11%

New 15 18 16
Toyota Corolla (Automatic, 4 Cyl) Old 30 38 33 12%

New 26 35 29
Toyota Camry (Automatic, 4 Cyl) Old 24 33 27 11%

New 21 30 24

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Hybrid Vehicle Registration in 2006

R.L. Polk released information relating to their latest survey on new hybrid car registration in the US in 2006. Nationwide, registrations hit 254,545 units, a 28 percent increase from 2005. (2005 survey of new hybrid registrations)

As you can see from the table below, California by itself registers over a quarter of the hybrids. Florida, Texas, New York, Virginia, Illinois, and Washington make up another 25.8%. Given that, it's not surprising to see three of the top 10 metro areas are in California.

             Table 1 - Top 10 Hybrid States (2006 Calendar Year)

Rank State Total New Share of U.S.
Hybrid Registrations Hybrid Volume (%)

1 California 67,533 26.5
2 Florida 12,900 5.1
3 Texas 12,550 4.9
4 New York 11,634 4.6
5 Virginia 10,424 4.1
6 Illinois 9,495 3.7
7 Washington 8,650 3.4
8 Pennsylvania 8,407 3.3
9 Massachusetts 7,365 2.9
10 New Jersey 7,021 2.8
Combined Top 10 155,979 61.3

Source: R. L. Polk & Co. U.S. New Hybrid Registrations, 2006 Calendar

Table 2 - Top 10 Hybrid Metro Markets (2006 Calendar Year)

Rank Market (DMA(R)) Total New Share of U.S.
Hybrid Registrations Hybrid Volume (%)

1 Los Angeles 30,989 12.2
2 San Francisco 20,625 8.1
3 New York 14,200 5.6
4 Washington D.C. 11,405 4.5
5 Boston 7,795 3.1
6 Chicago 7,622 3.0
7 Seattle 7,244 2.8
8 Philadelphia 6,848 2.7
9 San Diego 5,131 2.0
10 Denver 4,954 1.9
Combined Top 10 116,813 45.9
Source: R. L. Polk & Co. U.S. New Hybrid Registrations, 2006 Calendar

Hybrids made up just over 1.5 percent of the car market, with the Prius leading the pack with 42.8 percent of the hybrid market. In second place was the Toyota Highlander and then the Honda Civic, taking 12.5 percent and 12.3 percent. Overall, Toyota/Lexus had more than 75 percent of all new hybrid registrations

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Virginia Hybrid Owners Get One More Year in the HOV

Hybrid owners who have access to the HOV lane today are set for another year. After passing unanimously, the Virginia General Assembly sent a bill that will grant hybrid owners one more year of HOV access to the governor.

Access was supposed to end on July 1, 2007.

Solo access to the HOV lane for hybrid owners was restricted last year to those who had purchased their hybrid cars before July 1, 2006. Anyone purchasing a hybrid after that date would receive a different plate.

If signed, access will be granted until July 1, 2008.

Source: - Hybrid vehicles getting another HOV year

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Lithium Ion Batteries in Next Gen Toyota Hybrids

It's been confirmed by Toyota, they will be using lithium-ion batteries in their next generation of hybrid cars. With Li-Ion batteries, some analysts are predicting a 20 to 30% increase in fuel economy.

This would also be good news for anyone waiting on plug-in hybrids from major automakers. Most automakers are citing battery technology as the only thing holding them back from producing plug-ins.

The next generation of hybrids from Toyota is due out in 2008 or 2009.

Source: BusinessWeek via Hybrid Car Blog

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hybrid Car Incentives

GM is offering an incentive on the Vue Green Line (Hybrid). You can now get 0% financing (until Feb 28th) and $500 cash back. This is the latest incentive out there on hybrid cars, which was practically unheard of even a year or two ago. Some would say that means demand for hybrids is slowing down, but I would have to disagree.

To me, the incentives we're seeing lately, especially those from Toyota, are directly related to the successful hybrids have been. When they first came out, hybrids were in such demand, dealers couldn't keep them on the lots. You had to buy them sight unseen, because they just weren't available for even a test drive.

Now, with the variety and the increased production (especially of the Prius), what we're seeing is hybrids going mainstream. So, when sales goals are increased, more incentives are needed to move more units off the lots.

A quick check of incentives at Edmunds:

  • Cash on a Camry Hybrid,
  • Leases on a Prius,
  • low apr or cash on the Ford Escape Hybrid

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Add PHEV to Smart Grid for Outstanding Benefits

Xcel Energy has OK'd the use of Smart Grid/PHEV Vehicles, stating it could reduce emissions by up to 50 percent. Xcel worked NREL to produce the study results, saying drivers could save $450 a year by driving a PHEV.

In order to maximize the benefits, drivers would have to use the smart grid and vehicle to grid (V2G) wisely.

According to a previous study out of the Dept of Energy, 84% of the country could switch to plug-in cars and not overwhelm the system.

Press Release from Xcel Follows:

Xcel Energy Study: with a Smart Grid, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles Could Have System Benefits

DENVER--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Xcel Energy today announced the results of a six-month study related to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and how an increase in their popularity may affect Colorado. The study found that PHEVs may result in a reduction of the overall expense of owning a vehicle and, with the help of smart-grid technologies, eliminate harmful vehicle emissions by up to 50 percent.

