Friday, May 30, 2008

Update on the Most Fuel Efficient Cars of 2008 List

I've updated the list of the most fuel efficient cars in 2008. If you felt like I had forgotten a vehicle, it may be listed now. Take a look and let me know if I'm still missing any cars that get over 25 mpg combined.

There are now 99 cars that make the cut.

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Toyota Says They Will Not be Building the Prius in the US, Yet

Toyota denied rumors it had decided to create a joint venture with GM to build the Prius stateside at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, CA. (Source: Toyota denies decision on building Prius in U.S. who quoted an article from the daily Tokyo Shimbun)

According to Toyota: "We are always considering the best places for production, but nothing has been decided about producing the Prius at NUMMI,"

A year ago, the Prius and the Camry hybrid had their production separated when the Camry Hybrid production moved to the U.S. That freed up the Prius production to the point where it became one of the top 10 most popular cars in the US. And demand has not been slacking off.

So, if Toyota were to begin producing more Prius locally, it could have big repercussions.

Not to mention the 'joint venture' aspect of working with GM to produce the most popular and most fuel efficient hybrid on the road today.

Major components for the Prius would still need to be imported from Japan, just as they do to the plant in China. So, perhaps it wouldn't create that much more in the way of units. But any increase would still have significant repercussions.

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Dodge Ram Hybrid Confirmed for 2010

Dodge Ram Going Hybrid in 2010Dodge will produce a hybrid powertrain for the Ram along with a diesel engine by 2010. Mike Accavitti, director of Dodge brand and SRT marketing confirmed the new models.

The hybrid version will be a two-mode hybrid system, just as will be introduced in the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen.

Chrysler set up their ENVI division (short for environment) last year. But they co-developed the dual mode hybrid system with GM and BMW. So, the same powertrain found in the new two-mode hybrids from GM are just taking longer to get into their Chrysler bodies.

GM has already come out with two full sized hybrids, the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrid. Neither has sold too well, yet, but it's unclear whether that's a supply or a demand issue. Improving a full sized SUV to over 20 mpg is quite a feat, but it may be 20 mpg just isn't cutting it with today's high fuel prices.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jaguar and Land Rover Move to Hybrids and Diesels

Jaguar and Land Rover are moving to sell hybrid models within the next five years. The new hybrid models will use their next generation engines, a 3.0-litre V6 diesel and a direct-injection 5.0-litre V8, to be launched late next year.

Land Rover is thinking about starting with a 3.0 litre V6 diesel Range Rover Discovery 3, Ranger Rover Sport, Jaguar XF and Jaguar XJ; possibly going on sale by 2010. They expect to boost fuel economy by 10 percent utilizing start-stop technology.

They are also experimenting with a mild hybrid using a super capacitor that uses regenerative braking and an eight speed ZF gearbox. Again, the thought is the new vehicle could go on sale by 2010.

And another possibility being floated; Land Rover is considering ZF's Dynastart electric motor to replace the torque convertor, currently being outfitted for the S-Class mercedes. This one could be a mild or a full hybrid, available by 2012 in the XJ. Land Rover is looking at a rear-mounted 'Electric Rear Axle Drive' electric motor

And to top it all off, Land Rover is thinking about developing an 'range extended hybrid electric vehicle (REHEV). In other words, a plug-in hybrid.

Source: Autocar - Hybrid blitz for Jaguar/Land Rover found via: electricpig

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Volkswagen and Sanyo to Produce Lithium-Ion Batteries

Volkswagen paired up with Sanyo Electric Co. in a joint venture to produce lithium-ion batteries through 2015.

Sanyo will spend $767 million on the production of the new batteries. Cost include a new factory. They hope to have mass production begin in 2009. As of right now, the location for the factory is undecided.

Volkswaqen will produce a new hybrid vehicle, an Audi AG, by 2010 which will utilize the new battery type.

Sanyo estimates a worldwide demand for lithium-ion batteries of 4 to 4.5 million units in 2015. Sanyo hopes to capture 40 percent of that market. The new factory will allow Sanyo to produce lithium-ion batteries for 1.7 to 1.8 million hybrid cars a year with a production value of 10 million cells a month.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hybrids Gain in Popularity in Hawaii

Prius in HawaiiHawaii is a tough place to own a car. They're more expensive (everything's imported) and gas is more expensive. Then there's the cost to remove the car at the end (exporting is just as expensive as importing). When I visited Hawaii a few years ago, the tour driver explained to us how people would abandon their cars on the side of the road, rather than pay to have it taken care of.

But with the price of gas, hybrid sales have increased dramatically through the first quarter. 371 new hybrid vehicles were registered in Hawaii during the first quarter of the year. That's an 8 percent increase from last year.

Through the first seven months of 2007, only the state of Hawaii showed a decline in registrations. Of course, with the trouble Hawaii goes through to import cars, it's hard to tell if hybrids really are popular in Hawaii.

Photo from flickr by hellochris.

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GM is Lobbying for Tax Breaks on Chevy Volt

Chevy VoltGM is pushing hard for a tax break on plug-in hybrid cars. With the onset of the Chevy Volt in 2010, GM is hoping a tax break will cut costs to the consumer. And that's not a small thing when recent estimates put the final price tag close to $40,000.

With extensive design issues and technological question marks, the cost to develop the Chevy Volt has been extensive.

GM is pushing for a $7,000 tax break. That sort of savings could make or break the Volt, as hybrid tax credits helped get Toyota and Honda out of the low production numbers and into a high production fight to reduce cost. But still, when you compare the Volt against the Prius, you come away with one big question. Is plugging in worth an extra $10 grand?

Without a significant tax break, GM may sell the Volt at closer to $30,000, but due so at a significant loss. GM has publicly stated they are ready to lose money on the Volt in order to regain their public image.

The House did set up a bill to create a tax break of $3,000 for plug-in hybrids like the Volt, but it's unlikely to pass the Senate or be passed into law by Bush. The next president and Senate may have a different take on a tax incentive for plug-ins, however.

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Americans Are Driving at Historic Lows

American Travel in Millions of Vehicle Miles in MarchContinuing a trend that began in November, Americans are driving less, a lot less, than they did a year ago according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) (report, pdf). How much less? Eleven billion miles less in March 2008 than they did in March of 2007.

That's a 4.3 percent drop. It's the first time traffic fell for the month of March since 1979 and it's the sharpest drop in recorded history.

You can see the level has been leveling off the past few years in the graph created using data from the report (see link above).

February actually showed a 1 billion mile increase, but cumulative mileage since November 2006 has shown a 17.3 billion mile drop.

The estimated data show that VMT on all U.S. public roads have dropped since 2006. The FHWA's Traffic Monitoring Analysis System (TMAS) computes VMT for all types of motor vehicles (motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks) on the nation's public roads. These data are collected through over 4,000 automatic traffic recorders operated round-the-clock by state highway agencies. More comprehensive data are published in the FHWA's "Highway Statistics" at the end of each year.

It's not hard to guess at why people are driving less, either.

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Some Hard Figures on Hybrid Battery Replacement

Although hybrid batteries are covered under the warranty for 100,000 miles (150,000 miles in California and a few other states), fears of battery failure abound. Rumors fly around on how much hybrid battery packs cost on hybrids. I've also seen some interesting ideas about how to 'recondition' the battery. And there's a minor market going on at E-bay selling hybrid battery packs.

Both Toyota and Honda have said they expect the battery packs to last 'the life of the car.' But when you seriously begin to consider whether to buy a used hybrid car, you start wondering a great deal about how long a lifetime really is.

But now we have some hard figures on how much it would cost you to replace the battery pack, if it fails beyond the warranty period. We also have some hard numbers on how many failures Toyota and Honda have seen.

