Saturday, January 31, 2009

China Offers Subsidy to Hybrid Car Buyers

In an effort to encourage hybrid car ownership in China, the finance ministry is offering a subsidy to companies and institutions that buy hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles.

Noting the high price tag on hybrid vehicles, the ministry said "such cars have been out of reach of the common people." But the ministry is not offering to subsidize vehicle purchases for individuals.

The subsidy is available in 11 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai for public transportation, taxi service, postal and sanitary use.

The Chinese government wants to curb pollution, help promote hybrid car production and cut down on gasoline use.

Local governments are expected to make the purchases, house and maintain the vehicles.

Source: Reuters

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Free Parking for Hybrids Ending in LA

It looks like LA may be ending the free parking program in their parking garages in March. Because of budget issues, the City Council's transportation committee has endorsed the recommendation to end the program.

Is it time to let hybrid cars stand on their own? Or are people still buying because of incentives like this? My bias says hybrid cars are here to stay, irregardless of HOV or free parking incentives, but I also know that some people do buy because of them.

The $4,000 people were willing to pay to enter the HOV lane is proof enough of that.

The full council still has to approve the recommendation of the transportation committee, so the free parking program is still in effect. Source: Free parking for some hybrids may be coming to an end in L.A. | L.A. Now | Los Angeles Times

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid Qualify for Federal Tax Credit

The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid qualified for the federal tax credit at the maximum amount of $3,400.  But if you want the full amount, you're going to have to buy sooner rather than later.  Ford has passed the 60,000 limit on the number of hybrid car sales putting them into the phase-out period.

Starting in April, 2009, the tax credit eligible to anyone who buys a hybrid from Ford will be cut in half.  In October, it will be cut down to a quarter.  As of April 1st, 2010, the tax credit for Ford buyers will be gone.  Toyota and Honda have already hit their limits, leaving just Nissan and GM.

Press Release follows:

DEARBORN, MICH., Jan. 28, 2009 – Customers eager to purchase America’s most fuel-efficient mid-size sedans, the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid, can take advantage of a $3,400 tax credit from the federal government.

Buyers of a new 2010 Fusion Hybrid or Mercury Milan Hybrid this year will qualify for the $3,400 tax credit, the highest credit amount ever offered for hybrids purchased or placed in service after Dec. 31, 2005. The Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrid, the most fuel-efficient SUVs in America, continue to qualify for a $3,000 tax credit, the highest available tax credit of all hybrids on the road today.

Fusion Hybrid’s class-leading 41 mpg rating in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, which tops the Toyota Camry Hybrid by 8 mpg in the city and 2 mpg on the highway, helped Fusion garner the significant credit amount, which is based on a vehicle’s potential fuel efficiency. Stacked together, Fusion’s fuel savings and tax incentive can help significantly offset the premium to the customer for hybrid-electric technology over a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle.

“Hybrids are an important part of our strategy to deliver the best or among the best fuel economy with all of our new products, and the Fusion and Milan Hybrids have set the pace for the company, as well as our competitors,” said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, Global Product Development. “We’re glad to see our government help promote these advanced, clean fuel-efficient vehicles to the consumer.”

Technological innovation, like the development of Ford’s hybrid systems, is a core value as the company drives for leadership in quality, safety, fuel efficiency and in-car connectivity. A new study this week by The Patent Board™ – the world’s leading patent analyst – found that Ford outperformed all other automakers in the quality and significance of its technology patents. The 2010 Fusion, Milan and their respective hybrid models set new standards for technology innovation with 119 U.S. patents.

Hybrid Hot Sheet
To deliver 700-plus miles on a single tank of gas, Fusion Hybrid travels up to 47 miles per hour in pure electric mode, faster than the Camry and all other hybrids currently on the road. In addition, the system’s Intake Variable Cam Timing (i-VCT) allows the hybrid to more seamlessly transition from gas to electric mode and vice-versa, delivering a near imperceptible hybrid driving experience to the customer.
Other advanced hybrid systems that contribute to Fusion’s fuel-economy leadership include:
• A smaller, lighter nickel-metal hydride battery, which produces 20 percent more power than Ford’s previous hybrid system.
• An enhanced electronic throttle control, which reduces airflow on shutdowns, reducing fueling needs on restarts.
• A regenerative brake system that recovers and stores nearly 94 percent of energy normally lost through friction in braking.

The 2010 Fusion Hybrid also debuts Ford’s SmartGauge with EcoGuide, a unique instrument cluster that helps coach drivers on how to optimize the fuel efficiency of their vehicles.

Ford’s Growing Hybrid Fleet
The 2010 Fusion and Milan Hybrids join the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrids, doubling the company’s hybrid product offerings and volume.

The 2009 Escape and Mariner Hybrid FWD models qualify for a $3,000 tax credit; 4WD models $1,950. Owners of previous model-year Escape and Mariner hybrid models may also qualify for varying credit amounts from $1,950 to $3,000.  The credit is only available to the original purchaser of a new, qualifying vehicle.

The tax credit amounts available for 2009 and 2010 model year hybrid vehicles are as follows:

Tax Credit Amount

1/1 - 3/31/09
4/1 - 9/30/09
10/1/09 – 3/31/10
4/1/10 and later
2010 Fusion Hybrid
2010 Milan Hybrid
2009 Escape Hybrid FWD
2009 Escape Hybrid 4WD
2009 Mariner Hybrid FWD
2009 Mariner Hybrid 4WD

Tax Credit Update
Customers who purchase a Ford or Mercury brand hybrid by March 31, 2009 will remain eligible for the full tax credit amounts.  Beginning April 1, 2009 customers who purchase a hybrid will only be able to claim a partial tax credit as described in the table above.

Since Ford Motor Company reached the 60,000 vehicle threshold in the 4th quarter of 2008, the tax credit amounts are reduced by 50 percent beginning in the second quarter of 2009 and by an additional 25 percent beginning in the fourth quarter of 2009.  No tax credit amount is available for hybrids after March 31, 2010.

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Senate Works to Amend Plug-in Hybrid Tax Credit

In the latest proposal for the stimulus bill (pdf) (found via GCC), the rules for plug-in hybrid tax credits, passed as part of the bail out bill last year are being amended.  The present law sets the base amount of the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit is $2,500, plus another $417 for each kilowatt-hour of battery capacity in excess of four kilowatt-hours. The maximum credit for qualified vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less is $7,500. This maximum amount increases to $10,000 for vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds but not more than 14,000 pounds, to $12,500 for vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds but not more than 26,000 pounds, and to $15,000 for vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds. 

The Chevy Volt would likely qualify the buyer for $7,500 in tax credits, the maximum allowed for its weight.

The new rules would double the amount to the first 500,000 buyers before entering into a phase-out period, which does not extend beyond 2014.  It would also create a new credit for low-speed vehicles, motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles of up to $4,000.  The mandate sets a 10% credit for these 'other vehicles' that would are being shut out because they are low-speed or do not have four wheels.  The new credit is not available for vehicles sold after December 31, 2011.

The stimulus bill also sets a three-year extension of availability of tax credit for wind and some other projects, a new credit for manufacture of advanced energy-related equipment, and extended and expanded credits for energy efficient homes. Find more info on the other tax credits at treehugger.

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Obama Pushes for New Mileage Rules

Obama has asked the EPA to reconsider the waiver request by California to implement their own gas mileage rules. This is quite different from how President Bush and the EPA stalled California over the past few years in their attempts to force automakers to produce fewer emissions.

President Obama noted in his Remarks:

It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil, while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs. We hold no illusion about the task that lies ahead. I cannot promise a quick fix; no single technology or set of regulations will get the job done. But we will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is free from our energy dependence and empowered by a new energy economy that puts millions of our citizens to work.

He also wants to start implementing the new CAFE rules by 2011:
We will start by implementing new standards for model year 2011 so that we use less oil and families have access to cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks. This rule will be a down payment on a broader and sustained effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Congress has passed legislation to increase standards to at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020. That 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency for our cars and trucks could save over 2 million barrels of oil every day -- nearly the entire amount of oil that we import from the Persian Gulf.
Neither proposition from President Obama will be met by cheers in the automakers offices right now.

If California is granted its waiver request, 13 other states will follow suit. That's about 40% of the total US market.  Follow that link to see a breakdown of the two new rules (CAFE and California standards), how the two standards differ, and how the automakers will most likely react to them.

Since the two rules are implemented differently, the automakers will have to meet different standards in the US.  The new CAFE rules differentiate between the sizes of each car, which means there's less penalty for building bigger cars (SUVs, trucks, etc...) while California will mandate a fleet-wide emissions program.

