Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Do We Avoid Certain Cars

J.D. Power and Associates most recent study (2008 Avoider Study(SM)) indicates consumers are looking for low prices and better gas mileage before they even consider a new car. This is the sixth year in a row J.D. Power and Associates has looked at what consumers are looking for and fuel economy is becoming a more important factor in decision buying.

These results don't seem surprising to me, but I wonder if it will hold true with gas prices dropping so much lately. The study ended in September, when gas prices were almost double what they are now.

It seems that 23 percent of new-vehicle buyers cited price as a reason to avoid certain models, while gas mileage climbed to 13 percent, up from 7 percent in 2004.

"In these tough economic times, a significant number of would-be new-vehicle buyers are postponing their purchases, but for those who are purchasing new vehicles, the market has shifted toward smaller, less expensive and more fuel-efficient models," said Jon Osborn, research director at J.D. Power and Associates in the press release. "Although we've recently seen a considerable decrease in the price of gasoline, consumers will not soon forget having had to pay in the range of $80 to $90 for a tank of gas earlier this year."

But, the study also indicates gas mileage is not about being environmentally conscious, since only 4 percent of buyers cited it for avoidance, down from 5 percent in 2007.

"With the recent trend in automotive marketing centered on 'green' vehicles for environmentally conscious buyers, it seems that now would be the time that environmental concerns would resonate strongly with new-vehicle buyers," said Osborn. "However, the reality is that environmental concerns are seldom mentioned as a reason to either avoid or purchase specific models. Gas mileage is now the primary factor in the new vehicle purchase decision, so it appears that buyers are looking for better gas mileage as a way to save money, rather than out of concern for the environment."

Styling is still the number one reason (43%), but long term reliability (22%), quality (14%) and resale value (16%) were also very important.

The 2008 Avoider Study is based on responses from more than 33,000 owners who registered a new vehicle in May 2008. The study was fielded August through September 2008.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Saturn Vue Hybrid Delayed

GM is delaying the launch of their new two-mode hybrid Saturn Vue. Built using the same technology as their other two-mode hybrids (Tahoe, Yukon and Escalade), the Vue hybrid launch is being pushed back into 2009.

It was originally scheduled to begin deliveries in December, 2008. Now it will start appearing in dealerships in 2009.  The Vue was rumored to be delayed earlier this month, but now Saturn has confirmed it.

"It will help save some costs, and it dominoes down the line," says Saturn spokesman Steve Janisse.

In addition to postponing costs for distribution to dealers and marketing, Janisse says, "We can put off the expense of dealer training, and the dealers can put off buying special equipment to service the vehicle. It helps everybody right now."
So, they are pushing off the costs from this quarter into next.  This sort of cost cutting is not affecting the development of the Chevy Volt, so far, but apparently every little bit helps GM push off their own bankruptcy.

The Vue has been the test-bed for all things hybrid and GM.  It has been a mild hybrid (once called the GreenLine), will be a full hybrid when it goes on sale in 2009, and GM also plans on delivering a plug-in version.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid

Ford has introduced the 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid at the Los Angeles Auto Show and there are a slew of upgrades to the Milan model, as well as to the hybrid system you may be familiar with in the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrid. By introducing the Mercury Milan Hybrid and the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, Ford will be doubling the size of their hybrid models.

The new generation hybrid system has one feature that certainly makes it stand out. You can now drive up to 47 mph in electric mode, which is quite an upgrade. I'm guessing you can only travel a mile or three on all electric. But for those interested in hypermiling or just in saving gas, the upgrade in speed will give you more options.

The engine is a new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine running the Atkinson cycle mated to an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (e-CVT). It can produce 155 hp/136 lb.-ft. of torque. The electric motor is powered by a smaller, lighter nickel metal hydride battery pack. The battery, despite being smaller, is producing 20 percent more power, while running at higher temperatures. It is cooled by using cabin air.

Ford has also upgraded the transition between the electric and gas modes, making it more seamless than before. The transition is governed by the Intake Variable Cam Timing (iVCT) The spark and cam timing are varied according to the engine load to optimize efficiency and emissions.

A new enhanced, electronic throttle control reduces airflow on shutdowns. That cuts down on fuel needed on restarts.

A smart climate control system only runs the gas engine as needed to heat the cabin, while the A/C is run off an electric compressor.

The regenerative brake system recovers nearly 94 percent energy, followed by friction brakes during city driving. A simulator brake actuation system dictates brake actuation and delivers improved brake pedal feel compared to the previous generation braking system.

Ford has also updated the drivers interaction with the hybrid system with their new SmartGuage with EcoGuide. Two high resolution, full color liquid crystal displays (LCD) on both sides of the speedometer can be configured to show different levels of information. You can take a look at the fuel and battery levels or average and instant mpg. You can also keep track of how efficiently you're driving using Ford's leaves and vines system (the more leaves you have the better you are).

There are four different data screens to choose from:

  • Inform: Fuel level and battery charge status
  • Enlighten: Adds electric vehicle mode indicator and tachometer
  • Engage: Adds engine output power and battery output power
  • Empower: Adds power to wheels, engine pull-up threshold and accessory power consumption

All levels can show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer, engine coolant temperature, what gear the car is in and trip data (trip fuel economy, time-elapsed fuel economy and miles to empty). The engine coolant temperature indicator turns green when engine conditions are warm enough to allow engine pull-down.

Several other elements help differentiate the Milan Hybrid from its gas-powered sibling, including unique hybrid “road and leaf” badging on both sides and the rear of the vehicle; unique 17-inch, eight-spoke wheels; eco-friendly seat fabric made from post-industrial 100 percent recycled materials; and a standard 110-volt power outlet.

Other changes to the Milan include the fascia being pulled down, while the chin was pulled forward to give it a wider look.

On the inside, metallic finishes were applied to the instrument panel, center console, doors and steering wheel. A soft upper and lower skin was applied to the instrument panel to give it a softer look. A leather wrapped steering has form fitting palm swells, a new shifter and wrapped and padded armrests have been added.

Ford also added in their capless fuel filler system. As stated, there is no cap. Just remove the pump nozzle and the system automatically seals shut.

Hood insulators, inner and outer dash absorbers, new carpet, revised ceiling baffles, additional sound deadening in the trunk, new interior material and new headliner material are among the improvements made to the sound insulation. Ford also worked on the body and door sealing to cut down on wind noise.