Failure Rate of Hybrid Battery Packs
Honda says fewer than 200 of their 100,000 hybrids (0.2%) have had their battery fail after the warranty expired. Toyota says their battery failure rate (after warranty) for their second generation Prius (2004 model year and up) is 0.003 percent which equates to 1 every 40,000. The first generation Prius had a failure rate of 1 percent post warranty.

If we take a look at the worldwide sales of Prius, we can figure out (approximately) how many Prius have seen a failure post-warranty:
Pre-2004, Toyota sold around 153,000 Prius. At a failure rate of 1 percent, around 1530 Prius saw battery failures post-warranty.
2004-current, Toyota sold 767,800 Prius. At a failure rate of .0003 percent, around 23 have had a battery failure post-warranty.

Of course, you need to keep in mind the pre-2004 Prius have been on the road longer and therefore have had a better chance of reaching post-warranty time.

Hybrid Battery Replacement Cost
On June 1, Honda is cutting it's replacement costs from $3,400 to $1,968 (excluding installation costs) for a Insight up to $2,440 on an Accord Hybrid. Toyota is also looking to cut it's $3,000 replacement costs (excluding installation cost). Originally, replacement costs were around $5,500.

So, while costs are coming down, it's still not an easy sell. When you may be paying $2 thousand or more to replace a significant car part on a used vehicle, you would be wise to think seriously about that. But given the low failure rates on the latest models, plus the increase in battery plants, which will likely lead to further cost reductions in the next few years, you may feel your fears have eased a little bit.

Source: Hybrids: The High Cost of Low Batteries

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Toyota Expands Battery Production in Japan

Toyota, partnered with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., will build a third battery plant in Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan. The joint venture, Panasonic EV Energy Co., will produce 200 thousand batteries annually at full production.

The new plant will begin production in 2010 and will cost $289 million to build.

What's surprising is the new plant will build nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries. With lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries on the horizon, it's surprising to me they would invest so heavily in a Ni-MH battery plant. That will certainly help in the short term as Toyota, so far, has said they will be sticking with Ni-MH in the next generation Prius. But, it's also been said they will switch to Li-Ion when they can.

Panasonic EV is 60 percent owned by Toyota, based in central Japan's Toyota City. Matsushita, the world's largest consumer electronics maker, owns a 40 percent stake. Panasonic EV currently has two plants capable of producing 500,000 battery packs a year, with another in the works that will be capable of producing another 300,000.

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Chevy May Ramp up Production of Malibu Hybrids

Chevy Malibu HybridGM is considering adding a third shift to their Orion plant, which has already seen a substantial growth in it's production. GM has seen a 110 percent growth in sales of the Chevy Malibu and a 36 percent increase in the Pontiac G6, which are currently built at the Orion plant.

GM's U.S. dealers had a 36-day supply of Malibus at the beginning of May, which was substantially lower than inventories for all other GM vehicles, according to Automotive News.
The Malibu Hybrid is currently built in Fairfax, Kansas. But, given the current state of gas prices leading to an increasing interest in hybrids, GM is now looking to expand the Orion plant to build the hybrid Malibu as well.

The local union is hoping for an announcement from GM on expanding the plant by September.

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Ford Escape Hybrid Lifeguard VehicleAs previously mentioned, Ford has begun sending Ford Escape Hybrids to the Los Angeles County Lifeguards to patrol the beaches along the southern California coastline. The first 10 of 45 hybrids have been delivered.

An unmodified Ford Escape Hybrid is rated to get 34 mpg city/ 30 mpg highway, but the four-wheel-drive models are rated slightly lower at 29/27.

Mike Frazer, chief, Lifeguard Services, Los Angeles County Fire Department was impressed by the Escape's ability on the sand.

"The switch from a pickup to an SUV was something new to us, but when Ford brought the Escape Hybrid down to the beach, we were amazed at how well it performed," he said.

The SUV needed some modifications to handle all of the equipment needed by a lifeguard. 60 percent of the back seat was removed and replaced with a rescue equipment storage unit - an aluminum box with specially designated spaces for important emergency equipment, such as defibrillators, trauma boxes and oxygen tanks.

The center console was replaced with a radio rack that keeps all of their equipment lined up and organized. Designers also put in a custom-fit roof rack for the lifeguards' paddle board and spine board, and easy-to-clean rubber floor mats and cargo liners.

Press Release follows:

LOS ANGELES, May 23 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Ford Motor Company (NYSE:
F) is teaming up with the Los Angeles County Lifeguards, a division of the
Los Angeles County Fire Department, to help save lives while protecting the
environment. Today, Ford presented the squad with the first 10 of a fleet
of 45 eco-friendly Escape Hybrids with Intelligent four-wheel-drive,
specially equipped for use on rescue patrol along 72 miles of Southern
California coastline.

"We are the largest lifeguard organization in the world, and we have
always blazed the trail for the profession," said Mike Frazer, chief,
Lifeguard Services, Los Angeles County Fire Department. "We wanted to be
the first public safety agency in the country to go green."

"This continues the Escape Hybrid's impressive string of endorsements,"
said Hal Dewsnap, California regional sales manager for Ford Motor Company.
"In addition to being clean and fuel-efficient, the Escape Hybrid is highly
functional and durable, proven in hundreds of thousands of miles in taxi
service in New York and San Francisco. Now, we are adding lifeguard duty to
the list."

There is no better vehicle for that assignment than the world's most
fuel- efficient SUV. The front-wheel-drive Ford Escape Hybrid returns 34
mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway. Intelligent four-wheel-drive
models, like the ones used by the lifeguards, return 29 mpg city and 27

"The Escape Hybrid is one of the cleanest vehicles available today,"
added Freeman Thomas, Ford Design Director whose studio developed the
design of the Lifeguard vehicles. "It meets California's strict Partial
Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) standard. To put it in a California summer
context, it releases fewer smog-forming emissions into the atmosphere
during a three-hour drive (about 180 miles) than grilling one hamburger in
your back yard."

Frazer says he knew that the Escape Hybrid was an ideal choice from an
environmental standpoint, but he admits to having some initial reservations
about whether an SUV would function as well on the beach as the compact
pickup trucks the lifeguards were used to driving.

"The switch from a pickup to an SUV was something new to us, but when
Ford brought the Escape Hybrid down to the beach, we were amazed at how
well it performed," he said, adding that he was particularly surprised by
the vehicle's ability to navigate through the sand without getting stuck.

With the Escape Hybrid, Frazer says he was also able to make more
precise turns, enjoy extra headroom (he's 6'5") and gain greater
visibility, which is a huge safety plus on the beach.

"We need to be able to see as much as possible because there's so much
activity on the beach, especially in the summertime," he said. "When we're
responding to a rescue, we want to get there quickly and safely."

Shortly after that initial field test, a team of designers from Ford's
Irvine studio visited the beach to do a little "guerrilla research," says
Ford designer Jeff Nield.

"These people save lives, so this was not just an exercise in styling,"
said Nield. "We wanted to design features for them that are functional and
could potentially save them valuable time in an emergency situation."

Careful inspection of the previous trucks the lifeguards were using
revealed various makeshift storage areas for critical equipment.

"What happened in the past is that different lifeguards would set
vehicles up differently, so if you worked at one beach and then got called
in a crisis to another location, you would have to search to find the
emergency tools you needed because the storage area was not standardized,"
he said.

The Ford designers decided to remove 60 percent of the rear seat on the
driver's side and replace it with a rescue equipment storage unit - an
aluminum box with specially designated spaces for important emergency
equipment, such as defibrillators, trauma boxes and oxygen tanks.

The remaining 40 percent of the seat was left intact in case the
lifeguards had to transport someone, such as a lost child.

According to Ford Design Project Manager, Greg Hutting, the lifeguards'
multiple radios also presented the design team with a challenge.

"In the previous vehicle, they had three or four different radios
pushed wherever they had room," he said. "We pulled out the center console
and replaced it with a radio rack that keeps all of their equipment lined
up and organized."

