Friday, December 21, 2007

Insult or Challenge?

On Wednesday, President Bush signed the new Energy Bill, which is about to change the CAFE standards for automakers in the U.S. dramatically. It sets a goal of 35 mpg for each car makers fleetwide average, an average most car companies have fought against for years. After passing through Congress, the Bill was sent to the President via a Toyota Prius, a hybrid that achieves 46 mpg combined.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, was sending a message about what was in store for the future of cars in the U.S. But some saw the Prius as an insult.Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich)

"It is a huge slap in the face, calculated I believe, just to demonstrate their complete disregard for the domestic auto industry," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., called it a "slap in the face of every American auto worker."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., they argued, could have provided the same symbolism by sending the bill Wednesday in a U.S.-built hybrid made by Ford Motor Co. or General Motors Corp.
Too bad none of the cars made by Ford or GM pass the 35 mpg fuel efficiency goal. The Ford Escape Hybrid (or its luxurious sister, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid) comes closest at 32.2 mpg. Perhaps that's the insulting part?

I would think sending over a car that doesn't reach the goal, simply because it was from one of the Detroit 3, would be more insulting. It would show very clearly how they have fallen behind. Although, to be fair, only the Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid surpass the 35 mpg combined fuel economy standard set by the new CAFE.

Rep. Candice Miller has called the Energy Bill "How - Congress - Destroyed - the - Domestic - Auto - Industry" Bill. It seems to me she doesn't have a lot of faith in the Big 3 to rise to the challenge.

Instead of looking at this as an insult, they should be looking at the Prius as a clear challenge. A worthy goal for the car makers to strive for and surpass. Even President Bush has told them to 'build better cars.'

The Energy Bill (CAFE Bill?) is the new standard. Will the big 3 live up to it? Or will they just see it as another insult?

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How Does Cold Weather Affect Hybrid Cars?

Freezing ThermometerMany people are wondering about how cold weather affects hybrid cars. Will the batteries freeze up? (Not likely... unless it's so cold you would expect to have trouble with a normal car battery.) What will happen to my fuel economy? (It will drop.) Is there anything special I need to do to winterize my car? (Yes.)

Cold Weather and Hybrid Car Fuel Economy

As with any car, fuel economy drops when the temperature drops. The problem isn't with the hybrid car, but with simple physics. Cars that are 'warmed up' perform better. Until the engine heats up, the vehicle is not performing at its best. Since the temperature outside is lower, the car takes longer to warm up, which means it takes longer for your car to run at its most optimum level, which means your fuel economy will suffer.

Some suggest block heaters, but I'm not sure the extra cost and hassle is worth it. You just transfer the energy cost to warm up your car from the engine itself to the electrical grid. Unless, of course, you live in an area where even starting a car can be a hassle because the temperature is too low.

One other point; running the defroster can keep the hybrid from shutting down the gas engine when you stop the car at a light. That will also affect your fuel economy.

Snow Car with Skis 1929How to Winterize Your Hybrid Car

Preparing your hybrid car for the cold weather is similar to what you would need to do for a regular car, with a few small exceptions.

Tire pressure is affected by the cold weather, which in turn affects your fuel economy. Keep an eye on your tires. Keeping your tires pressurized affects your mileage more than you think it does. Snow tires may be necessary, depending on your location.

When the gas engine stops (at a stop light, for instance) you may end up getting cold air blown on you. The gas engine produces the heat that gets blown in by the fans. It may take less than a minute for you to go from hot air to cold air, so make sure you keep your jacket or a blanket handy.

You may want to place a front grill block between the grill and the radiator to improve the cars performance. A piece of cardboard can do the trick.

Getting a tune-up may be the best thing you can do for your car before winter starts. Change the oil, check the fluids, etc... You can most likely get these things done at your local repair shop, rather than at the dealership. There's nothing special about changing the oil that would require you to pay extra for dealership expertise.

Car Made of SnowHow Does a Hybrid Car Handle the Snow and Ice?

Some hybrid cars have been built to reduce weight, so be careful when you're driving and the snow is flying. Snow and ice can cause dangerous conditions and it's best to be cautious.


At the end of the day, fuel economy may be your biggest concern when you think about cold weather affecting your hybrid. Hybrid cars are just as able to get you through the winter months as other cars in their class. But just as with all cars, the fuel economy will be lowered. While some of the tricks I outlined above will help, there's nothing that can completely stop it.

