Friday, August 31, 2007

Hybrid Cars, the Past and the Future

An interesting story is developing as several news stories detail the past, the present and where the world is headed in the future as it relates to hybrid cars, the auto industry and the emissions cars produce.

Over the 15 years from 1990 to 2005, five of the top six car makers increased their emissions (Det Free Press found via GCC). The rating was measured per vehicle. Nissan saw the biggest jump (up 9.2%) while Toyota was the only major car maker to decrease its per vehicle carbon dioxide emissions drop (3%). A majority of Toyotas improvements come from strong sales of the Corolla and the Prius. Toyota also had the largest carbon burden growth, due to increased sales.

But that's the past. In the present, the average CO2 emissions dropped 3% from 2004 to 2005. And in the past year, fuel economy increased for the first time in three years. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2007 models would average 26.4 mpg, an increase of 1 mpg from 2006. It has held steady in the previous two years. (Source: Det Free Press via GCC). This is a new record in fuel economy for new cars solds. The previous record was 26.2 mpg in 1987. Note that these numbers are subject to change as sales of 2007 models are updated.

Honda has the highest fuel economy rating at 39.9 mpg for imported models and 33.7 for cars made in the US, while Toyota gets 38.5 mpg for its imports and 31.7 for domestics. Their high numbers are being attributed to strong sales of their hybrid cars. DaimlerChrysler showed the biggest improvement, increasing 3 to 28.6 mpg.

As fuel prices have increased, so have car buyers tendencies to buy smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles. Which means its really easy to see where things are going. More hybrid cars and SUVs are coming out every year. Consumers are moving the car companies away from the bigger is better mentality and into the more efficient is better.

At the same time, automakers are losing ground in their fight to stall increase CAFE standards. Based on these numbers, it's becoming obvious 1) they can build more efficient vehicles and
2) people will buy them

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2008 Chevy Malibu Hybrid Pricing

The 2008 Chevy Malibu Hybrid has a base price of $22,790. It will be available in November along with its more conventional gas only counterparts which will start at $19,995. Prices include shipping.

The new Malibu will be equipped with:

  • Six airbags
  • Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with all-speed traction control
  • OnStar Gen 7 safety and security system with turn-by-turn navigation
  • Air conditioning
  • XM Satellite radio.
  • Available as a four-cylinder or V-6 engine.
The hybrid was rated at 32 mpg highway and 24 mpg city. The four cylinder gas only version of the Malibu was rated for 30 mpg highway and 22 mpg in the city. The V6 received a rating of 26 mpg highway and 17 mpg in the city.

The hybrid pricetag comes in under the base price for the 2008 Camry Hybrid and the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid, but is not lower than the new pricing for the 2008 Toyota Prius.

GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability control system is standard on LT, LTZ and Hybrid models.

Read more about the Chevy Malibu Hybrid.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Least Expensive Luxury Car to Drive is a Hybrid

Lexus RX400hForbes listed the top 10 luxury cars (based on the work by Vincentric, a Detroit-based automotive data firm) which won't cost you a bundle to drive, at least once you've paid to purchase. If you have to ask how much it costs to buy these cars in the first place, you're not welcome on the sales floor.

Of the top 10 luxury cars that are the cheapest to operate, the RX 400h comes in first. At $41,895 MSRP, this is an expensive car to buy. But once you do, Vincentric estimates it will only cost you an additional $12,091 over 5 years to operate.

They estimate the costs based on fuel and costs for repair and maintenance. Since the Rx400h gets 32 mpg city/ 27 mpg highway, the luxury hybrid from Lexus rates very high when estimating operating costs

"It's not exclusively about fuel," says David Wurster, co-founder and president of Vincentric, "But of course fuel is important, and it's the biggest factor."

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2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid Pricing

Altima HybridNissan announced the base MSRP for the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid has been set at $25,070. With only eight states selling the hybrid version of the Altima (California, Connecticut, Maine, Mass, NJ, NY, Rhode Island and Vermont), the Altima Hybrid at any price is going to have limited sales.

Nissan upped the price tag of the 2007 Altima Hybrid by $590 to $24,990 back in April. So, the 2008 pricetag has gone up only $80.

Buying the Altima Hybrid still qualifies the new owner for a tax credit of up to $2,350.

A recent review of the three hybrid sedans (Aura, Camry and Altima) by Edmunds placed the Altima Hybrid in second place, despite it being the "personal choice for every editor who participated in the test."