Ford designers also outfitted the Escape Hybrids with a custom-fit roof
rack for the lifeguards' paddle board and spine board, and easy-to-clean
rubber floor mats and cargo liners.

When it came to the exterior, Nield says it was important to make the
vehicle look "fresh but not trendy." The vehicles were painted a vibrant
yellow - iconic for lifeguards - and then detailed with authoritative
graphics and finished off with dark wheels.

"We really pushed to make the vehicle look as rugged as possible," said

Frazer says he couldn't be more pleased. "The vehicles look amazing,
they perform great and they are hybrids, so they are good for the
environment," he said. "It's a win, win, win situation for us."

It's also a win for Ford Motor Company.

"The lifeguards are going to be pushing these vehicles to the limit,
and they need the best vehicle to get the job done," added Nield. "They had
choices, and they chose the Ford Escape Hybrid."

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Insurance for Hybrid Drivers in Massachusetts Just Got Better

Hybrid car sales have ballooned the past few years, and that's especially true in certain states, such as California and Massachusetts. Because hybrids cost more to buy, insurance rates are usually a bit higher, too. But owning a hybrid in Mass just got a little beat easier. Hybrid car owners are being offered a 10 percent discount by Travelers Insurance.

Press Release Follows:

WORCESTER, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Massachusetts drivers are increasingly going green as the number of registered hybrid vehicles in the state has increased by 36 percent during the past nine months. The timing couldn’t be better for those drivers as the state’s new managed competition system for auto insurance allows them, for the first time in state history, to take advantage of auto insurance discounts created especially for hybrid drivers from insurers such as Travelers of Massachusetts.

According to the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, there are currently 22,353 registered hybrid cars in Massachusetts, up from 16,477 in July of 2007, for an increase of 36 percent. Hybrid cars are generally defined as vehicles that use gasoline and an alternative fuel source such as electric or fuel cell.

Travelers introduced the hybrid discount option to stay ahead of one of the fastest-growing markets in the industry. Providing the right insurance solutions that are in-synch with today’s environmentally conscious individuals is one way Travelers of Massachusetts is meeting the needs of its customers.

“Travelers of Massachusetts is pleased to offer a discount up to 10 percent on auto insurance to Massachusetts’ hybrid drivers,” said Dick Welch, president of Travelers of Massachusetts. “Ever since Travelers wrote the nation’s first automobile policy back in 1897, the company has been committed to meeting the evolving needs of the consumer with innovative insurance products. Protecting the environment and conserving natural resources are important principles to us and Travelers of Massachusetts is proud to do our part to encourage the use of fuel efficient vehicles.”

To learn more about the hybrid discount, Travelers has launched a Web site specifically for hybrid enthusiasts at The site features federal and state incentives for hybrid owners and information on how to take advantage of the hybrid discount.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lexus May Get a Dedicated Hybrid or Two

There has been talk over the years that Lexus would go all hybrid eventually, but now there's word Toyota wants to make a dedicated hybrid (or two) for the Lexus brand.

A dedicated hybrid would not have a gas-only counterpart, as most hybrids today do. As of today, only the Toyota Prius is a dedicated hybrid, which is part of the reason hybrid and Prius have become synonymous.

Honda has plans to bring a dedicated 'global' hybrid out in 2009, to replace the Insight and Accord hybrids they retired. At times, Honda has been rumored to say the new dedicated hybrid will be a Prius killer, so that would be something.

In the meantime, Lexus is going to expand the hybrid line-up with a premium version of the Prius (possible price tag in the $30,000+ range), as well as a midsize crossover. A new Lexus hybrid may be at the Detroit Auto Show in 2009, but it's unclear which one it will be, if either of them. It may feature a lithium-ion battery pack, which would be something new for Toyota, since the next generation Prius will arrive with Nickel Metal Hydride battery packs.

The dedicated hybrid from Lexus may be arriving in 2010, with the other one coming in 2011.

Source: IL Insider: Lexus Mulls Two Dedicated Hybrid Vehicles

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Senate Bill Would Override EPA Denial of California

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill which would allow California et al to begin regulating tailpipe emissions (in other words, set mpg standards) by 2016 despite being denied a waiver by the EPA. The vote to pass (10-9) was split along party lines with the Democrats winning the battle, although one Senator from each side defected.

It's unlikely this bill will go any farther, and even if it did, Bush would be unlikely to sign it into law and embarress the EPA.

Despite the many quotes on the matter, there are no new arguments being presented. The automakers oppose the bill because California wants to set higher limits than the federal government. They don't want to meet a state-by-state rules.

A similar bill in the House hasn't even made it past scheduling a hearing, yet.

But, the House did pass a bill extending tax breaks for plug-in hybrids. Up to $3,000 per vehicle customer tax credit was included. Although such a proposal was part of the Energy Bill, it was stripped out last time around.

Source: Senate committee OKs tailpipe bill

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

CBS Turns to Hypermiler Expert

Wayne Gerdes, 'champion' of hypermiling techniques who runs was tested by the Early Show on CBS. In a short little jaunt from Chicago to New York driving a Prius, he doubled the fuel economy of their challenger (normal driver from the crew).

The challenger used about 20 gallons of gas, with a fantastic average of 45 mpg. Too bad for him he was up against Wayne, who only used 8.9 gallons, for an average of 71 mpg!

See the tips Wayne passed along to the Early Show viewers: Double Your Gas Mileage By "Hypermiling" - CBS News

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AT&T Increases Alternative Fuel Fleet

AT&T is adding 105 alternative fuel vehicles to their fleet, including 80 hybrids beginning in June. AT&T is hoping to reduce their impact on the environment and its dependence on imported oil by switching to alternative technologies.

The technologies being evaluated are the aforementioned hybrids and 25 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vans. The hybrid vehicles will include 65 electric hybrid Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) vehicles -- Ford Escapes and Toyota Priuses -- and 15 electric hybrid conversion work trucks.

AT&T will evaluate each type of vehicle on its fuel efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, operating costs, performance and driver satisfaction of each vehicle.

"Reducing our fleet's petroleum fuel consumption and operating costs is a top priority," said Jerome Webber, vice president of Fleet Operations, AT&T Services Inc. "Even the smallest improvement in fuel use, when applied across our corporate fleet, can make a significant impact for the environment and for our business. That's why we're committed to identifying smart ways to improve the efficiency of our fleet and to exploring advancement with alternative-fuel technologies."

AT&T had started using four Ford Escape Hybrids in 2007. They estimate that use of these vehicles will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 124 metric tons and conserve nearly 34,395 gallons of fuel annually.

The CNG vans are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 30 percent compared with traditional gasoline vans. The electric hybrid OEM vehicles are expected to offer a 39 percent improvement in fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent. The electric hybrid conversion work trucks are expected to offer a 38 percent improvement in fuel economy compared with similar gasoline-powered vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent.

AT&T has implemented a few other measures to increase cost savings and fuel efficiency in their fleet of vehicles. They include the use of a Daily Best Fuel Price tool, which allows drivers to check the cheapest fuel stations within their assigned route, and the planned implementation of an idling-reduction policy.

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Honda CEO Talks About New Hybrid for 2009

Honda CEO Takeo Fukui talked about the new dedicated hybrid from Honda due out next year. Despite having the first hybrid on the road in the US, Honda has had to retire two of it's three hybrid cars in the past few years (Accord and Insight), leaving just the Civic Hybrid in the Honda fleet of hybrids.

Next year will see big changes, however. Following the success of the Prius, Honda is hoping a dedicated hybrid sedan will see the same sort of sales. The new hybrid sedan will be a five-door, and seat five passengers, making it a more practical choice, unlike the two-seater Insight. It will also emphasize fuel economy, unlike the Accord hybrid.