Well, other than spring rolling around.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

California is Dismissed by the EPA

California State FlagThe EPA has rejected the waiver request by the State of California to impose its own limitations on greenhouse gas emissions from gas and trucks. Calfornia is already planning to sue the agency and force its hand. Given how friendly the courts have been towards states in their fight against the federal governments restrictions, California may be optimistic about its chances to ultimately win out.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled miles-per-gallon standards and the global warming pollution standards required under the Clean Air Act are "wholly independent." The even more recent ruling by the district court in Fresno, California added that "it would be the very definition of folly" to prevent the implementation of vehicle global warming emissions standards.

Sixteen other states were poised to follow California's lead, if the waiver was granted. Although, given California's population, any rules they enacted would most likely become the de facto rules for the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson cited passage of the new CAFE standards as part of the reason the waiver was being denied. Siding with the automakers, he seems to feel that one rule across all 50 states should suffice.

"These gases contribute to the challenge of global climate change affecting every state in the union," Johnson said. "Therefore, according to the criteria in section 209 of the Clean Air Act, EPA did not find that separate California standards are needed to "meet compelling and extraordinary conditions."

California officials seem to feel he is just using the new CAFE standard as an excuse.

"It's a phony argument and ridiculous on its face," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

"I find this disgraceful," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "The passage of the energy bill does not give the EPA a green light to shirk its responsibility to protect the health and safety of the American people from air pollution."

"It is disappointing that the federal government is standing in our way and ignoring the will of tens of millions of people across the nation," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

California's law requires a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions standards from motor vehicles by 2016. And the new rules would kick in for model year 2009, unlike the new Energy Bill standards which get enacted in 2010.

The sixteen other states that are following California's lead: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington.

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers' President and CEO Dave McCurdy: "By denying this waiver, EPA has not wavered in preserving a national program that raises fuel economy while reducing carbon dioxide. We commend EPA for protecting a national, 50-state program.

"Enhancing energy security and improving fuel economy are priorities to all automakers, but a patchwork quilt of inconsistent and competing fuel economy programs at the state level would only have created confusion, inefficiency, and uncertainty for automakers and consumers.

Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales North America concurred: “It is important,” he said, “that the U.S. EPA has further clarified that the federal government is best suited to regulate fuel economy standards for the benefit of the entire nation."

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Energy Bill Passes Through the House Once Again

Nancy PelosiThe Energy Bill, stripped of the renewable energy source requirements by the Senate, has passed through the House (by a vote of 314-100) and will likely be signed into law on Wednesday by President Bush. The Bill contains a new standard for the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE), which will raise the average standard to 35 mpg by 2020.

According to Rep Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal) ""This is a choice between yesterday and tomorrow" on energy policy.

The current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard is around 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and just over 22 miles per gallon for light trucks.

Starting in 2011, CAFE will begin its move upwards. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex) is already predicting Congress will need to grant a time extension. Barton pointed out, of the 350 models available today, only eight vehicles get better than 35 mpg.

The bill also mandates a huge increase in production of alternative fuels. Up to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2022 are being required, a fivefold increase from today. The bill does allow a waiver if the requirements cannot be met.

"We have every confidence that we can meet the target," said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers.

New standards are also being set for appliances and light bulbs. It's estimated the traditional light bulb will be forced out between 2012 and 2014.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In Denver? Want a Used Hybrid?

Denver will be auctioning off 24 of its 2001 Toyota Prius hybrids on January 23 and February 6. They are still under an eight year warranty and have under 100,000 miles.

"We optimize our money if we sell them now before their warranties expire," Ernie Ivey, the city's fleet manager, said. "We bought them six years ago for about $20,500 each, then got a $3,900 rebate from the state. Their residual (sale) value is around $11,000."
Denver now has 110 hybrids in its fleet, including Prius, Camry Hybrids, and Ford Escape Hybrids.

Officials have been receiving multiple calls from taxicab fleets about the auction.
Persons interested in the auction can go to the website or call Deutmeyer at (720) 913-8247.
Source: The Denver Post - Denver to auction off its hybrid cars

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Why it Pays to Have the Best Hybrid on the Road

2008 PriusToyota sells more hybrids than any other manufacturer. Three out of every four hybrids being sold today are from Toyota/Lexus. Over 10% of the cars sold by Toyota are hybrids. Toyota is charging ahead to become the number one car company in America, and is doing it behind the strength of its hybrid vehicles.

And the Prius is the lynch-pin of their hybrid vehicle line-up. One out of every two hybrids sold today are Prius. It's the third most popular car from Toyota (behind the Camry and Corolla). The Prius is the most satisfying to own.