Governor Rendell in PA praised Obama for "his leadership and vision. Ensuring California, Pennsylvania and at least 12 other states can put cleaner, more fuel efficient cars on the road means good things for our people, our national security, and our environment; it means fewer trips to the gas pump, fewer dollars being shipped overseas to oil-rich nations; and fewer pollutants in our air."  Pennsylvania had joined with California and the 12 other states to fight the EPA.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

HOV Exemption Back Up for Review in Virginia Again

Virginia gives hybrid owners an HOV exemption for traveling as a single driver in the high occupancy lanes, but the original bill lapsed many years ago.  Since that time, the exemption has come up for review and once again, their are three bills up for extending the dates on the exemption.

The current exemption lasts until July 1, 2009, but there are three bills up for review in the Committee on Transportation. - Bills would give another year of HOV exemption for hybrids

Vehicles with special fuel license plates that were registered in Virginia before July 1, 2006, are allowed to use High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 95/395 at rush hour, regardless of the number of occupants.

House Bills 1932, 2299, 2476 would extend the exemption's "sunset" to 2010.
Get ready to hear from critics on how hybrids fill the lanes meant for car poolers. And get ready to hear from those who approve of the measure to point out it's the law-breakers who cause the real traffic issues.

I'd be surprised to hear any new arguments this year.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Hybrid Car Sales Down in 2008

According to automotive news, hybrid car sales were down 9.8% for 2008 over 2007. The surprising part is how drastic they feel that is. (Hybrid sales in U.S. slip 9.9% in 2008 - Automotive News)

U.S. Hybrid Vehicle Sales
Company 2008 2007 % change
Chrysler LLC 81 - -
Ford Motor Co. 19522 25108 -22.2%
General Motors 14439 5175 179.0%
American Honda 31495 35980 -12.5%
Nissan N.A. 8819 8388 5.1%
Toyota Motor Sales 241405 275779 -12.5%
Total 315761 350430 -9.9%
Source: Automotive News Data Center, companies and National Renewable Energy Laboratory
The percentages and N's here are all misleading. Chrysler started selling, but almost immediately retired their two-mode hybrids after just a couple of months. The general drop in oversized SUVs, hybrids or not, oversized or not, pushed Chrysler into dropping their production.

GM started sellling their oversized hybrid SUVs, got past their recall issues from earlier on their mild hybrids, and just hadn't sold that many hybrids the year before.

Nissan started selling their hybrid Nissan in February of last year in limited numbers.  Seeing that number go up by 5% is still pretty good considering the downturn in the overall market.

Honda, Toyota and Ford tell you the real story in hybrid car sales since, except for the introduction of the LS 600h L in 2007, has had a stable number of hybrids being sold in 2007 and in 2008.  Ford was the big loser, probably because they sell the Hybrid Escape Hybrid, an SUV which began suffering in sales before Toyota and Honda hybrid sales began to suffer.  That may have been due to the age of the model, the introduction of multiple other hybrid SUVs, and the high cost of gas making any SUV unpalatable.

Toyota and Honda were both down 12.5%.  Ask the other car companies if they would take a 12.5% drop in their sales from last year.  I'm betting they wish their sales had only dropped by that amount.  And note that the Prius is still one of the top 10 cars being sold in the U.S.  That shows people are still interested in the higher fuel economy the Prius can give, plus the green image it imparts.  And that is despite the anticipation of a new generation of Prius, plus the introduction of the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the new Honda Insight coming in the next months.  That situation certainly kept some buyers on the sidelines while they try to figure out which of the three hybrids they want to buy in 2009, rather than buying the Prius in 2008.

Putting that aside, I agree for the other reason noted in the autonews article for the drop in sales.  The overall economy was most likely the biggest contributor.  Add in the drop in gas prices to the other reasons I noted above as the end of the year approached and you can understand why sales dropped the way they did.  You should also note how sales were limited to availability in the beginning part of the year.  If Toyota and Honda had been able to increase production at the beginning of the year, they probably would have come out even for 2008 against 2007.

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Toyota Certified Used Hybrid Program

Toyota over the past week announced their Toyota Certified Used Hybrid Program, which provides added inspection and warranty coverage on certified used Toyota hybrids. (What happened to always referring to used cars as pre-owned?)

Which is a nice thing to have when you buy a used hybrid from Toyota. But be warned, the extended warranty does not cover the battery. It just brings 'added awareness' to the existing eight year 100,000-mile factory hybrid battery warrant.

The warranty does give you a three-month/3,000-mile comprehensive warranty, seven-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty and a roadside assistance plan.

They guarantee a quality insurance inspection which includes 14 additional inspection points beyond the current 160-point quality assurance inspection done on other vehicles. The extra 14 points include examination of key hybrid components, such as the hybrid transaxle, control modules and battery.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Which Generation Prius Did You Want?

According to a Nikkei report (found via Edmunds) Toyota will sell the current generation Prius alongside the next generation Prius due out this fall:

Japan's Nikkei business paper claims Toyota plans both to keep the outgoing Prius on sale, and to lower the price as a way of firing a shot across the bow of the hot new Honda Insight.

Sounds very unlikely to me, but it would explain the news story from the other day on how Toyota was going to lower the price of the Prius as a way to counteract the new Insights pricetag.

Selling both Prius at the same time seems like a recipe for disaster, but it would allow them to sell a stripped down version of the second generation Prius as a low cost version of the high end next generation Prius.

I'd rather see Toyota lower the cost on the next generation Prius.  Maybe they could cut out the luxury items, reduce the weight, and then you could see even higher fuel economy gains on a cheaper version.  Wouldn't that be nice.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Toyota May Cut Price on Third Generation Prius to Compete with New Honda Insight

GCC has a Nikkei report on Toyota cutting the price of the Prius to fight back against the new Honda Insight pricing.

Toyota plans to cut the price for the current model to around 2 million yen. Rival Honda is slated to release the Insight hybrid in February, with a starting price of less than 2 million yen.
I thought this might happen when Honda brought the Insight to market and, if this report pans out, it's good news for anyone interested in getting good fuel economy out of their cars.

For years, the Prius been half of the hybrid market and has become one of the top ten cars sold in the US. But it was a hollow title in some respects because there was no real competition.

Despite many calls for a competitor with the Prius, there just hasn't been any real options to it. The old Insight, despite it's phenomenal fuel efficiency, was just a two-seater. There were no other 'dedicated' hybrids on the road.

Other hybrids, whether full or mild, didn't approach the Prius mpg numbers.

Now Honda has set its sights on the Prius and it looks like Toyota may be feeling the heat even before the Insight comes to market.

And it's the consumers who are going to benefit from it.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lawsuit Against Civic Hybrid MPG Claims Back On

Remember the lawsuit filed in California over the 'misleading' fuel economy claims from Honda by an owner of a Civic Hybrid? The lawsuit has been given the green light to proceed by the 4th District Court of Appeal.

The lawsuit was filed by Gaetano Paduano, but was dismissed in 2006. The Appeal court said the Sand Diego County Superior Court judge improperly dismissed the case and in a 2-1 ruling the Appeals Court has put the lawsuit back on track. They did uphold the removal Paduano's breach of warranty claim, however.

"On summary judgment, it is Honda's burden to present evidence demonstrating that a reasonable person could not find that it is more likely than not that Honda's statements are false and/or misleading," Justice Cynthia Aaron wrote. "Honda has not met this burden, since Honda presented no evidence to demonstrate that the claims in its brochure could not mislead a reasonable person, as a matter of law."

The lawsuit still doesn't make much sense to me, since Honda was using the EPA estimates, not their own. But Paduano feels Honda misled him since he couldn't get the EPA estimated mileage without drastically changing his driving habits.

Source: - Hybrid Owner's Suit Gets Green Light

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Saturn Vue 2-Mode Hybrid on the way to the Inauguration

GM is sending a caravan of 2-Mode Hybrid Vues to the Presidential Inauguration straight from the Detroit Auto Show. The caravan will start in Detroit and will stop off at OSU, Ottawa Elementary in Toledo, PSU, Saturn of Monroeville, PA, Saturn of Harrisburg, PA and Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The 2-Mode Saturn Vue Hybrid will go on sales later this year. GM expects the 2-Mode Hybrid Vue to be the most fuel-efficient gasoline V-6 vehicle on the market.

The caravan will make the stops in order to give people a chance to pledge to make positive changes to reduce the country's energy consumption. The Hybrid Vues will be used in D.C. as courtesy transportation, while the oversized card made infused with wildflower seeds wishing Obama well will be presented to the President-elect and then planted.

I wonder if they're going to discuss the future plans for Saturn with Obama at the same time? According to the latest news report, Saturn may be a casualty of the economy, as GM focuses in on just four brands.

Anyone signing a pledge can have their photo taken. The photos will be posted on Facebook (search on "Saturn").

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Toyota Moves Up Plans for Plug-ins

As part of their introduction of their concept electric vehicle, the FT-EV, Toyota has updated the public on their future plans for hybrid and electric car technology. Like Ford, they used the Detroit Auto Show as a launching pad for their electric plans in a bid to reassure the public they are doing their best to move to electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid cars.