The Altima Hybrid comes with four choices in packages:

  • Convenience Package ($1,300)
  • Connection Package ($4,400)
  • Power Sliding Glass Moonroof ($850)
  • Technology Package ($6,400).
Accessories can be added in as well:
  • Moonroof Wind Deflector ($100)
  • Carpeted Floor Mats (4 Piece) ($110)
  • Aluminum Kick Plate ($170).
Read the press release below for more details on the new model year.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Aug. 22, 2007) – Nissan today announced a starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $25,070 for the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid, which is on sale now at Nissan retailers in the eight states that have adopted California emissions regulations – California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. The Altima Hybrid has been certified by the Internal Revenue Service as meeting the requirements for the Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit, thereby qualifying for a tax credit of $2,350.

Enhancements to the 2008 Altima Hybrid include standard splash guards and Diversity Antenna, along with an available factory-activated XM® Satellite Radio (XM® monthly subscription required, sold separately).

Altima Hybrid is offered in one model and with four available option packages – Convenience Package, Connection Package, Power Sliding Glass Moonroof and Technology Package.

The 2008 Altima Hybrid’s EPA fuel economy is estimated at 35 mpg City and 33 mpg Highway. It is rated as an Advanced Technology-Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) and emits almost no evaporative emissions. Combined with Altima’s standard 20-gallon fuel tank, Altima Hybrid has a projected driving range of over 600 miles between fill-ups.

The Altima Hybrid features a high level of standard equipment, including 16-inch alloy wheels, Intelligent Key with Push Button Ignition, power windows/door locks, 6-speaker AM/FM/CD system with auxiliary audio input jack, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and Traction Control System (TCS).

Altima Hybrid also features a standard dual-zone automatic temperature control that includes an Altima Hybrid-specific electrically powered air conditioning system that continues to provide cooling when the gasoline engine is stopped.

Every Altima Hybrid offers an extensive list of standard safety features, including the Nissan Advanced Air Bag System (AABS), front seat-mounted side-impact supplemental air bags for chest protection, roof-mounted curtain side-impact supplemental air bags for front and rear outboard occupant head protection and front seat Active Head Restraints.

For 2008, Altima is also available in 3.5-liter V6 and 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder gasoline engine models in 4-door Sedan and 2-door Coupe body styles.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Demand to Plug-In Your Car

Prius Plug InToyota is worried about the demand for plug-in hybrid cars. Of course, if the price is low enough, anyone would buy a plug-in.

"There is a consumer market at some price-point for plug- ins," Bill Reinert, national manager for advanced vehicle technology at Toyota's U.S. unit, said in an interview yesterday. "We just don't yet know the size of that market."
And I have to say, they may be right to be concerned.

How many people would be willing to spend 5, 10, or even 15 thousand dollars more for car, just for the honor of plugging it in every night? What are the cost savings in fuel and emissions? What about those large, expensive batteries?

The market place would be bigger than for electric cars, that's for sure. Limited in range, electric cars can only go so far without be recharged. Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles (PHEV) are capable of continuing for longer journeys using the gas engine to recharge the battery. That sets their usefulness a lot higher. But still, you would want to find a plug at night, just to take advantage of what you have.

Can you do that when you're visiting with friends or on vacation? What if you leave the car behind for two weeks, what kind of shape will the battery be in when you get back? If you bring your car with you for two weeks and don't plug in your car at all, how will that effect the battery?

What if you live in an apartment building? How are you going to plug in your car?

Will you have to run electricity out to your garage or driveway? If you don't have a garage, what about weather protection for a plug?

If you get home at noon and plug it in then, can you set up a timer to start recharge only at night when the rates go down?

What if you forget to plug it in overnight, how will that effect your performance the next day?

These are practical issues that anyone who considers buying a PHEV will have to face, and as such, are practical considerations the carmakers have to address when trying to guess at how large a PHEV market will be.

To read more about others reaction; GCC and ABG address the same story.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

The Most Interesting Hybrids

NADAGuides published the list of most researched hybrids from their website during the month of July. Not surprisingly, considering the sales figures for hybrid cars, the Toyota Prius tops the list.

  1. 2007 Toyota Prius
  2. 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid
  3. 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
  4. 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
  5. 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  6. 2007 Honda Accord Hybrid
  7. 2007 Saturn VUE
  8. 2007 Lexus RX 400h
  9. 2007 Ford Escape
  10. 2008 Ford Escape
It's also not surprising to see the Civic Hybrid and Altima Hybrid rounding out the top three. Given the limited availability of the Altima, being popular during the research phase of a potential buyers cycle really doesn't do much good for Nissan.