But that's not all the Prius is doing for Toyota. Because it's the best hybrid car on the road today, practically synonymous with the word hybrid, it's making converts. According to PIN Insights, almost three out of every four trade-ins (72.2%) for the Prius are from non-Toyota vehicles. That's about 10 points higher than the average for Toyota. In other words, it has broad appeal across most U.S. drivers.

According to the PIN article

Prius’s strong sales volume and broad appeal suggest that future unique hybrids have the potential to resonate with consumers more than hybrid derivatives of mainstream models.
But I don't agree with that at all. The Insight was a 'unique' hybrid, but never did all that well. No, what appeals across the spectrum of drivers is the high fuel economy at a relatively low price, while still being big enough to be a practical choice most days.

It's quite simple really. Take a look at the most fuel efficient cars in the US and the Prius sits on top. It's not hard to figure out why that appeals to people.

And it's really not hard to figure out what kind of benefit Toyota is getting from selling the Prius.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Stripped Down Energy Bill Passes Senate

US Capitol BuildingThe Senate passed a stripped down version of the Energy Bill on Thursday night, but the highly anticipated CAFE increases will remain part of the bill. Instead, the Senate pulled out tax hikes and provisions to require utilities to use more renewable fuels.

Senators cut requirements for publicly held utilities to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources and heavily taxed the five biggest oil companies. The added revenue would have permitted the government to issue strong financial incentives for wind, solar and biomass energy.

The House had passed the bill with the tax provisions included, but the Bush administration had threatened to veto the bill if those provisions were passed.

The Energy Bill will most likely be re-passed by the House and signed by the President.

As it stands now, the new CAFE standard will raise average fuel economy standards to 35 mpg by 2020. Automakers had opposed the increase, but once it was clear they were going to lose, moved instead to support the measure.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., got sponsors of the energy bill to state publicly that it was their intention that greenhouse gas rules be "consistent" with fuel economy standards.

The exchange -- known as a colloquy - could be used by the industry in future legal battles over greenhouse gas rules, both proponents and opponents said. (Source: Senate OKs CAFE hike - Automotive News
The bill also includes a provision to increase biofuel production to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. Of this amount, 21 billion gallons must come from biofuels other than corn-based ethanol. Last year, total ethanol production in the United States was about 5 billion gallons, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, an industry group.

The fuel economy and biofuel boosts are designed to weaken the country's exposure to volatile oil prices. The bill also includes energy efficiency requirements for appliances and buildings. (Source: Forbes)

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Price Change on the 2008 RX 400h

Lexus is increasing the already hefty pricetag on the 2008 RX 400h by $100 to $41,280 for the front-wheel drive model and $42,680 for the all-wheel-drive model.

The increase is part of a larger batch of increases on many Lexus models, including the 2008 ES 350, LS 460, and IS model luxury sedans, and the 2009 RX 350 luxury utility vehicles.

Toyota had recently increased the price on the Camry Hybrid and Prius.

Press Release Follows:

December 14, 2007 - Torrance, CA - Lexus announced Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices (MSRP) today for the 2008 ES 350, LS 460, and IS model luxury sedans, and the 2008 RX 400h and 2009 RX 350 luxury utility vehicles.

The ES 350 entry luxury sedan MSRP will increase 0.3 percent, or $100, to $33,820. The IS entry luxury sport sedans will increase 0.3 percent overall, or $100. The IS 250 rear-wheel drive model with a manual transmission will carry an MSRP of $30,555, while the IS 250 rear-wheel drive automatic will have an MSRP of $31,725. The IS 250 all-wheel drive and the IS 350 models will have an MSRP of $34,185 and $36,005, respectively. The MSRP for the LS 460 flagship luxury sedan will increase 0.8 percent, or $500, to $62,000 for the LS 460 and $72,000 for the LS 460 L.

The 2008 RX 400h hybrid luxury utility vehicle MSRP will increase 0.2 percent overall, or $100, to $41,280 for the RX 400h front-wheel drive, and $42,680 for the all-wheel-drive model.

The 2009 RX 350 luxury utility vehicle MSRP will increase 0.3 percent, or $100. The front-wheel-drive RX 350 will have an MSRP of $37,500, while the RX 350 all-wheel drive will carry a base price of $38,900.

