Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hybrid Taxis Face a Tough Road

Even as San Francisco begins retiring their first hybrid taxis, Boston and NY taxi cab owners continue the fight to push off the requirements for them to go hybrid.

In 2005 San Francisco started with 15 Ford Escape Hybrid Taxi Cabs.  Those 15 hybrid cabs have made it to the 300,000 mile mark and at 300,000 miles, cabs in SF are forced to retire.

According to the story in the LA Times, the hybrid cabs have saved their drivers $9,000 a year, depending on gas prices and number of shifts driven.

Those original 15 cabs were a test, and they have had very  positive results.  14% of all taxis in SF are now hybrids, while 15% of those in NY City are hybrid.

Of course, Ford couldn't be happier with the results.  Gil Portalatin, hybrid systems application manager at Ford, noted "these things are tougher than nails. . . . We warranty the batteries for 150,000 miles and here you have cabs going out of service at 300,000 -- because that's the law, not because the cab's used up."

Meanwhile, in Boston and NYC, taxi owners, who have to pay for the hybrid cars, continue to fight the change over to hybrids.  In NYC, a successful lawsuit brought to an end the aggressive plan to hybridize the whole taxi fleet.  Boston is ready to follow in their footsteps.

NYC owners claimed the hybrid cars weren't fit to be taxis, and would require unsafe modifications to be used.  Boston taxi owners are a little more honest in their concerns, and are just plain worried about the cost.

"I support the used hybrids," said a plaintiff, Raphael Ophir of Jamaica Plain, who owns three hackney medallions and leases them to several cabdrivers. "But with this economy, with big companies going into Chapter 11, and with no credit available . . . delay it for two or three years."
The Boston plan is being phased in over a seven year period.

In New York, the city is attempting to entice owners into switching, rather than forcing them to. Owners basically rent out the taxis to drivers for their shift.  The owners are only allowed to charge the drivers so much per shift, however.  Drivers like hybrid taxis because they have to pay for the gas they use. 

But because they were successful in blocking the forced switchover to hybridize their fleet, owners are now being enticed to switch to hybrids in NYC.  If they have a hybrid taxi, they will be able to charge the driver more.  But owners complain that along with the enticement, there is a punishment for keeping the old taxis.  Every year, they will be forced to lower their 'rent' for any cars that don't meet certain fuel efficiency requirements.

Owners are reluctant to switch to hybrids and to be fair, it's understandable why.  The normal taxi cab has been the Crown Victoria, which can be purchased for anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000, while a hybrid taxi can cost two to three times that much to purchase and outfit.

But, with the first hybrids aging out, it's no longer possible for owners to argue against how long the hybrids will last.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Did Anyone Think the Volt Would Save GM?

It's all over the place today. The presidential report on GM (pdf) notes that

GM is at least one generation behind Toyota on advanced, “green” powertrain development. In an attempt to leapfrog Toyota, GM has devoted significant resources to the Chevy Volt. While the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable.
And a lot of people, newspapers and analysts are concluding the Volt will not save GM.

Did anyone think that's what the Volt was for?  Was it even a question?

Ford introduced the Ford Escape (/Mercury Mariner/Mazda Tribute) Hybrid back in 2004. They are only now going to start making a profit on their hybrid vehicles with the introduction of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids. That's about five years of selling, plus the time they spent researching the hybrid engine.

Toyota and Honda have had their hybrids in production for a decade, and Honda had to retire two of their models to get to this point where they can challenge the Prius with their new Insight.

Did anyone really think GM was going to turn the Volt into an instant moneymaker?

The Volt, as of now, is about GM redeeming their image. The Volt is about saying, yes, the Prius is nice and it sure would have been nice to have made the decision to get into the hybrid market 10 years ago. We may have messed up by retiring our electric car.

But now that we've decided to enter, we're not going to just build a Prius (see the new Insight). We're going to build something we think is both different and better.

This is a reputation problem GM is trying to fix. It's not about making money on the Volt itself, but an effort to make the whole company look better. That should (if it works) help the whole business.

And in five to ten years, hopefully GM will start making money on the project itself, just like Ford, Honda and Toyota have done.

While the Volt could be painted as Quixotic, did anyone really think it was about saving the company?

Our benefit will be an emphasis on fuel saving technology, and a lot of research into electric and battery vehicles.  It could also benefit fuel cell research and create jobs in manufacturing and research.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Lexus Announces Price Increase on Hybrids, Others

Lexus is increasing their base MSRP for their 2009 line-up, setting a $150 increase for models manufactured after April 1, 2009.

The two hybrid models affected are the GS 450h and the LS 600h L. The GS 450h increased 0.3 percent to $56,550, while the 600h L hybrid saw a smaller increase of 0.1 percent to $106,035. That excludes the delivery, processing and handling charge of $825.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

2010 Toyota Prius, the Next Generation Hybrid

The next generation Prius is going to be impressive.  Just a small improvement in fuel economy, but a big improvement in all the other features you would want in your next car.

Press release follows:

YOUNTVILLE, Calif. (March 2, 2009) -- When it launches this spring, the all-new 2010 Toyota Prius will once again set new standards for innovative hybrid design and technology, raising its level of convenience features and performance to new heights, including a combined EPA estimated fuel efficiency rating of 50 miles-per-gallon.

Celebrated as the benchmark for cars of the future, the Prius has delivered superior fuel economy and ultra-low emissions to more than 1.2 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.

“The Prius has evolved with our customers over the past 10 years and is now more things to more people,” said Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. “It’s environmental, innovative, and practical. It’s an everyday car for everyday use, and when it goes on sale a few months from now, we believe that its new features will appeal to returning owners, while at the same time attract buyers who are looking for innovative technology with a hybrid powertrain.”

An Eco-Icon

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 almost entirely 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 700,000 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.

During the development of the Prius, more than 1,000 applications for patents were filed worldwide.

Improved Fuel Economy, Power 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 miles per gallon (mpg), combined city/highway. Using a combination of technologies, fuel efficiency was increased to an EPA estimated city/highway mpg rating of 50 in the city, 49 on the highway and a combined 50 mpg for the new Prius.

A larger and more powerful 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder engine will produce 98 horsepower at 5,200 rpm in the new Prius. Together with its electric motor the hybrid system in the new Prius will generate a combined net horsepower of 134, an improvement of 24 horsepower over the previous generation.

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 an uncompromised “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 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 drivers achieve their best mileage.

The new Prius will be certified as a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) and an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) in California, as well as those states adopting California emission standards. The AT-PZEV certification requires the SULEV exhaust standard linked with the ability to meet a zero-fuel-evaporative standard, a 150,000-mile durability demonstration, extended emissions system warranty, and technology deemed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to advance future fuel cell vehicles. In the rest of the country, Prius will be certified as Tier 2, Bin 3. The new Prius will produce over 70 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new vehicle.

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.