The study looked at how adding PHEVs to the road could affect the electric power grid depending on when and where the cars were charging. It also looked at the overall emission footprint of these vehicles, the decreased vehicle fuel costs and how PHEVs could impact the company’s production and capacity costs.

Xcel Energy’s Utility Innovations group worked with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on the study. A cutting-edge computer-modeling program was used to measure the impact of a mass penetration of PHEVs and how much energy would be required to charge them.

NREL’s program was able to simulate adding vehicles to the roads in large increments, under real driving conditions, simulating an increase in the market penetration of these vehicles. The study revealed that these cars, each equipped with a 9 kilowatt-hour battery, could reduce overall CO2 vehicles emissions by half. They could also save owners more than $450 in fuel costs each year compared to a traditional combustion engine vehicle.

“Hybrid gas/electric vehicles are already on the market and PHEVs are staged for growth, so we wanted to know how that could affect our business,” said Mike Carlson, CIO, Xcel Energy. “Depending on when customers choose to recharge, adding PHEVs to the road may help reduce overall emissions of CO2 without significant increases in utility infrastructure. In other words, PHEVs could be one piece of the puzzle to solving our global climate change problem.”

How much would be saved in vehicle emissions depends on when drivers charge their cars. Incentive programs may induce customers to charge their PHEVs at certain times and will help Xcel Energy minimize emissions and operating costs as well as incremental utility infrastructure investment. “Successfully managing a charging program will depend on a smart utility grid,” said Ray Gogel, chief administrative officer for Xcel Energy. “This study is one step we are taking to demonstrate how to use energy more efficiently through smart-grid technologies. In order to make a dent in issues like climate change and dependence on foreign oil, the grid must change. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have the potential to help us better use renewable and other nontraditional energy sources while creating a grid that is more interconnected, balanced and reliable.”

Plans are in place to work towards a more intelligent utility grid. While the specific impact has yet to be studied, technology already exists to allow customers to feed excess power from their own PHEV, back onto the grid. This can potentially lead to better use of renewable energy sources and improved reliability. Future studies will include PHEV field tests and evaluate the ability to manage the charging process in conjunction with the availability of renewable energy sources.

Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL) is a major U.S. electricity and natural gas company with regulated operations in eight Western and Midwestern states. Xcel Energy provides a comprehensive portfolio of energy-related products and services to 3.3 million electricity customers and 1.8 million natural gas customers through its regulated operating companies. Company headquarters are located in Minneapolis. More information is available at

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by Midwest Research Institute and Battelle.

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Survey says interest in SUVs is climbing

According to a survey, 21 percent of consumers who plan to buy a car in 2007 intend to buy a SUV or crossover. Six percent planned on purchasing a hybrid car. The largest portion, 28 percent, are undecided.

At the same time, price was the most important factor, followed by fuel efficiency. Then safety, size and body style. It's hard to reconcile those two factors in my mind. SUVs and crossovers tend to be lower in fuel economy and are more expensive than your average car.

At the end of the day, though, this is good news for anyone concerned about the environment. Even if you buy an SUV (as opposed to say, a hybrid), by buying the SUV with the best fuel economy, you're giving the automakers good incentive to make their next vehicle, whether it is an SUV or a sedan, as economical as possible in order to compete for your next purchase.

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Saturn Aura Hybrid Price Tag

Saturn AuraThe Saturn Aura Green Line (Hybrid) is going on sale in April at $22,045. While this price is only slightly ($1,700) above the conventional 2007 Aura price, it's $4,000 below the Toyota Camry Hybrid starting price. It's also cheaper than the Nissan Altima Hybrid ($2,000) and almost $9,000 less than the Honda Accord Hybrid. The Toyota Prius, on the other hand, has an MSRP of $22,175.

The Saturn Aura did just win the 2007 North American Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show. But at 28/35 mpg, you're not getting the wow! factor for mileage you would expect from a hybrid. That's because the 2007 Aura Hybrid is what's being termed a mild hybrid. The electric motor/generator is tied into the 2.4L Ecotec-based engine as an assist, not as a full partner in powering the car.

So, although the Aura Hybrid gets similar numbers to the Accord Hybrid, the Accord was built for performance, not fuel economy. The other hybrids listed here are rated for more than 40 mpg city.

In other words, this is a case of getting what you pay for.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

2007 Camry Hybrid 50th Anniversary Edition

The 2007 Camry Hybrid 50th Anniversary Edition celebrates Toyota's 50 years of business in the US. It will be priced (MSRP) at $31,680. For comparison, the Toyota Camry Hybrid has a MSRP of $26,200. For that money, the limited edition comes with all the extras:

  • 50th Anniversary badging on the outside,
  • power moonroof and heated power outside mirrors,
  • unique 16-inch alloy wheels with a graphite finish,
  • carpeted floor mats with the "50th Anniversary Edition" logo,
  • voice-activated DVD navigation system with a four-disc changer,
  • leather-trimmed bisque-colored interior,
  • brushed stainless dash applique,
  • illuminated front door sills,
  • a carpeted cargo mat, and
  • heated front seats
There will be only 3,000 made Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Kentucky and will arrive in March.