Mid-year price adjustments on the 2008 models are effective with vehicles arriving in the U.S. beginning December 18, 2007. RX 350 pricing changes are effective on 2009 models arriving at dealerships in early February 2008. MSRP does not include a delivery, processing and handling fee of $765.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

China Begins Producing Hybrid Cars

Chang'an LogoChang'an Automotive Group produced its first hybrid vehicle, and is hoping to start offering hybrids on the market soon. The hybrid vehicle is called the 'HEV,' is the first hybrid vehicle set for mass production in China by a Chinese automaker. (Source: China's Changan Auto first hybrid model rolls off line - Xinhua -

Chang'an Auto President Xu Liuping is quoted as saying the pricetag for the HEV will be 'far lower' than similar models produced by foreign auto makers.

Toyota produces the Prius in China, but imports some of the more critical components in. Other hybrid cars in China are imported.

Chang'an is partnered with Ford in China. They hope to increase hybrid car sales to the point where hybrids will make up 10% of their total sales by 2010.

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How to Park for Free in Los Angeles

Clean Air Vehicle DecalLos Angeles is amending its rule on free parking for hybrids inside the city. The City Council voted to change the law so that only those hybrid cars with the California "Clean-Air Vehicle" decal may continue to park for free.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) started the free parking program three years ago and has never restricted the privilege to those with the decals before. The decal was created to mark those cars who are allowed solo driver access in the carpool lanes. All 85,000 stickers have been assigned, so unless you buy a car with the decal already on it, you can't get one. It has been estimated that hybrid cars with decals can go for $4,000 more according to Kelley Blue Book.

Free parking for hybrid cars with the decal runs through December 31, 2010. LADOT estimates the cost to the city runs at over one hundred thousand dollars, or about one half of a percent of the total annual meter revenue.

Source: AP Story

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States Can Limit Greenhouse Gases From Vehicles

GavelU.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii in Fresno, CA ruled states can limit greenhouse gases from vehicles. Automakers had argued "only the federal government can set fuel economy standards for all 50 states." Automakers would prefer to deal with just one rule, whatever it might be, across all 50 states. At the same time, they note that any stringent rules in California would become the basis across the nation given it's large market.

Judge Ishii disagreed with the automakers, saying state rules to limit greenhouse gases from vehicles do not conflict with federal fuel economy regulations. It was the third time this year California received backing from the courts, and the fourth time this year the automakers have had a set back.

The Supreme Court ruled the EPA must regulate emissions as pollutants unless it can back a refusal to do so with scientific evidence. A federal judge in Vermont upheld a law based on California's auto emission statute. And in November, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in S.F. ruled the new mpg standard for SUVs and light trucks failed to account for the effect of fuel consumption on global warming.

"It would be the very definition of folly" to preclude the EPA from acting, given its responsibilities to protect public health, Ishii said. (Source: signonsandiego)

A similar ruling was made in Vermont and is currently being appealed.

California (and the many states which are following California's lead) want to enforce greenhouse gas limits (up to 30% lower emissions), but need a waiver from the EPA to do so. The EPA, under the Clean Air Act, is still working on whether to grant the waiver. The state has sued the agency to force a decision, and EPA Administrator Steven Johnson has promised to decide by the end of the year.

The Bush administration has called for a "single national regulatory standard for both fuel economy and tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles."

Ishii noted that compliance "can be at least partially achieved through changes that are not directly reflected in fuel economy improvements," such as using other fuels and improving air conditioners. (source: SFGate)

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Wednesday's ruling "another important victory in the fight against global warming," adding, "California and other states will prevail in our goal to take aggressive action on climate change."

California has plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30% from 2009 to 2016, under a plan passed by the California Air Resources Board in 2004. (Source: LATimes)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Hybrid Truck May Become Truck of the Year

It's strange to think about, but a hybrid may win the 2008 North American Truck of the Year award. The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid has been nominated along with the Buick Enclave and Mazda CX-9.

Winning truck of the year would certainly be more meaningful than the 2008 Green Car of the Year. An international (US and Canada) group of automotive journalists voted to place the Tahoe Hybrid on the final list.

To be eligible, the cars and trucks must be "all new" or "substantially changed" from the previous model. To win, the vehicle must be "designed to recognize the most outstanding vehicles of the year based on factors that include innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar." The Tahoe Hybrid may have a really good shot on that basis.

Previous winners include the Ford Escape Hybrid (2005) and the Toyota Prius (2004), which was also nominated in 2001. It lost out to the PT Cruiser, which I bet the organizers are kind of embarrassed about by now.

Press Release Follows:

    DETROIT, Dec. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- General Motors has four of the six
finalists for the North American Car of the Year and the North American
Truck of the Year, it was announced today.