One of the World’s Lowest Cd

The new Prius received more wind tunnel hours of testing than any other Toyota in history, resulting in one of the cleanest aerodynamic profiles 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 new Prius also offers a remote air-conditioning system. It is the first system in the world to function on battery-power alone, and allows remote operation so the driver can adjust the interior temperature for comfort before getting in the car.

LEDs (light emitting diodes), optional in low beam headlamps and standard in tail and stop lamps, help reduce the vehicle’s power consumption. 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.

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.

A new Touch Tracer Display features touch sensors on the steering wheel switches that 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. Touch Tracer is the first display 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.

A 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.

New Model Strategy

Prius will come in one grade with four different standard equipment packages named II, III, IV and V, each with varying levels of exterior and interior features, allowing buyers to choose the Prius that will best fit their needs (see a complete list of standard features for each model in the attached specification documents).

Option Packages

In addition to its array of standard equipment an impressive list of comfort and convenience features are offered in these three simplified option packages:

A Navigation Package available on Prius models III, IV, and V, includes a voice-activated touch-screen DVD navigation system with a JBL AM/FM/four-CD changer with integrated XM satellite radio, MP3/WMA playback capability, hands-free phone capability via Bluetooth® wireless technology, eight speakers and a backup camera.
A Solar Roof Package, available in Prius models III and IV, includes all contents in the Navigation Package, a power tilt/slide moonroof with a solar powered ventilation system and a remote air conditioning system.
An Advanced Technology Package, available in Prius model V, includes all contents in the Navigation Package; a Pre-Collision System; Dynamic Radar Cruise Control; Lane Keep Assist (LKA); and IPA.

Color and Trim

Prius will be available in seven exterior colors including Blizzard Pearl, Sandy Beach Metallic, Blue Ribbon Metallic, Winter Gray Metallic, Classic Silver Metallic, Barcelona Red Metallic and Black. They will be mated to three interior colors that include Misty Gray, Dark Gray and Bisque. All three interior colors will be available in both fabric and leather.

Peace of Mind Warranty Protection

Toyota’s 36-month/36,000 mile basic new-vehicle warranty applies to all components other than normal wear and maintenance items. Additional 60-month warranties cover the powertrain for 60,000 miles and against corrosion with no mileage limitation. 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. In applicable states (including Calif., Mass., N.Y, N.J., Vt., Conn., Maine, N.M., and R.I.) hybrid-related component coverage is 15 years/150,000 miles with the exception of the hybrid battery which is warranted for 10 years/ 150,000 miles.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Monday, March 30, 2009

2010 Escalade Platinum Hybrid

Cadillac added a new choice to their Escalade options. The 2010 Escalade Platinum Hybrid is everything you would expect from a the Platinum Escalade, plus a hybrid motor to up your fuel economy to 20 mpg.

I suspected the Hybrid Escalade might be one of the better hybrids GM has to offer and so far, it looks like that's true. It's hard to say any hybrid is doing well in this economy, but since the Escalade hybrid makes up 30% of all Escalade sales, it looks like the upsell of a hybrid motor to the people interested in spending close to $100,000 on their SUV isn't a hard sale to make.

When the hybrid option costs someone $3,000 more, that extra cost gets lost in the other luxury items being purchased along with the car.

Press Release from GM follows.

DETROIT –Cadillac recently launched the 2010 Escalade Platinum Hybrid, the most technically advanced large luxury SUV yet, blending the exclusive features of the Platinum model with the fuel-saving powertrain of the Escalade Hybrid. It delivers 20 mpg, up to 50-percent improved city fuel economy over non-hybrid models.

“This is the ultimate Escalade, combining the top luxury features of the Platinum edition with the world’s first hybrid on a large luxury SUV ,” said Mark McNabb, North America vice president, Cadillac/Premium Channel. “ Along with the upcoming CTS Sport Wagon and SRX Crossover, the Escalade Platinum Hybrid represents an opportunity for the changing priorities of luxury consumers who want dramatic design and technology combined with fuel efficiency and functionality.”

The Escalade’s two-mode hybrid system allows it to return greatly improved fuel economy while still delivering all the performance, capabilities, style and technology of a true luxury SUV. The limited-edition Escalade Platinum model includes other advanced technologies such as light-emitting diode (LED) headlamps and Cadillac’s advanced Magnetic Ride Control system.

This blend of luxury and fuel efficiency has resonated with consumers as Escalade Hybrid is now the choice of 30% of 2009-model Escalade buyers. I Typically, a hybrid is the choice of 10% or fewer of buyers on vehicles across the auto industry in which there is a choice between a hybrid and a conventional powertrain..

Escalade Platinum Hybrid is available in 2WD and 4WD configurations. It delivers up to 5,800 pounds (2,631 kg) of usable towing capacity on 2WD models and 5,600 pounds (2,540 kg) on 4WD models.

GM’s patented two-mode hybrid technology

GM’s patented two-mode hybrid system consists of an advanced electrically variable transmission (EVT) and 300-volt nickel-metal hydride Energy Storage System (ESS). These systems work in concert with the standard 6.0L V-8 Gen IV gasoline engine with Active Fuel Management (AFM) and late-intake valve closing (LIVC) technology.

The key to Escalade’s two-mode hybrid system is that the electric power used to propel the vehicle is generated by the hybrid system itself. When the brakes are applied or the vehicle is coasting, the electric motors within the hybrid system create electricity that is stored in the 300-volt battery. This stored energy is used to move the vehicle and the regenerative braking cycle is renewed.

Providing power to the hybrid’s electrically variable transmission’s (EVT) two electric motors is a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride Energy Storage System (ESS). This battery pack is located under the second-row seat, where it takes up virtually no additional space and does not interfere with second- or third-row ingress/egress.

Additional features of the hybrid powertrain and supporting systems include:

  • Fully blended regenerative braking to capture energy that would otherwise be lost during vehicle deceleration
  • A 6.0L V-8 engine with Active Fuel Management and late intake valve closing (Atkinson-cycle combustion process) for reduced pumping losses and better overall fuel economy. It is rated at 332 horsepower (248 kW) and 367 lb.-ft. of torque (498 Nm) and runs on regular unleaded fuel.
  • Auto Stop mode. Once the vehicle reaches 0 mph, the gasoline engine automatically shuts down, leaving the engine off and allowing the vehicle to launch and drive at low speeds under electric power alone, such as during city driving or while stuck in heavy stop-and-go traffic
  • An exhaust system and resonator specially tuned for the 6.0L LIVC engine’s Active Fuel Management operation. It ensures comfortable interior acoustics and a pleasant exhaust note during both V-4 and V-8 operation
  • An electrically driven, 300-volt air conditioning compressor reduces vibration and allows the HVAC system to cool the passenger compartment even when the gasoline engine is shut off. It includes the standard tri-zone climate system
  • An electrically driven, 42-volt variable-assist power steering reduces vibration and provides up to a 0.5-mpg fuel economy improvement by reducing parasitic losses common in belt-driven hydraulic systems
  • The Energy Storage System cooling system’s internal fan is tuned to be quiet at low vehicle speeds, when the fan could more easily be heard by the occupants

The Escalade Platinum Hybrid’s battery pack durability and reliability are maintained via optimized charge and discharge cycles, as well as a dedicated cooling system that draws air from the passenger compartment. As part of the vehicle’s emission control system, the energy storage system is warranted for eight years/100,000 miles.