New technology features available on the 2010 Milan include:
  • Blind Spot Information System (BLISTM) with Cross Traffic Alert, which can help provide extra confidence to drivers in parking lots by alerting drivers sooner of nearby traffic while backing out. It uses two multiple beam radar modules, which are packaged in the rear quarter panels. The radar detects moving objects within a 65-foot range from either side of the vehicle. The radar identifies when a vehicle enters the defined blind spot zone and illuminates an indicator light on the corresponding side-view mirror providing a warning that a vehicle is approaching. An audible alert is sounded as well.
  • SYNC: The voice-activated hands-free in-car communication and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft. The system fully integrates most Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and digital media players, providing customers hands-free cell phone and music selection capabilities – plus new 911 Assist and Vehicle Health Report provided with no monthly fees.
  • 911 Assist: When a phone is properly paired, turned on and connected to SYNC, the system is ready to assist in placing a call directly to a local 911 emergency operator in the event of an air bag-deploying accident. The key advantage of SYNC 911 Assist is speed, as calls are placed directly to local 911 operators.
  • Vehicle Health Report (VHR): SYNC gathers relevant information from the major vehicle control modules and packages diagnostic data into a usable format in a matter of minutes. That data packet is sent to Ford via an 800-number automatically dialed using the customer’s paired and operable mobile phone.
  • Voice-Activated Navigation, which integrates several functions including voice recognition destination entry, climate control and SIRIUS satellite radio into one easy-to-use system, displaying them on an 8-inch touch-screen display. The navigation system’s text-to-speech function calls out street names while in route to a destination and reads incoming text messages when the system is linked to SYNC. The integrated DVD player is capable of reading CD-Audio, MP3 CDs, DVD, DVD-Audio and DVD-ROM (for digital map updates). A music jukebox function stores more than 150 hours of music. The screen even can be customized with personal photos.
  • SIRIUS Travel Link™, an industry-leading technology that, when combined with the voice-activated navigation system will provide users with real-time traffic data with accident and incident information, coast-to-coast weather data including current conditions and five-day forecasts, and fuel price information for over 120,000 gas stations. Travel Link also offers sports scores and schedules and a listing of more than 4,500 movie theaters with movie times, theater addresses, movie synopses and more.
  • Reverse Camera System, which mounts a small camera on the spoiler that is activated when Milan is shifted into reverse, giving the driver a clear view behind the vehicle.  The video image is displayed in the optional navigation screen on Milans equipped with that option or in the self-dimming rearview mirror vehicles without navigation.
All Mercury Milan models will be built along side the Ford Fusion at Ford’s Hermosillo (Mexico) Stamping and Assembly Plant and will be in dealer showrooms in spring 2009.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fisker Chooses GM Ecotec Engine for the Karma

Fisker plans to bring the Extended Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) Karma to the US in the fourth quarter of 2009. The hybrid engine will have two engines, an electric motor and GM's Ecotec 2.0 direct injection, turbo-charged 4-cylinder gas engine.

The gas engine will produce 260 hp, and will charge the battery after the car exceeds the 50 mile all electric range. In case you aren't familiar, the Karma (and Chevy's Volt) will drive for a certain range on battery power. You can re-charge the battery pack by plugging the car in (most likely overnight). On a full charge, the Chevy Volt will travel 40 miles on all electric power. After that, the gas engine kicks in. Unlike the hybrids on the road today, however, the gas engine is just there to re-charge the battery. Only the electric motor will move the car.

Which is very exciting for most people until they find out about the price tag. The Volt will be available, according to the current reports, at about $40,000.

Fisker says they are open to purchasing other components from GM to 'enhance' the Karma. The Karma will be built in Finland by Valmet Automotive, which currently produces the Boxter and Cayman. But Porche cancelled future production, allowing Fisker to move into the available space. The Karma will start selling in the fourth quarter of 2009, with deliveries made in North America. Europe should see sales begin in 2010. Fisker is targeting 15,000 sales a year.

Some more details on the Fisker Karma: The original plan for the Karma and some more details on the Karma.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The New Honda Insight Will Come with Eco Assist

The new Honda Insight will be equipped with a fuel economy enhancement system named Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist(TM)). The new system is designed to give the driver real time feedback on how well they're driving, fuel economy-wise.

The system entails several different functions. A driver-activated ECON mode that optimizes control of the continuously variable transmission, engine and related powertrain components to conserve fuel. Then there's the feedback function on the speedometer, which changes the background to provide real-time guidance. And a 'scoring function' which gives feedback on current and long-term driving style.

"Hybrid drivers enjoy trying to get the most fuel economy from their vehicles," said Dan Bonawitz, vice president of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. in a statement. "The visual nature of Eco Assist is intended to help drivers improve their efficient driving skills by making the hybrid experience more fun and rewarding."

The ECON button pushes the transmission, engine and others into a conservation mode. But it also adjusts the air conditioning, makes it more likely to engage the start/stop function and increases the battery charging during regenerative braking.

The speedometer will change colors to indicate how you are driving right now. A green color (surprising that it's green, right?) indicates you have a smooth acceleration and braking. Less smooth driving will push you into a blue-green glow, while aggressive driving will push you into a blue background (I would have gone for red!).

The scoring function has a nice graphical feature. Like Ford's new system, the better you drive, the more 'leaves' you get in your graphical interface. The better you drive (more economically), the bigger your tree. This interface is part of the Multi-Information Display, located in the center console.

When the ignition switch is on, the display scores driving practices in real time. When the ignition switch is turned off, the 'leaves' in the top line of the display score driving in the just completed cycle (startup to shutdown), while a horizontal bar in the lower part of the display scores cumulative lifetime performance.

The display can also be switched to show you the fuel economy figures for the last three trips (want to check out what your partner just did to your fuel economy?). It can also give you instantaneous readouts on your fuel economy statistics, as well as you overall performance.

The new Insight is not like the old one. With room for five (not two), the Insight is still a dedicated hybrid platform. It's supposed to sell at 'significantly less' than other hybrids, which may push it below $20K.

Honda was able to cut costs on its IMA system, which lets it push the price down on the new Insight.

The new Insight will be available in the Spring, and people are already putting their name in to buy one.

Honda is targeting sales of 200,000 units per year, half of which should come in North America.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

KBB Says Hybrids Have Great Resale Value in 2009

Kelley Blue Book (KBB) announced the best resale value models for 2009 and, not surprising given the high gas price crisis in 2008, hybrids were some of the best models at retaining their value.

Using information gained from Kelley Blue Book's extensive analysis of new- and used-vehicle values, the company determined one vehicle brand as having the best projected overall resale value among its 2009 fleet, named resale value leaders in 15 major vehicle segments and honors the top 10 for 2009 model-year vehicles with the best projected resale value.

The top 10 models in 2009 for best resale value were (in alphabetical order):

  • Honda Civic/Civic Hybrid
  • Honda Fit
  • MINI Cooper
  • Scion xB
  • Scion xD
  • Scion tC
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Toyota Prius
  • Toyota Yaris
  • Volkswagen Rabbit
I see a pretty good trend for gas sippers. The worst for re-sale value according to KBB include the 2009 Ford Expedition V-8, Mercury Mountaineer V-8, Dodge Durango V-8, Lincoln Town Car V-8 and the GMC Savannah Van V-8. These 2009 model- year gas misers, with their V-8 engines and older body styles, will only maintain 20 percent of their original value after five years of ownership.

Add in Honda winning the best in resale value for brand and you complete the picture.

The Honda Civic Hybrid beat out the Toyota Prius in the Hybrid Car Category. In the Hybrid Crossover Category, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid won, while in the Hybrid SUV category, the Chevy Tahoe came in first.

As far as hybrids are concerned, KBB believes fuel economy beats out luxury any day.
The values that hybrids saw in the market during 2008 confirmed for Kelley Blue Book that the premium these vehicles garner will hold even at five years of ownership. While hybrids saw an overall increase in residual values, the luxury or performance hybrids like the Lexus LS400h and the Lexus GS400h saw significant declines.

"The hybrid vehicles with the highest fuel efficiencies, which are generally the smaller, more compact hybrids will hold their value well over the next five years," said Ibara. "The luxury or performance hybrids do not offer a significant improvement in fuel economy, especially when compared to the price premium over their non-hybrid sibling. Customers attracted to these models are not necessarily looking for a fuel-efficient alternative, and so far this attraction has not held up well in the used-car market."