An international group of automotive journalists voted the Cadillac
CTS, the Chevrolet Malibu and the Honda Accord finalists for the 2008 North
American Car of the Year.

The Buick Enclave, the Mazda CX-9 and Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid are
finalists for the 2008 North American Truck of the Year.

The awards are unique in the United States because -- instead of being
given by a single publication, radio or television station -- they are
given by 46 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

The jurors represent outlets such as the MSN Autos, the Toronto Star,
Car and Driver magazine, AutoWeek, The Chicago Tribune, MotorWeek, USA
Today, Autoline Detroit,, Road & Track magazine, the San Jose
Mercury News, Consumer Guide, the Boston Globe, Automotive News and

The awards are designed to recognize the most outstanding vehicles of
the year based on factors that include innovation, design, safety,
handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar.

To be eligible, vehicles must be "all new" or "substantially changed"
from the previous model.

Michelle Collins, Vice Chairman Automotive at Deloitte & Touche, was
responsible for counting the ballots, which jurors sent directly to the
accounting firm.

The finalists were announced today at a news conference during a
luncheon held by the Detroit Economic Club and the North American
International Auto Show.

Now the jurors begin a second round of voting. No later than January
2nd jurors must vote on the three car and three truck finalists.

As with the first round of voting those ballots go directly to Ms.
Collins at Deloitte.

Ms. Collins will be the only person who knows the winners, which will
be announced January 13th at the North American International Auto Show.

Although the winners are disclosed at a news conference at the North
American International Auto Show the show does not give the awards.

Last year the North American Car of the Year was the Saturn Aura and
the North American Truck of the Year was the Chevrolet Silverado.

While more than 50 new vehicles were eligible jurors finally voted on
15 cars and 13 trucks.

Here are the vehicles on which the jurors voted:

2008 North American Car of the Year nominees

Audi TT
Audi A5/S5
Cadillac CTS
Chevrolet Malibu
Chrysler Town & Country
Dodge Grand Caravan
Honda Accord
Infiniti G37
Infiniti EX35
Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Nissan Altima Coupe
Scion xB
Smart ForTwo
Subaru Impreza/WRX
Volvo C30

2008 North American Truck of the Year nominees

Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
Hyundai Veracruz
Jeep Liberty
Jeep Patriot
Kia Rondo
Land Rover LR2
Mazda CX-9
Nissan Rogue
Saturn Vue
Toyota Highlander/Hybrid
Toyota Tundra
Volvo XC70
More information on the awards -- including previous finalists and
winners -- is available at:

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Jay Leno Explains the Tahoe Hybrid

When it comes to cars, Jay Leno has become the celebrity expert. So much so he was recently asked to vote on the Green Car of the Year, a vote he placed for the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid. Since then, he's been defending his position. His latest defense comes from the UK (Source: Motormouth: Jay Leno - Times Online)

The basic difference between England and America is size. For instance, in England your "jumbo king super-large" beverage is our small. So there’s nothing funnier to me than when English people come to America and we say: "Would you like something to drink?"

And they say: "Yes." "Would you like a large?" we say. "Yes . . . I’m quite thirsty," they say, and they get a 44oz tub that they could bathe in!
He goes on to say Americans are afraid they will be forced into tiny vehicles. That they will be forced to live so frugally they must turn their thermostats down to 52 and only watch 20 minutes of TV a day (I wonder which 20 minutes Jay wants you to watch?) and so on... It's quite amazing how he sees the two sides of America.
Most Americans don’t want to live like that. Most Americans want to continue to live the way they always lived and if possible do it more economically.
I don't have an issue with the way Jay voted. The nominees for the 2008 Green Car of the Year Award were restricted by their 'newness.' Given that criteria, and the list of nominees, the Tahoe was probably the best choice he could make. But his depiction of Americans is kind of pathetic. I'm probably making too much of it, since he's probably just trying to be funny, but it did bother me.

He goes on to say the Volt (or vehicles like it) will take over for hybrids.
I think all hybrids are stopgap measures because manufacturers are forced to make two power trains and they’re expensive and nobody discusses the energy involved in making some of these hybrids with the batteries and the power trains and all that sort of stuff.
But that doesn't really make sense to me, since a Volt has two powertrains and is more expensive than non plug-in hybrids. The advantage the Volt (and other plug-ins that will be coming) is they move the power source from the pump onto the electric grid. Our oil dependence will be lessened and if we upgrade the laws governing how that electricity is produced, we will all be better off.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gas Gauge and Fuel Costs

Fuel Economy GaugeForget about CAFE, make car companies install fuel economy gauges into every car. I bet fuel efficiency would climb by 10%. But only if the gauges give the driver enough feedback that they can make real time decisions.