The new hybrid will be introduced in Japan, North America and Europe and Honda is targeting sales of 200,000 units a year globally.

At the same time, Fukui stressed the premium for hybrid technology has to be kept under 200,000 yen (US$1,900; euro1,200). That's good news for potential buyers.

"The 200,000 yen difference is a must," said Fukui. "If we could shrink the price gap to less than 200,000 yen, then hybrids can compete with conventional cars" based on their lower fuel consumption.

Honda also has plans to expand their hybrid fleet with a new Civic Hybrid, a CR-Z type sports hybrid, and a Fit subcompact (Jazz in Europe) hybrid sometime between 2010 and 2015.

Honda is still using nickel metal hydride batteries and plans to keep it that way for now.

Honda has plans to sell 500,000 hybrids a year sometime after 2010.

More Details from Honda on Their Global Hybrid

  • Honda will release a name for its global hybrid later this year.
  • They have reduced cost in their Integrated Motor Assist components.
  • It will be produced at Honda's Suzuka factory in Japan along with the Civic Hybrid.
  • Expect 200,000 units per year in sales, half in North America.
  • Hybrid production capacity at Suzuka will increase from 70,000 vehicles per year to approximately 250,000 units, with future expansion possible if needed. Which means they expect to sell 50,000 units of the Civic Hybrid?
  • The battery and internal processing unit will be positioned below the rear cargo area, freeing up area in the hatchback area for storage.
  • Various technologies, including a function to assist more fuel efficient driving, are being installed
  • Expect it to be the best value in its segment.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

KBB Adds a Couple of Hybrids to its 2008 Best New Road Trip Vehicles

The Toyota Prius and Chevy Tahoe Hybrid made the cut in KBB's latest list: 2008 Best New Road Trip Vehicles.

KBB (Kelley Blue Book) looked at factors that would "enhance any long drive, such as driving enjoyment, passenger comfort, cargo space and of course, fuel economy." Obviously the last option puts the Prius onto any list, while the enhanced fuel economy is a bonus to the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid's passenger comfort and space.

The Chevy Malibu made the list, but not the hybrid version. I guess the mild hybrid Malibu just doesn't make a big enough difference to enhance the quality of the trip.

According to Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book's "While the current high fuel prices did influence our list, we also included a couple of cost-no-object choices."

The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid
While the Tahoe Hybrid's highway fuel economy rating of 22 mpg is only 2 mpg better than that of its gas-only counterpart (the hybrid's bigger advantage is in city driving), it's nevertheless the most fuel-friendly full-size SUV on the road and provides seating for eight, plenty of cargo solutions and the ability to tow your boat to the lake.

Toyota Prius
The iconic Prius doesn't just deliver the best highway mileage of virtually anything on four wheels, it also features a flexible hatchback design and enough interior volume to qualify as a mid-size vehicle.

The full list of 2008 Best New Road Trip Vehicles:

  • Audi S5
  • Ford Flex
  • Bugatti Veyron
  • Infiniti EX35
  • Chevrolet Malibu
  • MINI Cooper Clubman
  • Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
  • Toyota Prius
  • Dodge Grand Caravan
  • Volkswagen Eos

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Holden Hybrid Commodore Available in Next Two Years

Holden CommodoreHolden will offer a hybrid version of it's Commodore within the next two years. The new hybrid would cost around 15 percent more than a standard version of the car. It's unclear whether the Commodore will come as a full or mild hybrid.

Holden and Toyota are looking for incentives from the Australian government to help sell hybrid technology which costs more than standard vehicle powertrains.

"Hybrids still don't make economic sense unless they have significant incentives," General Motors Asia-Pacific boss Nick Reilly said.

"We've just put our submission in to the Government on the car industry, and we've said they should offer consumer incentives for green cars."

Reilly said they are also considering a turbo-diesel Commodore as well as a turbo-charged four cylinder version. It's unclear which will arrive first.

"It's more a matter of 'How long does the engineering take?' rather than whether hybrid is more important than diesel," he said.

Holden, a part of GM, is located in Australia.

Source: Holden offers hybrid sedan | Herald Sun

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Chrysler Extends Gas Price Protection

Chrysler has decided to extend the gas price protection beyond the month of May and on until July 7. If you elect to lock in, you will be buying gas at $2.99 a gallon for the next three years. The guarantee covers 12,000 miles a year. It covers most of the Chrysler line-up.

Customers receive a credit card about six weeks after they buy their car. The credit cars can be used at most gas stations. No matter what the sign says, the owner only pays $2.99 a gallon.

Concern over high gas prices has been driving a lot of vehicle purchases lately and Chrysler is worried their cars are being overlooked. Now Chrysler has taken that out of the question for potential car buyers (see chart on how much you might save if you do choose to buy a Chrysler).

The latest comprehensive EPA figures — from 2007, when Chrysler was part of DaimlerChrysler — show DaimlerChrysler vehicles with fleet fuel economy of 22.7 mpg, the worst of any of the eight major automakers operating in the United States. Source: Autonews.
Chrysler set a hedge on gas prices (it's unknown how much they paid for it) in case gas prices do soar.

Chrysler has seen mixed but positive results depending on the model of car ("the highest take rates have been on the new Dodge Journey crossover, Dodge Caliber, Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring sedan."). Also, a national promotion has just begun and a lot of local dealers were holding off until the national promotion began before they started. But interest in Chrysler itself has risen, with the Chrysler site seeing a 25% increase, with a 34% increase in internet leads.

According to this story from autonews, the idea for the promotion came from car dealers, not from the executives.

Press Release

AUBURN HILLS, Mich., May 19 /PRNewswire/ -- Chrysler LLC today extended
to July 7 the Let's Refuel America $2.99 gas guarantee program, which
offers customers the opportunity to lock in their gasoline purchases at
$2.99 a gallon for three years, up to 36,000 miles. The program was
launched on May 7 for the month of May only, but extended for a second
month in response to dealer and customer demand for additional time.

Even before the full impact of the national and local advertising has
been realized, the Let's Refuel America program already has created a high
level of word-of-mouth consumer awareness, with increased traffic coming
into Chrysler's 3,511 dealerships and onto its Web sites. After one week,
Chrysler's Web site activity is up 25 percent versus the previous week,
with internet leads increasing by 34 percent.

"Customers and dealers across America have told us they like the gas
guarantee incentive option, so we are providing a second month for shoppers
to take advantage of it," said Jim Press, Chrysler LLC Vice-Chairman and
President. "Let's Refuel America, the Lifetime Powertrain Warranty and the
New Day Packages are all examples of our commitment to deliver more value
and peace-of-mind to our customers."

Let's Refuel America Program Details

Through July 7, Let's Refuel America is available on virtually all
Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge compact vehicles, SUVs, sedans, minivans, and
pickup trucks, including its five vehicles that get 28 mpg on the highway
for an MSRP under $20,000. Not included in the program are the company's
high-performance vehicles such as the Dodge Viper, Dodge Challenger,
Chrysler Crossfire, and the entire SRT(R) lineup as well as the Dodge
Sprinter, Dodge Ram Chassis Cab and Jeep Wrangler.

Customers who purchase or lease an eligible Chrysler, Jeep or Dodge
vehicle have a choice of one of three incentive packages of similar value:
Cash back; 0 percent financing (for eligible customers); or the gas
guarantee program, which on some vehicles also includes up to $3,000
additional cash back. Only the Let's Refuel America incentive grows in
value if gas prices rise. Upon purchase, customers can evaluate the three
options with their dealer representative to determine which incentive best
meets their personal financial preference and tolerance for risk related to
rising gas prices.

"What our customers and dealers like best about this program is the
flexibility of three incentive options, each with a unique benefit," Press
said. "Some customers need cash back immediately for a down payment; others
don't like paying high interest rates; and many are tired of worrying about
rising gas prices and want to be protected. We are pleased to offer every
customer a choice of what's best for their individual situation."