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Details Available on the CNG Toyota Camry at the LA Auto Show

Toyota is bringing the compressed natural gas (CNG) Camry Hybrid Concept vehicle to the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show. The Toyota hybrid engine is powered by electricity (battery) and natural gas, rather than the normal gasoline electric hybrid Camry.

According to Toyota, natural gas is a clean and safe alternative transport fuel. It can potentially reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil and reduce vehicle operating costs. Currently more than 99 percent of natural gas used in the U.S. comes from domestic & other North American sources. Proven worldwide natural gas reserves are estimated to last until 2100 and have the potential to last until 2200 through improved advanced production methods.

Natural gas also produces lower particulate emissions, nitrous oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and non-methane organic gases (NMOG), and less CO2 per unit of energy when compared with gasoline. In addition, it has a higher flash point (ignition temperature) than gasoline, can run at a higher compression ratio and is quickly dispersed into the atmosphere, should a leak occur.

The 'fuel tanks' for the CNG Hybrid Camry are two tanks installed in the spare tire well area. The tires have been replaced with run-flat tires from Bridgeston (19 x 7.5 alloy wheels and Bridgestone Potenza 225/35ZR19) since there's no spare tire.

The custom front fascia and front bumper cover eliminate the grill opening, while the custom rear bumper covers the tail pipe and visible exhaust system. The ride height has been lowered and new side body skirts and very visible "Compressed Natural Gas Hybrid" graphics adorn the vehicle.

In 1999, Toyota marketed a CNG-powered four-cylinder Camry to fleet customers in Calfornia, but customers were not attracted to the specialized vehicle. Special refueling techniques and limited re-fueling points make for limited interest. There are still less than 1,000 CNHG refueling stations nationwide, with less than half open to the public.

"Toyota believes CNG has huge potential, both in the U.S. and globally," said Hostetter, "but CNG is just one of the many alternative fuels we're exploring in our ongoing advanced technology research and development."

2.4 liter, 4-cylinder engine with Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive(R)
Gasoline fuel system replaced with CNG system

City/Highway/Combined = 32/34/33
(Gasoline Camry Hybrid = 33/34/34)

NET HORSEPOWER (Engine + Electric Motor + Generator + Power Storage)
170 hp

-- Two (2) Lincoln composite Type 4 tanks -- plastic liner with carbon
fiber wrapped exterior
-- Tanks installed in spare tire well area
-- Maximum 3,600 psi

Proposed 8 gallon gasoline equivalent

250+ miles

Overall Length: 191.2
Overall Width: 71.7
Overall Height: 57.5
Wheelbase: 109.3
Wheel Size: 19 x 7.5 alloy wheels

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Re-Charge Your Battery in 20 Minutes

Ener1 and Kyushu Electric have signed a a memorandum of understanding to work together on creating a rapid recharging systems for the next generation of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. (source: press release found via GreenCarCongress) The system is target to re-charge lithium-ion batteries up to 80% of capacity in less than 20 minutes.

Currently, reported re-charging times are 6-8 hours through common house-hold plugs.

The companies are targeting the first integrated systems for March, 2009. They are hoping the relationship will accelerate the development of charging systems to match the 'anticipated growth' in electric vehicles.

Ener1 and KEPCO will work together to create and manufacture rapid recharging systems for electric vehicles. KEPCO has already developed one of the most advanced rapid charging stands and plans to customize that solution with the EnerDel High Energy Pack System. KEPCO's next-generation electric vehicle rapid charging station has exhibited one of the highest levels of performance for rapid charging in Japan.

"Drivers need to know they can recharge an electric car as easily as they fill the tank in today's conventional vehicles," said Ener1 Chairman and CEO Charles Gassenheimer. "The batteries are here. What we need is the infrastructure to charge them quickly. We have often suggested that the customer for electric drive is not just the auto manufacturers, but also the integrated power and utility companies. Together with ITOCHU Corporation, we are privileged to work with such prestigious partners on this important project. The opportunity underscores Ener1's strategy to be a total systems and solutions provider in pioneering the electrification of the automobile."

"We are excited to be working with Ener1, which we consider to be an early leader in the development of this industry," said Toshiro Noguchi, General Manager of the Research Laboratory at KEPCO. "We believe that Ener1's state of the art technology is now ready for rapid adoption and are excited to be partnering with them at this critical time."

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Loans and More Loans... Please Do Not Use the Word Bailout

It seems like some are confused by all the $Billions$ being bandied about by Congress lately. Several months ago, Congress approved a $25 billion loan program to re-tool or build facilities capable of making cars which are 25% more fuel efficient than the cars being built in MY2005. Suppliers can also apply for the loan. GM, Chrysler, and even smaller car companies like Tesla have already applied for the loans through the DOE program.

Tesla applied for a $400 million loan (very frugal of them!), while GM and Chrysler did not disclose how much they want (found via TechCrunch). Ford plans on applying (or has already done so) by yesterday.

But that loan program has its drawbacks.  Specifically, the amount of time needed until the program actually gives out the money (up to a year). Which is why Detroit is pushing for a completely separate loan program from Congress during the current session. What they want now is access to the $700 billion set aside for the banking industry, or the set up of a whole new loan program. A program that would give them access to cash now.

For instance, the current bill sets up a $25 billion loan program with "initial interest rates of 5 percent to the U.S. automakers and suppliers in exchange for a federal stake in the companies or warrants that would let the government profit from future gains."

That would bring the loans available from the government up to $50 billion for the car companies.

And GM, especially, really, really wants the second program. But given the rhetoric from the Senate, they need to push back on some of the 'myths' they believe are prevalent throughout the US about the auto industry (Link- Detroit Free Press). They are pushing to build popular opinion through their blog and through e-mails to their customers. First a description of GM from GM's blog:

* A leaner company that has reduced its annual structural costs in North American by 23 percent, or $9 billion, since 2005, and are on track to reduce them by about 35 percent, or $14-$15 billion, by 2010. We also negotiated a landmark labor agreement with the UAW last year that will enable us to virtually erase the competitive gap we’ve had with foreign automakers.
* Award-winning products in the Chevy Malibu and Cadillac CTS, (Motor Trend magazine’s 2008 Car of the Year). The Chevy Malibu beats the Toyota Camry in highway mileage, and was recently ranked the highest in initial quality in the midsize car segment by J.D. Power & Associates.

In fact, 13 of our last 15 new product launches in the U.S. were cars or crossovers, and 18 of our next 19 new products will be, as well. Mr. Friedman, we also think you’ll be particularly interested in the huge progress we are making to develop a broad range of advanced propulsion technologies.

* For 2009, GM will offer 20 models in the U.S. that get 30 miles per gallon or better on the highway –twice our nearest competitor.
* We now sell six hybrid vehicles, with three more on the way by the middle of next year.
* We have more than three million flex-fuel vehicles on the road in the U.S., which are capable of running on bio-fuels like ethanol and we are committed to making 50 percent of our annual production flex-fuel capable by 2012.
* We’ve established the world’s largest fuel-cell test fleet by placing more than 100 Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles in the hands of U.S. drivers.
* And perhaps most important, we’re running all-out to get the Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle to market as soon as possible. When running off its battery, the Volt will be able to drive up to 40 miles–more than the average daily commute for over three-quarters of Americans–without using a drop of gas.
And from the e-mail sent out to GM owners:
You made the right choice when you put your confidence in General Motors, and we appreciate your past support. I want to assure you that we are making our best vehicles ever, and we have exciting plans for the future. But we need your help now. Simply put, we need you to join us to let Congress know that a bridge loan to help U.S. automakers also helps strengthen the U.S. economy and preserve millions of American jobs.