I am surprised to see the Escape so low on the list. I wonder if its because of the recent release of the 2008 Ford Escape. Notice how the 2007 model and the 2008 model are both on the list.

NADAGuides also released their list of most read reviews for hybrid vehicles:
  1. 2007 Toyota Prius
  2. 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
  3. 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid
  4. 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  5. 2007 Saturn VUE
  6. 2007 Lexus RX 400h
  7. 2007 Ford Escape
  8. 2008 Ford Escape
  9. 2007 Mercury Mariner
  10. 2007 Honda Accord Hybrid
Press Release Follows:
COSTA MESA, Calif., Aug. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- (, a leading vehicle information website, today released data regarding the most researched Hybrid vehicles at its website during the month of July 2007.

In addition to evaluating the Hybrids that car buyers researched most often last month, the company evaluated which new Hybrid reviews were read most often during that same timeframe.

Following are the complete lists. Most Researched Hybrid Vehicles, July 2007 1. 2007 Toyota Prius 2. 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid 3. 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid 4. 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid 5. 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 6. 2007 Honda Accord Hybrid 7. 2007 Saturn VUE 8. 2007 Lexus RX 400h 9. 2007 Ford Escape 10. 2008 Ford Escape Most Read Hybrid Vehicle Reviews, July 2007 1. 2007 Toyota Prius 2. 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid 3. 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid 4. 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 5. 2007 Saturn VUE 6. 2007 Lexus RX 400h 7. 2007 Ford Escape 8. 2008 Ford Escape 9. 2007 Mercury Mariner 10. 2007 Honda Accord Hybrid

Automotive industry sales reports show that the popularity of Hybrids continues to grow, according to ( Sales of Hybrids in the U.S. were up 50% from January to July of this year with the Nissan Altima Hybrid gaining the largest month-over-month sales growth at 40.7% in July, compared to June.

More than 16,000 Toyota Prius units were sold in July 2007, making it the top-selling Hybrid vehicle that month, with the Toyota Camry Hybrid in second at 4,329 units and the Honda Civic Hybrid in third at 2,493 units.

To learn about the vehicles mentioned above, as well as virtually every vehicle on the market today, visit ( for more information. offers new car prices, reviews, specifications and safety information, as well as new car side-by-side comparisons, new car photos and 360-degree views, new and used car buying and selling services, new car rebates and incentives information and more.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Opel Corsa Hybrid Debut

Opel is introducing the Corsa Hybrid at Frankfurt's IAA in September. The new hybrid will be a mild hybrid (like the Aura or current Vue hybrids), but with a 1.3-liter diesel engine.

The electric motor will assist the diesel engine in acceleration and when the car is stopped the diesel engine will shut off.

The concept car will use 3.75 liters of diesel per 100km and has a CO2 emission of 99 g/km.

A production unit won't be available for three to four years.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2009 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Car and Driver spotted the 2009 Ford Fusion Hybrid as Ford worked out the kinks in its new hybrid sedan.

The hybrid system will reportedly be the similar to that used in the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute (not out yet) hybrids. With a 2.3L four cylinder engine mated to a 70kW electric motor, the new hybrid sedan should be pretty nice.

But will it be different enough (or should I say remarkable enough) to help it compete against the other hybrid sedans already out there (Civic, Camry, Altima)? Unlike the Ford Escape Hybrid, which they could claim was the first hybrid SUV, the Fusion is coming to the party fashionably late.

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Nissan to Install Fuel Economy Meters on All Cars

Nissan is looking to inform drivers about their fuel consumption by installing gauges on all of their new cars. A meter will tell the driver how much fuel is being used every time you step on the gas pedal.

Nissan estimates fuel economy could increase by 10%.

In my own experience, I know this would be helpful for me, but it's not for everybody. I once rented a car that gave instant feedback on fuel economy as well as your overall average. When I got the car, the average mpg reading was 16. Seeing that number made me a little depressed as I started wondering how much I was going to have to spend on fuel that week. But by the time I turned it in, I had the average up over 25 mpg.

Based on the initial reading, I was surprised by what the car could do. But the lasting lesson I got was even instant feedback on your fuel consumption in this high gas price era is not good enough to change some drivers.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Pricing

The 2008 Highlander Hybrid will arrive on lots in October, rather than in September as was promised. The base price of the 4WD-i model will have an MSRP of $33,700 and the Limited will come in at $39,950. The base model price is a slight decrease of $190, while the Limited price has increased by $3,400 from 2007.