Exclusive Package of Luxury, Style and Technology

In the new Escalade Platinum Hybrid, the hybrid system’s efficiency is complemented by an exclusive package of luxury, style and technology, including:

* A distinctive front fascia and grille patterned after Cadillac’s acclaimed CTS sport sedan
* Unique 22-inch wheels
* Magnetic Ride Control technology
* Light emitting diode (LED) headlamps
* Exclusive interior appointments with Aniline leather
* DVD entertainment system with screens integrated in front-seat headrests

Magnetic Ride Control is the world’s fastest reacting suspension system and gives the Escalade Platinum more precise body motion control. It is a real-time damping system – “reading” the road in 1-millisecond intervals – that replaces conventional mechanical-valve shocks with electronically controlled shocks filled with a synthetic fluid containing minute iron particles. Under the presence of magnetic charge, the iron particles align to provide damping resistance almost instantly.

The LED headlamps emulate the characteristics of natural daylight much more closely than traditional auto lighting. LEDs are environmentally friendly, with a usable life more than 20 times longer than traditional halogen bulbs.

Inside the Escalade Platinum is the latest example of Cadillac’s 21 st-century return to handcrafted luxury details. The instrument panel, center storage console and door trim are wrapped and stitched by hand. They feature decorative French seams that convey an elegantly tailored look and feel. Materials include rich leather on the instrument panel, with unique wood inlays and aluminum trim.

Aniline leather is unique to the Escalade Platinum and is used to trim the first- and second-row seats. Contrasting-color stitching is used on the French seams for a distinctive, luxurious appearance and the seatbacks feature embroidered Cadillac wreath and crest insignias. The leather-covered seats are comfortable and convenient, with the industry-exclusive power fold-and-tumble second-row seat feature that eases access to the third-row seat.

Additional standard interior features include Platinum-specific door sills and floor mats; a heated steering wheel; and heated and cooled cupholders and a power liftgate that opens and closes with the touch of a button. Also, the DVD entertainment system adds screens integrated into each front-seat headrest, in addition to the existing roof-mounted screen.

Each front-row headrest screen has its own driver and input controls. The headrest units can be operated independently or in tandem. This system enables passengers in different seats to watch or listen to different entertainment choices. Also including is the acclaimed Bose 5.1 Digital Surround system, as well as the eight-inch touch screen for DVD-based navigation and control of the DVD, CD, MP3 and XM Satellite Radio entertainment.

Evolving Cadillac Fleet of Luxury, Fuel Efficiency and Functionality

The Escalade Platinum Hybrid joins an evolving fleet of Cadillacs that are focused on fuel efficiency and functionality combined with dramatic design and advanced technology. Cadillac will launch the all-new SRX crossover this summer with high levels of functionality and a 3.0L Direct Injection V6 engine that delivers five more horsepower and a 10-15 fuel economy improvement over the 3.6L engine it replaces. The CTS Sport Wagon will also launch this summer with the same fuel efficient engine along with greater functionality than has ever been delivered by Cadillac’s core nameplate.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Friday, March 27, 2009

NHTSA Sets New MPG Standard for 2011

As part of the CAFE increases, set for 35 mpg by 2020, the NHTSA is setting midpoint values for auto manufacturers to make in the time leading up to it.  As one of the first acts of the Obama administration, the NHTSA was ordered to set the federal fuel economy standards for model year (MY) 2011.

The NHTSA has responded by setting a new mpg standard for MY 2011 at 30.2 mpg for passenger cars and 24.1 mpg for light trucks.  Together, that means the fleet averages for the manufacturers need to average 27.3 mpg, 2 mpg higher than the 25.3 mpg set for 2010.

Further analysis will be used to update in the following years.

Some people are very disappointed in the new standards, while the Auto Alliance is using the new rules to call for the federal standard to be the only standard.

The finalization of the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for MY 2011 is an important first step. It is now important that the Department of Transportation provide automakers with the certainty and consistency needed by setting standards for MY 2012 and beyond.
We are hopeful that the Obama Administration can find ways to bridge state and federal concerns, and move all stakeholders towards an aggressive, national, fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions program administered by the federal government.

According to autoblog, the truck standard will be tougher than the car standard, since automakers are currently at "2007 model year averages of 31.3 mpg for cars and 23.1 mpg for trucks"

The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) notes the new federal standard is higher than the one being proposed by the federal government.  (It seems to me the NADA statement is a little bit misleading although it is factual.  The standard may be higher in 2011, but the changes are being implemented for years to come.  California wants to set a 34.5 mpg standard by 2015, while the federal standard won't be fully implemented until 2020.)
"Now that the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) law, passed by Congress in Dec. 2007, is at last being implemented, America's auto dealers call on all stakeholders, including the Obama administration and California regulators, to embrace a single, national fuel economy standard."
The EPA should be shortly deciding whether to change their decision and allow California (and all the other states that are waiting in line) to be granted a waiver to set their own fuel economy standards.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tesla Unveils Model S

Tesla worked hard to create a memorable unveiling of their electric Model S today via live streaming video coverage, powered by Ustream.Tv on leftlanenews (here). Too bad digg founder Kevin Rose unveiled pictures via flickr of the Model S two hours before they did.

Also, the live stream seemed to have some issues.

Anyways, the pictures themselves are very exciting to look at.  The biggest discussion is all about that big screen on the center panel.

The Model S is supposed to cost upwards of $57,000, although with the federal tax credit (if you qualify for it) will bring that down to a mere $50,000.

Leftlanenews has more pictures up from the live reveal.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Honda Shows Off Insight Production

The new Insight, which is set to sell for several thousand less than the Prius, is built in Japan at a plant in Suzuka, Japan.  Reporters were invited in to see the production and how streamlined it has become even over the way they did things when they started with the Civic Hybrid.

The plant is set to produce 800 vehicles a day , including the Civic Hybrid.  Around 600 of the vehicles coming off the line each day are the new Insight.  About half of those have the steering wheel on the left side, which means they're coming to North America.

This is the only plant Honda has to build hybrids right now. 

At around 300 a day, that means Honda could produce around 9000 or about 100,000 a year.  Which is just what their stated goal for North America was.  It's sort of surprising to hear they are still producing those numbers given what's happened to the car marketplace over the past year, but it's also not surprising.

Sales in Japan have been great, with 21,000 orders in the first month and a half of sales (Feb 6 to Mar 23).  That's way over their stated goal of 5,000 a month in Japan.  If sales start off that strong in the US, we could really see a true competition begin for the Prius

To put that 100,00 number into perspective, there were reportedly just over 300,000 hybrids sold last year in the US, around half of which were the Prius.  Let's assume the Insight does make its numbers and the hybrid car market were to remain static otherwise.  That means Honda Insight will take over 25% of the hybrid market, the Prius will take 38%, and the other dozen or so hybrid models will pick up the rest.