Hybrid car owners know all about these gauges. Some get addicted to watching the readout. So much so, they join hypermiler clubs and compete against others to raise the bar as far as they can. But most people don't get that chance.

How to Save Gas: 101

You always see it in advice columns on how to save on gas. Somewhere after the list the government made up 30 years ago about closing the windows and getting rid of the dead weight is the most important thing. Pay attention to how you're driving and you'll waste less fuel. If you think to yourself, that was money flying out the exhaust after stomping on the gas pedal, you will start to modify your own behavior.

Now think how much easier it would be for those who are interested to do so if they have a fuel economy gauge giving them real time feedback on how much gas they're wasting when they floor it.

This would not work for everyone, of course. Some people would ignore the gauge no matter what. Others will pay attention sometimes, but won't really want to do anything about it. But I bet enough people would pay attention to it that it would make a huge difference in the long run.

Different Gauges for Different Folks

But what kind of gauges would be necessary? There are some out there that are just a waste of space, if you ask me. Those 'eco' lights that come on (see GM and Chrysler) when you're driving economically are a waste of dashboard. There's no real feedback, no ability to test, no way to really learn from your own experience on the best way to drive. Give me a fuel economy gauge that gives me mpg (even if it isn't all that accurate) and I can do something with that.

It also gives you motivation. I've talked about this before (Nissan fuel economy meters), but I once rented a car for a week. The car had an instant fuel economy gauge, plus a real-time mpg readout. When I first got the car, the overall number was sitting at 16 mpg and my first thought was how much was it going to cost me in gas to drive this monster.

Because I was motivated and because I had the instant feedback, by the end of the week I had gotten the average up to 25 mpg. And that was without any special techniques.

What the Car Companies Are Doing

According to a story at, the major car manufacturers are already working on this.

•Nissan. A fuel-efficiency meter started going into the instrument cluster of select Nissan and Infiniti cars, pickups and SUVs. It's going to be phased into the entire lineup. Nissan says the gauge can cut gas use by 10%.

•Ford Motor (F). Vehicles such as Ford Mustang, Edge and Fusion have a fuel-efficiency meter in the optional information center part of the instrument cluster. It denotes fuel use in a bar chart like the one denoting signal strength on cellphones.

•Chrysler and General Motors (GM). Displays show when cylinders are deactivated in the gas-saving systems of certain V-8 and V-6 engines. Chrysler vehicles show the message "fuel saver mode" on the instrument panel.

•Honda (HMC). Some models have a dashboard light that illuminates when gas mileage is optimal.

Toyota wants to find out if drivers will use the fuel-economy gauges.
Just Do It

This seems like a good idea to me. If you ask me, getting a law passed to make fuel economy gauges mandatory should be straightforward. The pluses are easy to point out:
  • The gauge is inexpensive,
  • Popular with the environmentalist crowd,
  • Easy way for car companies to show they are doing something
  • Reduces oil dependence
  • Creates jobs (somebody has to make the gauges and install them)
What do you think?

Could it happen? What are the negatives?

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Chevy Mailbu Hybrid to be Available in Only 11 States

Chevy Malibu HybridThe Chevy Malibu Hybrid will go on sale next month in just 11 states. With limited numbers available, Chevy wants them to go where they are most likely to sell: the Northeast and the West Coast, with none in the Southeast, Deep South or Midwest. Nationwide sales may not occur until next fall.

"There is a limited number (of hybrids), we don’t want them in low-volume dealerships where they will sit for a long time," said Jim Brown, Malibu product manager. (Source: autonews)
But that may not be the whole reason. Note the following areas are being targeted:
Washington D.C. will be first, followed by (in no particular order):
  • New York;
  • Philadelphia;
  • Boston;
  • Baltimore;
  • Seattle;
  • San Francisco;
  • San Diego;
  • Los Angeles;
  • Sacramento, Calif.; and
  • Portland, Ore.
These areas are highly visible and are more likely to cause a 'buzz' in the news or political media.

The 2008 Malibu Hybrid has an MSRP of $22,790, or about $1,800 more than the more conventional Malibu. With a possible $1,300 tax credit, some people may opt for the hybrid even though you only improve your fuel economy by 2 mpg.