TORRANCE, Calif., Aug. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- Toyota Motor Sales (TMS),
U.S.A., Inc., announced manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) today
for the all-new 2008 Highlander Hybrid.
A best-in-class fuel economy and emissions leader, Highlander Hybrid
with Hybrid Synergy Drive(TM) has been enhanced for power, roominess and
economy in 2008. It is noticeably quieter, larger and smarter, with
significantly improved versatility and ride comfort. The 2008 Highlander
Hybrid will have one of the most comprehensive lists of standard safety
features in the mid-size SUV class where safety is at the top of purchase
Highlander Hybrid will be offered in Base and Limited grades, powered
by a 3.3-liter V6 with four-wheel drive with intelligence (4WD-i) that
delivers an impressive 270 horsepower. Newly-added, technological
innovation features such as an EV Mode, ECON Mode and Hybrid System
Indicator assist the driver to enhance fuel economy and driving experience.
EV Mode allows the driver to operate the Highlander Hybrid in electric
mode for a limited distance at low speeds, or in stop-and-go driving
conditions. ECON Mode activates a throttle-control program that smoothes
out throttle response; thereby, limiting excessive acceleration. A Hybrid
System Indicator provides the driver with a visual guideline for optimizing
fuel economy.
Highlander Hybrid has an impressive list of standard safety features.
It features seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag and
roll-sensing side curtain airbags for all three rows in addition to active
headrests for the driver and front passenger and Direct Tire Pressure
Monitor System.
As with all Toyota SUVs for the last three years, Highlander Hybrid
will provide Toyota's STAR(TM) Safety system with Vehicle Dynamic
Integrated Management, Vehicle Stability Control, traction control,
electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist as standard
Highlander Hybrid rides on an all-new chassis derived from the current
Camry and Avalon. It is nearly four inches longer, three inches wider, and
has three inches of additional wheelbase than the Highlander it replaces.
Key standard equipment includes AM/FM/CD with six speakers, two rows of
fabric-trimmed seats, and a leather-trimmed tilt and telescopic steering
wheel with audio controls.
Highlander Hybrid's flexible second-row seating features captain's
chairs with armrests that can be converted to a bench seat for three
passengers. A "Center Stow(TM)" seat, when not in use, is hidden in a
compartment under the front center console. In its place, passengers can
easily put in the Center Stow(TM) 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.
Key standard equipment on the Limited model includes: three rows of
leather-trimmed seats, multi-stage heated front seats, rear glass hatch,
power rear door, AM/FM/six-disc in-dash CD changer, nineteen-inch alloy
wheels, puddle lamps on outside mirrors, fog lamps and a third-row bench
seat with foldable headrests for a flat rear cargo area.
A stand-alone backup camera with a 3.5-inch LCD multi-information
screen, not tied to a navigation system, along with Smart Key System with
Push Button Start are standard equipment on both grades.
With new standard equipment and convenience features, the 2008
Highlander Hybrid base grade 4WD-i model will carry an MSRP of $33,700, a
decrease of $190, or 0.6 percent over the previous generation
comparably-equipped Highlander Hybrid.
The well-equipped Limited grade 4WD i-model will carry a base MSRP of
$39,950, an increase of $3,400 or 9.3 percent.
The Highlander Hybrid will arrive in dealerships in early October.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Ford is Hard Pressed to Keep Up With the Demand

I'm not sure I buy it, but a recent Washington Post article claims Ford is hard pressed to keep up with demand for it's Ford Escape Hybrid (and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid). Ford peeked in sales back in May with 3,214 units sold combined.

While those numbers are respectable for a hybrid, they aren't all that high for a production vehicle. So, I think the article is looking to create a controversy where there is none. Ford is quoted as saying there are no production issues limiting supply.

"We've noticed that California represents nearly 40 percent of hybrid sales," said a Ford spokesman, Said Deep. "As a result, that state gets the largest share of hybrid production. We are looking at whether we can make adjustments to satisfy demand in all parts of the country."

My guess is some dealerships are running out fast, while others still have a few on the lot. The demand may be higher now than it was at the beginning of the year (note how incentives went from $3,000 to about $500), but days supply for the Escape (not broken out for hybrids) is up from 32 to 34 days as of August 1st (from July 1st).