No wonder Toyota is going to continue selling the second generation Prius as a 'cheaper option' to combat the new Insight in Japan.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Toyota Will Combat Insight by Keeping Old Prius in Japan

I didn't think they would do it, so I've been ignoring the reports coming out of Japan saying Toyota will keep the old Prius around as a 'cheaper' option to the new Prius.  But Toyota has now confirmed they will be keeping the second generation Prius going alongside the third generation (MY 2010).

"They will have different engine sizes -- 1.5 liters and 1.8 liters -- and we figure there will be demand for the two to co-exist," President Katsuaki Watanabe told reporters at the unveiling of the new Crown Majesta sedan.

The new Prius is set to launch in Japan in May, but early sales of the Honda Insight have been very strong.  The new hybrid from Honda is selling at a significantly lower price than the Prius, so it makes sense that Toyota wants to compete against their biggest rival in the hybrid scene they've dominated so far.  But they don't really have a cheaper option than the Prius available, and they may not have one until 2011 when the Toytoa Yaris Hybrid is available.

Watanabe also noted Toyota has cut costs on hybrids to almost one fourth of the early costs.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Hyundai Blue-Will Plug-in Hybrid at the Seoul Auto Show

Hyundai is bringing its new concept, the plug-in hybrid Blue-Will to the 2009 Seoul Auto Show scheduled for April 2.

The plug-in hybrid is powered by a 1.6-liter direct-injection gas motor mated in a parallel system to a 100-kilowatt electric motor. It also has continuously variable transmission.

The electric motor is powered by a lithium-ion polymer battery pack, which is partially recharged through solar panels on the roof.  The glass area 'integrates dye-sensitized solar cells which can generate power from the sun without impeding visibility.

Hyundai is emphasizing recycling with their blue car. They used recycled soft-drink bottles to make the material used in the headlamp bezels, and biodegradable plastics are used for the engine cover and interior.

Hyundai is planning on selling their first hybrid, the Elantra LPI Hybrid in South Korea sometime in July.  The Elantra will also have lithium-ion polymer battery pack, the first in a mass production vehicle according to Hyundai.

Source: 2009 Seoul Auto Show: Hyundai To Roll Out Blue-Will Concept and Hyundai sings the ‘Blues’ with hybrid concept: AutoWeek Magazine

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Reviews are In on The 2010 Toyota Prius

And they all seem to be positive, although most are concentrating on how high they could get their MPG readings.  The highest mpg came in at 94.6 mpg, but that score was thrown out of the competition because the driver obviously wasn't following any sort of 'real-world' driving rules.  The best 'honest' score came in at 75.3 mpg.

The worst player may have been Scott Burgess who worked hard to get the mpg reading down to 26.8 mpg.  As Scott points out "The Prius still bested the city mileage of every single gasoline midsize sedan." Scott added "The worst I could do was 26.8 mpg -- which was way better than it should have done. Drive it normally and it will produce incredible mileage."

Most of the reporters invited out to test drive the new Prius were getting 60 to 70 mpg.  Since the new Prius is rated at 50 mpg, that's good news for anyone who buys it and concentrates a little on fuel effiency. 

Edmunds John O'Dell was embarrassed to find out he could only get 66.7 mpg.  He did note that a "a crew of Edmunds test engineers did put one of the cars though a 115-mile fuel economy loop of their own design.   It wasn't the best route, she said, because it was more than half highway and, as everyone should know by now, a Prius is best for fuel economy in stop-and-go city driving... got an honest 52.2 miles a gallon out of the 2010 Prius"

Not surprisingly, Hybrid Cars.com was excited about the new Prius and all of its new features, including no more belts.  Most reporters noted the bigger gas engine which, despite your first common sense reaction, allows the Prius to improve its fuel economy.

Like Scott Burgess, Jalopnik tried their best to kill the fuel economy rating,  "did you know it returns 26.6 MPG at 102 MPH?"  Wes Siler went on to note "this third generation vehicle, fitted with a larger 1.8-liter engine producing a net 134 HP is actually pretty fun to drive, at least when equipped with the optional 17-inch wheels."

BTW, Siler noted that Toyota wasn't disappointed with their attempt at maxing out the speed. "When we showed Toyota our wobbly shot of the Prius's gauges at 102 MPH, they expressed disappointment that we hadn't maxed the car out to its 112 MPH top speed and not at all worried about our instantaneous MPG figure."

Car and Driver notes the Prius has lots of improvements, but feels like it still isn't fun to drive. "rotating that oval-shaped steering wheel is rewarded with an agonizingly slow return on one’s investment (this nearly got us into trouble on our first hot corner). The body wallows about its roll center much like before, conspiring with the squealing tires and aggressive stability-control system to mute out any shred of fun."

It's kind of hard to understand why they think anyone would normally be trying to 'hot corner,' but I guess that's a factor if you're looking to buy a new car.

Autobloggreen was, not surprisingly, impressed by the third generation Prius.  After noting the improved fuel economy and lots of new and fun features, ABG mostly concentrated on how the Prius is going to stack up against its rival, the Honda Insight.  "The Insight is a fun drive that won't attack your wallet at the pump or its point of purchase, while the Prius gets better mileage, is larger and comes with a cache of green cred that would fill the Grand Canyon."

CNET reviewer Wayne Cunningham was careful to note all the new features including "The cabin now includes a floating console and a shift lever with a more traditional layout than the previous one. And Toyota gives the Prius some new tech tricks, such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and automatic parking."

Obviously, the MPG competition was a little rigged to 1) motivate the writers to emphasize the fuel economy in their first reports on the Prius and 2) easy enough to get over the mark set by the lead engineer.  But that doesn't change the fact that the writers were able to do the job easily in the new Prius.  And that most of the reviewers were excited about the improvements made in the third generation Prius.  From the new Touch Tracer Display, to the bigger gas engine and better sound insulation, reviewers were unanimous that the third generation Prius was a big improvement over the second generation Prius.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Toyota Hybrid Yaris on the Way

According to a Nikkei report (found via autonews), Toyota is moving forward on a plan to outfit the Yaris with a hybrid engine.

And unlike the new Prius, the Yaris will designed with economy in mind.   The new Prius is getting outfitted with all the fixings, although it's still relatively cheap by hybrid car standards at just $22,000.  But the Honda Insight is priced under $20,000 new Insight although it can't compete in fuel economy at 40+ mpg, compared to the 50 mpg for the Prius.

And that lower price point is telling.  Latest reports have during its debut, and strong sales have continued.  So the Insight outselling the Prius last month in Japan Toyota is moving to counter their Honda hybrid rival. 

The Yaris Hybrid will compete against the new Honda Insight and the plans for the Honda Fit Hybrid.  It won't be around until 2011, but this sort of price war is exactly what the hybrid marketplace needs.   Lowering the price on hybrid cars will make them more accessible to everyone.

Despite any impressions you might have, hybrid owners tend to be older and finanacially better off than other car buyers.  A lot of that is due to the initial cost of the hybrid cars available to buy. 