Customers who select the Let's Refuel America $2.99 gas guarantee
program will receive a gas card (linked back to their own Visa or
MasterCard) that is valid at 97 percent of gas stations in the United
States. Purchases at the gas stations will be for the full price being
charged that day, but only $2.99 per gallon will be billed back to the
customers' credit card. Chrysler picks up the rest, regardless of how high
gas prices rise.

Initial Results

After the May 7 launch of Let's Refuel America and before the full
impact of the advertising has been realized, the highest take rates have
been on the new Dodge Journey crossover, Dodge Caliber, Dodge Avenger and
Chrysler Sebring sedan.

"The most incremental incentives in this gas program are on the
company's most fuel-efficient vehicles, which typically do not have this
level of incentive available," Press said. "Our customers who buy smaller
vehicles put great value on being protected against rising gas prices."

From a geographical perspective, the highest take rates have been in
the states of California, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington. These
five states are among the 12 highest fuel price states in the country.

"We are pleased that Let's Refuel America seems to resonate with many
Americans during this time of gas price volatility," Press said.

From a marketing perspective, Let's Refuel America is supported by
national television spots, Dodge Journey ads tagged with the program
information and national print, radio and Internet presence.

Fuel Economy Solutions

Chrysler currently offers six models that get better than 28
miles-per-gallon on the highway: Chrysler Sebring, Chrysler Sebring
Convertible, Dodge Avenger, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot and Dodge Caliber.
Through April, these six models combined have higher sales than in the
first four months of 2007.

The recently launched 2009 Dodge Journey comes with an available
173-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, helping it achieve best-in-class fuel

The Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel 3.0-liter engine provides a
class-leading driving range of approximately 450 miles and gets an
estimated fuel economy of 18 mpg/city and 23 mpg/highway for 4x2 models and
17 mpg/city and 22 mpg/highway for 4x4 models. Outside of North America,
where fuel-saving diesel engines are in higher demand, Chrysler offers 17
models with diesel powertrains.

This fall, Chrysler will launch in the United States, two new hybrid
SUVs -- the Dodge Durango Hybrid and Chrysler Aspen Hybrid -- boasting a
fuel economy improvement of more than 25 percent overall and 40 percent in
the city. In 2010, the Dodge Ram Hybrid will reach the market.

Chrysler currently is in the midst of a $3 billion powertrain
investment offensive to develop new fuel-efficient powertrains and axles
for its next-generation models.

Chrysler is committed to doing its share in meeting the nation's energy
and environmental needs. Recently, Chrysler joined the U.S. Climate Action
Partnership, to help find solutions to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Customer Advisory Board

In February, Chrysler created the industry's first Customer Advisory
Board to encourage a direct dialogue with customers and gather insight and
feedback. A recent Advisory Board survey generated the following results:

-- 76 percent of the community is "very concerned" or "extremely
concerned" about fuel prices.
-- 83 percent of the community responded that fuel prices will affect
their summer vacation plans.
(Note: the poll shows that 19 percent responded "extremely," 22 percent
responded "very much," 30 percent responded "somewhat," and 12 percent
responded slightly, 17 percent responded that it won't affect their

Program Development (As told by Mike Keegan, Chrysler LLC Vice
President Volume Planning and Dealer Operations)

As part of our constant pursuit of innovative ways to deliver value to
customers, Chrysler's incentive group put together a brainstorm session to
create the next important incentive program that would tap into consumers'
needs. In early March we hosted 25 Sales and F & I managers from our
dealerships across the country in Detroit for meetings at the Royal Park
Hotel in Rochester, Michigan. The first night the group got together at the
Walter P. Chrysler Museum to soak up Chrysler culture and history. It was
the first time we ever invited this group in and they were very
enthusiastic. We told them we really want to hear from you since you are
the closest to our customers. Tell us what their concerns are. They were
separated into two groups with each group responsible for presenting three
ideas each at the end of the day.

Both groups identified customer concern about the volatility of rising
gas prices as a top issue in the marketplace today and suggested we find a
way to alleviate customers concerns. These managers were really ahead of
the curve, as the rise of gas prices had not yet become the national news
story it is today. They really had the pulse of the market.

So we at Chrysler left with our assignment and immediately created a
30-40 person working group of Marketing, Sales, Incentives, IT, Legal, and
Finance people that met every day for the next two months. The meetings
were 5 pm every day conference calls, where each group reported out their

Because we were doing something that had never been done before, there
were hundreds of speed bumps along the way, but the team spirit drove a
"how do we solve it" attitude with a commitment to working through
challenges and not giving up. That is in the DNA of Chrysler, whether we
are inventing the minivan, Viper, PT Cruiser or the Lifetime Powertrain
Warranty. We were especially focused on making sure it would be a seamless
process for the customer, which took a great deal of IT work. It is very
exciting to have launched the program and to have gotten such a rousing
reception from dealers and customers.

Going forward, we will continue to look for innovative ways to deliver
value and satisfy the needs of our customers.

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Colorado Opens up HOV to Hybrid Cars

Interstate 25, ColoradoColorado hybrid car owners will be happy to note they can begin applying for a permit to enter the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) and High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. Anyone who gets the permit will be able to use them on Interstate 25 Express Lanes, U.S. 36 Santa Fe Drive and State Highway 82 HOV lanes.

Only 2,000 permits will be issued initially through a lottery system. You can apply through May 31 online, through the mail and in person. The permits will be issued in mid-June. The federal mandate, unless extended, allows hybrids access until September 30, 2009.

Those receiving the permits will get a decal and they will be required to obtain an ExpressToll transponder. The transponder is required for use by CDOT to keep track of how the hybrid cars are affecting the lanes. If it is determined that a serious degradation in the flow of traffic is occurring because of the added vehicles, the permits may be revoked.

CDOT requires the hybrid vehicle owner's name, the license plate number, the vehicle identification number of the hybrid vehicle and the hybrid vehicle make and year as a condition to obtaining a permit.

Source: CDOT to issue permits for hybrid HOV use - The Denver Post. Photo from flickr by pbo31.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Toyota Breaks Through the Million Prius Mark

As of June, 2007, Toyota estimated it had sold one million hybrids worldwide. Then, back in January, 2008, someone figured out one million hybrids had been sold in the US. Now Toyota wants you to know they have sold 1 million Prius worldwide since it was launched in Japan in 1997.

In that first year, they sold a few hundred. Already through April of 2008, they have sold over 107,000, with over sixty six thousand occurring here in the US.

Toyota estimates they have emitted approximately 4.5 million tons of CO2 less when compared with gasoline-powered vehicles in the same class and of similar size and driving performance.

Press Release Follows:

Tokyo — TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION (TMC) announced today that worldwide cumulative sales of the Toyota Prius—the world's first mass-produced gasoline/electric hybrid vehicle—have passed the 1 million mark, with approximately 1,028,000 units sold as of the end of April this year*1. Currently, Prius sales are robust in more than 40 countries and regions, particularly in Japan and North America.

Based on sales figures collected up to April 30, 2008, TMC believes that Prius vehicles worldwide have contributed to a reduction in CO2 emissions (considered a cause of global warming) by producing approximately 4.5 million tons*2 less CO2 when compared with gasoline-powered vehicles in the same class and of similar size and driving performance.

The Prius was launched in Japan in 1997 and began selling in Europe, North America and other markets in 2000. In 2005, Toyota began first overseas production of the Prius in Changchun, China, and sales of Prius vehicles in South Korea are expected to begin in the latter half of 2009.

In 2003, the second-generation Prius, equipped with the Toyota Hybrid System II, was introduced with improved environmental performance and power. In August 2007, Prius G, S and S "Standard Package" Japan models achieved a fuel efficiency of 29.6km/l in the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport's newly introduced JC08 test cycle. (The Prius S and S "Standard Package" models achieved 35.5km/l in the older 10-15 test cycle.) The Prius is also one of the first vehicles to meet the new 2015 Japanese fuel efficiency standards set out under the Law Concerning the Rational Use of Energy.