In summary, Toyota will launch as many as 10 new hybrid models by early 2010s, including the third generation Prius and Lexus HS 250h in an effort to sell 1 million gas-electric hybrids a year.

They are also moving up their release date on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) from 2010 to 2009. Mind, that's only going to be the hand-out of 500 plug-in Prius to fleet owners, 150 in the US. They moved the date up in an obvious response to the Chevy Volt release date of 2010.

The really good news for those who follow hybrid technology is how Toyota will use lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery packs in the plug-ins, and Toyota is also pointing out third-generation Prius is designed to use nickel metal hydride batteries, but can use the Li-Ion battery packs. Which means we may see Li-Ion in a Prius sooner rather than later.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

The Cadillac Converj, An Electric Luxury

GM unveils the Cadillac Converj (yes, Converj... there's no typo) which, while just a concept car, shows what GM can do once they're done producing the E-REV Chevy Volt.

For those of you who don't know, the Chevy Volt is GMs answer to the Prius. A plug-in hybrid car with a twist, the Volt travels up to 40 miles or so on battery power alone. After that, a small gas engine will recharge the battery allowing 300 miles or more of traveling. Once you have a chance to do so, you will fully re-charge the battery by plugging the car in at a standard outlet. Then you can start the cycle over again. This type of car is being called Electric Extended Range Vehicle (E-REV).

The E-REV system allows for people with standard commutes to travel on electric power alone, while still giving people the extended ranges they want for normal driving.

And GM wants to spread the technology around to other vehicles, and the Converj is their first public attempt to do so. They are calling the system Voltec and it consists of a lithium-ion battery, electric drive unit and a range-extending engine-generator.

I still think they could have brought out the prototype Volt, re-badged it as a Cadillac and gotten hundreds of pre-orders the same day. Some people have been turned off by the production Volt looks, but instead, GM decided a 2+2 E-REV looks more like a Cadillac.

The Converj is "a well-appointed grand touring coupe with a bold design, a host of interactive technologies and eco-friendly, renewable materials throughout."

It's powered by a 16kWh lithium-ion battery pack and the electric engine has 120kW, 273 lb.-ft (370 Nm) of instant torque. It has a top speed of 100 mph.  The range-extending engine-generator is a four-cylinder.  The battery pack is liquid-cooled and contains more than 220 lithium-ion cells. It takes less than 3 hours to re-charge with a 240V outlet, but 8 hours with a 120V outlet.

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2010 Toyota Prius

Toyota has unveiled its third generation 2010 Toyota Prius and it will come with more features, and despite being a little bit bigger it will still get better fuel economy than the previous generation.  Unlike the new Lexus HS 250h, the bigger gadgets and luxury items are optional, which should keep the base price down. Overall, Toyota has improved the performance, size and fuel efficiency of their Prius.

The current generation Prius is rated at 46 mpg combined, and Toyota is estimating the third generation will get a 50 mpg combined rating from the EPA. The new 2010 Honda Insight is rated at 40/43 mpg, so they've upped the bar for Honda. But, as I mentioned in the description of the new Insight, changes at that range aren't as significant as you might think. The difference between 42 mpg combined and 50 mpg combined when you travel 15,000 miles a year is about 57 gallons.

The surprising thing about the new Prius is the larger gas engine. A 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four cylinder engine will provide more torque at highway speeds, which will improve highway mileage since the engine can run at lower average rpm. It will also improve cold-start mileage.

Toyota has also put in an electric water pump and a new exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system to improve on the fuel efficiency. They've also removed all the belts.

There's a new EV-Drive Mode, which allows the driver to drive about a mile on all electric power; an Eco Mode which helps the driver achieve their best mileage and a Power-Mode which increases sensitivity to throttle input.

Toyota has also reduced the transaxle weight and reduced torque loss by as much as 20 percent. They put in a new direct cooling system for the inverter, and put in a newly developed electronically controlled regenerative braking system, with control logic optimized to enhance regeneration.

They also reduced the coefficient of drag (Cd) from 0.26 to 0.25. The new Lexus HS 250h has a Cd of 0.27. Toyota also improved the power performance, with a zero-to-60 acceleration being improved by more than a second to 9.8 seconds.

Under the heading of strange but true, Toyota has added in an optional sliding glass moonroof, complete with solar panels. The solar panels power a new ventilation system (a fan) that does not require engine assist that is used to cool down the interior when the car is parked in the sun.

The air-condition system is also remote controlled and runs off the battery. The driver can adjust the interior temperature before entering the car.

Update: Toyota has released a product information sheet on the 2010 Toyota Prius (pdf).

Read the Press Release below for all the details.

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., unveiled the all-new 50-mile-per gallon rated third-generation Prius hybrid vehicle today at the 2009 North American International Auto show.

Celebrated as the benchmark for cars of the future, the Prius has delivered superior fuel economy and ultra-low emissions to more than one million owners worldwide for more than 10 years.

The midsize third-generation 2010 Prius will offer even better mileage ratings, enhanced performance, and innovative design features. It will be quieter, roomier, and equipped with advanced standard and available features such as a moonroof with solar panels, four driving modes, Intelligent Parking Assist (IPA) and steering wheel touch controls that display on the instrument panel.

An Eco-Icon

The first-generation Prius entered the market in 1997 as the world's first mass-produced hybrid. The name Prius, "to go before" in Latin, became symbolic of a car that was launched even before environmental awareness had become a mainstream social issue.

From the beginning, Toyota's full-hybrid system was developed in-house and has become a driving force behind advanced vehicle technology. The company's exclusive Hybrid Synergy Drive System was introduced in 2004 on the second-generation Prius. Since then, more than 670,000 have been sold in the U.S.

In designing the new, third-generation Prius, Toyota engineers combined a careful refinement of existing systems with an aggressive measure of new technology necessary for the future of automobiles.

Fuel Economy and Environmental Performance

The new Prius will be built using processes that reduce pollution in every stage of vehicle life, from production and driving, through to disposal.

The third-generation Prius extends its record of continuous improvement in fuel economy. The first-generation Prius, which was rated 41 EPA combined mpg, was replaced by the current model, which is EPA rated at 46 mpg, combined city/highway. Using a combination of technologies, fuel efficiency was increased to an estimated 50 miles per gallon for the new Prius.

A larger and more powerful 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder engine will power the new Prius. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the larger engine actually helps improve highway mileage. By making more torque, the new engine can run at lower average rpm on the highway. When operating at lower rpm, the new engine uses less fuel. Mileage is especially improved in cold-start conditions and at higher speeds.

Use of an electric water pump and a new exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system also contribute to the engine's efficiency. The 1.8-liter Prius engine is the first Toyota power plant that requires no belts under the hood for better fuel economy and less potential maintenance.

A multi-information display panel that monitors fuel and energy consumption is standard. It provides feedback on the Prius' efficiency using three different displays to help the driver acquire economical driving habits.

Unlike most other hybrid vehicles available, Prius has been a "full" hybrid since introduction. This allows it to run on engine alone, battery alone, or a combination of both. The system blends the best of parallel hybrid and series hybrid designs to achieve the ability to operate on the electric mode alone, and to charge the batteries while the car is running.

The patented Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the 2010 Prius is 90 percent newly-developed with significant improvements over previous models.

* The transaxle is lighter in weight and reduces torque losses by as much as 20 percent compared to the previous model.
* The inverter, which converts direct current to alternating current, has a new direct cooling system to reduce size and weight.
* Taken together, the inverter, motor and transaxle are smaller and 20 percent lighter.
* A newly developed electronically controlled regenerative braking system has been adopted, with control logic optimized to enhance regeneration.

The new Prius will offer three alternative driving modes. EV-Drive Mode allows driving on battery power alone at low speeds for about a mile, if conditions permit. There is also a Power Mode, which increases sensitivity to throttle input for a sportier feel, and an Eco Mode, which helps the driver achieve their best mileage.

Cutting Edge Styling

In designing the new Prius, aerodynamic performance was an important factor. The goal was to create a beautiful silhouette, while not compromising function. Designers preserved the dynamic triangle form of the current model--instantly recognizable as a Prius--but made alterations to the overall profile, pillar position and angle. The front pillar, extended forward, helps refine the performance-focusing, shaped form.

The overall height of the Prius is the same, but the roof profile is altered by moving the top of the roof 3.9 inches to the rear. This emphasizes the wedge shape, and also allows for enhanced rear headroom and improved aerodynamics.

The design of the new Prius' front and rear corners are sharp, sporty and aerodynamic. Strong side character lines, rising from front to rear, define the glazed geometric shape. Viewed from the rear, wider rear treads provide a solid, firmly rooted stance.

Dimensionally, the new Prius has the same wheelbase as the current generation. Overall length is slightly increased by 0.6 inches, in part by moving the front cowl forward.