And the more hybrids being built, means the more batteries being installed, which means the more components for both are being built and researched, leading to lower prices all around for every hybrid vehicle.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Massachusetts Businesses May Get Grants to Buy Hybrids

The Dept of Energy Resources announced grants of $10 million (pdf) may be available, via the stimulus bill, to cover the difference between hybrids and the gas-only cars (found via Boston Herald).  Both new and 'retrofitted' vehicles such as hybrids, electric, fuel cell, CNG, plug-in hybrids, and diesels with 2009 MY are eligible.

To apply, submit a letter by May 18.  Commercial applications (pdf) and municipal applications (pdf) differ, so make sure to fill in the right one. Those who obtain the grants have to buy the vehicles within a certain time frame and keep them for at least three years.

The 'incremental costs' covered by the grants are based on the vehicle type.  A light duty hybrid is only eligible for up to $2,000, while a light duty fuel cell vehicle the limit is up to $500,000.  And if you want to take up 10% of the budget in one bit, a medium/heavy duty hybrid could cover up to $1,000,000. 

The first thing that came to mind for me was hybrid police cars.  I would bet that a lot of towns across the Commonwealth are attempting to buy new police vehicles, and would love to upgrade to a hybrid to save on fuel costs.  Another possibility is a hybrid bus or even work trucks could get covered (think of the new hybrid Sierra or Silverado).

If they act fast, this could be a real opportunity for local cities and towns, as well as businesses.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Infintii M Hybrid in 2010

According to reports, Nissan is getting ready for their own hybrid system, finally. The Infinti M may have a hybrid option in 2010.

The rear-wheel drive hybrid will mate a 3.5 liter gas V6 to an electric motor in a parallel hybrid system. It may also come with a lithium-ion battery pack, which should make the electric motor more effective.

Nissan has been reluctant to research and build their own hybrid system, with their CEO noting he hates to lose money by selling cars. But they still brought a hybrid Altima to production by leasing the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive.

In 2010, they wanted to bring an Infiniti Hybrid to market because Nissan wants to add in the hybrid cost to a luxury vehicle. They also want the green credentials, not to mention any help in increasing the fuel economy of their fleet will also be welcome, with new regulations on the way.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Monday, March 23, 2009

American Hybrid Cars

When we talk about American cars, we're usually talking about GM, Ford and Chrysler.  Although the term American-made is getting more blurred by the day, these are the companies I want to discuss today.

The three American companies have had mixed success so far when it comes to hybrid cars.  Ford, one of the first to embrace hybrid technology, has been more successful than the other two.  GM, late to the party by their own admission, is now working frantically to produce any hybrid that will get them some notice.  Chrysler tried and quit on hybrids so quickly you may have missed it.

Ford Hybrids
Ford has five hybrids out right now.  The first three, the Ford Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner Hybrid and Mazda Tribute Hybrid are the same, just the badging, pricing and extras are changed.  The Hybrid SUV from Ford was the first hybrid SUV on the road, and the first American hybrid to begin production and sales back in 2004.  And it's still the most fuel efficient SUV on the road.

Ford is introducing two new 'American hybrids' this year, the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid.  Again, these two cars are the same hybrids, just different badging and extras.

Based on a similar design as Toyota's hybrid technology, the hybrid system from Ford is a full hybrid, which means they can travel on electric power at low speeds and are powered by the gas engine at high speeds.  But, Ford has not made a profit on their hybrid cars up until now.  They took a risk and built up their own hybrid engine, but then took a conservative approach to rolling it out.  So, as Toyota and Honda pushed harder to up their production and sales, Ford has been happy with limiting the number of hybrids they were willing to build each year.

With the introduction of the Fusion and Milan Hybrids, Ford is ready to make a profit, but will still limit their sales to so many per year. 

GM Hybrids
GM chose to ignore the hybrid marketplace, until Toyota, Honda and Ford showed them how popular the idea was.  GM then decided to build up their mild hybrid line-up with the likes of the Chevy Malibu Hybrid, Saturn Vue Hybrid, and Saturn Aura Hybrid.  They also had the short-lived Sierra and Silverado 'hybrids', but each of these has been met with derision by those who are very interested in 'true' hybrids.

The BAS system from GM, while increasign fuel economy a little bit, is a mild hybrid system, incapable of moving the vehicle on electric power alone.  GM uses their electric motor to 'assist' the gas motor in their mild system.  The batteries are smaller, the costs are less, thus the cost to the consumer is less, but the fuel efficiency gain is small.  It's too easy for a consumer to make the comparison to the smaller engine (4-cylinder instead of 6) and say, why should I pay more for this minimal gain?

So, GM worked with BMW and Chrylser to develop a full hybrid system, labeled the dual-mode or 2-mode hybrid engine.  With two modes to increase fuel efficiency at different speeds, GM produced a hybrid engine for larger vehicles.  The new dual-mode hybrid does make a significant difference in fuel economy for their new hybrids SUVs and trucks, namely the GMC Yukon, Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Silverado, and GMC Sierra.  All of these larger trucks and SUVs get a 25% improvement in fuel economy when a hybrid engine is installed.

So far, however, sales have been lackluster for GM's hybrids.  Consumers who are interested in fuel economy savings are trending towards the cars that give them the most fuel economy, like the Toyota Prius.  True, they can't tow a boat with it, but if their priority was towing a boat, then that implicitly means fuel economy is less important to them.

So now, GM is also working on their Chevy Volt, an extended range electric vehicle (E-REV).  This is being touted as possible competition for the high flying Prius.  Instead of following in the Prius footsteps, GM has decided to leap-frog into the future, by creating this plug-in hybrid.

The Volt hybrid system is basically taking the opposite tact as their mild hybrid system.  Instead of the electric motor being used to 'assist' the gas one, the Volt will use the gas motor to 'assist' or extend the range of the electric motor.  After charging the battery up, you will be able to travel up to 40 miles (or so, depending on your driving conditions) without the gas engine turning on at all.  After that, the gas engine will recharge the battery pack.  The gas engine cannot move the vehicle on its own.  It's completely up to the electric motor.

It remains to be seen if the Volt will change people's minds about American hybrid cars.  It's definitely a risk for GM, but it's playing well in front of politicians and in the media so far.  The real problem is going to be one of cost.  Even with the new tax credits in place ($7,500 for the Volt from the federal government), the car is still going to be twice as expensive as the Prius or new Insight from Honda.

Chrysler Hybrids
Chrysler, whether you knew it or not, was in the hybrid market for two months.  They, along with GM and BMW, spent a lot of money to develop and produce the dual-mode hybrid engine, but then abandoned production of their Aspen and Durango Hybrid SUVs almost before they were built.  The economic crisis forced them to cut costs, and the sales and 'buzz' surrounding their new hybrids just wasn't big enough for them to continue to lose money on the proposition.