One other side note, the Malibu will be available in 11 states, 3 more than the Nissan Altima Hybrid.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

What Everyone Should Know About the Energy Bill and CAFE Today

US Capitol BuildingThe House of Representatives passed the Energy Bill which will increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) to 35 mpg for cars and trucks by 2020. The vote passed by 235-181.

Automakers in the past few days gave up the fight against the new standards and are now supporting it, saying it's a success for everyone (Ford statement, Toyota statement and the Auto Alliance statement). Mostly, the automakers are happy with getting a different standard set for cars and light trucks.

But Dingell's last minute push to get the NHTSA to administer the rules was rejected. The EPA will be involved in the administration of the new standards.

But there are still many issues with the new bill.

Nissan Exemption
Nissan will continue to receive an exemption for the Nissan Sentra. According to the CAFE standards, both imports and domestics are supposed to meet the current car standards of 27.5 mpg. But because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Sentra, which is built in Mexico, was reclassified as a domestic vehicle, pushing Nissan's imports above the line. In 2005, Nissan gained and exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the 2006 to 2010 model years. That exemption will be pushed into 2013 by the new bill.

The bill is creating a system which allows manufacturers to trade fuel economy credits among its own fleets. Or they can go ahead and sell credits to other manufacturers.

Senate Must Still Pass
As it stands, the renewable energy requirements may hold it up. Supporters needed 60 votes in the Senate to overcome any filibuster attempts. As of this morning, they only had 53 votes. Which means they are now expected to pull out some of those provisions and then send it back to the House.

White House Veto
In the meantime, the White House is already threatening to veto the bill. The White House opposes the 15 percent rule on renewable energy sources by 2020 for utilities and the tax hike (removal of tax breaks) on oil and natural gas companies.

"It appears Congress may intend to produce a bill the President cannot sign," top White House economic advisor Allan Hubbard said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Other Sections of the Energy Bill
The Energy Bill is also calling for a fivefold increase in renewable fuels by 2022, new efficiency standards for light bulbs (say bye-bye to incandescent bulbs), washing machines and dishwashers.

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Hybrid Car Sales, November 2007

hybrid car sales 2004 to 2007Hybrid car sales were up by 82% from last November with a total of 33,233 units sold. Ford, Toyota, and Honda all saw big increases with their biggest sellers. Nissan posted their biggest sales month yet after releasing the Altima Hybrid in February.



Nov-06 Nov-07 % Change


311 204 -34%


2208 3238 47%


2 0 -100%


8008 16737 109%


1667 2577 55%


3100 5118 65%

GS 450h

176 100 -43%

RX 400h

1327 1674 26%


0 170 -


1484 2224 50%


0 1191 -

18283 33233 82%


Cumulative, 2006 Cumulative, 2007 % Change


5235 3255 -38%


28843 29352 2%


719 3 -100%


97680 167009 71%


29131 19261 -34%


27336 49508 81%

GS 450h

1532 1776 16%

RX 400h

18180 15259 -16%


18180 15259 -


20581 22843 11%


0 7424 -

247417 330949 34%

2004 to 2007 Hybrid Car SalesYear to date sales are also up by 34%. Hybrid sales had been down for the first time in August and in September, but jumped up by 30% last month. Accord and Highlander Hybrid sales continue to suffer, year to date, but the top four sellers; Prius, Camry, Civic and Escape/Mariner are all up for the year.

The two months of decreases could be from the changeover in model years, which was especially affecting the Highlander Hybrid. Hybrid Car Sales, November 2007Sluggish sales of the Civic Hybrid contributed as well. But high gas prices have most likely contributed to the quick bounce back.

Toyota continues its dominance of the hybrid car market. 1 out of every 2 hybrids sold last month was a Prius. 4 out of every 5 were from Toyota or Lexus. The other players so far have had limited choices. Honda has retired the Insight and will soon retire the Accord, while Nissan limits sales of the Altima Hybrid to only eight states. Ford also suffers from lack of variety, with only the Escape/Mariner (and soon to be Mazda Tribute) for sale. In other words, they are all the same car with different badging.

GM hybrid car sales (Vue and Aura Hybrids) are not shown for two reasons. First, they don't break out their numbers and second, both cars are considered 'mild' hybrids.

Hybrid Car Sales, October 2007
Hybrid Car Sales, November 2006

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Secret to Hybrid Car Sales

Question MarkWhen it comes to buying a hybrid, there seems to be two main steps for most people. Step one, decide you want to buy a hybrid. Step two, figure out which hybrid you want to buy.