World's Lowest Cd

The new Prius received more wind tunnel hours of testing than any other Toyota in history, resulting in the cleanest aerodynamic profile of any mass-produced vehicle in the world. By focusing on the shape of the body, underfloor, wheelhouse liner and shape of the wheels, the designers of the new Prius were able to reduce the coefficient of drag (Cd) value to 0.25, compared to 0.26 for the previous model. The airflow under the car was studied extensively. Engineers made changes to the shape of the fender liner, front surface of the underfloor, and added a fin at the rear floor cover to increase linear stability.

Advanced Equipment For a New Era

An available sliding glass moonroof is packaged with solar panels, located over the rear seating area, that power a new ventilation system. This solar powered ventilation system uses an electrically powered air circulation fan that does not require engine assist. The system prevents the interior air temperature from rising while the vehicle is parked, making the cool-down time shorter when the driver returns to the vehicle, thus reducing the use of air conditioning.

The remote air-conditioning system is the first system in the world to function on battery-power alone and that can be remotely operated, so the driver can adjust the interior temperature for comfort before getting in the car.

Reducing the vehicle's power consumption, available LED (light emitting diode) lamps are used for low beams and also in the tail and stop lamps. Air conditioning, a major energy drain, has been re-engineered to increase efficiency and cool-down performance. In addition, an exhaust heat recirculation system reduces heat waste by warming engine coolant during cold startup, for improved performance. It also heats up the passenger cabin more efficiently.

Enhanced Vehicle Performance

The next-generation Prius is built on a new platform, which enables improved handling stability, quieter operation, and collision safety. The suspension consists of front struts and a rear intermediate beam design, as before, but handling stability is advanced by improving the stabilizer layout, higher caster angle and tuning the bushing characteristics. Disc brakes are now used on all four corners, replacing the front disc/rear drum brakes in the current model.

Weight was saved through use of aluminum in the hood, rear hatch, front suspension axle and brake caliper and super high-tensile steel in the rocker inner, center pillar, and roof reinforcement. To meet customer expectations for everyday performance, zero-to-60 acceleration has been improved to 9.8 seconds, more than a second faster, in internal testing.

Better-performing sound insulation, working with improved vibration damping, has been installed in various locations to reduce road noise.

Functional Interior Is Bigger on the Inside

Proving that small changes add up to big gains, the cargo area of the new Prius was expanded 0.4 inches in length and 2.2 inches in width by using a new and an improved layout of the battery cooling unit.

Rear seat legroom is enhanced by a new space-saving contoured front-seat design.

Viewed from the cockpit, the center cluster smoothly flows from the instrument panel to the console. Handy storage space has been added under the shift lever by taking advantage of the shift-by-wire system. Simple, fin-type air vents are consistent with the cabin's efficient appearance. Judicious use of silver accents adds a finished, technical feel.

Touch sensors on the steering wheel switches are designed to reduce driver eye movement for better concentration on the road. When the driver touches the audio or info switch located on the steering wheel, a duplicate image is displayed on the instrument panel, directly in front of the driver. This system, called Touch Tracer, is the first system in the world to allow steering wheel controls to read out on the instrument panel.

The ECO indicator on the Multi-Informational Display (MID) provides driver feedback for lower fuel consumption.

In pursuit of developing various advanced technologies aimed at realizing sustainable mobility, Toyota will use plant-derived, carbon-neutral plastics in the 2010 Prius. The newly-developed plastics, known as "ecological plastic," will be used in the seat cushion foam, cowl side trim, inner and outer scuff plates, and deck trim cover. Ecological plastic emits less CO2 during a product lifecycle (from manufacturing to disposal) than plastic made solely from petroleum; it also helps reduce petroleum use.

Safety Enhancements

The new Prius was designed to comply with class-top level collision safety performance in each global region of sale, and to accommodate increasingly strict safety requirements in the future.

In addition to advanced driver and front passenger Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) airbags front and rear side curtain airbags, driver and passenger seat-mounted side airbags and driver's knee airbag are standard equipment.

Active headrests are used in both front seats to reduce the possibility of whiplash in a collision. Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), electronic traction control (TRAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) are included with Toyota's standard Star Safety System.

Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system, using advanced millimeter wave radar, is an available option. The system also enables Lane Keep Assist, which helps the driver stay safely within the lane, and the Pre-Collision System, which retracts seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when a crash is unavoidable.

Next-generation Intelligent Parking Assist features simplified settings to help guide the car into parking spaces.

A backup monitor, which provides a view of rear obstacles when reverse is engaged, is available with an optional voice-activated navigation system. Safety Connect, Toyota's first safety and security service, includes automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle locator and an SOS call button. Safety Connect will be available a few months after launch.

The development of the Prius has required applications for over 1,000 patents filed across the world, of which 292 are U.S. applications.

Pricing for the 2010 Prius will be announced shortly before it goes on sale late spring.

Public Web site:


1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with VVT-i
Engine horsepower: 98 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Engine torque: 105 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Electric motor: Permanent magnet synchronous motor
Electric motor power output: 80 hp/153 lb-ft torque
Hybrid system net horsepower: 134 hp
Emission rating: SULEV (with AT-PZEV)
Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission
Drive System: Front-wheel-drive
Hybrid battery pack: Nickel-metal hydride
Estimated fuel economy: 50 mpg (combined)*

Overall Length: 175.6
Overall Width: 68.7
Overall Height: 58.7
Wheelbase: 106.3
Ground clearance: 5.5
Coefficient of Drag: 0.25
Wheels: 15-inch alloy wheels
17-inch alloy wheels (optional)
Tire Size: 15-inch: 195/65R15
17-inch: 215/45R17 (optional)
Seating Capacity: 5
EPA class rating: Midsize

* Preliminary figure based on Toyota's internal testing. Actual mileage will vary.

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2010 Toyota Camry Hybrid

The mid term refresh of the Toyota Camry and Toyota Camry Hybrid was displayed for the first time at the Detroit Auto Show, but its unveiling has certainly been overpowered by the 2010 Honda Insight, Lexus HS 250h, and the next generation 2010 Toyota Prius.

But it's still significant in and of itself. The 2010 Camry is scheduled to go on sale in March and has some changes you should know about.

The Camry Hybrid has a unique hybrid grille, a distinct front bumper, a wider lower intake, restyled fog lights and 16-inch alloy wheels. All of which is designed to give the Hybrid a distinctive look from the gas-only powered Camry. It also helps with the aerodynamics.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive in the 2010 Camry has been rated as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), which means it produces over 70 percent less smog-forming emissions than the average new car.

Camry Hybrid adds a newly designed meter cluster and Fraichir, a combination of silk protein and synthetic fiber, cloth seating surfaces that are gentle to the skin.

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Ford Outlines its Electric Future

Possible significant in the long term, Ford has outlined its short term future in the electric vehicle marketplace. Ford hopes to bring four electric vehicles to market by 2012.

The will start with a battery powered Transit Connect van for commercial fleet customers, followed up by an electric Ford Focus powered by lithium-ion battery packs in 2011 for everyone.

Then a plug-in hybrid and third generation hybrid will make its way to market in 2012. Considering Ford reportedly dropped the cost by 30% between their first generation and their second generation hybrid system, those last two may be more significant in the near term than the first two.

But, still, many will be excited to see an all electric Ford Focus on the road. With a lithium-ion battery in place, the viability and use of E-REV, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles will expand. But with a range of only 100 miles, the electric Focus will be of limited utility to most. Ford says it is aimed at urban customers and expects to sell 5 to 10,000 units a year.

Ford is partnering with Magna, a global auto supplier in Canada, to pair up its global vehicle platform with Magna-engineered battery electric vehicles (BEV) components and systems (link to pdf image).

"Magna is a world-class automotive supplier that’s an ideal partner for our BEV," says Nancy Gioia, Ford director of Sustainable Mobility Technology. "Our strategy absolutely depends on forging alliances with key suppliers whose expertise complements our extensive experience and global production capabilities. Developing these new technologies requires a major investment, so it’s especially important to have strong supplier alliances."

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2010 Honda Insight

The 2010 Honda Insight was debuted at the Detroit Auto Show, and it's probably the biggest news (hybrid-wise) at the show. Designed to compete against the Toyota Prius, the fuel economy rating was revealed to be 40/43 which is certainly lower than the 48/45 for the Prius. But the new Insight will be priced lower than the Prius, with some indicators pointing as low as $18,500.

Unlike other hybrid cars, the Prius and new Insight are dedicated hybrids, meaning they only come as hybrids. Some analysts and pundits point to image of owning a recognizable hybrid as a significant effect on why the Prius has been so popular. And if other car makers want to compete against the Prius, they need their own hybrid-only cars on the market.