American Hybrids
Overall, there are more American hybrid types on the road today, mostly due to GM.  Since they've built up several different types of hybrids, the market has seen just about every type given a try.  But, so far, Ford has been the most successful at bringing hybrids to market.  They've sold more hybrids than GM has, despite only having the one type up until now. 

Building up hybrid technology is an expensive proposition, and so far, each of the American car companies has been willing to pay some of the price to do so.  It's unknown if they've made dime one on the effort, though.  Certainly, Toyota and Honda have managed to move from paying off the hybrid research and into making money off of each hybrid sold.  Ford has stated they will start making money once the Fusion and Milan start selling.  GM and Chrysler haven't sold enough hybrids to make it worth it so far.  And GM is going further into the hole with their Volt system.

Which makes me wonder if Ford was the smart one.  Early to the game and conservative in their approach, they may not have as many types as GM does, but their limited sales approach saved them from either giving up as Chrysler has, or continuing to spend, spend spend on developing other hybrids as GM has. 

American Hybrid Cars v Japanese Hybrid Cars

Right now, all three companies are behind Toyota.  Toyota is the clear hybrid leader, with 3 out of every 4 hybrids sold in the US bearing a Toyota or Lexus badge, and 50% of all hybrid sales are a Prius.  It's not unfair to say where Toyota goes, so goes the hybrids.  And Prius is practically synonymous with hybrid, despite the variety of other choices.

Ford could be said to be 'on par' with Honda, but we'll have to see how the new Insight fairs to be sure.  Honda, like GM, has tried several different approaches to hybrids, but seems to have seen the light with the new Insight.

But put together, it's clear that Honda and Toyota are competing with each other, not with the US companies.  The new Insight is a clear challenger to the Prius, something the American car companies haven't even tried to build.  Instead, Ford's new hybrids are being built to challenge the Toyota Camry and Honda Civic Hybrids.  And GM won't have any real competition until the Volt arrives.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hybrid Cars and Regenerative Braking

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), no matter what type they are, have several things in common. First is the two motors. The internal combustion engine (ICE) runs on gasoline just the way every other car does. It may be a diesel-hybrid or it may be a gas hybrid, but you're not going to find anything unfamiliar here.

The second motor is electric, and it runs off of a battery pack. The battery pack, depending on its size, can be used to power the electric motor, which in turn can either 'assist' the gas engine or it can move the car by itself.

When the car can be moved by either power source, we call it a full hybrid. If the electric motor is incapable of moving the car by itself, in other words, it is only there to assist the ICE, we call it a mild hybrid.  Full hybrids get better miles per gallon than mild hybrid cars.

And if the car can only be moved by the electric motor, while the ICE is there to assist the electric motor, we call it an electric range extended vehicle (E-REV).

But no matter what type of hybrid car it is, the electric motor does not get powered by gas or diesel. It gets its power from the battery pack. The battery pack needs to be recharged (filled) and there are several methods of doing so.

Ways to Recharge Your Battery in a Hybrid Car
The most obvious, and yet the most difficult to do, is to plug in. Yes, you can store a lot of energy by plugging in, but you need very large battery packs (We're talking 8 feet long!) to store enough energy to move a car 40 miles or so. Those batteries are heavy and take up a lot of space, not to mention very expensive.  Also, you can only recharge with a plug when your car is stopped.  It takes a long time to fill up a battery right now, which is why plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) are going to be last on the scene.

Another way to recharge the battery is to use the gas motor to power the battery pack. This is obviously not the best method, since the point of a hybrid is to maximize the use of the electric motor, not the gas motor.

The last way, and arguably the best way to recharge the battery pack is by using regenerative braking.

Regenerative Braking in Hybrid Cars
Normally, when you slow down a car, you use the brakes. You push on the brake pedal, which applies force to the brake pads, which are pushed against the wheels and slows the car down through friction. Simple, easy and cheap, but also wasteful.

Regenerative brakes, on the other hand, use the motion of the car to push (apply torque) onto the electric motor shaft during braking and coasting. That motion turns a magnet over a coil of wires which produces electricity. That electricity is then stored into the battery pack.

How much energy you 'reclaim' or 'regenerate' this way is dependent on a lot of factors.  How efficient is the system, how big is it, how many wheels are involved, how good is the motor control, how fast are you going, is the battery already charged, etc...
And that's it. Obviously, this is harder to do than it is to explain. By the way, this is exactly the same principle used in a hydroelectric dam.

Pros and Cons of Regenerative Braking System

One obvious pro for regenerative brakes is the power generation.  It's a cheap source of energy that would otherwise be wasted to friction.  Also, brakes tend to last much longer since they are used less in cars with regenerative braking, making your normal maintenance costs come down.  As with oil changes, the less you use your brake pads or ICE, the less you have to change out your brake pads or oil.

Another big plus is the cost.  Regenerative braking is based on very old technology (see the link to hydroelectric power above).  There's nothing really new about it.

The first con is the same as one of the pros; the initial expense of installing the regen brakes.  Even though its based on old tech, it still adds to the cost of building the car. Also, regenerative braking, even in the best conditions, cannot recharge the batteries by itself. Only a minor percentage of the recharging is done by the brake system.  It's recycled energy, but it's not a lot of energy.  Most of the recharge comes from the gas motor. 

Combining Power Generation
In a typical hybrid, the battery pack is recharged both by the gas engine and by regenerative braking.  In start and stop traffic, regenerative braking will be the better source, while if you're in a high speed, not as much braking going on, situation, you can imagine the gas motor is necessary to recharge the battery. 

This is why there is a 'myth' that hybrids are only fuel efficient in city driving, but if you're doing a lot of highway driving, you're better off without a hybrid.  A diesel, for instance, might be a better choice, but most high efficiency hybrids will use an Atkinson engine to increase fuel efficiency by utilizing both the electric motor to assist the ICE even in high speed situations. 

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama Pushes Hybrids in California

Obama, in a visit to California, was pushing once again for one million plug-in hybrids by 2015. To finance his ambition, he talked about the $2.4 billion in grants and tax breaks to make it happen.

The president noted the (up to) $7,500 in tax credits for those who buy plug-in cars.

There will be up to $1.5 billion in grants to US-based manufacturers to produce the battery and components for plug-in cars. There is also up to $500 million in grants to US-based manufacturers who produce 'other components' for electric vehicles including electric motors and other components.

And there will be $400 million available to demonstrate and evaluate plug-in hybrids and other electric infrastructure concepts -- like truck stop charging station, electric rail, and training for technicians to build and repair electric vehicles.

Obama was speaking in California after examining a plug-in hybrid Ford Escape at the Electric Vehicle Test Center.

Source: Obama promotes hybrid vehicles - 2008 Presidential Campaign Blog - Political Intelligence - Boston.com

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hybrid Cars and Miles Per Gallon

When it comes to hybrid cars, most people think of fuel efficiency.  How many miles per gallon can you get if you're driving a hybrid car?  What kind of improvement can you expect if you buy a hybrid over a gas-only car?

The answer is, of course, it depends.  Not all hybrid types are born equal and not all fuel efficient cars are hybrids.