As part of its high-priority environment-management policies, Toyota has made a concerted effort to promote and popularize hybrid technology, chiefly through the Prius. And as hybrid technology can be applied to a wide range of vehicles, Toyota aims to sell 1 million or more hybrid vehicles annually as early as possible in the 2010s.

Toyota Prius Sales (Unit = 1,000 vehicles)
1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 Jan.- Apr.
Total 0.3 17.7 15.2 19.5 29.0 28.1 43.2 125.7 175.2 185.6 281.3 107.1 1,027.7
Japan 0.3 17.7 15.2 12.5 11.0 6.7 17.0 59.8 43.7 48.6 58.3 24.2 315.0
Overseas 0 0 0 6.5 18.5 21.4 26.1 66.0 131.5 137.0 223.0 82.9 712.7
5.8 16.0 20.3 24.9 55.9 109.9 109.0 183.8 66.1 591.6
Europe 0.7 2.3 0.8 0.9 8.1 18.8 22.8 32.2 14.2 100.7
Other 0.01 0.2 0.2 0.4 1.9 2.9 5.3 7.0 2.6 20.4

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

UPS Buys 200 More Hybrids

UPS Hybrid Electric TruckUPS has ordered 200 more hybrid electric vehicles and 300 compressed natural gas vehicles to bring its total number of alternative vehicles in its fleet up to 2,218. That's an increase of 30 percent to its alternative fleet and will bring its total of hybrids up to 250.

The new hybrids are expected to see action in 2009. UPS estimates they will savle 176,000 gallons of fuel annually, as well as reducing emissions.

Eaton Corp is supplying the hybrid powertrain systems. Their will be external markings to differentiate the hybrids from normal trucks, but will be otherwise similar.

Press Release Follows:
ATLANTA, May 13, 2008 - UPS (NYSE: UPS) today announced it has ordered 200 hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) - the largest commercial order of such trucks by any company - in addition to another 300 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles for its U.S. delivery fleet.

The purchase of the 500 additional vehicles means the UPS alternative fuel fleet - already the largest such private fleet in the United States - will grow 30 percent from 1,718 to 2,218 low-carbon vehicles.

"Alternative fuel research and development is just one of the ways that UPS is mitigating climate change risks," said Bob Stoffel, UPS's corporate sustainability officer. "We also are focused on aggressive conservation programs and improving network efficiency to cut fuel use."

UPS's "green fleet" operates in the United States, Germany, France, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom and has traveled nearly 144 million miles since 2000. The fleet includes electric, hybrid electric, CNG, liquefied natural gas and propane-powered vehicles. The company also is continuing work with the Environmental Protection Agency on a hydraulic hybrid delivery vehicle.

"UPS has been utilizing alternative fuel vehicles for more than 70 years and is clearly the industry leader in hybrid electric and CNG vehicle purchases," said Robert Hall, director of UPS's ground fleet. "At UPS, it's very important to us to demonstrate our commitment with action, which is why we have the largest private 'green' fleet in the industry. And both CNG and HEV vehicles provide substantial reductions in carbon emissions, which supports our commitment to reducing our impact on the environment."

The 200 hybrid electric vehicles will be deployed in 2009 and join 50 HEV delivery trucks already in operation. The 200 trucks are expected to save 176,000 gallons of fuel annually and reduce CO2 emissions by 1,786 metric tons each year. That is the equivalent of removing almost 100 conventional UPS trucks from the road for a year.

The HEV's hybrid power system allows UPS to save on fuel and pollution-causing emissions. A battery pack, motor/generator and power control system are added, which allow electric power to be fed into the powertrain when conditions demand it, providing further savings.

The HEVs also use what is known as regenerative braking, meaning the energy produced in stopping the moving vehicle is captured and returned to the battery system as electrical energy. The efficient, computer-controlled combination of clean diesel power, electric power and regenerative braking produces dramatic improvements in fuel savings and emissions reductions.

The 300 CNG vehicles will be deployed later this year and join more than 800 such vehicles already in use in the United States. CNG vehicles run on natural gas, a cost-effective, clean-burning and readily available fuel. These vehicles are expected to yield a 20 percent reduction in emissions over the cleanest diesel engines available today.

The CNG/HEV vehicle order follows the April 2008 deployment of 167 new CNG vehicles in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Ontario, San Ramon, Fresno and Sacramento. In addition, UPS added 50 next-generation hybrid electric delivery trucks in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix in May 2007.

The chassis for the CNG and HEV trucks are being purchased from Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, with Eaton Corporation supplying the hybrid power system for the HEVs. The truck bodies are identical externally to the signature-brown trucks that now comprise the UPS fleet with additional script markings that will identify them as CNG and HEV vehicles.

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2009 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner Updated

Mercury MarinerThe Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner are being updated for the 2009 model year and there's a whole slew of advancements, including for the hybrid models.

Enhancements to the hybrids include:

  • A new 2.5-liter I-4 designed to run on the Atkinson combustion cycle,
  • Smoother transition between electric and gas vehicle mode,
  • A new powertrain damping system to reduce vibration,
  • Better transition from the regenerating system to braking system,
  • a standard 110V AC power outlet.
  • Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS)
  • new low-rolling-resistance tires, developed in cooperation with Michelin
Ford is also introducing the Limited Ford Escape Hybrid. The Limited comes with:
  • 16-inch, six-spoke bright machined aluminum wheels,
  • exterior chrome accents,
  • a standard AM-FM/six-CD changer,
  • chrome and ebony interior touches
  • a luxury and convenience package that includes ambient lighting,
  • heated front leather seating surfaces,
  • a power moonroof,
  • retractable cargo area cover and
  • standard SecuriCodeTM keyless entry.

The 2009 model year for the Escape and Mariner (not just hybrids) have been refreshed. Read the press release for more details on the enhancements you can expect.

A new powertrain lineup, with a more powerful and fuel-efficient 2.5-liter I-4 engine and a new six-speed automatic transmission, leads the list of enhancements for the 2009 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner models.

Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner, the popular compact SUVs, boast better fuel economy, thanks to a combination of the new engine and fuel-saving six-speed transmission. Other fuel-efficiency measures, such as refined aerodynamics and new low-rolling-resistance tires, also enhance fuel economy while contributing to a quieter, more refined cabin environment.

Escape and Mariner for 2009 also introduce Easy FuelTM capless refueling, ambient lighting and standard cruise control. A 3.0-liter V-6 engine with 20 percent more horsepower and a 1 mpg fuel economy improvement also is available.

Standard on all Escape and Mariner models are an anti-lock braking system and Ford's exclusive AdvanceTrac® with RSC® (Roll Stability Control). The only available electronic stability control system with two gyroscopic effect sensors, AdvanceTrac with RSC measures vehicle motion about both the yaw and roll axes.

Ford Motor Company today has more than 80 patents worldwide for this innovative system, which features roll-rate sensing and stability enhancement capability, offering assistance to the driver in maintaining vehicle control during extreme maneuvers. The system automatically engages counter measures to help the driver maintain maximum control and reduce the risk of rollover.

"We're offering customers more power with better fuel efficiency and comfort," said David Finnegan, Ford Escape marketing manager. "The 2009 Escape and Mariner also have a quieter ride and better handling. They're engaging and fun to drive."

New 2.5-liter I-4 Engine Debuts

The 2009 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner offer a new, 171-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with intake variable cam timing (i-VCT) for enhanced fuel economy and performance.

The new engine is expected to gain 1 mpg in both city and highway fuel economy when equipped with the new six-speed transmission, as compared to the previous model's smaller-displacement 2.3-liter engine and four-speed automatic.