The Honda Insight may just do that. It's too early to tell, of course, but when it does go on sale, the lower cost may make the Insight very popular with customers looking for a hybrid car.

One thing to keep in mind when you look at the lower mpg numbers on the Insight is, once you get up that high, the difference between 40 and 45 mpg is very low.  If you travel 15,000 miles a year, the difference between 40 and 45 mpg is under 42 gallons of gas a year.  As opposed to going from 20 to 25 mpg, when you would save 150 gallons a year.

There's a short clip of the Insight at the Detroit Auto Show at the Honda Insight blog.

Press Release from Honda follows:

The all-new 2010 Honda Insight hybrid car made its world debut today at the North American International Auto Show. Utilizing the latest generation of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist™ (IMA®) hybrid technology and new, more cost-efficient production methods, the 2010 Insight defines a new stage in the evolution of hybrid technology, providing hybrid customers with a new level of affordability, fun-to-drive performance, and a U.S. EPA city/highway fuel-economy rating of 40/43 miles per gallon.

The 2010 Insight will be launched at Honda dealers throughout the United States in the beginning of April 2009 and will be priced below the Civic Hybrid.

“Honda hybrids have always offered great value, high fuel efficiency and a healthy dose of fun near the middle price range in the Honda lineup,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda. “With the introduction of the all-new Insight, we’re opening up Honda’s fun-to-drive, versatile and fuel-efficient hybrid technology to an entirely new group of buyers that previously may not have considered a hybrid because of either image or cost."

Evoking the advanced and aerodynamic five-door sedan design first deployed on the revolutionary FCX Clarity fuel cell car, the new Insight has a low center of gravity and a spacious five-passenger cabin, offering the kind of driving experience and roomy, versatile interior space that customers have come to expect from Honda.

To help Insight owners realize the full benefits of Honda hybrid technology, the Insight will feature a new interactive, driver-focused fuel economy enhancement technology named the Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist™). Eco Assist combines multiple functions:

* A driver-activated ECON mode that optimizes control of the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), engine and related powertrain components to further improve vehicle fuel efficiency;
* a driver feedback function that uses an innovative speedometer display with changing background colors to provide real-time guidance to the driver on achieving higher fuel efficiency; and
* a unique fuel-economy scoring function using a plant-leaf graphic to provide feedback to the driver on current-trip driving efficiency and lifetime fuel-efficient driving performance.

All Insights are powered by an advanced 1.3-liter SOHC aluminum-alloy i-VTEC engine and CVT, along with a new generation of Honda’s IMA hybrid system for exceptional fuel economy and fun-to-drive performance.

The Insight’s IMA system incorporates a 10-kilowatt (13 hp) electric motor and a compact Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) – recapturing and storing kinetic energy from vehicle braking and deceleration and supplying additional power for acceleration when needed. Packaging of the ultra-compact IMA battery and IPU in the vehicle’s rear floor allows the enhanced utility of a 60/40 split and fold-down rear seat back.

The Insight’s IMA system has the capability to operate exclusively on electric power in certain low- to mid-speed driving conditions. It also provides for cylinder deactivation within the gasoline engine during deceleration and for engine shutoff when the vehicle is stopped. With a 10.6-gallon fuel tank, the Insight delivers an estimated maximum driving range in excess of 400 miles.

Standard safety features on all Insights include dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags; front-side airbags with a passenger-side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS); side curtain airbag system; anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution (EBD); driver- and front-passenger active head restraints and a front body designed to mitigate pedestrian injuries. All new Insights also feature Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ (ACE™) body structure, which provides improved crash compatibility between vehicles of different size and ride height, enhancing protection for Insight occupants while reducing the potential for injury to occupants of the opposing vehicle in a frontal collision.

Additional standard features on all new Insights include 60/40 split and fold-down rear seatbacks; two-tier digital instrument panels; automatic climate control; power windows, mirrors and door locks; a tilting and telescoping steering wheel and a 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3 audio playback, an auxiliary audio input jack and Speed-Sensitive Volume Control (SVC).

Insight EX models add alloy wheels, cruise control, 6-speaker audio system with USB audio interface, steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, Honda Vehicle Stability Assist™ (VSA®) and an available Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System™ with Voice Recognition.

Honda is a leader in developing cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicle technologies, including the original Honda Insight, introduced as America’s first mass-produced hybrid car in December 1999. American Honda has announced plans to increase its U.S. hybrid sales beyond the new Insight with the introduction of a third hybrid car, based on the Honda CR-Z concept vehicle, within the next couple of years. Honda is also a leader in the development of advanced alternatives to gasoline, including the zero-emission, hydrogen-powered Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell car, the world’s most advanced production automobile.

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Lexus officially unveiled their 2010 HS 250h at the Detroit Auto Show, their dedicated hybrid based off the Prius model. The HS 250h with seating for five will be the most fuel efficient car in the Lexus line-up will be available sometime in late summer.

Toyota claims that 60 percent of entry-luxury car buyers would have considered a hybrid if available, and the HS will provide these consumers with a viable purchase option.

The hybrid system provides 187 hp using a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder Atkinson-cycle powerplant with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with FWD. The fuel efficient hybrid has an emissions rating of SULEV. The exterior was designed with efficiency in mind, and the HS 250h ended with a 0.27 drag coefficient (Cd).

Lexus expects the EPA rating to be 30 percent better than any other model in its line-up.

Lexus points out the technologies adopted in the engine include cooling piston oil jets; an optimized balance shaft rate for improved Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) characteristics; and a hot-air venting system mounted behind the radiator.

The exhaust heat recovery system will reduce engine warm-up time and allows the gas engine to stop earlier, more often and for longer periods. The windshield comes with infrared-ray (IR) reduction properties, keeping the interior cooler, while the LED headlamps also help improve the overall efficiency of the car.

The interior will come with plant-based, carbon neutral Ecological Plastics or bioploastics which will be used in approximately 30 percent of the interior areas. The specific areas include the luggage trim, cowl-side trim, door scuff plate, tool box area, floor-finish plate, seat cushions, and the package tray behind the rear seats.

The new Lexus comes with a brushless Electric Power Steering which is an integral part of an available lane keep assist system. This is a new driver assist that adds smooth steering torque to help the vehicle stay in the center of the lane. The amount of torque is dependent on a lane-marker detection camera, which also gives an audible warning to the driver when there is a possible lane departure.

The HS 250h is slightly longer than the IS at 184.8 inches and is taller than the IS and ES at 59.3 inches.

This is a luxury vehicle, and so you should expect the standards to be high. These include leather-trim seats, a moonroof, Lexus premium audio systems, and a new standard multi-media package. The media features include Bluetooth technology, integrated satellite radio (subscription required), voice recognition, and USB iPod connectivity controlled via steering-wheel controls or a display screen. A high-contrast multi-information display, located in the instrument panel hybrid system indicator gauge, is controlled via steering-wheel-mounted controls, allowing the driver to easily control various functions and information.

Also available is a new Hard Disk Drive (HDD) Navigation System, which includes a retractable navigation screen with a Remote Touch controller. It also has a new 'casual-speech' voice recognition features, allowing the driver to give more flexible, conversational commands for easier access and control of the audio, climate and navigation functions.

Also available is a front mounted camera giving 190 degree view on the Navigation screen, standard 10 airbags and active front head rests. Included in the standard safety features are vehicle stability control system and an optional pre-collission system with dynamic radar cruise control. The next generation of telematics, enform and safety connect is also available. The systems provide automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, and 24/7 emergency and roadside assistance.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

According to Businessweek (found via, GM has a surprise for the Detroit Auto Show. They are bringing a concept Buick based off the Volt engine and design.

General Motors (GM) may have the biggest surprise. Even though GM is reeling from billions in losses and the need for government loans to stay afloat, the 100-year-old carmaker will show a brash Cadillac two-door coupe that would run on the same electric drive system as the ballyhooed Chevrolet Volt, which is scheduled to hit the market in 2010. The Volt's system runs exclusively on an electric motor and can go 40 miles before a small gasoline engine kicks in to recharge the battery.

Several sources inside GM say the Cadillac is just a demonstration, or "concept," car. But it shows that the company plans to go well beyond a small, four-passenger Chevrolet with its electric-drive technology. The new Cadillac is smaller than the Caddy CTS sedan but wears a bolder look even than the highly stylized CTS two-door coupe. One GM executive says the Caddy's drop-dead dramatic styling will make "people want it regardless of the energy source."

Mind, all they have to do is bring the original Volt back, call it a Buick and find out if buyers care at all about the fuel efficiency/aerodynamics. We know people were knocked back by the changes from concept to production for the Volt. Put in some electronics and luxury seats and sell it for $10,000 more than the Volt. I'm willing to bet they could find some buyers.

In the end, however, this is probably just a proof GM is presenting to show they are interested in moving the technology and research they've put into the Volt into wider production.