I don't believe Ford is running into production issues.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hybrids Prove to be All They Can Be by Joining the Army

NLOS-CThe army outfitted its new fleet of Manned Ground Vehicles (MGVs) with hybrid electric motors as part of its 15 Future Combat Systems Brigade Combat Teams (FCS BCTs). The new MGVs will provide Soldiers with enhanced survivability, increased speed and mobility, new network-based capabilities, and more modern, modular technology.

The new hybrid propulsion systems will power all of the electric equipment necessary for the modern FCS BCTs. The gas savings are ancillary benefits as far as the army is concerned.

The first use of the hybrid electric drive technology will be in the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C), slated to begin initial production in 2008.

The NLOS-C, designed and built by BAE, in partnership with General Dynamics Land Systems, is a fully automated, 155 millimeter self-propelled howitzer.

"The MGV drive train is unique," said Colonel Bryan McVeigh, product manager for MGV systems integration. "The traditional engine has been de-coupled from the drive train architecture and is designed only to recharge the energy storage system and power the vehicular systems.

"The hybrid drive system alone," he added, "literally will move the vehicle. This is a new and better way of moving across the battlefield."

The defense contractor, BAE, said this is the first evaluation of the complete Manned Ground Vehicles system consisting of the engine, generator, generator dissipater controller, traction drive system, energy storage system, and cooling subsystem.

"Its advanced energy storage, electric traction drive, power generation, regenerative braking, and integrated power management technology all serve to provide our warfighter's increased performance and unprecedented flexibility," said Hugo Croft, VP of Future Combat Systems and Advanced Programs at BAE.

Source: Army Unveils First Hybrid-Electric Propulsion System for New Combat Vehicles and U.S. Army going hybrid | Inside Greentech

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Could Hybrids Break Through in Europe?

Hybrids are getting more and more popular in Europe and its starting to trickle into fleet sales. Hertz will be buying 1,200 Prius which will be available for rent in 12 different European countries.

Green Tomato Cars is purchasing 75 Prius for taxi duty in London and the U.K. ministry is looking to buy 90 Prius, primarily for the Environment Agency.

Not to be left out, Honda is selling 50 hybrids to Ikea for use in England.

It seems hybrids may end up being more popular in Europe where once the thought was Europeans preferred diesel.

Source: Toyota, Honda to boost hybrid car sales in Europe - report -

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Hybrid Owners May Get (Small) Local Tax Relief in CT

Connecticut politicians are looking to enact a (little) tax relief town by town for anyone who buys a hybrid car. Starting in 2008, towns can offer a tax credit on hybrid and other vehicles that get 40 mpg or better from the EPA.

The amount being offered can vary from town to town, and that amount will not be reimbursed by the state, so its completely up to each town whether they want to offer it.

One politician suggested a $25 credit. That's not much, but when it comes to paying local taxes, that much can offset a decent percentage.

The possibility comes out of a state law which was passed in June allowing for tax credits for homeowners that invest in alternative energy.

Source: Journal Inquirer - Tax credit for hybrid vehicles may benefit Manchester drivers

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GM Wants You to Rent the Battery

I'm not sure I understand how this would work, or why anyone would want to do this. But according to a report from, GM is considering a cost savings method for their next generation hybrid, the Chevy Volt. Since the new battery packs may cost $10,000 or more, GM may be interested in 'renting' the batteries to consumers, rather than selling them outright with the car.

A previous report had GM eating the increased cost to build their new dual-mode hybrids in an effort to sell more vehicles, since most consumers would balk at a $10,000 cost increase.

Perhaps GM feels consumers would feel more comfortable with renting the battery pack, knowing they would never have to foot the bill for a replacement if the battery should fail.

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When Engineers Speak, I Listen

A lot of times, when you deal with press releases, reporters and CEOs talking about an issue, you never know quite what to believe. But when an engineer speaks, I tend to listen.

And according to one Justin Ward, Toyota engineer, Lithium-Ion batteries are not ready for production in vehicles.

"It's pretty staggering the benefits and the advantages that have been shown through litho-technology, but they haven't proven that it's ready for the automotive market yet. They are still in that developmental, demonstration phase," said Justin Ward.

This is on the heels of a report by the Wall Street Journal detailing how Toyota is being delayed a year or two by the lack of lithium-ion batteries for their next generation hybrids. But, at the same time, you can't surf for hybrid cars the past few days without seeing how GM is partnering with A123 Systems to develop lithium-ion battery packs for their hybrids, to be available by 2010.

So which is it?