Once again, Toyota is focusing in on their hybrid car reputation by making this limited edition Camry Hybrid.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Texas may offer rebate on hybrid cars

People who buy a hybrid car in Texas may soon be getting a 10 percent rebate on their sales tax. House Bill 1335 was presented by Rep. Dwayne Bohac R-Houston and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

The rebate is being tied to emissions ratings, so that any vehicle that emits less than 0.45 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile, or averages 44 mpg, would qualify for the full 10 percent rebate. A 7 percent rebate would be available to anyone who buys a vehicle that emits less than 0.45 but no more than 0.55 lbs CO2 per mile or averages 36 to 43 mpg. These strict guidelines mean very few hybrids would qualify; Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight.

"Incentivizing people in their pocketbooks is the best way to get their attention," Anchia said. (BTW, is incentivizing a word?)

Money for the rebates would come from the Texas Emission Reduction Plan, known as TERP. The federal government offers a tax credit, while Connecticut, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Oregon also offer some relief to those who spend the extra money to buy a hybrid car.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Prius, Congestion Zone and London

Prius sales have jumped 135% from last year in London, and some people are crediting the rise with the extension of the congestion charge zone into Western London.

London commuters must pay £8 every day they travel into the congestion zone. Implemented four years ago, the congestion zone was just extended to include Notting Hill, Kensington, Chelsea, Hyde Park and shopping areas on Brompton Road, Kensington High Street and Westbourne Grove. But hybrid cars, disabled drivers and taxis are exempt from the charge.

Next year, Mayor Ken Livingstone is planning on increasing the charge to £25 a day for big cars and sport-utility vehicles. In the meantime, residents are eligible for a 90 percent discount on the new fee, although owners of those big cars and SUVs will lose that discount next year.

Mayor Livingstone claims the number of car trips have been cut in central London by 70,000 a day, and the average traffic speed has increased from 8.5 mph to 10 mph. They have also reduced carbon dioxide emissions from cars by 15 percent inside the original congestion zone according to the Transport for London.

Other areas in the UK are also raising parking permit charges based on a vehicles' carbon dioxide output (CO2). In Richmond, for example, a Prius owner will pay six times less than those in the top bracket.

Prius sales have increased to 5,017 units in 2006. Up from 3,745 in 2005.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Read between the lines

After reading the following paragraph, I would think most people would be up in arms about US autos, and US automakers in general.

From: 40MPG.ORG - How Your Vehicle Stacks Up

In an update of its own December 2005 research, CSI/ found that the number of vehicles sold in the U.S. that achieve combined gas mileage of at least 40 miles per gallon (MPG) has dropped from five in 2005 to just two in 2007, while the ranks of such vehicles available overseas -- but not sold in the U.S. -- rose from 86 to 113 in the same time period. Adding insult to injury, nearly two thirds (74 or 65 percent) of the 113 highly fuel-efficient car models that are unavailable to American consumers are either made by U.S. auto manufacturers (e.g., Ford and GM) or foreign manufacturers with substantial U.S. sales operations (e.g., Volkswagen, Nissan and Toyota).

But, you need to read between the lines in a report like this. There are several questions a reader should ask themselves before storming Washington. The first two I thought of should get you through the rest.

First, the reader must realize that is not an unbiased observer. As such, you need to look for their motivation (higher fuel economy in the US) and then realize how they want you, the reader, to feel after reading anything they have to say.

Second, why wouldn't these automakers want to sell these cars. They sound amazing. In poll after poll most Americans say they want better fuel efficiency. Toyota has shown that cars like the Prius are capable of becoming mainstream. So why haven't these automakers tried to sell these cars here?

The answer is simple, really. Most of these high efficiency cars being sold outside the US are 1) small and 2) diesel. Diesel cars get higher fuel economy, there's no doubt. The problem in the US is their reputation and the strict federal guidelines. It's taken time, but automakers are finally getting to the point where they feel like they can produce diesel vehicles in the next couple of years that can pass these guidelines. The reputation may be repaired in time.

The other problem is size. US guidelines and consumers call for safety features you won't find elsewhere. But every safety system added onto the vehicle adds more weight to the car, which results in poorer fuel economy.

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Toyota wins battle in patent lawsuit

But, the war isn't over. Solomon Technologies, based in Florida, is suing Toyota for patent infringement. Solomon believes the hybrid transmission in the vehicles infringed its patent related to motor and transmission systems.

A Florida judge disagreed, siding with Toyota. But Solomon CEO Gary Brandt is threatening to pursue the lawsuit through the appeals process.

If Solomon Technologies had won their case, Toyota would have been prevented from importing the systems affected, including the cars they are in, i.e. the Prius and Highlander Hybrids.

My thoughts would be Toyota wouldn't let that happen and if the case had turned against them, they would have made a deal with Solomon.


Solomon also filed a patent infringement suit against Toyota in federal court in Florida in September 2005. That case was put on hold by the court pending the outcome of the International Trade Commission complaint.

Toyota is also involved in a lawsuit over patent infringement with Antonov which is open in Germany and in Japan.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hybrids may be too quiet for blind pedestrians

The National Federation of the Blind is calling for some changes to hybrids. It seems they run too quietly for them to hear when they are crossing the street.