Miles Per Gallon for Hybrid Cars

Vehicle City Highway Combined GPM
Toyota Prius 4 cyl, 1.5 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), HEV, Regular 48 45 47 2.1
Honda Civic Hybrid 4 cyl, 1.3 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), HEV, Regular 40 45 42 2.4
Nissan Altima Hybrid 4 cyl, 2.5 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), HEV, Regular 35 33 34 2.9
Toyota Camry Hybrid 4 cyl, 2.4 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), HEV, Regular 33 34 33 3.0
Ford Escape Hybrid FWD 4 cyl, 2.5 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 34 31 33 3.1
Mazda Tribute Hybrid 2WD 4 cyl, 2.5 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 34 31 33 3.1
Mercury Mariner Hybrid FWD 4 cyl, 2.5 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 34 31 33 3.1
Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid 4 cyl, 2.4 L, Automatic 4-spd, Regular 26 34 30 3.4
Saturn Aura Hybrid 4 cyl, 2.4 L, Automatic 4-spd, Regular 26 34 30 3.4
Saturn Vue Hybrid 4 cyl, 2.4 L, Automatic 4-spd, Regular 25 32 28 3.6
Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD 4 cyl, 2.5 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 29 27 28 3.6
Mazda Tribute Hybrid 4WD 4 cyl, 2.5 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 29 27 28 3.6
Mercury Mariner Hybrid 4WD 4 cyl, 2.5 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 29 27 28 3.6
 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD 6 cyl, 3.3 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), HEV, Regular 27 25 26 3.8
Lexus GS 450h 6 cyl, 3.5 L, Automatic (S6), HEV, Premium 22 25 23 4.3
Chevrolet Silverado 15 Hybrid 2WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 21 22 21 4.7
GMC Sierra 15 Hybrid 2WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 21 22 21 4.7
Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid 2WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 21 22 21 4.7
GMC Yukon 1500 Hybrid 2WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 21 22 21 4.7
Lexus LS 600h L 8 cyl, 5 L, Automatic (S8), HEV, Premium 20 22 21 4.8
Dodge Durango HEV 8 cyl, 5.7 L, Automatic 4-spd, HEV, Regular 20 22 21 4.8
Chrysler Aspen HEV 8 cyl, 5.7 L, Automatic 4-spd, HEV, Regular 20 22 21 4.8
Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 2WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 20 21 20 4.9
Chevrolet Silverado 15 Hybrid 4WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 20 20 20 5.0
GMC Sierra 15 Hybrid 4WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 20 20 20 5.0
Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid 4WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 20 20 20 5.0
GMC Yukon 1500 Hybrid 4WD 8 cyl, 6 L, Automatic (variable gear ratios), Regular 20 20 20 5.0

As a side note, the new Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid are going to be right up there (41/36 mpg) when they arrive over the next few weeks.  So will the new Honda Insight (40/43 mpg).  The new Prius will set the bar a little bit higher at over 50 mpg.

Miles Per Gallon v Gallons Per Mile
Note that miles per gallon can be pretty misleading.  If I told you could go from 35 to 50 mpg or from 15 to 20 miles per gallon, which would you say is a bigger improvement?  Turns out going from 15 to 20 saves you 200 gallons a year if you drive 12,000 miles.  Going from 35 to 50 only nets 100 gallons a year.

Now, there's no doubt that, given the choice, you would rather get 50 mpg.  The problem I'm talking about is the scaling.  That's whay in Europe, they talk about how many liters per 100 km.  If we could switch to gallons per 100 miles (GPM), we'd be better off.

That's not likely to happen any time soon, but it would be nice.

If you glance at the miles per gallon to gallons per 100 miles chart above, you'll see what I'm talking about.  Going from 15 mpg (6.66 GPM) to 20 mpg (5 GPM) gives you 1.66 GPM difference.  But going from 35 mpg (2.86 GPM) to 50 mpg (2 GPM) gives you only .86 GPM difference.  Clearly, going from 15 to 20 mpg gives you more improvement than 35 to 50 mpg.

Which is why the hybrid SUVs from GM are better than they seem. 

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Hybrid Cars in the HOV Lane May Be Extended Through 2017

In a Q&A session, Gary Richards mentioned the carpool lane exemption for the 85,000 hybrid cars with stickers may be extended. 

As of now, the program is scheduled to end in 2010.  But Gary notes there are two bills in progress that would extend the sticker program through 2016 or 2017.  The two bills are AB 1500 and AB 1502.  There's a hearing scheduled for March 30.

That's good news for those who have stickers since their commute is shorter and their car is worth more.  If the program were to end, used hybrid prices in California would drop immediately.  As Gary points out, there are no new stickers being added on, though.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Michigan Approves Tax Break For Mercedes-Benz Propulsion Center

The Michigan Economic Growth Authority approved a tax break for Daimler AG in order to encourage Daimler AG to build a $10 million research center near Ann Arbor today. The center will focus in on Mercedes-Benz development of conventional and alternative (hybrid) propulsion systems and it will be caled the Mercedes-Benz Engineering Center for Powertrains USA.

Mercedes-Benz will hire 223 workers over 10 years for the new facility in Washtenaw County. The company is looking for 65,000 sq. ft. of space.

The tax breaks are contingent on the company's ability to obtain a municipal tax abatement.

Eight other companies were also granted state tax breaks to locate in the area.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Citroen DS5 Diesel Hybrid in 2011

Citroen is planning on adding a diesel hybrid to the new DS sub-brand, the C4-sized Citroen DS5 family hatch. The diesel hybrid is expected sometime in 2011.

The C4 WRC Hybrid 4 concept was on display at the Geneva motor show. It was the first hybrid rally car in the world, and can run on electric power on road sections between stages.

Sources: Autocar - Diesel hybrid Citroen DS in 2011, Hybrid Citroen DS confirmed for 2011 - AutoSpies Auto News

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Monday, March 16, 2009

Types of Hybrid Cars

There are several different types of hybrid cars.  From mild to full hybrid engines; SUV, truck or car; small or large; luxury or basic; there are plenty of types to go around.

The Basics: Full v Mild Hybrid Types
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) are vehicles with two different engine types, a gas engine mated with an electric motor.  The basic types are further brokedn down by full v mild hybrids.  A full hybrid will be capable of moving the car by either the electric motor or by the gas motor.  In a mild, or assist, hybrid the electric motor is too small to move the car on its own.  Instead, it 'helps' the gas engine in high usage moments like acceleration or allows the gas motor to shut off when you bring the car to a stop.

Mild hybrids are cheaper to produce, mostly because they have smaller battery packs, but also because of their simplicity.  But you also get what you pay for.  Mild hybrid types like the Chevy Malibu Hybrid or Aura Hybrid only get a couple of mpgs more than their basic counterparts.  But it is an option, and has been pursued by GM.  Some analysts and hybrid enthusiasts do not consider mild hybrids to truly be hybrids at all.