Is Toyota, the most successful in hybrid technology for the past decade, about to lose its edge? Will GM debut its Saturn Vue Plug-In and the Chevy Volt before Toyota can come out with its next generation Prius? Will those advanced hybrids then proceed to blow up or catch on fire (the danger most quoted by engineers when it comes to large battery packs)?

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Safety Concerns Delay Next Generation Hybrids From Toyota

The Wall Street Journal is reporting Toyota may delay the launch of its Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) battery powered hybrids by a year or two, citing safety concerns with the new battery packs. These safety issues have been reported before, but the WSJ is giving definite numbers on the delay. This delay may give GM and others a chance to play catch up with the hybrid leader.

Toyota had hoped to have a dozen new and redesigned models out by 2010. But with their concerns over safety causing delays, Toyota executives expect to launch around 10 Li-Ion battery hybrids in 2011-2012. The new generation hybrids will include a crossover with three rows of seating, and a wagon derivative of the Camry. The first Toyota hybrid to use a Li-Ion battery pack may be a wagon version of the Prius.

Hybrid versions of the Tundra and SUV Sequoia have been delayed until 2013 or 2014.

Toyota is looking to use Li-Ion batteries based on lithium cobalt oxide. Safety concerns include overheating, catching fire or even exploding, i.e. the issues Sony had with their laptop batteries.

The new batteries, once they are out, are expected to take hybrids from 40 to 50 mpg average up to 60 or 70 mpg, if you don't plug them in. Plug-ins hybrids are expected to jump fuel efficiency even higher.

In the meantime, the next generation Prius, expected to launch in 2009, will have Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery packs. Without a jump in fuel efficiency, some experts wonder if Toyotas stated goal of 600,000 hybrids a year early next decade will become a reality.

GM stated their Li-Ion powered hybrids are still on track. They expect the plug-in Saturn Vue Green Line to be powered with Li-Ion batteries and will be in showrooms by the end of 2009. The much vaunted Chevy Volt is expected in 2010. GM's Li-Ion batteries are being developed with A123 Systems and are based on iron phosphates, which they believer are more stable.

Some members of Toyota's engineering and product-development divisions are still pushing to get Toyotas first Li-Ion hybrid out by 2010.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

How Would You Like an SUV That Gets 130 mpg?

Electrovaya Company delivered a Ford Escape SUV Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV) to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The new PHEV Escape is capable of getting 130 mpg (at least in testing).

Electrovaya (go ahead, try to say that 5x fast!) was awarded $100,000 contract back in January to demonstrate a “plug- in hybrid” concept using the Ford Escape Hybrid vehicle. The vehicle uses the MN - Series Lithium-Ion SuperPolymer battery®, which can be charged usign 120V electrical outlet and/or by the gas engine.

The PHEV testing is part of a $10 million project by the NYSERDA to convert the state's 500 plus standard hybrids to plug-ins.

Paul D. Tonko, NYSERDA president and CEO welcomed the vehicle as the second in the NYSERDA Plug-in Fleet. "By year's end we will have six plug-in conversions, testing the three major hybrid brands already in the State fleet, Ford Escape, Toyota Prius and Honda Civic. In cooperation with U.S. DOE, we will test them and place them into daily service among various State agencies," he said. "Those results will offer us data on the potential to convert more State vehicles," Tonko said.

NYSERDA is a premier sponsor of the Tour de Sol.

A successful test by Electrovaya of their lithium-ion battery pack would put more pressure on the car makers to build more of their own plug-ins. Ford has begun developing plug-ins on their own, developing a partnership with SCE to deliver 20 of them by 2009. Toyota has begun road testing their own plug-in. And Chevy has the Volt.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What's so Good About Hybrids Anyways?

Whenever I go out looking for what other people are saying about hybrids, I run into the following comments (myths) all of the time.

  1. They're ugly
  2. The money you save won't make up the difference
  3. What's the point? I could get better mileage 20 years ago with my ... Why don't they just make better cars?
So let's deal with these myths and bust them one at a time.

1) They're ugly
This statement comes mostly from those who have no idea the Camry they just passed was a hybrid. The only hybrid they know about is the Prius (or the Insight) and since those were designed from top to bottom for aerodynamics, most people felt they were ugly when they first arrived and got all the press.

Nowadays, hybrids come in all shapes in sizes. From SUV to luxury to sedan, there are so many choices when it comes to hybrids and people just don't know about them. Whether you want to sit up higher (Ford Escape Hybrid or Toyota Highlander Hybrid), more power (Honda Accord Hybrid), better fuel economy without sacrificing looks (Honda Civic Hybrid) or want to go for the best fuel economy (Toyota Prius), there is a hybrid that fits into your life.