Full hybrid cars run off of an electric motor when driving at low speeds. Even mild hybrids turn the motor off when stopped. Since blind pedestrians rely on that noise to gauge when it's safe to cross the street, hybrids are definitely worrying them.

The National Federation of the Blind is calling for hybrids to emit some sort of sound when moving. And it would need to be loud enough to hear over any background noise. They have two suggestions so far: 1) device placed on axle making noise or 2) a device blind people can carry that indicates when a hybrid is in the area.

The Federation would like to point out that the dangers are not limited to the blind, but to the elderly, cyclists and other pedestrians. I would also point out it can be dangerous to animals crossing the road or sitting in driveways.

No formal meeting has taken place between automakers and any blind advocacy groups, such as the NFB as of yet. One of the highlights of driving a hybrid is how quietly it runs at low speeds or when stopped. But I'm also sure automakers and owners would not want any blind pedestrians hurt because of it.

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Volkswagen will build compact hybrids

Recent news stories claimed Volkswagen was turning away from building compact hybrid cars. Instead, they would focus on a hybrid Touareg. But Martin Winterkorn has rejected those news stories, claiming

"There will definitely be compact hybrid models, such as Polo and Golf, and without any great delay," he told Inside Line sources over the weekend.

So, there will be a hybrid Golf and Jetta coming sometime in the future from Volkswagen. But the first versions will be mild, with electric motors capable of assisting the gas engine, but not capable of powering the car by itself.

There will also be a full hybrid Touareg in 2010(?).

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Monday, February 12, 2007

List of Hybrid Cars

With so many new hybrid cars coming in 2007, I'm having trouble keeping track of them. So, here's my list of new hybrids, along with a list of the hybrids already available.

I'm leaving out the current hybrid trucks on purpose, given their mild status. But of course, that means I should probably be taking out the Vue et al, but... it's my list and I'll do what I want with it.

Planned launch dates of the vehicles with hybrid powertrains in 2007

Nissan Altima Early 2007
Chevrolet Malibu Mid 2007
Lexus 600h Mid 2007
Mazda Tribute Hybrid Mid 2007
Saturn Aura Green Line Mid 2007
GMC Yukon Late 2007
Chevrolet Tahoe Late 2007
Cadillac Escalade Late 2007
Dodge Durango Late 2007
Audi Q7 Late 2007

Currently Available Hybrid Cars:
Toyota Prius Aug, 2000
Toyota Highlander Hybrid June, 2005
Toyota Camry Hybrid April, 2006
Ford Escape Hybrid Oct, 2004
Mercury Mariner Hybrid Nov, 2004
Saturn Vue Green Line Sep, 2006
Honda Civic Hybrid 2002
Honda Insight 1999
Honda Accord Dec, 2004

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hybrids Gain Access to the Arizona HOV Lane

Hybrid cars are now eligible for solo access to the Arizona HOV lane. But only three of they hybrids available on the road today are eligible. The Toyota Prius, Honda Civic and Honda Insight (now out of production).

These three cars were chosen because the US EPA would only sign off on them. These are the three most fuel efficient hybrid cars available. Some lawmakers have stated they want to give access to other fuel efficient cars, but they need federal government approval.

In order to gain access, drivers need to apply for special permits and plates. Arizona has not been a hotbed of hybrid car activity so far. Although 10,000 hybrid cars can apply on a first come first serve basis, there are only 9,000 hybrids currently registered.

Bi-fuels are losing their access because of federal government pressure.

There may be a 90 day phase in period on the new rules.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

GM is unlikely to pass the limit

The IRS certified GM consumers are still eligible for the full tax credit for those who buy hybrid cars from them. What they don't say is GM may never pass the 60,000 mark before the federal tax credit expires in 2010.

GM has sold 5,500 hybrid vehicles since the tax credit came into affect last year. Toyota, on the other hand has sold more than 212,000 hybrids under their Toyota and Lexus brands. They sold nearly 68,000 hybrids in the fourth quarter alone.

GM currently sells the Chevy Silverado Hybrid and Saturn Vue Hybrid, for instance. Neither is a full hybrid and neither is eligible for as much of the tax credit as hybrids from Honda or Toyota because they are considered to be mild hybrids.

Full hybrids are capable of moving the vehicle on electric power alone, while mild hybrids use the electric motor to assist the gas engine. Both types have regenerative braking for recharging the large battery packs needed.

Since Toyota hit the federal tax credit limit last year, they are in the midst of a phase out. Consumers who buy hybrids from Toyota today are only eligible for half the credit. After the first quarter, that will be cut in half again.

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Honda Recalls Civic Hybrids in the US and abroad

GCC is reporting a Honda recall on the Civic Hybrid. Their source is in Japanese, so I'll have to take their word for it, although I'm sure the mainstream media will get the news out fast.

Honda is recalling over 45 thousand civic hybrids. The weight of a passenger sitting on the rear seat backrest could bend the wiring terminal, which affects a DC/DC converter that could cause a short which stops the engine.

Honda will recall 7,219 of the vehicles sold in Japan and another 38,116 sold overseas, mostly in the US. Cars affected are the entire production from the period 9 Sep 2005 to 2 Sep 2006.

Update: More detail (in English) at BusinessWeek.