Despite what you may be hearing, we are not asking Congress for a bailout but rather a loan that will be repaid.

The U.S. economy is at a crossroads due to the worldwide credit crisis, and all Americans are feeling the effects of the worst economic downturn in 75 years. Despite our successful efforts to restructure, reduce costs and enhance liquidity, U.S. auto sales rely on access to credit, which is all but frozen through traditional channels.

The consequences of the domestic auto industry collapsing would far exceed the $25 billion loan needed to bridge the current crisis. According to a recent study by the Center for Automotive Research:

• One in 10 American jobs depends on U.S. automakers
• Nearly 3 million jobs are at immediate risk
• U.S. personal income could be reduced by $150 billion
• The tax revenue lost over 3 years would be more than $156 billion

Discussions are now underway in Washington, D.C., concerning loans to support U.S. carmakers. I am asking for your support in this vital effort by contacting your state representatives.

Please take a few minutes to go to, where we have made it easy for you to contact your U.S. senators and representatives. Just click on the "I'm a Concerned American" link under the "Mobilize Now" section, and enter your name and ZIP code to send a personalized e-mail stating your support for the U.S. automotive industry.

Let me assure you that General Motors has made dramatic improvements over the last 10 years. In fact, we are leading the industry with award-winning vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu, Cadillac CTS, Buick Enclave, Pontiac G8, GMC Acadia, Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, Saturn AURA and more. We offer 18 models with an EPA estimated 30 MPG highway or better — more than Toyota or Honda. GM has 6 hybrids in market and 3 more by mid-2009. GM has closed the quality gap with the imports, and today we are putting our best quality vehicles on the road.

Please share this information with friends and family using the link on the site.

Thank you for helping keep our economy viable.


Troy Clarke
What do you think.  Have the Big 3 really changed their colors?  Do they 'deserve' the second loan program?  Will they survive through the next six months?

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The New Sierra Hybrid Pricing. Due to Arrive in Early 2009

GM announced their MSRP for the new Sierra Hybrid. The 2WD models with the 3HA package will be sold at $39,365, including the $975 destination freight charge (DFC). The 3HB package will run at $45,500, including the DFC.

Of course, given the current economic climate, you have to wonder how GM will fare with these large hybrids.  So far, the two-mode hybrid system hasn't been a stellar successChrysler is shutting down the plant that makes their two-mode hybrid SUVs, and GM has already cut the next evolution out of the pipeline.  It makes me wonder how much support GM will give to these hybrid trucks (GM is also building the Silverado Hybrid with a two-mode hybrid engine).

The press release gives more details on what you can expect from the GMC Sierra Hybrid with the dual mode hybrid motor.

The 2009 Sierra Hybrid joins the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid as the only full-size hybrid pickup trucks on the market. Equipped with GM’s two-mode hybrid system, Sierra Hybrid is offered in the crew cab body style and is also available with 4WD.

EPA-estimated fuel economy for 2WD models is 21 mpg city and 22 on the highway; 4WD models are estimated at 20 mpg in city and highway driving. That mileage, combined with a 26-gallon (98 L) fuel tank, delivers a cruising range of more than 500 miles with 2WD models and more than 470 miles with 4WD models

Production begins in December of 2008, with delivery to dealers expected in early 2009.

Towing capacity is rated at 6,100 pounds (2,767 kg). A $2,200 federal tax credit is currently available to many customers who purchase the Sierra Hybrid.

A well-equipped pickup

Sierra Hybrid 3HA models include popular equipment such as the heavy-duty trailering package; StabiliTrak electronic stability control; locking rear differential; EZ Lift tailgate and lock; 18-inch wheels; cloth seats; XM Satellite Radio and OnStar. Also included are automatic climate control, steering wheel audio controls and Bluetooth phone capability.

Equipment that is specific to the hybrid model includes:

  • 6.0-liter V-8 engine (332 hp / 247 kW)
  • Low rolling resistance tires
  • Hybrid ornamentation
  • Soft tonneau cover
  • Head curtain side-impact air bags
In addition, a Sierra Hybrid 3HB model is offered. It includes all of the 3HA content as well as leather bucket seats with six-way driver and passenger power; Power Flow navigation with Bose audio and rear-seat controls; rear park assist; power adjustable pedals and a three-piece hard tonneau cover. MSRP is $45,500 (including destination charge).

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I/L Gets the Chevy Volt Delivered

On it's way to the LA Auto Show, the Chevy Volt was dropped off at I/L, giving them a chance to review the new plug-in E-REV from GM.

Although it's not quite production, the model shown has production bodywork. The inside is also set to what it should look like. The big shortcoming?  The demonstration vehicle isn't working off of plug-in power.

The take-away mesage is two-fold.  The Volt could have been built with a smaller gas engine, but GM chose not to do so. By using a larger engine, they could easily move into a larger body type.  Also, despite all the bad news (economy-wise), GM is already working on the second generation, and this before they've gotten the first generation out the door.

Source: An Insider Look at the Chevy Volt at Edmunds.

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Toyota May Delay Building Prius Plant in Mississippi

Toyota may delay the opening of it's Mississippi plant in 2010 because of the economic downturn. That would put a serious crimp in the number of Prius it can build and sell in the US.

As of now, Prius are still a hot commodity, but given how sales of all cars have been diminished by the economy, Toyota says it is "reviewing all future production projects."

Toyota may be pushing back until 2011 or later but, as of now, no decisions have been made.

Source: Toyota says no change to Mississippi plant opening | The Detroit News |, who quoted a Nikkei report.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

NYC Tries Incentives to Convince Taxi Fleet Owners to Use Hybrids

NYC is struggling with how to implement a hybrid changeover for their taxi cabs after a court ruling against the city.

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBOT) filed a lawsuit to stop NYC from implementing their hybrid taxi plan, which would have switched all taxis in the city to hybrid powered vehicles. Citing safety concerns, the group cited an engineering report in which it was claimed the partitions, which are after market modifications, were untested and possibly unsafe in use.

A judge, feeling that the MTBOT would eventually win the lawsuit, granted a preliminary injunction stopping the city's plans.

Instead of continuing the fight in courty, Mayor Bloomberg is now pushing for financial incentives for the fleet owners. Since he can't force them to switch, Bloomberg is now offering to allow owners to charge $3 more per shift for using a hybrid.  That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up to $2,000 more per year. 

They are also planning on lowering the amount fleet owners can charge drivers for non-hybrid use.

Owners don't really benefit from hybrids fuel sipping ways.  Drivers pay to lease the vehicle, and have to pay for the fuel.  It is estimated that drivers can save $15 per shift in gasoline costs.  But that's not the only savings.  For more details on how hybrids save money over tradtional taxis, follow the link.

The MTBOT 'dismissed the new financial incentives as an "end run" around last month's court ruling.'