2) You'll never make up the extra cost!
This statement is just plain wrong. The latest studies say you will make up the cost. It just takes time, anywhere from 3 to 7 years of ownership. Of course, that all depends on what your 'other' car was going to be.

The biggest savings up front come if you can qualify for the federal tax credit. But there are other cost incentives out there, depending on where you live.

Some states have rebates (PA and CT, for instance), while others give you preferred treatment by opening up the HOV lanes (VA, NY and CA). Some cities and towns are getting into the game as well, offering free parking to anyone driving a hybrid car. Then there's the insurance costs. Some companies are offering 10% discounts to anyone driving a hybrid car. That will make up the difference in the added cost for buying the car.

Also, since there are more hybrid car options and because the federal tax credit has begun phasing out for Toyota, car companies are now offering rebates on their hybrid vehicles. For instance, the Escape Hybrid has had incentives for the past year, while Toyota has started offering rebates of up to $2,000 on the Prius.

3) What's the point?
"Why don't they just make better cars? Why did I get xx mpg 10 or 20 years ago, but now I'm expected to buy a hybrid to do so?" A lot of people feel like the car companies are to blame for the poor performance they get from today's cars, but the truth is we (as consumers) demanded higher safety standards and more comfortable rides. And all those improvements in other areas adversely affected the fuel economy.

Safety systems, sound proofing, fancier sound and entertainment systems and more leg room all adds up to bigger and heavier cars. If you look at the average weight of cars through the years and plot it against the fuel economy, you'll see what I mean.

A few decades ago, when we had the oil crisis, automakers dropped the weights of their cars dramatically, thereby improving the fuel economy. Since then, the weight has been added back on and then some. The added efficiency of engines has kept the fuel economy moving upwards, but not too much, because our focus has been on other areas since then (i.e. size, safety and comfort).

"Well, what about the XXX (Fit, Aveo, Yaris, etc...)?" you might say. "They get great gas mileage." And I'd say, if you feel comfortable driving those small cars, then do so! You'll be saving a great deal of money both on the initial purchase price, insurance rates, taxes and fuel that it would be crazy for you not to do so. But what hybrid engines give you is the ability to go larger and be more comfortable while still getting better fuel economy and lower emissions.

Take a look at the Honda Civic, for instance. Look at the table below from the ACEEE on the top 10 greenest cars. Note how the Civic appears three times on the list.

Greenest Vehicles of 2007

Make and Model Specifications a Emission Standardb 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.

Now I know most people aren't going to go out and buy a CNG vehicle, so that leaves the Honda Civic and the Honda Civic Hybrid. Note how the Civic Hybrid gets you better gas mileage and a better emissions rating with a smaller gas engine (1.8L vs a 1.3L).

So there you go, you get more for less (gas) than you would with just a gas engine. You can get a bigger car, a more luxurious car, or even an SUV and still get over 30 mpg. That's the point of hybrid technology.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

How do Gas Prices Affect Car Sales?

It's amazing to me, but it seems that as gas prices drop, interest in fuel efficiency drops even if that price drop only dips below $3. A few weeks ago, I did a simple graph showing the relationship between gas prices and hybrid car sales. While I wasn't surprised to see a relationship between the two, I was impressed by how strong the relationship was. To me, gas prices are high when you see them up over $2 a gallon.

According to the PIN Insights (pdf) (published by Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power and Associates), sales of four cylinder engines peaked at 38.9% of all retail new-vehicle deliveries the week after gas prices peaked on May 20 at $3.22 a gallon. For one week, four cylinder engines outpaced six cylinder engines. Since then, sales of four cylinder engines have declined until the past week when sales of six cylinder engines sat at 7 percentage points higher than four cylinder engines.

There has been some speculation lately as to a turning point in gas prices when consumer interest truly turns from other interests and focuses in on fuel efficiency. Did we see that point just a few weeks ago?

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Hybrid Car Sales, July 2007

Percent of Hybrid Car Sales Chart July 2007Even though total car sales in the US were down 12 percent, hybrid car sales were up 11.5% from last July, and have gone over the 210,000 units sold through this year. Toyota, Nissan, Ford, and Honda sold 28,585 units in the month of July. Toyota sold 80.9% of those hybrids, of which 70% were Prius.