It seems the short circuit would cause the engine to stop and prevent it from restarting. Honda is reporting no accidents.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Saturn Vue Green Line Ending Production

The 2007 Saturn Vue Hybrid is ending production at the end of March. At that time, the factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee will stop building the 2007 model. Sometime in September, a redesigned 2008 model will begin production in Mexico.

The Vue Hybrid is selling around 700 units a month, which puts it at a pace well below the Highlander Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid. The Vue Green Line is the least expensive hybrid SUV on the road, but the old saying about you get what you pay for comes to mind.

The Saturn Vue Hybrid runs off the belt alternator system (BAS) which allows the electric motor to assist the gas engine in propelling the car. It also has regenerative braking to power the battery pack. That gives it the better fuel economy, but unlike the Highlander or Escape, the Vue is not a full hybrid and cannot run on the electric motor alone. And so it's Green Score isn't as high, either.

This change over will result in a sales low point in the spring for the Vue, just as it did for the Civic Hybrid back in October, 2005. The Aura Green Line will be out mid-April, so Saturn won't be completely out of the hybrid market during this six month hiatus.

In other news, Troy Clarke, president of GM North America said he hopes Saturn's US sales could rise more than the 6 percent it did this past year.

"We think we can," Clarke told reporters at the Chicago Auto Show when asked if he thought Saturn could turn in a better performance in 2007 than it did in 2006, when sales rose 6 percent.

"Just look at the portfolio we've laid out here," he added. "These guys have never had anything this good to sell in the past in terms of the quality and the range of vehicles."

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2008 Highlander Hybrid UnveiledAs promised (Toyota Presents the 2008 Highlander Hybrid), Toyota unveiled the 2008 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid today.

The biggest change is the EV button, allowing the driver to run on electric mode only. But it probably isn't the most useful of tools. As autobloggreen points out, you can only drive a mile on electric motor power alone before the battery gives out.


  • brake assist,
  • anti-lock brakes,
  • traction control,
  • active head restraints
  • electronic brake-force distribution,
  • enhanced vehicle stability control, with electronic power steering.
  • a new hood and fender system designed to crumple on impact with a pedestrian
  • a stand-alone backup camera with a multi-information screen, not tied to a navigation system
2008 Highlander HybridBigger:

The Highlander SUV is built on the Camry base. So, since the Camry is a little bit bigger, so goes the Highlander. The Highlander is nearly four inches longer and three inches wider. They've added another inch to the clearance and overall the wheelbase is about three inches longer. All that extra space comes in at about 500 lbs.

More Room:

The second row seating can be converted from captain's chairs to a bench seat capable of seating three. The center seat can be hidden in a compartment under the front center console. There is also:
  • a third-row bench seat,
  • a rear glass hatch (optional)
  • Smart Start and Entry for the Limited and hybrid models.
More Power:

The Hybrid Synergy Drive system has been updated and compensates just enough for the extra weight. The fuel economy is being rated at 31 city and 27 highway. The 3.3 Liter V6 hybrid engine is capable of 270hp, net.

I'm left wondering about the mileage. I believe the new system for the EPA fuel economy ratings is being rolled out on all 2008 models(?). So, you would think that if the Highlander was able to "maintain" it's fuel economy on the new system, despite adding 500 lbs, they would be trumpeting that fact.

Photos courtesy of Toyota

Press Release follows:

CHICAGO, Feb. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA, Inc.,
unveiled the all-new next-generation Highlander and Highlander Hybrid
mid-size sport utility vehicles (SUV) at a press conference today at the
2007 Chicago Auto Show.
"Highlander holds a unique distinction within the Toyota brand and
within the industry," said Don Esmond, TMS senior vice president,
automotive operations. "Along with the 4Runner and the FJ Cruiser, it
anchors one of the industry's only three-vehicle, mid-size SUV line-ups.
Equally important, along with Prius and Camry Hybrid, it is a key component
in the industry's only three-vehicle hybrid strategy."
The 2008 Highlander is significantly larger, roomier and more powerful
than the vehicle it replaces. Yet its fuel efficiency will be virtually
unchanged. It is noticeably quieter, smarter, with improved versatility and
ride comfort. It will offer the highest level of standard safety equipment
in a segment where safety is at the top of purchase considerations. And,
it's all wrapped in a package designed for buyers who want to stand out and
make a statement.
Highlander will have no equal to its comprehensive list of standard
safety features. It will provide a segment-leading total of seven airbags,
including a driver's knee airbag and roll-sensing side curtain airbags for
all three rows.
As with all Toyota SUVs for the last three years, Highlander will
provide Toyota's STAR safety system, featuring:
* anti-lock brakes,
* traction control,
* electronic brake-force distribution,
* brake assist,
* and for the first time, enhanced vehicle stability control,
* with electronic power steering.
On all models except the base models, it will provide a stand-alone
backup camera with a multi-information screen, not tied to a navigation
system. And, Highlander will have the distinction of being the first Toyota
division vehicle to feature both active head restraints and a new hood and
fender system designed to crumple on impact with a pedestrian.
On the outside, Highlander moves away from traditional SUV styling cues
with a statement of strength instead of ruggedness; of intelligence over
toughness. Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, Calif. sculpted clean,
crisp lines, a wide, stable stance and muscular contours to give Highlander
an advanced, contemporary, forceful and dynamic personality.
Highlander rides on an all-new chassis derived from the current Camry
and Avalon. It is nearly four inches longer and three inches wider, with an
inch more ground clearance and three inches of additional wheelbase.
Interior designers took full advantage of Highlander's substantial
dimensions. Design intelligence is carried through to the refined interior,
where smart and sophisticated blend with practical, flexible and versatile.
The passenger compartment is open and airy. Convenient and innovative
interior features such as flexible seating arrangements, and ease of entry
and exit, were directly related to customer input.
For example, Highlander's second-row features captain's chairs with
armrests that, if needed, can be converted to a bench seat for three
passengers. A "Center Stow" seat, when not in use, is hidden in a
compartment under the front center console. In its place, passengers can
easily snap in the provided center stow center console or choose to leave
the area open as a walk-through to the third row. The second row also
slides forward and back 4.7 inches and reclines.
Clever and convenient standard features include:

* a third-row bench seat with foldable headrests for a flat rear cargo
* a rear glass hatch for quick access to the back (optional on base
* and Smart Start and Entry for Limited and all hybrid models.
When Highlander arrives in July, it will be offered in Base, Sport and
Limited grades. All three grades will be powered by a new 3.5-liter V6 that
delivers an impressive 270 horsepower -- a 55 horsepower gain over the
previous generation's 3.3-liter engine.
Two months later, the all-new Highlander Hybrid will arrive at
dealerships. Offered in both Base and Limited grades, all Highlander
hybrids will feature Toyota's advanced VDIM stability system. The system
* full-time four-wheel drive with intelligence,
* electronic brake and throttle control,
* with true electronically-controlled active steering.
Highlander's advanced Hybrid Synergy Drive system has been extensively
upgraded and refined for 2008 for both power and economy. The new
Highlander gained about 500 pounds, growing significantly in every
dimension and receiving extensive body and chassis reinforcement, aimed
specifically at achieving best-in-class crash ratings. Not only were
engineers able to increase output to 270 net horsepower, they were able to
maintain Highlander Hybrid's impressive fuel economy at 31 city and 27
The Highlander will be loaded with standard-equipped comfort and
convenience features. Nineteen-inch alloy wheels will be standard on both
Sport and Limited gas models and both hybrid models.
An array of options and accessories will be offered, such as a power
backdoor that can be opened and closed with a key fob, a navigation system
with an eight-inch screen, a rear-seat entertainment system with a
nine-inch screen, and three-zone air conditioning.
Other options include:

* JBL audio with six-disc changer and nine speakers with Bluetooth,
* third-row seat delete to create a second-row model,
* leather seat trim and heated seats,
* and a tow package with a 5000-lbs. maximum towing capacity
(class-leading for car & van-based mid SUVs).
"The 2008 Highlander takes the car-based SUV concept to a new level,"
said Esmond. "I say that with conviction, because it's a category we
The Toyota RAV4, now in its third generation, was the world's-first
car- based SUV. In 1998, Lexus established a whole new category of
car-based luxury SUVs when it launched the RX300. The debut of Highlander
in 2001 marked the beginning of a shift in the mid-size SUV segment, from
truck platforms to car platforms.
"As you can see, the new Highlander has raised the bar significantly,"
said Esmond. "Last year we did the same with RAV4. And in about a year,
we'll do the same with both Land Cruiser and Sequoia. The Toyota division
now markets a six-vehicle SUV lineup that appeals to specific buyer
demographics and life-stages. It is a lineup that gives us enormous
flexibility in responding to shifts in the marketplace. We are committed to
keeping our products fresh and at the front of the pack."
Public Web site:


3.5 Liter V6 -- 270 hp
249 ft.-lbs. torque
5-speed automatic
4WD or 2WD

3.3 Liter V6 Hybrid -- 270 net hp
Torque not available for hybrid powertrain

Overall Length: 188.4
Overall Width: 75.2
Overall Height: 69.3
Wheelbase: 109.8
Ground Clearance: Gas 8.1 / Hybrid 7.3
Seating Capacity: 5 or 7 passengers
Wheels: 17- or 19-inch wheels

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Hybrids top the Best Overall Values List

The Toyota Prius, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Ford Escape Hybrid were awarded Best Overall Value of the Year (2006) by Intellichoice, an online source for automotive ownership cost and value analysis. All three were noted last year. In all, five hybrid cars took eight awards in their respective classes, including the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Honda Insight .

The Prius took the Best Overall Car under $23,000, while the Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid took the Best Overall SUV under and over $28,000, respectively. Intellichoice has repeatedly championed the hybrid vehicles as costing less to own over the lifetime of the car.

"Best Overall Value of the Year" awards recognize vehicles whose cost of ownership is significantly lower than that of peer models.