The new engine offers an 11 percent increase in power output versus the 2.3-liter (153 hp). This gives Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner a 1.7-second improvement in 0-60 mph acceleration.

"With gas prices rising, we want to offer our customers even more fuel-efficient vehicles," says Ron Razzano, Escape/Mariner vehicle engineering manager. "But more fuel efficiency doesn't need to reduce performance. We tried to give our customers more of both, so there wouldn't be any compromise with Escape and Mariner."

Responsive with its peak 171 lb.-ft. of torque at 4500 rpm, the engine also is refined, with dual-mode crankshaft damping, electronic throttle control and PowerPC engine electronic control. Key new elements of the engine design include intake and exhaust manifolds, camshafts, pistons and bore size.

The i-VCT technology optimizes the valve timing for performance and efficiency, creating a broad torque curve and delivering increased power and improved fuel efficiency at the same time.

The powertrain also incorporates electronic throttle control (ETC). This technology replaces the manual linkage between accelerator and throttle with a control unit that calculates the optimal throttle position from a number of sensors. ETC is a form of the state-of-the-art, drive-by-wire technology.

Escape Hybrid and Mercury Hybrid also will feature a version of the new engine that uses the fuel-efficient Atkinson Cycle for combustion.

New Six-Speed Transmission Saves Fuel

The new I-4 engine's full fuel efficiency potential is enhanced when it is equipped with the optional 6F-mid-range six-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed manual transmission is standard equipment.

"The introduction of the six-speed is a big enhancement for Escape and Mariner," Razzano said. "A taller top gear reduces engine speed while cruising and shifting at lower rpms in each gear help make the new six-speed 4 to 6 percent more fuel efficient than the four-speed it replaces."

The new six-speed is calibrated for cruising fuel efficiency without sacrificing launch feel and performance feel in lower gears. A wider range of gear ratios is key to the six-speed transmission's ability to deliver this combination of performance and fuel economy.

Other Fuel Efficiency Improvements

Beyond the major technology upgrades, the 2009 Escape and Mariner development team focused on key details such as tire technology and aerodynamic efficiency to deliver an overall 1 mpg fuel economy improvement, helping make each tank full go farther.

* Escape and Mariner feature new low-rolling-resistance tires, developed in cooperation with Michelin.
The new 16-inch Michelin Latitude Tour design features a unique mold design, reduced weight and a new-generation tread pattern optimized for reduced fuel consumption.
* Aerodynamic refinements that account for increased fuel efficiency include a redesigned front bumper spoiler and new rear tire spoilers, the first application on a Ford SUV.
* Additionally, Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) is featured on both the standard and hybrid models of Escape and Mariner. EPAS replaces the traditional hydraulic power steering pump. Because it operates only when required for steering assistance, it contributes to lower fuel consumption than the hydraulic pump, which operated constantly during engine operation.

Improved Fuel Efficiency, Performance to 3.0-liter V-6 Engine

Escape and Mariner's new 3.0-liter V-6 engine also improves for 2009, leveraging a new 10.3:1 compression ratio to gain 40 hp compared with the 2008 3.0-liter.

The 240-hp V-6 is equipped with i-VCT and ETC along with new cylinder heads, intake and exhaust cams, injectors, intake and exhaust manifolds, and pistons. This engine uses Ford's new six-speed transmission exclusively in place of the four-speed automatic used previously.

Enhanced Dynamics, Ride Comfort

The 2009 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner feature a series of chassis system upgrades that improve dynamic capability, steering response and ride comfort.

The vehicles' suspension has been revised and retuned, with the addition of a new rear stabilizer bar and revised shock absorber tuning, helping to deliver a balance of enhanced ride comfort and handling confidence. The steering system also has been retuned for better control and tighter cornering capabilities.

"When it comes to steering, it's about finding the proper balance between tire performance and steering dynamics," Razzano says. "With Escape and Mariner, we found that balance, giving optimal car-like drivability and increased responsiveness."

The braking system of the Escape and Mariner also incorporates improvements. The development team's efforts focused on enhancing initial braking system responsiveness and making further fine-tuning calibrations for the ABS, resulting in better brake feel and shorter stopping distances.

Hybrid Models Enhanced, Too

Fresh from their most successful sales year, the Escape Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid for 2009 bring an array of new features and technologies to strengthen their claim as America's most fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly SUVs.

Hybrid versions of Escape and Mariner saw combined sales up approximately 10 percent last year.

For 2009, the Hybrid models will use the new 2.5-liter I-4 designed to run on the Atkinson combustion cycle. A new engine processor enables nearly imperceptible transitions between gas and electric vehicle mode. The hybrid models also feature a new powertrain damping system to reduce vibrations and feedback to the driver and other vehicle occupants.

The Hybrids' braking system also has been refined. Engineers achieved a more seamless transition from electric regenerative braking system to traditional braking operation. A new brake pedal sensor is at the heart of the improvements.

With the introduction of the 2009 models, the Escape Hybrid adds a new model, the Escape Limited Hybrid. Along with its gas counterpart, the Escape Limited Hybrid features 16-inch, six-spoke bright machined aluminum wheels and exterior chrome accents, a standard AM-FM/six-CD changer, chrome and ebony interior touches and a luxury and convenience package that includes ambient lighting, heated front leather seating surfaces, a power moonroof and retractable cargo area cover.

Escape Limited Hybrid models also offer standard SecuriCodeTM keyless entry.
The introduction of Escape Limited comes as result of continued dialogue with customers who have asked to receive all the accessories and equipment expected in higher-specification versions of the base vehicle, Finnegan said.

Sustainable Comfort

The 2009 Escape and Mariner score in both comfort and sustainability with the addition of new comfort-designed seats. The seats include soy-based foam that substitutes for petroleum-based products to conserve limited resources and reduce CO2 emissions.

Eco-friendly seat fabrics also are offered on Escape made from post-industrial 100 percent recycled materials.

"These vehicles show that we can combine performance with sustainability," said Finnegan. "Customers can be environmentally responsible and still have a vehicle that provides the utility of an SUV and is fun to drive."

Escape/Mariner Safety Technologies

The 2009 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner feature an array of safety technologies, including:

* AdvanceTrac® with RSC®
* Safety CanopyTM, a side air curtain technology offering protection for the first and second seating rows
* Personal Safety System®, a suite of seven safety technologies, including new dual-stage front air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger, side air bags and a front passenger sensor system
* Tire Pressure Monitoring System
* LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system on rear seating positions

Features and Connectivity

Earth-friendly and high-end amenities go hand-in-hand on the 2009 Escape and Mariner Hybrids. Both feature:

* SYNC – Developed by Ford and Microsoft, this award-winning in-car communications and entertainment platform allows users to control most MP3 players and Bluetooth®-enabled mobile phones hands-free using voice commands. Standard on Escape Limited and Escape Hybrid, and on Mariner Premier, Premier V-6 and Mariner Hybrid models. SYNC is optional on all other models.
* SIRIUS® Satellite Radio – Escape XLT and Limited, Mariner Premier and Premier V-6 and all hybrid models are equipped with SIRIUS® satellite radio, with the receiver module and roof-mounted antenna. Customers receive an initial six-month SIRIUS® subscription.
* Voice-Activated Navigation with SIRIUS® Travel LinkTM – Escape and Mariner offer an optional voice-activated navigation system, which includes an AM-FM/six-disc in-dash changer, seven speakers and a subwoofer.
* Ambient Lighting is standard on Escape Limited and Escape Limited Hybrid as well as Mariner Premier and Premier V-6.
* Steering wheel audio controls are standard on all Mariner models.
* An auxiliary input jack in the instrument panel center stack is offered as standard equipment for the ease of connecting MP3 players to the audio system.
* All 2009 Escape and Mariner hybrid models feature a standard 110V AC power outlet.