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Mercedes-Benz Fined $28.9 Million for CAFE Violations

According to an AP story (Detroit Free Press), Mercedes Benz paid $28.9 million fine for violating the federal fuel efficiency guidelines in 2008. That means Mercedes-Benz paid the largest share in the total fines on imported passenger cars from the 2007 model year. There was a total of $37 million in fines levied on six different automakers.

Volkswagen came in second with a $4.5 million fine in August. Porsche, Maserati, Ferrari and Saleen Inc paid the rest.

The Mercedes-Benz fine was the second biggest on record assessed by the NHTSA for CAFE violations according to the story. The biggest fine was paid by DaimlerChrysler back in 2007 when they mostly imported Mercedes-Benz luxury cars.

It seems the CAFE fines are mostly being assessed against luxury vehicle manufacturers and importers, whose companies regularly take the fine into their business expenses.

Is that what CAFE is for?

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Governor Wants NY to Become Center of Plug-In Development

In his State of the State Address, Governor Paterson called on NY to position itself in the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle market.

"The future of America’s energy and transportation policies rests on the development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles," Paterson said. "The state that positions itself in this market will revitalize its economy for years to come."

"The road to economic recovery goes straight through New York,'' Paterson said. "The heads of the three big auto companies figured out that they shouldn't go to Washington in their Lear jets. Well, maybe they went to the wrong place. They should have come to New York. We're already a leader in clean energy initiatives and if we can make a breakthrough in hybrid electric batteries, we may play a significant role in helping America's auto industry move toward a more energy efficient future."

Governor Paterson wants the state of NY to develop a new high-efficiency battery for plug-in hybrid cars through the creation of a NY Energy Policy Institute. The Institute would coordinate the knowledge base and expertise of NY's higher education institutions. The Institute

Spokesman Lynch said the Institute could include the Capital Region, the STEP park and universities across upstate. It's possible that 50,000 new jobs could be created.

Sources: Daily Gazette, Forbes, and the Post Journal.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Today Show Covers Events at GM

As the Detroit Auto Show gets ready to kick off, questions linger on the state of GM, their negotations with the labor union and what GM's plans are for the auto show and the future.

Today Show anchor Lauer interviewed CEO Rick Wagoner on all of these topics, with the Chevy Volt sitting in the background.  It seems Matt Lauer got to drive the Volt and was impressed by the car.  I'm surprised, however, given all the hype on how the Volt is such a big part of the future of GM, that no one jumped on the price tag of $40,000 or so...

They kept switching between the production vehicle and the concept vehicle in the snippets they showed, which made it a little confusing.  And while the two looks are similar, they aren't that similar.

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2010 Lexus 450h with Updated Hybrid Drive

The 2010 RX 450h comes with an updated hybrid drive which has improved fuel economy by 8-12 percent over its predecessor. At the same time, Lexus has also increased the power by 27 hp.

The new EPA rating has gone from 27 mpg city and 24 mpg highway to 28 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Not exactly a huge gain, but any little bit helps. And it's good enough for a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) certification in California (Tier 2-Bin 3).

Both torque and horsepower have been improved, up to 245 hp at 6,000 rpm and 234 lb.-ft at 4,800 rpm.

The 288V DC Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack is slotted under the rear seat. It is covered, along with the hybrid-related components up to eight years/100,000 miles.

Press Release Follows:

Lexus has introduced the next generation of its trend-setting RX luxury utility vehicles for 2010, the V6-powered RX 350 and the hybrid RX 450h. Lexus inaugurated the luxury crossover category with the original RX 300 model in 1998 and introduced the first-ever luxury hybrid in 2005. More than one million Lexus RX models have been sold worldwide, making it the most successful luxury utility vehicle. The new RX350, which reaches Lexus showrooms in February 2009 with the RX450h hybrid a few months later, once again raises the bar for design, engineering and luxury innovation in the segment.


The 2010 Lexus RX 350 teams a revised 3.5-liter V6 engine with an all-new six-speed Multi-Mode Automatic Transmission. New intake and exhaust manifolds improve engine breathing for enhanced performance and fuel economy. Horsepower is increased to 275 at 6,200 rpm from 270, while Lexus maximized the torque output to better meet the needs of luxury crossover drivers. Ninety percent or more of the 256 lb.-ft. of peak torque is available from 2,300 to 6,100 rpm, an optimal range where torque is most utilized. An insulated engine cover, styled in the shape of two cylinder banks, conceals the new V6 to help ensure a quiet cabin; easy-access points facilitate routine service.

Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) is used to control both intake and exhaust camshafts independently, optimizing engine performance at all speeds and loads. Refinements to the valvetrain, including roller rocker arms and slimmer valve stems, reduce friction and weight to improve fuel economy. Also helping to enhance torque is the improved Acoustic Control Induction System (ACIS), which varies the intake runner length in response to engine speed and throttle position. The ETCS-i (Electronic Throttle Control System-intelligent) softens throttle response during initial acceleration for smoother takeoff and to help reduce wheel spin.

The 2010 RX 350’s new six-speed automatic transmission replaces the previous five-speed. Using miniature high-flow linear solenoids to control transmission-fluid line-pressure, the transmission yields quicker shifting response. The torque converter uses a new low-speed lockup damper to enable lock-up from second to sixth gear to help improve the fuel economy.

When applying the accelerator pedal rapidly during kick-down, the new direct-downshift control allows the transmission to directly shift from sixth to third or fifth to second, skipping the intermediate gears to achieve the quickest response. Under normal kick-down pedal application, downshift control uses the intermediate gears to ensure the smoothest shift is attained. “Shift shock,” which was already commendably low in the previous model’s five-speed transmission, is further reduced.The Multi-Mode Automatic Transmission allows the driver to shift manually when desired by first moving the gated shift lever to the “S” slot and then pushing it forward ("+") to up shift and backward ("-") to downshift. An Artificial Intelligence shifting (AI-SHIFT) control, new to RX, sets shift patterns based on the vehicle speed and throttle position and estimates road conditions and driver input to automatically control the shift pattern. For example, when driving in hilly areas, AI-SHIFT can prevent unnecessary shifting. When descending inclines, the transmission prevents up shifts to achieve more engine braking.

All-Wheel Drive

Lexus again offers its RX 350 and RX 450h crossover models with a choice between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. The RX 350 introduces an all-new electronically controlled Active Torque Control AWD system. As in the previous RX 400h, the RX 450h hybrid uses a separate rear electric motor-generator to provide power to the rear wheels when road conditions or throttle response dictates.

The previous RX 350 model’s AWD system used a viscous coupling locking center differential to provide 50:50 torque distribution. In the 2010 RX 350, Active Torque Control AWD uses an electronically controlled coupling ahead of the rear differential to vary torque distribution anywhere from 100:0 to 50:50 front to rear, depending on driving dynamics and road conditions. The new AWD system is 35 lbs. lighter than the previous system and reduces parasitic losses by 30 percent.

When accelerating, or starting off on a low-grip surface, torque is quickly provided to all four wheels. At steady speeds, torque is sent only to the front wheels, enhancing fuel efficiency.

For handling agility and control, the AWD system increases rear-wheel torque when the vehicle’s front tires start to lose traction and decreases rear-wheel torque when the vehicle’s rear tires start to lose traction. On rough or sandy terrain, an AWD LOCK switch provides enhanced traction performance for low-speed maneuvering (if in LOCK mode, the system reverts to AUTO mode when speed exceeds 25 mph). To help prevent a tight corner-braking condition (shuddering) during low-speed cornering, the system reduces rear wheel torque.

Hybrid Powertrain

The 2010 RX 450h introduces an updated version of Lexus Hybrid Drive, featuring a 3.5-liter V6 Atkinson-cycle engine, lighter electric motors, a smaller and lighter power-control unit and other fuel-saving innovations. It offers up performance similar to V8s with better combined fuel economy than the average four-cylinder mid-size sedan. With an EPA-estimated[1] 28 mpg city and 27 mph highway (26 mpg for the AWD), it earns 8-12 percent better fuel economy than its acclaimed predecessor. All this while producing 295 total system horsepower, which is 27 more than the current generation RX400h.

A full hybrid, the RX 450h can operate in electric-only or gas-engine-only modes as well as a mode that combines the power of both. Extended electric-mode operation during low-speed or stop-and-go driving conditions helps reduce fuel consumption. Under certain circumstances, a new driver-selectable EV mode can allow the vehicle to be driven short distances using only the electric motors.

The RX 450h will achieve Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) certification in California (Tier 2-Bin 3 in other states), producing nearly 70 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than conventionally powered vehicles.