The eight overall category winners are:

  • Best Car Value Under $23,000 - Toyota Prius
  • Best Car Value Over $23,000 - Lexus LS 430
  • Best SUV Value Under $28,000 - Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD
  • Best SUV Value Over $28,000 - Toyota Highlander Hybrid 2WD
  • Best Truck Value Under $26,000 - Toyota Tundra Regular Cab 2WD
  • Best Truck Value Over $26,000 - Toyota Tundra Extended Cab 4WD
  • Best Van Value Under $25,000 - Honda Odyssey LX
  • Best Van Value Over $25,000 - Honda Odyssey EX
Hybrids were noted to be the best value in the following categories:
  • Subcompact: Honda Insight (discontinued)
  • Compact Over $16,000: Honda Civic Hybrid
  • Midsize Under $21,000: Toyota Prius
  • Compact Utility Over $21,000: Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD
  • Intermediate Utility Over $29,000: Toyota Highlander 2WD

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Toyota Prius Sales Incentives

Toyota Prius SalesToyota set high sales goal for their hybrid cars this year. They are hoping to sell 430,000 hybrids worldwide, with 260,000 being sold in the US alone. The Prius is the top selling hybrid car in the US (and Toyota's third best-selling car in the U.S., behind the Camry and Corolla), but Toyota has set an even higher sales goal of 160,000 sold in 2007, up from 106,971 units sold in 2006.

But Toyota is setting these goals at a time when their sales are seen to be softening. When the federal tax credit was cut in half in the last quarter of 2006, Toyota complained that sales had slowed. After the first quarter of 2007, those federal tax credits will be cut in half again and they are set to expire for Toyota in the last quarter of 2007. This despite Toyota's campaigning to extend those tax credits.

The base price on a Toyota Prius is $22,175, but the average cost to buy last month was $25,340. That is down from a high of $26,473 from October (which just happens to be the month the federal tax credit expired).

Days to turn* a Prius was 7 days in October. Last month it was 24 days. There is one caveat to this increase in days to sell. Toyota was able to increase production of the Prius by moving production of the Camry Hybrid to the US. And so, in these past few months, Toyota has been able to increase inventory, meaning consumers aren't being forced to pre-order their Prius, anymore.

I theorized that Toyota would need to do something to compensate to compete with other hybrid carmakers who won't be losing those tax credits, and it seems they have.

Starting last month, Toyota started offering an interest-free three year loan or a lease starting at just $219 a month. And these incentives are not currently scheduled to end.

Source: News

* Days to turn is an industry term indicating how long a car stays on the lot before being sold. At 24 days, the Prius is still well below the industry average.

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The Greenest Cars of 2007 according to the ACEEE

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE's) has created their Green Book Online for Model Year 2007 Vehicles. Three of the top four and four of the top seven are hybrids, including the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Make and Model Specifications a Emission Standard b MPG: City MPG: Hwy Green Score
HONDA CIVIC GX 1.8L 4, auto [CNG] c Tier 2 bin 2 / PZEV 28 39 57
TOYOTA PRIUS 1.5L 4, auto CVT Tier 2 bin 3 / PZEV 60 51 55
HONDA CIVIC HYBRID 1.3L 4, auto CVT Tier 2 bin 2 / PZEV 49 51 53
TOYOTA YARIS 1.5L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 34 40 47
TOYOTA COROLLA 1.8L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 32 41 46
TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID 2.4L 4, auto CVT Tier 2 bin 3 / PZEV 40 38 46
HONDA FIT 1.5L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / LEV II 33 38 45
KIA RIO / RIO 5 1.6L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 32 35 45
HYUNDAI ACCENT 1.6L 4, manual Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 32 35 45
HYUNDAI ELANTRA 2.0L 4, auto PZEV 28 36 45
HONDA CIVIC 1.8L 4, auto Tier 2 bin 5 / ULEV II 30 40 44

[CNG] denotes compressed natural gas fuel.
"auto CVT" denotes continuously variable automatic transmission.
Certain other configurations of these models (with different transmissions or meeting different emission standards) score nearly as well.

b A listing with two emission standards (e.g., Tier 2 bin 2/ PZEV) denotes a single vehicle carrying both a Federal and California emission certification. Green Scores for such listings reflect the cleaner of the two certifications.
c Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle fuel economy given in gasoline-equivalent miles per gallon.

According to their FAQ page, they rate vehicles based on their green scores:
We analyze automakers' test results for fuel economy and emissions as reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, along with other specifications reported by automakers. We estimate pollution from vehicle manufacturing, from the production and distribution of fuel and from vehicle tailpipes. We count air pollution, such as fine particles, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and other pollutants according to the health problems caused by each pollutant. We then factor in greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) and combine the emissions estimates into a Green Score that runs on a scale from 0 to 100. The top vehicles this year score a 57, the average is 30 and the worst gas-guzzlers score around 14. Further information can be found on the Methodology page.

The Honda Insight has fallen off the list (see the Greenest Cars of 2006), since it was discontinued, while the Nissan Altima Hybrid has joined the list when it debuted this year using Toyotas hybrid technology.

The ACEEE also has a Greener Choices of 2007 list that includes the Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which have a green score of 43 and 39, respectively. While not good enough to make the Greenest Cars list, they are the greenest choices in their segment. In other words, the ACEEE wants to "show that there are ways to buy a cleaner and more efficient vehicle throughout the market."

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Monday, February 05, 2007

2008 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid

Saturn announced they will be unveiling the 2008 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid and Vue Red Line at the Chicago Auto Show.