"Today's attempt to buy off taxi operators and to use backdoor methods to force safe, proven commercial vehicles off the road is wrong and highly challengeable," Ron Sherman, the group's president said.

I've seen estimates of hybrid taxis costing twice as much as their traditional crown victoria taxis.  But I've also seen reports that hybrid taxis can 'pay for themselves' after just 14 months.

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So Much for the Sale in India

Honda Siel Cars India, just days after slashing prices on the Honda Civic Hybrid, has pulled back on their special price offer.

After receiving 1,100 inquiries and 235 bookings, they've simply run out. With a 37% cut in price, they had come close to eliminating the import tax of 104% on their Civic Hybrid.

With only 60 sold prior to the sale, the 235 new sales are quite amazing. Many of the new buyers may need to wait months until Honda Siel can import new units to give out.

Source: Honda closes Civic Hybrid special offer - Corporate News -

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Hybrids are Making a Difference in VTA Outreach

The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in California has switched out 75 older cars for new hybrids. The new hybrid fleet is part of the paratransit service which offers transportation to individuals with disabilities.

If an individual's disability prevents independent access to, and use of VTA's accessible bus and light rail services, then VTA offers specialized accessible paratransit services to those eligible, as specified in the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Appendix 49 CFR37.123)
The VTA provided 60 hybrids to Outreach, it's paratransit operator. The VTA estimates the 60 Toyota Prius cover about 3.4 million miles a year or about 35 percent of the Outreach's total mileage. But they only account for 15 percent of the total fuel. That means by using hybrids, the service is saving 121,000 gallons a year.

The ten Ford Escape Hybrids and five Prius will perform other duties in the VTA’s Protective Services and Construction divisions. They will be used in high-mileage activities and patrol.

"With the market's volatile gas prices, investing in hybrid technology is paying off," said VTA General Manager Michael Burns. "Providing the same level of mobility and service to our customers while reducing VTA's carbon footprint and dependency on fuel is a win-win for VTA."

During fiscal year 2008 VTA paratransit provided a total of 1,055,429 passenger trips to 11,109 customers.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poughkeepsie Hybrid Diesel Buses

Poughkeepsie officials showed off their four new diesel-electric hybrid buses they bought with the help of state and federal funds. That brings their total number of buses up to eleven.

The hybrid buses cost $500,000 to purchase, as opposed to diesel only variants which only cost $250,000.   The $2 million purchase only cost the town about $240,000.  The rest of the money came from the state Department of Transportation, the state Clean Fuel Initiative program and the Federal Transit Administration.

Assistant Public Works Superintendent Stanley Merritt expects to save 7% in savings. (As long as they don't have all the issues they had in Toronto, that is.)  That's a savings of more than $300,000 over their expected 12-year life span.

The diesel electric hybrid buses operate on battery power at low, up to 17 mph, speeds. From 18 - 30 mph, they are powered by a mix of electric and diesel power, with the diesel engines taking over completely at higher speeds.

The new buses offer better access for wheelchairs or heavy electronic scooters by using low-floor access rather than motorized lifts.  They also have bike racks.

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Honda Slashes Prices on Honda Civic Hybrid in India

In an effort to clear inventory of the Hybrid Civic Hybrid in India, Honda Siel Cars India (HSCI) has cut the price by almost 40%. The Civic Hybrid pricetag will read Rs13.36 lakh, down from Rs21.50 lakh until December this year.

According to the VP of marketing, the price cut is to stimulate the popularity of the technology

“There was a huge response from customers, who wanted to buy the car, but they were unable to do so because of the high import duty cost. As our priority is to popularise the technology, we have decided to cut the price for a limited period,” HSCI Vice-President (Marketing) Jananeswar Sen said.

Since they have only sold 60 units since hybrids began entering India, some sort of stimulus certainly seems in order.

While I don't have the current monetary conversion, 1 believe 1 lakh is $2500. That's based on my memory and seeing all the stories on the 1 lakh car recently. If that's true, the price was cut by over $20,000. Which means the price of RS13.36 lakh is still over $33,000.

Import duties on cars in India are extremely high.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sam's Club Offers Super Car

Hybrid Technologies has built a Super Car; an electric car with a top speed over 150 mph, and an acceleration of 0-60 in less than 5 seconds. And it's going to be sold through Sam's Club, the members only warehouse division of Wal-Mart.

The Super Car is charged through a 110v or 220v plug, making it easy to 're-fuel'. The battery pack is lithium, and if fully charged has a driving range of 200 miles.

The Super Car will be featured in the Sam's Club 2008 Annual Gift Guide and can be bought for $100,000 starting on November 12, 2008. The website offer is only available to Sam's Club members.

By purchasing the car, you will get travel accomodations for two to LA, including first class tickets and one room at a luxury hotel. You will receive the car at a professional racetrack where you can experience the full power. Afterwards, the car will be shipped to your residence.

Prototype is expected to premiere at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2008. The vehicle itself will be available in mid-2009.

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Dean Karmen, inventor of the Segway, has brought to light his latest project. He, with the backing of some investors from Norway, converted a Ford Think into a plug-in hybrid electric car with a stirling engine, the first of it's kind (Source; Boston Herald).

He has registered the two-seat hatchback in NH as a 2008 DEKA Revolt.

The Stirling engine is located in the trunk of the car, with a large lithium battery pack used to power the electric motor. The car can go 60 miles on all electric power, while the Stirling engine is used to power things like the defroster and heater. That allows him to conserve the battery power. If the battery does low, however, the stirling engine is used to recharge the battery until it can be plugged in and re-charged once again.

The Think was an electric car from Ford which was discontinued in 2000.

The Stirling engine was invented back in 1816 by a Scottish minister, Robert Stirling. It uses external heat to drive internal pistons and can use any fuel, from biodiesel to natural gas. It burns clean and can be programmed to turn on so the battery and car are all warmed up by the time you get in. But, for now, there is no cheap way to mass produce a Stirling engine, making it cost prohibitive to auto manufacturers.

"Compared to an internal combustion engine of the same power rating, Stirling engines currently have a higher capital cost and are usually larger and heavier. Their lower maintenance requirements make the overall energy cost comparable. The thermal efficiency is also comparable (for small engines), ranging from 15%-30%." - Source: Wikipedia.

Kamen continues to 'talk' with his investors in Norway and hopes to go into production within two years. He's unsure how much it would cost to buy one.

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AFS Trinity and 150 MPG Car Pull Out of LA Auto Show

In a fight over claims on the 150 mpg car, AFS Trinity has decided to pull out of the LA Auto Show. But they promise to show up somewhere in LA if you want to stop by and see what all the fuss is about.

AFS Trinity had been finalizing their demonstration when they found out the banner they had would not be acceptable to the Auto Show. Specifically, their claim to 150 mpg, unverified by the EPA, was not allowable.

In an e-mail from LA Auto Show Assistant General Manager, Scott Webb had this to say “We cannot approve this content . . . the mileage claim is of primary concern to us. Manufacturers are forced to quote EPA verified mpg numbers in their advertising, and . . . [your] 150-MPG figure is an estimation. A banner like this one in the lobby is likely to generate unfavorable reactions from manufacturers, which is something we will take action to avoid.”

Given the 150 mpg claim is central to AFS Trinity and their plug-in hybrid car image, they were understandably upset about this. They offered to change the wording to indicate this was an estimate and not EPA verified, but the idea was rejected. AFS Trinity decided to back out of the show at that point.