With the Atkinson cycle, the gasoline engine’s intake valves are closed late to delay beginning of compression, resulting in a higher expansion ratio. That reduces intake and exhaust energy losses for more efficient combustion and improved fuel economy. The gas engine alone produces 245 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, up from 208 in the previous RX 400h; torque is 234 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm as compared to 212 at 4,400 rpm from the previous RX 400h’s 3.3-liter V6. The Atkinson cycle also reduces exhaust temperature. A new cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system reduces it further still, helping economy by eliminating the fuel enrichment otherwise needed to help prevent catalyst overheating under high loads.

A 288V DC Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack fits neatly under the rear seat and is more compact and lighter than in the previous model. A boost converter efficiently raises voltage to 650V DC, and an inverter changes this to 650V AC for the front-mounted 123-kW electric motor-generator. The boost converter and inverter are enclosed in the power-control unit, which also houses the condenser. The new power-control unit is 17.6 lbs. lighter than the previous unit and about 40 percent smaller. Losses have been reduced by more than 10 percent, enhancing fuel economy.

The RX 450h front-wheel-drive model’s hybrid powertrain employs two motor-generators: MG1, the engine-driven generator, is a starter and can charge the battery pack or power other electric motors as needed; MG2 is the front-drive motor. Power from the gas engine and MG2 is distributed to the drive wheels via a planetary gear-type continuously variable transmission. MG1 controls the output speed of the transaxle through the planetary gear set, without clutches or a viscous coupling. MG2 delivers similar maximum torque as in the previous model, but over a wider range for better response and smoother performance. When the RX 450h is coasting or braking, the electric motors function as generators, capturing energy that would normally be lost as heat through the brakes and transforming it into electricity to recharge the batteries.

The all-wheel-drive RX 450h adds a third, rear-mounted motor-generator (MGR) to drive the rear wheels, eliminating the need for power-transfer gearing or a driveshaft from the front. The hybrid system electronically varies front and rear torque distribution depending on traction conditions.

A new two-step flywheel damper absorbs small torque fluctuations and also the minor vibration produced when the gasoline engine starts and stops. A SNOW mode slows accelerator-pedal response to help reduce the possibility of wheel spin.

Multi-Mode, a feature adapted to the vehicle’s electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, allows the driver to control engine braking for enhanced maneuverability on rough or winding roads. The AI-SHIFT feature, adopted on a hybrid for the first time, selects and holds the optimal range when driving downhill or on inclines, providing a smoother driving experience.

The power-steering pump, water pump and air-conditioning compressor are driven electrically rather than by the engine, reducing parasitic losses.

To enhance fuel economy, a new exhaust heat-recovery system circulates engine coolant through a unit installed in the exhaust pipe behind the catalytic converter. This new feature reduces engine warm-up time, allowing it to stop earlier, more often, and for longer periods, improving both fuel economy and emissions.

Active Safety

The Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) handling technology is now available on the RX 350 and remains standard on the RX 450h. The VDIM system anticipates loss of vehicle control in virtually any direction. VDIM governs all of the vehicle’s dynamic handling systems – the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC) – employing them collectively and seamlessly to make corrections while allowing higher dynamic capability. VDIM also interfaces with the electronic throttle control system.

The system’s enhanced VSC function adds steering assist torque to help aid handling on a split-friction surface. The VDIM system also provides a limited slip differential effect. The TRAC and VSC functions can also be switched off, for example, when the driver needs to free the vehicle when stuck in mud or snow.

The new RX adopts Hill-start Assist Control, which uses brake pressure to help prevent the vehicle from moving backward when starting out on an incline. This system does not wait to detect rollback, however. It can be controlled by the driver and works in both forward and reverse. While the vehicle is stopped and the brake pedal is depressed, pushing it further activates the feature. Brake pressure is then maintained for approximately two seconds after the brake pedal is released and the driver switches to the accelerator pedal.

The previous generation RX offered Lexus’ Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS), which guided headlamps into a turn. The 2010 RX models introduce the new Intelligent AFS, which for the first time on a Lexus is being used for high beams of the HID headlamp equipped models, and for the low beams of the LED equipped RX 450h models. When entering a corner, AFS estimates where the vehicle will be in three seconds, based on the vehicle speed and the angle of the tires, and adjusts the lateral aim of the headlamps. AFS can be switched off by the driver if desired. AFS also includes an auto-leveling function.

Using a camera mounted on the inner rear view mirror, a new available automatic high beam system switches between high and low beams in response to oncoming vehicles and those traveling in front, or when other ambient sources are detected, helping reduce driver inconvenience.

The optional Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control uses millimeter-wave radar to measure and maintain a pre-set following distance from a vehicle traveling ahead. The radar sensor can detect certain obstacles in front of the car, and a PCS computer with vehicle speed, steering angle and yaw-rate inputs helps to determine whether a collision is highly possible. In such a situation, PCS preemptively retracts front seat belts and pre-initializes Brake Assist so that increased braking will be applied the instant the driver depresses the pedal.

Passive Safety

A high-strength cabin design and comprehensive Supplemental Restraint Systems (SRS) are designed to help provide a high level of crash-energy management. Approximately 42 percent of the entire structure uses high tensile strength sheet steel. The new structure was engineered to help provide collision compatibility with vehicles of varying heights and weights.

The 2010 RX models are equipped with a segment-leading 10 standard airbags, including side curtain airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, rear side airbags (for the outboard seating positions) and knee airbags for the driver and the front passenger. A roll sensor signals the side curtain airbags to inflate if a predetermined threshold of vehicle tip-up is detected.

The front-passenger airbag is a new dual stage, twin-chamber design that, when deployed, helps provide optimal protection. New active front headrests help to provide whiplash protection in the event of certain types of lower speed rear collisions.

Chassis/Body/Suspension/ Brakes/Tires

Lexus engineered the third-generation RX luxury utility vehicle to provide a more engaging driving experience while also making it quieter and smoother than its predecessor. The overall packaging of the new RX remains similar to that of the previous model. The new RX has a marginally longer wheelbase (+ 0.79 inch) and is 1.38 inches longer; the new model is slightly higher and 1.6 inches wider than the previous RX. To help provide greater handling control, the track is 2.8 inches wider. The engine’s output center has been lowered approximately 0.6-inch, yielding a lower overall powertrain center of gravity to help provide enhanced vehicle agility.

A key factor in the RX models’ sharpened handling agility is the all-new uniquely designed double-wishbone rear suspension, which replaces a strut-based configuration. Another key benefit of the new rear suspension is that the packaging yields greater cargo area room. Despite larger tires and a longer wheelbase, the new RX retains the 38.8turning circle curb-to-curb of the previous model. The front suspension geometry was optimized for the new platform and features a new, thicker stabilizer bar. New inversely wound front coil springs compress in opposite directions, preventing the negative effects of suspension compression on steering.

The new standard electric power steering system contributes to improved agility and steering feel while eliminating the parasitic losses of a hydraulic steering pump. Eliminating hydraulic oil also provides an environmental benefit and reduces maintenance. When the driving conditions involve little steering input, energy consumption is reduced, improving fuel economy by nearly three percent. Steering assist is automatically adjusted in response to vehicle speed, with greater assist at low speeds and greater feel at higher speeds.

The brakes on RX models are enhanced for 2010 with a new two-piston front caliper and larger rotors front and rear. Brake feel is enhanced by optimizing pads, pedal ratio and booster output characteristics. On the RX450h, Electronically Controlled Brakes (ECB2) work closely with VDIM, translating brake pedal stroke speed and pressure to generate the precise amount of hydraulic pressure needed.

The RX models feature new wider standard 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, which were designed to appear as if carved from a single block, and 235/60R18 tires. Optional 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with 235/55R19 tires are available, with the RX450h hybrid model receiving a hybrid-exclusive design.

Exterior Design

The 2010 Lexus RX models blend a dynamic new version of L-finesse design while retaining the RX identity. The sleek profile is accentuated by broader “shoulders” for a more athletic yet elegant presence. Bright finish side-window moldings follow a subtly concaved line across the A pillars and C pillars, extending at the front and rear ends.

The Lexus design cue of placing the grille lower than the headlights, along with sharper headlight graphics, yields a strong frontal expression. The RX 350 offers standard halogen and optional HID headlights. The plated upper edges of the front grille extend toward the headlights to draw the front features together. The lower edges of the grille form a unique arrowhead design. Subtle surface movement can be seen in the sculpted vertical bars that change shape as they spread upward. The RX 450h’s unique grille features a finer pitch than on the RX 350, creating a fluid-like surface, accentuated by its silver color.

Pronounced front fenders flow into the doors, and integrated rear fender flares neatly sweep around to pull together the taut rear corners of the vehicle. The lower body emphasizes the standard 18-inch wheels. Passenger doors extend below the entry sill, helping keep out dirt and moisture.

Several exclusive design features, including the grille and front bumper, distinguish the RX 450h hybrid from the RX 350. Exclusive optional LED headlights offer a more distinctive appearance as well as longer life and lower energy consumption. Unique 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels are also available. Lexus hybrid blue is used for the front and rear emblems, hybrid logos, rear combination lights, and headlights.