The 2008 Hybrid Vue will be very similar to the 2007 Saturn Vue hybrid, as they both have the Belt Alternator System (BAS). The system consists of a 2.4L four-cylinder engine connected to a electric motor/generator. The electric motor assists the gas engine by providing extra power in acceleration, turning off the gas engine when the vehicle is stopped and in deceleration. Power for the electric motor/generator is provided through regenerative braking and by the gas engine.

In the far-future plans category, the Vue hybrid will include a plug-in version by 2010-2012, but the 2009(?) version available in the third quarter of 2008 will come with the new two-mode (dual-mode) hybrid system which GM estimates will improve the fuel economy by 45%.

Standard Equipment in the 2008 Vue:

  • MacPherson strut independent front suspension with stabilizer bar
  • Independent multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar
  • Double-isolated engine cradle \
  • Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS
  • GM StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing system
  • Traction control
  • Hydraulically assisted power steering on V-6 models
  • Dual-stage frontal air bags, front-seat side thorax air bags and head curtain air bags covering front and rear rows
  • Front-row safety belt pretensioners
  • Collapsible pedals
  • Active head restraints
  • * OnStar with one year Safe & Sound service

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No more HOV passes for hybrids in California

As of Friday, the DMV in California announced they will no longer be accepting applications from hybrid car drivers who wish to drive solo in the diamond lane.

Only three hybrid cars qualified under the state guidelines for solo access to the HOV lane, the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius. These are the only three hybrids who are rated at better than 45 mpg.

Access was first granted in 2005 by law to 75,000 hybrid cars. In September, 10,000 more stickers were authorized to be passed out starting in January. But now they are all gone.

"We have no more stickers available to issue, and any applications sent to DMV will likely not be successfully processed," Spokesman Steve Haskins said. "Any unprocessed applications and checks will be returned as soon as the last of the stickers are mailed to customers."

The stickers are good until 2010 and its unknown whether lawmakers will extend the program. There was quite a debate back in the Fall about whether the excess vehicles were causing congestion. Most responses to this have pointed to the level of cheaters, not hybrids, that are clogging the diamond lane.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Hybrid Car Sales, January 2007

Hybrid car sales were up 10.9% from January 2006 this month for a total of 17,591 hybrid units sold. Strong sales of the Toyota Prius and sharply increased sales of the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrids outnumbered the poor Honda hybrid sales. Saturn (GM) is still not reporting (that I can find) sales of its Saturn Vue hybrid.

Toyota continues to dominate the hybrid marketplace, selling 81.4% of the hybrid vehicles in the past month. Honda claimed 11.5% of hybrid sales, while Ford sold 7.0%.

Toyota increased sales of its hybrid vehicles by 25.7% to 14,322 units sold. The Toyota Prius sold 8,299 units, up 8.4%, while the Toyota Highlander Hybrid was down 20.0% to 1,810 units sold. The Highlander Hybrid was still the third most popular hybrid sold in the month of January. The Toyota Camry Hybrid was the second most popular hybrid vehicle, coming in at 2,801 units sold (no comparison can be made since the Camry Hybrid wasn't being sold in January, 2006). The Lexus division sold 1,245 units of the RX 400h (down 15.7%) and 167 units of the GS 450h (again, no comparison is possible).

Honda hybrid sales are way down to 2,031 units sold, a decrease of 43.2%. The Accord hybrid sold 248 units, a decrease of 43.7% and the Honda Civic Hybrid sold 1,783 units, a decrease of 43.7%.

Despite Ford overall vehicle sales dropping 19.0%, Ford increase hybrid vehicle sales by 37.9%. Ford sold 1,238 units of its Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid. In their press release, According to Ford, the Escape and Mariner had "sharply higher retail sales in advance of a new 2008 model". Which I interpret to mean dealers are clearing out the old inventory to bring in the new models, which are being priced significantly lower than the older models, anyways.

Toyota has publicly stated their sales goal for 2007 is a 40 percent increase over 2006, worldwide. But, they also claim sales on their hybrids have slowed with only half the tax credit available to their customers in the US. So, despite their impressive 25.7% increase from last year, they may feel disappointed in their results.

Hybrid Car Sales, December 2006
Hybrid Car Sales, 2006

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Bank of America is offering $3000 to employees

Bank of America Hybrid IncentiveBank of America is offering $3000 to employees who purchase hybrid cars. Any hybrid car, that is, that qualifies for any part of the hybrid car tax credit. This is good news and becoming a familiar theme for larger companies across the nation. Google and Timberland, for example, also offer incentives (checks) to employees who buy hybrids.

Bank of America (BofA) had previously tried giving this hybrid incentive in just Boston, LA and Charlotte, but now they are rolling it out nationwide.

I'm happy to see it happening, and I hope to see it more often. But I wonder about the results when you give a flat rate for any of the hybrids that qualify for the tax credit on the market today. If the incentive is part of a green campaign, why not offer a tiered incentive based on the vehicle the employee purchases.

For instance, there is a clear difference between buying a Saturn Vue Hybrid and a Toyota Prius, both in fuel economy and in environmental issues. But since they both qualify for the tax credit, if an employee buys either one, he or she will get a check for $3000.

By the way, if you work for any of these companies that offer these incentives, don't forget the IRS has ruled you will have to pay taxes on them.

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