While I understand their natural frustration, I'm surprised they backed out. I would think any exposure is critical for a small car company like this and to back out of a large auto show like LA is a drastic step.

But then, they're probably getting more notice right now for pulling out.

The LA Auto Show opinion is also understandable, since the 150 mpg claim is based on a particular driving habit:  a typical week of driving: 40 miles, 6 days per week and 80 miles on one weekend day each week. The first 40 miles of every day are electric, with gasoline being used only for distances beyond 40 miles. For this driving profile, the XH-150 uses up to 2 gallons of gas to travel 320 miles, which works out to 160 mpg, which the company rounds down to 150 miles per gallon. 

While that looks reasonable, the 'standard' for measuring mpg for a plug-in hybrid just doesn't exist , yet.  GM has been fighting with the EPA about how to rate the Volt.  The sooner the EPA makes a decision and lets everyone know about what their rule is, the better everyone will be.  Without any guidelines, even larger car companies are going to keep getting into situations like this.

Read more about the XH-150, the 150 MPG plug-in hybrid.

Read the Press Release from AFS Trinity below to get more details about their spat with the LA Auto Show.

LOS ANGELES, November 7, 2008 . . . AFS Trinity Power Corporation today announced it pulled its 150 MPG plug-in hybrid SUV prototypes out of the LA Auto Show but will independently exhibit and demonstrate the super fuel-efficient vehicles on their own elsewhere in downtown LA during the show.

The company's decision followed actions by the LA Auto Show to muzzle AFS Trinity from highlighting the 150 miles per gallon fuel economy of its XH150 prototype vehicles. "The suppression by the automakers of information about technologies such as this raises serious questions about the judgment, vision, intentions and capabilities of the leadership of these companies,” said Edward W. Furia, Chairman and CEO of AFS Trinity. “Such conduct by the automakers, who are currently seeking tens of billions of taxpayer dollars, ostensibly to develop fuel efficient vehicle technologies, is evidence they are reluctant to embrace solutions they didn’t invent.”

First shown at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit in January, 2008, two XH150 prototypes have toured the country for the last ten months and received positive reactions from the American public, national media (see coverage at, public officials, Governors, Senators and Members of Congress as well as automotive fleet managers and engineers in Austin, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Seattle, Livermore and Sacramento. (Images available for download at

Furia explained that, when AFS Trinity sought exhibition space on the main floor of the LA Auto Show, the only space that show management offered was the Kentia Hall basement (Note: the LA Auto Show is “owned” by the Greater Los Angeles New Car Dealers Association, which, in turn, is closely associated with the major auto makers in Detroit). To address AFS Trinity's concern that the Kentia Hall basement space was much less likely to attract visitors to the XH150 exhibit, show management offered the company a package of floor space in Kentia, advertising space in the auto show program and billboard space on the main floor of the convention center, suggesting that AFS Trinity could use the ad and billboard to attract visitors to the basement exhibit.

“There was just one hitch,” Furia said. “Before we could proceed, the content of our ad and billboard had to be submitted to auto show management for approval. When we told them that the ad and billboard content would essentially be the same as what the company has used in its web site for the past ten months and which we used at the Detroit Auto Show in January, they responded that our mileage claim of 150 miles per gallon would not be permitted.”

Furia quoted an email from LA Auto Show management that said, “We cannot approve this content . . . the mileage claim is of primary concern to us. Manufacturers are forced to quote EPA verified mpg numbers in their advertising, and . . . [your] 150-MPG figure is an estimation. A banner like this one in the lobby is likely to generate unfavorable reactions from manufacturers, which is something we will take action to avoid.” (Email from LA Auto Show Assistant General Manager, Scott Webb).

In response, AFS Trinity observed that EPA does not certify mileage estimates of show cars and prototypes, but nevertheless offered to modify its billboard and ad content with new text, stating, “150-MPG is an estimate, not EPA-certified . . .your mileage may vary.”

The email AFS Trinity received in response from LA Auto Show management, according to Furia, reads: ‘We will not accept any billboard or program advertising that mentions AFS Trinity's 150-MPG claim, including references as part of the graphics on the vehicle. This is no longer a topic for further discussion."

Explaining AFS Trinity’s decision to pull out of the LA Auto show completely, Furia said, “We had no choice but to pull out of the show when they refused to let us state our 150-MPG mileage estimate, as it is the most important and popular feature of our technology. Indeed, I believe our fuel economy would be the main reason that people would go to the trouble to find us at the auto show,” he said. “Being in the basement was bad enough. Forcing us to be silent about our key benefit was simply unacceptable.”

Ignoring the solution

Furia said, “No one questions the sales potential of a 150-MPG SUV that can carry a whole family and provide better acceleration than similar gasoline models. Every single person who has driven these cars loves them and wants one. We have built two XH150 prototypes and demonstrated them across the country. Yet, none of the major automakers has accepted our invitation to see and drive them, let alone license the technology and mass produce them. They usually claim that they are going to come up with something of their own in the future. In other words, they reject breakthroughs they didn't invent.”

“In the meantime,” Furia said, “American auto plants are closing, men and women who are among the best trained, most productive auto workers in the world are losing their jobs in record numbers, and America is in danger of losing the last vestiges of its heartland heavy industrial base altogether. We want people to know that a super fuel-efficient automotive solution to our dependence on oil already exists, which the driving public enthusiastically supports and that major automakers can license and mass-produce within an estimated three years.”

Furia said, “Our desire to deliver this message in spite of the effort to muzzle us is why we decided to bring our exhibit trailer and prototypes to downtown L.A., the American city that, probably more than any other, understands the environmental, energy and economic implications of this technology. The anticompetitive behavior by the automakers is troubling because Americans still appear willing to buy new cars if they are offered the right ones. Now is the time to embrace new fuel efficient vehicle technologies, not stifle them.”

EPA and prototypes

According to Furia, “The reason the LA Auto Show gave for prohibiting our 150 mile per gallon estimate—which we have widely used in other auto shows and which has been broadly reported by the media worldwide—is that EPA has not certified this mileage, but this is a weak and transparent excuse, as EPA does not certify mileage for show cars or prototypes. Certification does not happen until a car is much closer to being commercially produced.”

AFS Trinity’s 150-MPG mileage estimate is based on a typical week of driving: 40 miles, 6 days per week and 80 miles on one weekend day each week. The first 40 miles of every day are electric, with gasoline being used only for distances beyond 40 miles. For this driving profile, the XH-150 uses up to 2 gallons of gas to travel 320 miles, which works out to 160 mpg, which the company rounds down to 150 miles per gallon.

Battery issue

Furia explained that the difference between the AFS Trinity approach to energy storage in a plugin hybrid and that of other developers is the use of ultracapacitors and proprietary control electronics to solve the power and life cycle limitations of batteries. AFS Trinity has been developing sophisticated energy storage and delivery technologies for 18 years working with a variety of private and government entities, including DARPA, NASA, the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Transportation, California State agencies, Oak Ridge National Labs, Lawrence Livermore National Labs, Lockheed, Honeywell, Mercedes, Ricardo and others.