The RX has a new standard SmartAccess keyless-entry system that uses a touch sensor-type smart switch on the front doors that results in a sleeker, high-tech appearance. A distinctive feature of the door handles is that the surface subtly twists outward from the front to the rear to give a comfortable grip. The side mirrors feature integrated LED turn signal lamps.

The rear spoiler’s primary function is to help lower the vehicle’s Coefficient of drag (Cd), but it also conceals the rear wiper and houses the AM/FM radio antenna and high-mount stop lamp. Nine exterior colors are offered, including the newly developed Cerulean Blue Metallic, while Aurora White Pearl is exclusive to the RX 450h.

Interior Design

Based on Lexus L-finesse philosophy, the dramatically designed interior clearly separates the interior into two distinct zones – the “display zone” to provide information, and the “operation zone” for interaction with controls. The shoulder of the door trim comfortably envelops the occupants, the clear line of the trim beginning inside the cabin and tapering outward toward the exterior. The design imbues a feeling of a continuous line encircling the occupants and defining the controls and displays. Neatly sculpted metallic surfaces, especially on the asymmetrical center stack, showcase a bold contrast of shadow and light.

A new, higher contrast white Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) is used for the multi-information display located next to the speedometer. Vibrant white characters are sharply displayed on a high-contrast black background for ease of use and a luxurious appearance. For the RX 450h, blue accented meters strengthen the hybrid image, and a hybrid system indicator replaces the tachometer to encourage driving in an economical manner.

In addition to an Eco Driving indicator light, both the RX 350 and RX 450h models feature a new Eco driving indicator zone that displays current fuel economy using a bar graph and alerts the driver when they are achieving low fuel efficiency.

Lexus employed extensive human-machine interface (HMI) studies to enhance occupants’ interaction with all controls. To help reduce driver distraction and effort, each HMI function in the new RX wastes no movement. The available eight-inch navigation display (or seven-inch audio/HVAC display when navigation is not ordered) is placed at a higher, more distant position, providing a more natural visual angle.

Three innovations to come from the HMI studies include the multi-information switch on the steering wheel, the new Remote Touch console-mounted navigation controller and the available Head-Up Display. The multi-information switch allows the driver to access numerous function settings without taking hands off the steering wheel. It also reduced the number of individual switches, contributing to a cleaner instrument panel. Vehicle settings can be customized according to personal preference, including personal door-lock preferences, interior/exterior light adjustments, driver’s seat easy exit, and window-closure settings.

The new available navigation system on the RX can be controlled using either the Remote Touch device or by utilizing voice command. The Remote Touch allows the user to operate the navigation system, climate, audio, phone controls and more. The screen menus are selected with the controller, eliminating the need to reach out or avert eyes from the road.

The attribute that most distinguishes Lexus’ navigation controller from other devices in other luxury models is its “haptic”-feedback technology, which provides a tactile response to the hand. As the user operates the controller near a screen icon, the cursor is pulled to that icon with feedback from a servomotor in the device enabling the user to feel it “click” into place. The driver or passenger makes a selection by pressing the side thumb button on either side, and the feedback servo is adjustable for sensitivity. The system then confirms the action with a subtle sound. Remote Touch integrates the functions of seven hard switches used with the previous touch screen, helping users to operate those functions with minimal effort and distraction.

The all-new RX is now available with a Heads-Up Display (HUD) utilizing white readouts. High-intensity LEDs project high-contrast white figures onto the windshield, which are easier to read – and easier on the eyes – than the typical green-colored readouts. The HUD offers displays for speed, navigation, and audio. A wedge-shaped windshield interlayer for the HUD projection area eliminates the distracting printed grid pattern seen on some other vehicles equipped with HUDs.


Lexus luxury begins with how the customer first interacts with his or her vehicle. All RX models are equipped with the SmartAccess keyless entry with push-button start. As the driver approaches the vehicle, interior and exterior courtesy lamps illuminate. Opening the door, the instrument panel lighting gradually fades in. When the engine (or hybrid system) is started, the instrument gauge needles and markings illuminate, followed by the multi-information display. After the driver exits the vehicle, the lights fade out at different intervals.

All 2010 RX models are equipped with a power tilt and telescopic steering column. To ease entry and exit, the seat automatically slides two inches rearward and the steering wheel tilts upward and slides forward when the engine (or hybrid system) is switched off. Upon pushing the “ON” switch, the seat and steering wheel return to positions pre-set by the driver using the three-position memory system.

The newly designed, standard 10-way power front seats are shaped to accommodate arm movement when operating the available Remote Touch, while also holding the occupants in place. Both the driver and passenger seats also feature power lumbar adjustment. Also newly available on the RX is a ventilation function for the front seats to help improve comfort on hot and humid days. The shape and texture of the armrests and switches offer an ideal combination of tactile feel and functionality.

The leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel features integrated audio controls and a unique cross-section that is designed to provide a more natural grip than a conventional round-section wheel. A leather and wood trimmed wheel is also available for added luxury.

Three seat materials include standard fabric, optional smooth leather or even softer semi-aniline leather. In addition to light gray and black, Parchment is now available as an interior color. The RX 450h also exclusively offers a black and light gray interior with striking black accents. Standard wood trim comes in Brown Walnut matched to Parchment, or Espresso Bird’s-eye Maple matched to gray and black.

The center console box provides enough space to comfortably store CDs/DVDs or the vehicle’s owner’s manual. Even with the owner’s manual, the console box still offers more than 0.75- cu. ft. of storage capacity. The three-part (40/20/40) rear seats can be slid and reclined, and can be folded down using the one-touch levers mounted in the luggage compartment. Compact rear-seat headrests help improve the driver’s visibility. The new double-wishbone rear suspension, due to its compact packaging, yields a larger luggage compartment; the width between the suspension towers is increased by nearly six inches.

The new climate-control system offers quicker cooling and warming and is also quieter. A new high-efficiency compressor detects refrigerant flow in order to optimize engine control and fuel economy. The new system can cool the cabin to about two degrees lower and warm it by about five degrees higher than in the previous RX. An available smog sensor is designed to detect harmful particles (CO, HC, NOx) in other vehicles’ exhaust emissions and automatically switch between fresh air and recirculation modes. A new electric compressor on the RX 450h includes a humidity sensor to help optimize air-conditioner operation, helping to enhance fuel economy.

The new Lexus RX models accommodate a variety of music sources, providing auxiliary and USB inputs, Bluetooth® Audio wireless connectivity and standard XM® satellite radio capability (requires subscription), which is also joined by XM NavTraffic and XM NavWeather. Standard voice recognition and Bluetooth technology allow phone calls to be made and received while driving. When an iPod is attached via the USB port, information such names for the artist, track and album is displayed on the available navigation or audio screen. The large center console storage box easily accommodates a variety of electronic devices while keeping wires out of sight.

The RX continues the tradition of offering the Lexus Premium Audio system as standard equipment, in this case a powerful nine-speaker system with a six-disc changer. Creative placement and angling of the speakers perfectly cross-channels sound to the occupant on the opposite side of the vehicle to transform the cabin into a clear, crisp acoustic environment. A 12-speaker system comes with the optional navigation or rear seat entertainment systems and includes two-rear-door tweeters and a compact, L-shaped subwoofer in the rear-luggage compartment.

The optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson® Surround Sound system allows listeners to enjoy 7.1-channel surround sound. The Mark Levinson system, a Lexus exclusive, features a center channel coaxial speaker, metal-cone midrange speakers, tweeters and a 100-watt amplified subwoofer. A 2.5-inch speaker built into each D pillar provides the right and left surround-sound channels. The diffusion of sound provides each occupant the same level of audio quality.

The available Hard Disc Drive (HDD) navigation system eliminates the need for DVD map discs and offers a unique voice recognition system, which can work using casual-language inputs on certain functions. An optional rear-seat entertainment system includes two high-definition seven-inch screens, one on each of the front seatbacks. Each screen can display video from separate sources. A remote control allows independent control of each screen. Rear-seat occupants can also choose to listen to audio through the wireless headphones instead of vehicle speakers.

The available wide-view side monitor and backup monitor each help provide the driver with a wider range of visibility. The driver can check hard-to-view areas by simply pressing the camera-select button on the steering wheel or, when in reverse, viewing the camera images on the navigation screen. An optional back up camera displays images on the eight-inch navigation screen; systems without navigation have a 2.4-inch display in the rear-view mirror.


All new Lexus vehicles come with a 48-month/50,000-mile basic limited warranty with roadside assistance for 48-months/unlimited miles. Powertrain and restraint system coverage is provided for 72 months/70,000 miles. Corrosion perforation protection is covered for 72 months, regardless of mileage. The hybrid-related components, including the HV battery, battery-control module, hybrid control module and inverter with converter, are covered for eight years/100,000 miles.

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