Hybrids have become more and more popular each day, especially as gas prices continue to rise. But not any and all hybrids, and that seems to confuse some people. Just slapping a hybrid badge onto a car won't sell it. Mild hybrids have not been all that successful (aka, the Saturn Aura or Vue). Nor do full hybrids take a pass. Just because you can move the vehicle on electric power, that doesn't mean you're going to sell a lot of them (aka the Honda Accord or Insight).

There are too many choices already on the market for the 'it's a hybrid, therefore it must be good' to work anymore. All you have to do is look at the Accord sales numbers to figure that one out.

Why the Honda Accord Hybrid Failed
The Honda Accord Hybrid started selling in December of 2004. It started off strong, with over 1,000 sold in the first month and quickly jumped up to it's peak point in September of 2005, selling over 2,000 units. In December of 2004, the Accord Hybrid was only the fifth hybrid to hit the market (Prius, Civic, Insight, and Escape/Mariner came before). By October of 2005, the Highlander Hybrid and RX 400h had been added in to the mix with the Camry Hybrid coming in April of 2006. With more options available, sales dropped steeply, never going above 1,000 after October of 2005. Honda recently announced they would stop selling the Accord Hybrid.

But why did it fail? Quite simply, more choices for those who wanted a hybrid car and the fuel economy improvement wasn't there. The manual 2007 Honda Accord is rated at 26 mpg / 34 mpg, while the hybrid gets 28 mpg / 35 mpg. When the price differene (MSRP of $18,625 (base) to $31,090 for the hybrid) for the two versions gets factored in, it's quite easy to see why people aren't choosing the hybrid version.

As an aside, it also makes me wonder quite seriously about how well the Chevy Malibu Hybrid will do once it arrives. An improvement of 2 mpg is almost cosmetic. Even though, by all anecdotal reports so far, the new Malibu is selling well (and I really like the look of it), my guess is the Malibu Hybrid will do just as well as the Accord Hybrid.

Comparison Shopping is Easy
Comparison shopping is easy to do. With over 10 hybrids out there, consumers are showing their preference. And despite it's limitations, the Prius is clearly the favorite. And it's not hard to see why that is. The Prius is:

  • just large enough to be useful (i.e. it's not a two-seater like the Insight, retired by Honda last year),
  • it's not an SUV (which can be a hard sell to the 'greener' consumers who are looking to make a 'difference' when they buy their car),
  • it gets the best fuel economy at 48 mpg / 45 mpg (now that the Insight is gone) and
  • the price isn't outrageous (2008 base model is set at $21,100).
Add it all up and you have a clear choice for most people when they start looking at hybrids.

The second most popular hybrid on the road today is the Camry Hybrid. Consumers sacrifice fuel efficiency (33 mpg/ 34 mpg) for more room for a little more money ($25,000). The Civic Hybrid doesn't fare as well, despite it's better fuel economy. The Civic Hybrid is just a couple of inches longer and wider than the Prius, but it's also a couple of inches shorter. But since it is slightly more expensive than the Prius and is rated just below the Prius in fuel economy at 40 mpg / 45 mpg, it fails the comparison test.

And then there's the Ford Escape/Mariner. It's the most fuel efficient SUV with only a slight price premium, which is almost negated by the federal tax credit (if you qualify). It's also a 'domestic' option, for those consumers who want to buy from home.

Is it Really a Secret?
Put it all together and it's clear why the Prius, Camry and Escape are the winners so far in the hybrid marketplace. Maybe it's just not that big a secret after all.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Saturn Vue Hybrid Begins Production in Mexico

The new hybrid Vue from Saturn began production in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico (Source: GM launches Saturn Vue hybrid production in Mexico - Automotive News). The 2007 Vue Greenline stopped production back in February.

The Vue is a popular testbed for GM to try out the hybrid systems it has. It started as a mild hybrid system, with start-stop technology and regenerative braking, but not much else. The newest incarnation of the hybrid Vue will be based on the two mode hybrid system co-developed by DaimlerChrysler, GM and BMW. GM has also said the Vue will become a plug-in hybrid when the technology for it is developed (in other words, when the batteries are ready).

Vue production started in Mexico back in July. Through November 24, 58,836 Vues have been produced there. The plant has a capacity of 6,500 hybrid Vues annually.

The 2008 Saturn Vue Hybrid will be available in the US in the first weeks of 2008. If it goes on sale in Mexico, it will badged as a Chevy and called Captiva.

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