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Compromise Not Likely Between California and EPA

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, told reporters "We do not want to negotiate away other states' rights," at the annual SAE International government industry conference.

She was responding to a possible compromise between California and the federal government on allowing California to set greenhouse gas emission rules while keeping other states out of it.

California has been fighting to force the EPA to grant a waiver granting them permission to set their own emissions guidelines (in other words, their own fuel economy guidelines). The EPA denied the waiver despite opposition from within Congress and the threat of lawsuits by California and other states as well as court rulings supporting the California case. If California succeeds in obtaining a waiver, other states will quickly follow suit to set their own rules.

Automakers oppose any statewide rules, saying it could lead to market chaos as they meet each state's regulations. They want a federal rule to govern them. Of course, the federal rules are a little more lenient than what California is proposing, so there's more than 'market chaos' involved.

Dave McCurdy re-iterated the "campaign promises don't mean anything" stance (stated by Wagoner earlier), pointing out the new president, whoever wins out, may not follow through on their promises to favor state-by-state rules. McCurdy is the president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Toyota, Ford, GM, Chrysler and others.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

India Launches First Hybrid Car

India is about to benefit from its new rules on importation of hybrid cars. By cutting the duty to 14%, India has paved the way for Honda to launch the Honda Civic Hybrid.

The price of the new hybrid has yet to be determined, although the Civic is sold for Rs 12 lakhs. It's unclear how well hybrids will sell in India, the home of the 1 lakh car.

Source: Honda to unveil India's first hybrid car

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Toyota Still Working on a Prius Brand

Toyota PriusJim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., feels the word Prius is the best thing they have going as far as 'buzz' is concerned. That's why he'd like to see it become a brand, not just a car.

"Try as we might to ingrain Hybrid Synergy Drive with consumers, what really stuck was Prius," Lentz said in an interview. "So rather than spend millions more driving Hybrid Synergy Drive on Highlander or Camry, I think the consumer is telling us they like the idea of Prius."
There have been several reports of a Prius coupe, wagon or a commuter car. But despite the rumors, Lentz says there's nothing in the pipeline right now that will definitely turn the Prius into a brand rather than just a car.
"There is nothing in the pipeline," Lentz said. "It all depends on our resources and when we can make it happen. The longer gas is at four dollars, the greater likelihood (these vehicles) will bubble to the top."
Lentz notes that marketing Scion as a brand name has worked very well, rather than marketing each car under the brand.

Even if Prius does become a brand name, it won't replace the Hybrid Synergy Drive. So the Camry Hybrid won't become the Camry Prius.

Source: Toyota exec: Maybe it's time to raise a Prius hybrid family - Automotive News

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Toyota Loses $4.3 Million Patent Infringement Case: May Have to Pay Royalties

Just when you thought Toyota was in the clear, litigation-wise, the Supreme Court let stand without comment an appeal by Toyota in a $4.3 million dollar lawsuit by Paice LLC of McLean, Virginia.

Last year, a federal appeals court also sided with Paice. Toyota appealed and has now lost in a patent infringement case affecting their hybrid synergy system.

Adding insult to injury, Toyota may have to start paying royalties to Paice at $25 for every Prius, Highlander Hybrid, and Lexus RX 400h sold.

The patent infringement occured in a microprocessor that accepts torque information from both the internal combustion engine and the electric motor. Toyota felt that Paice LLC was a 'patent litigation company' that held an 'obscure patent.'

The case was Toyota Motor vs. Paice, 07-1120.

Source: Japan, Detroit News

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Safety Concerns Grow in Silence

Hybrid cars are both praised and damned for their silently running engines. Most people get excited when they hear how the gas engine shuts off, saving their owners money and reducing the amount of gas used by a nation dependent on oil.

But not everyone. With the federation of blind pushing for a minimal noise regulation, and a report by a mother on how her child was hit by a car because he wasn't aware the Prius was coming (more on this later), there's a new class for guide dogs that helps train them in detecting and warning their persons a hybrid car they can't hear is coming.

The dogs are being trained in Oregon. Guide Dogs for the Blind's Boring campus received a Prius as a donation from a student in January and began using the car in traffic training in late March.

But the blind aren't the only ones at risk. I'm seeing a rise in the number of stories about how pedestrians and bicyclists are being put at risk because they don't hear the hybrid car coming.

The story by KARE11 is the first time I've seen an actual story claiming someone was hit by a Prius because it was too quiet. Unfortunately, the story itself leaves a lot to be desired. I really want to rip it apart because the kid that was hit probably would have been hit by any car coming along simply because he wasn't paying attention. Also, it was the mother (who was not there) who said her kid was hit because it wasn't loud enough.

But, the danger is real. Whether someone has been hit, yet, is irrelevant. There is a clear and present danger here. People do depend on their hearing, perhaps too much, on detecting danger. A small noise, probably undetectable from within the cabin, is not too much to ask. It would be a good idea for the car companies to get out in front of this issue and create a fix sooner, rather than wait for someone to get hurt and sue, or for the regulations to poor in.

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Bosch, which recently set up a hybrid powertrain unit, is going ahead to develop a high performance lithium-ion battery.

The new project unit will help Bosch as it works on further developing the core competence it needs for the increased use of electrical motors in drive systems.

"In the Bosch Group, more than 40% of our research and development budget now goes into products that conserve resources and protect the environment. In 2007 alone, this was a good 1.5 billion euros," said CEO Franz Fehrenbach.

"Going beyond energy efficiency, greater effort is to be invested in harnessing and utilizing renewable energies. Sales generated with these systems will grow at a double-digit rate to more than 750 million euros in 2008 – and are expected to exceed 1.2 billion euros in 2010.

"But in the 21st century we shall only be able to meet our ambitious targets for carbon dioxide reduction if we have enough specialists. Not enough thought is devoted to this subject, let alone action," Fehrenbach said. "Education has hardly ever been as important as it is now, in the age of globalization. Competition for the best people is increasing every single day."

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Stamford Rejects Tax Exemption for Hybrid Cars

Origami Dollar BillStamford, CT voted down a tax exemption that would have allowed owners of hybrid cars, or cars that get 40+ mpg. This seems to be the pattern in CT: see how Vernon has rejected it twice and Manchester also rejected the tax exemption on hybrid cars.

Although towns and cities and CT are allowed to forgive $2,000 of the value of their property taxes for owners of hybrid cars (for Stamford, it would be $68 in actual savings), the towns can't seem to get it passed.

"I thought it was a noble idea, but buying a hybrid car is a matter of consumer choice," City Rep. Scott Mirkin said.

Despite wanting to encourage more fuel efficient cars, the town reps feel a tax exemption simply shifts the burden from one household to the next. And given the cost of hybrids, they worry they could be shifting the tax burden from the rich onto the poor.

Photo from flickr by Vaguely Artistic.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Michigan Grants $5 Million to Study PHEVs

The state of Michigan granted a $5 million award to the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, GM and DTE Energy Company to study plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) through July 31, 2010.

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), an agency within the state’s Department of Labor & Economic Growth oversees the funding. The Commission made an appeal for automakers, customer advocates, electric companies and the public to help them in their pilot program.

As part of the study, the researchers will look into the transfer of electricity during peak load times, the environmental impact of PHEVs, and how smart grid technology will impact electric system load curves and generation mix and capacity requirements.

The grants are funded as part of the Low-Income and Energy Efficiency Fund. The fund was intended to provide assistance for low-income customers and promote the efficient use of energy by all customer classes.

"The grants awarded today will help the state promote and move forward in the development and application of energy efficient technologies," MPSC Chairman Orjiakor Isiogu said in the grant announcement.

Sources: Green Car Congress: Michigan Awards $5M Grant for PHEVs and Partners to use $5 million grant to study hybrid plug-in effects on electrical grid - Ann Arbor Business Review -

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