Honda has cumulative hybrid car sales since January, 2006 of just under the 60,000 mark. Expect them to break through next month, sending them into the hybrid tax credit phase out period at the end of March next year.

Of the ten full hybrids I track, only the Prius and the GS 450h increased sales from last July. But the Civic, Prius, Camry, GS450h and Escape/Mariner hybrids are still up in cumulative sales from last year. According to the latest J.D. Powers report, hybrid car sales are expected to hit 345,000 units by the end of the year.

Toyota Hybrid Car SalesHybrid Car Sales July 2007
Toyota increase sales to 23,123 units sold in the month of July. Toyota sold 16,062 Prius units, an increase of 44.5%. Highlander Hybrid sales were down 56.7% to 1,205 units, while the Camry hybrid was also down 13.8% to 4,329 units. Lexus sold 142 GS 450h and 1,385 RX 400h, an change of -9.6% and 13.5% respectively.

Ford Hybrid Car Sales
Ford Escape and Mariner Hybrid sales combined for 1,578 units. That's a decrease of 23.4%. Altogether, Ford captured 5.5% of the full hybrid marketplace.

Nissan Hybrid Car SalesJuly 2006 to July 2007 Hybrid Car Sales
Nissan sold 1,131 hybrid Altimas in the month of July. That's 4.0% of the full hybrid market and the first time Nissan broke through the 1,000 mark with their limited sales of the Nissan Altima Hybrid. Nissan sells its only hybrid in just the eight states with California emissions laws.

Honda Hybrid Car Sales
Honda captured the remaining 9.6% of the hybrid marketplace with 2,753 units sold. Honda sold 260 Accord hybrids and 2,493 Civic Hybrids. Both models were down 48.4% and 6.7%, respectively.

GM Hybrid Car Sales
Since GM doesn't break out their hybrid car sales figures, I can't track them.

Hybrid Car Sales, June 2007

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

House Avoids CAFE Standards

In an effort to gain consensus on the House Energy Bill, backers of alternative fuel economy proposals withdrew them. The Energy Bill will be considered by the full House on August 3rd.

Despite the lack of increases being set by the House bill, a joint committee of the House and Senate will need to get together and reconcile the differences after the House passes their version. Since the Senate did pass a CAFE increase a couple of months ago, CAFE will come up again.

The Senate bill set a 35 mpg standard for 2020 for both cars and trucks. Automakers have opposed the new CAFE standards, saying the new laws will increase their costs dramatically, although some analysts have been saying the increase will create jobs.

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Total Auto Sales Are Way Down, But Hybrid Sales Are Up

Car sales may be down, but not hybrid car sales. Despite the weak market, Toyota sold more hybrid cars than last July. I haven't finished compiling the numbers for the other carmakers, but since Toyota makes up 3/4 of the hybrid car market, hybrid car sales will be up about as much as total car sales are down.

According to the latest analysis, total auto sales fell 12.4 percent from last July. Of the six big automakers, only Nissan increased sales. GM, Ford, and Chrysler fell 22.3%, 19.2% and 8.4% respectively (and at the same lost the majority share of US sales to foreign automakers). Toyota and Honda fell 3.5 and 3.2 percent, respectively.

And all of this despite huge incentives from each of them. Incentives from each company ranged from an average of $1,146 for Honda to $4,082 for Chrysler.

Source: Sales wilt in July - Automotive News

As the auto market place declines on the whole, hybrid car sales have increased dramatically. The J.D. Power and Associates 2007 U.S. Hybrid Vehicle Forecast Second Quarter Update was just released. According to the report, 187,000 hybrid vehicles were sold in the US through June and they are predicting 345,000 hybrid vehicles will be sold by the end of the year. That's a 35 percent increase from last year.

J.D. Powers also expects the hybrid car market to continue to diversify. According to their report, as many as 65 hybrid models will be on the market by 2010. They also expect sales to reach 4.6 percent of the total U.S. new light vehicle market, or 775,000 units to be sold.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Toyota Continues its Record Breaking Hybrid Car Sale Pace

Toyota sold another 23,123 hybrid vehicles during the month of July, an increase of 19 percent from last July. 16,062 of the hybrids sold by Toyota (and Lexus) were solely the result of Prius sales. And that despite selling 3.5 percent fewer cars overall from last July.

Lexus, by itself, is up 16.0 percent from last year.

Toyota is up 59.0 percent in year-to-date sales of hybrids to a total of 169,659 units sold.

There were 24 selling days this year, with 25 selling days last year.

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