“We applaud attempts by carmakers and others to develop a new battery that might be able to overcome the inherent reliability and durability problems related to the duty cycle demanded of a plugin hybrid, but waiting for it – especially as it may never emerge or may emerge at an impossibly high cost – is risky business, particularly when the auto industry needs an energy storage and power management solution for plug ins now,” Furia said. “We have a solution today that we have demonstrated and that only requires mass production engineering in order to be put into commercial production in a wide range of cars, trucks and SUVs.”

Implications for Auto Industry Stimulus (aka “Bail-out”) Package

Furia noted that the Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday that Detroit automakers are once again on Capital Hall in Washington, D.C. seeking a bail-out and forecasting their own demise if they don’t get it. “This is certain to be a major issue that the new U.S. Congress and President-Elect Obama will consider. An emergency bail-out could even become an issue in the remaining days of 2008 for the current U.S. Congress,” he said.

"The action that the LA Auto Show took to muzzle AFS Trinity has implications for such a bailout," Furia said. "The idea that the Detroit automakers, through their LA Auto Show agents, would seek to suppress interest in a super-efficient vehicle technology developed by a small company such as AFS Trinity truly challenges the imagination, particularly given the global energy security landscape through which America must navigate in the next several decades,” Furia said.

Whether the behavior of the Greater Los Angeles New Car Dealers, and, by implication and association, the carmakers they serve, is based on NIH ("not-invented-here") considerations, or something else, it raises questions about whether the current leadership of the American auto industry possesses the perspective, character, capability and vision to escape the death march in which they currently appear to be locked, no matter how large a bailout the next Congress and President-Elect Obama are willing to support.

“As dangerous as Detroit's problems may be, they also represent an enormous opportunity to reject antiquated attitudes and behaviors and create millions of new jobs and feed unprecedented economic growth, precisely because these problems are so large and so critical to address. Simply put,” Furia concluded, “a stimulus package that allows current auto industry leadership to remain in control of the destiny of this critically important industry as it confronts this unprecedented crisis—and opportunity— is something that the new Congress and President-Elect Obama should really think twice about."

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lexus HS250h - the New Dedicated Hybrid From Lexus

All of the following is based on rumor and a magazine article from Japan. Toyota has said they will be producing a dedicated hybrid for Lexus, but it's unknown at this point what the name of the new vehicle will be, how much it will cost and what it will look like.

According to Japan's Mag-X (via Motorauthority and VWvortex Forums, the new dedicated hybrid from Lexus will look a lot like the Prius.

If the magazine is correct, the HS 250h will be the first dedicated hybrid from Lexus and will be available in 2010 for the US and 2011 in Japan. The powertrain will be based on the one found in the Toyota Camry Hybrid. It will also be positioned over the current IS sedan, and will be the most affordable Lexus. It will be roomy sedan, classified in the midsize 'D-segment'.

The dedicated Lexus Hybrid will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show along with the third generation Prius.

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The DOE Has Set up Their $25 Billion Loan for the Auto Industry

The DOE has set up the $25 billion loan program for the auto industry. Congress set down 60 days to issue their interim final regulations, but the DOE has now issued the regulations in almost half the time.

On November 5th, the DOE issued their Interim Final Rule to help manufacturers (either auto or component) build or reequip or expand facilities for the production of advanced technology vehicles. The vehicle being manufactured must achieve 25% greater fuel economy than similar vehicles sold in MY 2005. The DOE grouped vehicles by classes previously defined by EPA for the purpose of fuel economy ratings, as well as additional subclasses created by DOE for performance vehicles (e.g., sport cars).

The rule will become effective as soon as it is published in the federal registry, although the DOE will accept comments for 30 days. A final rule will be issued after the comment period ends and the DOE evaluates the program.

Applications for the first round of loans will be accepted through December 31st. Each manufacturer must be financially viable. The DOE expects several rounds of loans to be issued.

The DOE even took the time to set up a website for the auto loan program.

The loans will be issued based on when the applications are submitted, how thorough the application is and attainment of any required permits or approvals.

In order to apply for the loan, the manufacturing facilities must be located in the US, the engineering integration and related costs must be performed in the US, and the costs must be reasonably related to the reequipping, expanding, or establishing a manufacturing facility in the U.S. Loans are not available on a retroactive basis.

An interesting point: automobile manufacturers must demonstrate a history of maintaining or improving the fuel economy of their fleet, and so they must show their current fleet is at least as fuel efficient as their MY 2005 fleet (p. 11).

A new manufacturer (no cars in MY 2005 to compare to), must show the vehicles that are the subject of the application must have a fuel economy at least as good as all vehicles in the same vehicle class in MY 2005 (p. 13).

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Hybrids are the Sacred Cows of the Auto Industry

Because of how badly the auto industry market is going right now, the car companies are all shifting plans in order to cut costs to the minimum right now. That includes delaying or even axing plans for future cars.

Which is why Chrysler cut production of their large SUVs including the hybrid versions and why GM cut plans for their next generation of hybrid SUVs. And more recently, GM has (not confirmed, yet) to delay production of their plug-in Saturn Vue.

But what they aren't cutting is the more fuel efficient hybrid cars. For instance, GM has gone out of their way to let people know the Chevy Volt has been excluded from all talk of delays or cut-backs. And now Toyota has announced their plans to deal with the economic climate. They are cutting costs as much as possible. And they are accelerating their hybrid plans.

Source:Toyota Wields the Budget Axe

Hybrids remain the sacred cows of Toyota. In a conference call with financial analysts and media Thursday, Toyota executives said the automaker, already dominating in hybrids with its popular Prius, will "accelerate its hybrid strategy," as hybrids are critical to Toyota's future competitive position. That strategy includes the introduction in Japan of four new hybrids, including the next-generation of the Prius, next year.
That's right, they are accelerating their hybrid plans. It's easy to see that, despite the reduction in hybrid car sales, Toyota obviously feels hybrids are a strong point for the future.

There's an obviously strong message here about hybrid technology and plug-in technology that has been developed to cut gas consumption.  Despite the lowering in gas prices, major auto companies are continuing the switch.  Part of that may be the upcoming CAFE changes and part of it may be the current economic climate (people don't want to spend as much money on cars and gasoline as they did in the past).

GM obviously agrees.  Even while they are staring down the barrel of bankruptcy in as little as six months at their current pace, GM refuses to cut costs on a car (Chevy Volt) that has never been done before and is as much of an experiment as hybrids were a decade ago. 

It's quite possible that, if GM hasn't gone the way of the dodo by then, the Volt could define their future.

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Hybrid Car Sales, October 2008

October continued the downward trend for hybrid car sales, with a 13% decline in reported sales.  (A side note: Sales did go over reported sales from 2 years ago for the first time since July)  With 21,278 units sold in October, the trend for 2008 is being sealed, with a small decline in sales for the first time since hybrids came onto the market.  It's not hard to figure out why hybrid car sales are declining.  Compared to the industry as a whole, hybrids are not declining as fast as other car segments, but the overall downward trend is pulling even hybrids down.  Add in lower gas costs and the extra hybrid car cost isn't as appealing to as many car buyers.

Toyota lost ground, with a 14% decline in general.  The Prius, which still accounts for over half of all hybrid sales each month, was down 10%.  That sort of decline for the mainline of all hybrids shows where the hybrid car industry is right now.  Toyota sold around 30,000 Prius in the last two months of 2007.  Even if Toyota were to match that, Toyota wouldn't reach the 180,000 they hoped to sell.   And that's very surprising given the really high demand for the Prius at the beginning of the year.  As with last month, the only increase in sales comes from the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which had a 72% gain from last year.  But that just shows you how low the sales were as Toyota made the switchover to the new model for the Highlander last year.

Honda had close to a 30% decline in Civic hybrid sales, but Civic hybrid sales are still up 12% on the year.  If the trend continues, Honda Civic Hybrid sales may be the only hybrid sales up for the whole year. 

Nissan continued their limited sales of the Altima Hybrid, while Chrysler hasn't reported any sales of their new hybrid models, yet.  GM sold 795 of their dual mode hybrids, which gives them just over 4,000 hybrid SUVs for the year.  Given the upcoming retirement of both the Chrysler hybrids and the GM SUV hybrids, sales will most likely be limited in the next few months.

Make Model Oct-07 Oct-08 % Change
Honda Accord 243 1 -100%
Honda Civic 2,286 1,621 -29%
Honda Insight 0 0 -
Toyota Prius 13,158 11,804 -10%
Toyota Highlander 596 1,022 71%
Toyota Camry 3,511 2,792 -20%
Toyota GS 450h 71 22 -69%
Toyota RX 400h 1,392 615 -56%
Toyota LS600hL 175 55 -69%
Ford Escape/Mariner 2,084 1,997 -4%
Nissan Altima 927 554 -40%
GM Yukon/Tahoe/Escalade 0 795 -
Total 24,443 21,278 -13%
Make Model Cumulative, 2007 Cumulative, 2008 % Change
Honda Accord 3,051 197 -94%
Honda Civic 26,114 29,218 12%
Honda Insight 3 0 -100%
Toyota Prius 150,272 142,367 -5%
Toyota Highlander 16,684 17,594 5%
Toyota Camry 44,390 42,210 -5%
Toyota GS 450h 1,676 585 -65%
Toyota RX 400h 13,585 13,113 -3%
Toyota LS600hL 638 893 40%
Ford Escape/Mariner 20,619 17,012 -17%
Nissan Altima 6,233 7,756 24%
GM Yukon/Tahoe/Escalade 0 4,181 -
Total 283,265 275,034 -3%

With the retirement of Chrysler and GM hybrids SUVs, the next big thing in hybrid sales will come from Ford as they release the Fusion and Milan.

There are only three things that could drastically change the current negative environment: 1) the overall economy could improve, 2) gas prices rise up again with the end of the election period, or 3) if Toyota somehow figure out how to increase production of the Prius. The third is the most unlikely since Toyota is working on changing over the Prius, which is probably why the Prius sales have declined. Until then, it looks like the hybrid car industry will remain stagnant or continue to decline.

Hybrid Car Sales, September 2008
Hybrid Car Sales, October 2007

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Fisker Wins in Arbitration Against Tesla

Remember the lawsuit filed by Tesla against Fisker? Well, the arbitrator has decided the "evidence is overwhelming that Fisker did nothing wrong" and the "Tesla's assetion of violations of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act by Fisker were baseless and neither brought nor pursued in good faith."

I'm not a lawyer, but that sounds pretty straightforward to me.

In case you don't remember what the lawsuit was all about: 

Tesla claimed in their lawsuit Fisker "used fraud and deceit to gain access to and exploit Tesla's highly confidential and proprietary information and trade secrets in order to develop a competing electric-hybrid sports sedan."

Fisker Automotive responded via press release to the lawsuit by Tesla saying they stole company secrets, and provided substandard design when putting together the styling of the Tesla White Star. 

Tesla noted they had to reject the $800,000 design provided by Fisker.
Fisker was, of course, very happy with the results.

"We are very pleased with the ruling in favor of Fisker Coachbuild, LLC, Fisker Automotive, Inc., Bernhard Koehler and myself," said Henrik Fisker, CEO of Fisker Automotive Inc. "Despite the burden and expense of Tesla's lawsuit, Fisker Automotive, Inc. has been able to continue with its business plan and production schedule. We are still on schedule to deliver our first production vehicle, the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid, 4 door luxury sports sedan by 4th Quarter 2009. Today's world needs new alternative energy vehicles and the focus should be to build and deliver these vehicles as soon as possible."

But I also stick with what I said before. A lawsuit between these two companies benefits no one but the lawyers.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

MTBOT Delays Hybrid Taxi Switchover in NY

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBOT) has won a stay against the hybrid change-over in New York. The US District Court issued the following decision:

"The Court finds that Plaintiffs have standing to bring this action; that they will be irreparably harmed; and that Plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the issue of preemption. The City's counterarguments are unconvincing. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is GRANTED."

The MTBOT is challenging the hybrid taxicab switchover on the basis of safety concerns. Since hybrid taxicabs need to be modified to add a partition, they are claiming the taxis are unsafe and untested.

For more information: MTBOT Files Suit and their follow-up.

Read the press release from the MTBOT below:

NEW YORK, Oct. 31 /PRNewswire/ -- A federal judge has granted a
preliminary injunction against the City of New York's hybrid taxi mandate,
which was to take effect tomorrow, November 1st. Judge Paul A. Crotty of
the United States District Court, Southern District of New York ruled in
favor of the plaintiffs which include the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of
Trade (MTBOT), the country's largest taxi trade association.

The decision reads as follows:

"The Court finds that Plaintiffs have standing to bring this action;
that they will be irreparably harmed; and that Plaintiffs have demonstrated
a likelihood of success on the issue of preemption. The City's
counterarguments are unconvincing. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion for a
preliminary injunction is GRANTED."

In its lawsuit, MTBOT had cited a 2008 engineer's report that concluded
that hybrid taxicabs were unsafe and unfit for taxi use. The group also
cited the refusal of any hybrid automaker to certify the crashworthiness of
their hybrids when outfitted with mandatory partitions or when used in 24/7
commercial taxi operation.

"MTBOT applauds Judge Paul A. Crotty's decision," said Ron Sherman,
President of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade. "For MTBOT and so
many others, this has never been about whether or not the taxi industry
should be embracing a greener, more fuel-efficient fleet. This is about
safety and common sense. We have been actively working with the auto
industry and City to bring a safe, comfortable, fuel-efficient taxicab to
the market. And while we're pleased that these 'taxis of tomorrow' may be
available as early as this summer, the much smaller, non-commercial
passenger hybrids available for purchase today are unsafe when outfitted
with hard, bullet-proof partitions and unfit for 24/7 taxi service."

Mr. Sherman continued, "MTBOT has always preferred that this issue be
settled out of Court. However, after exhaustive efforts at the TLC, we were
given no choice and were compelled to advocate on behalf of the safety of
our passengers and drivers. Now that the Court has ruled in our favor, and
indeed -- in the taxi passenger's and taxi driver's favor -- we look
forward to working with the Taxi and Limousine Commission and our
colleagues in the taxi industry to ensure the continuity of safe,
effective, comfortable taxi service for the riding public."

MTBOT is the country's largest taxi fleet association. It represents 27
yellow medallion taxi fleets in New York City that comprise over 3,500
medallion taxicabs -- approximately 25% of the taxi industry. MTBOT members
have operated more than 30 different vehicles over several decades
including minivans, Compressed Natural Gas vehicles and hybrids. MTBOT
advocates on behalf of its members, its 14,000 drivers and the riding

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