Full hybrids like those from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Ford are capable of moving at low speeds on electric power alone.  The gas engine is used at higher speeds, but the electric motor may be assisting the gas motor even at higher speeds.  Also, they tend to come with Atkinson gas motors.  I won't go into the details, but this type of motor is more fuel efficient at higher speeds, but the electric motor compensates for the gas motors weaknesses.

Hybrid System Types
Toyota developed their own full hybrid system called Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) and the system can be found in all of their hybrids.  That includes the Prius, Camry and Highlander, as well as all of their Lexus models: RX 400h, GS 450h, and the LS 600h l.  Nissan has also installed the HSD into their Nissan Altima Hybrid until they have a chance to develop their own.  Toyota is on their third generation hybrid system, which premiers in the third generation Prius.

Honda has their own full hybrid system, called the Integrated Motor Assist.  It can be found in the old Insight, the Civic and Accord Hybrids.  A newer, simplified version can be found in the new Insight.

GM, BMW, and Chrysler pooled their resources and designed their own full hybrid system.  It's called dual mode (or 2-mode or two-mode).  The short-lived, they were only available for two months, Aspen and Durango Hybrids were built using the dual-mode hybrid system.  GM has built the new Tahoe and Yukon SUV hybrids with dual-mode hybrid engines, along with the Sierra and Silverado trucks.  The luxury Escalade Hybrid from Cadillac is also built with the dual-mode hybrid engine.  The first full hybrid from Saturn, the Vue, will also be getting the dual-mode motor.

GM also has their Belt Assisted System (BAS) which can be found in their mild hybrid line-up, the Malibu, Vue and Aura.

Ford has their own full hybrid system.  Although it shares many of the same qualities as the HSD, it was developed in house by Ford.  It can be found in the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute Hybrid SUVs.  The updated version will be available in the upcoming Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids.

Hybrid Cars, Trucks and SUVs
Hybrids can be found in several different forms now.  There are cars, trucks and SUVs with hybrid motors with prices going from just under $20,000 to just over $100,000.  The old Insight was a two-seater with phenomenal fuel efficiency, while the latest hybrid trucks are capable of towing you recreational boats and plowing through the toughest winters.

Hybrid Cars:

  • Chevy Malibu
  • Ford Fusion
  • Honda Accord
  • Honda Civic
  • Honda Insight (old) two-seater
  • Honda Insight (new)
  • Lexus 600h l
  • Lexus GS 450h
  • Mercury Milan
  • Nissan Altima
  • Saturn Aura
  • Toyota Camry
  • Toyota Prius
Hybrid SUVs:
  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Chevy Tahoe
  • Chrysler Aspen
  • Dodge Durango
  • Ford Escape
  • GMC Yukon
  • Lexus RX 400h
  • Mazda Tribute
  • Mercury Mariner
  • Saturn Vue
  • Toyota Highlander
Hybrid Trucks
  • Chevy Silverado
  • GMC Sierra
Performance Hybrids v Fuel Efficient Hybrids
Most hybrids have been developed with fuel efficiency being the focus, but not all of them. Some, like the Fisker Karma, are not listed above, since they are not from the major car companies. But their was also the Honda Accord Hybrid, which got higher fuel efficiency, but its primary focus was how the electric motor could emphasize the power. Unfortunately for Honda, the power increase wasn't enough to offset the higher cost of the hybrid motor in the minds of customers. The Accord Hybrid was retired.

If you're interested in the fuel efficient hybrids, take a look at the most recent list of fuel efficient cars. That should give you a good idea, since hybrids appear all over that list.

Luxury Hybrid Types
Although you could easily argue that hybrid engines are a luxury item right now, there is a countervailing point of view.  Considering how often hybrids win 'best value' awards across auto makers, and you might have an argument on your hands.

But there are some hybrid vehicles that are definitely luxury vehicles.  The Cadillac Escalade, the Lexus line-up of hybrids, and even the Mercury Mariner and Mercury Milan can all be considered luxury vehicles.  Car makers tend to make hybrids into luxury vehicles because they feel they can hide the cost of the engine.  They should probably take a look at how popular the Prius and the new Insight are before they continue the practice, but given the mark-ups on these luxury cars, maybe they don't mind if they aren't as popular.

The Cadillac and Lexus hybrids are obvious candidates, while the Mercury line-up might be considered luxuries simply because you can buy the same vehicle as a Ford and pay less.  The hybrid GM trucks with their MSRP, might be considered luxury vehicles, along with the other GM SUV hybrids.

It's not so much the hybrid engine, but all the extras you get with these cars that make them a luxury type.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bosch Investing in Hybrid Unit

Despite the economic downturn, Bosch plans on adding on to their electric vehicle and hybrid technology unit. The company plans on spending hundreds of millions annually on the new unit. (Courtesy of autonews)

Bosch already has 400 people working in the unit, with 100 added on last year.

Bosch is working with PSA/Peugeot-Citroen's development of diesel hybrids.  The diesel-hybrid powertrain will be supplied by Bosch when they launch in 2011.  Bosch is also working with Volkswagen on the parallel-hybrid system for the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne which are due out next year.

Bosch has had high expectations for hybrids, especially in North American and Japan. Apparently, that prediction, 4% in North America and 9% in Japan, is still strong.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Thursday, March 12, 2009

GM Video On Their New Hybrid Trucks

Produced like a news show, the video from GM shows how and why you would want a hybrid truck like the Sierra Hybrid.

I find it funny they start off with shot of the Prius to introduce the topic of hybrids

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Toyota May Build a New Cheaper Hybrid in Response to the Popularity of the New Insight

This is exactly why I've been so excited to see the new Honda InsightWord out of Japan is Toyota is now at work to develop a cheaper new hybrid at less than 2 million yen ($20,436) in order to compete with the Insight.

This may be early to even get excited about it, but it's to be expected after seeing the early returns on the new Insight

It's hard to tell what it really means, but the Insight did outsell the Prius in it's first month in Japan.  The reason it's hard to tell is Prius sales are depressed in anticipation for the new generation Prius due out in the next couple of months.  People are staying away and Toyota is cutting back on production of the old Prius. 

Also, since the Insight has been highly anticipated, the pre-orders have been high.  It remains to be seen if Honda can keep the pace up for long.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Hybrids Top Best Value Across the Board

So, the Toyota Prius Touring edition was selected as the best overall value for 2009 by Consumer Reports. But, sometimes value is in the eye of the beholder, which is why you need to evaluate the whole picture.

As Scott Burgess points out, Edmunds.com sets their own 'value system', which put the Prius Touring at No 41. And then there's Intellichoice, who created their own Best Overall Values of 2009 and set the Prius Touring Edition at their own level.

How can each list be so different? It all depends on what you see as 'value'.

All three used 'cost to own' a car, but use their own system to evaluate cost.  But either way, hybrids tend to score very highly whenever these lists come out.

At Edmunds, their Best in Value was awarded to several different hybrids.

  • Best in Value for Sedan under $25,000: Toyota Prius
  • Best in Value for Sedan Under $30,000: Nissan Altima Hybrid
  • Best in Value for SUV Under $35,000: Mazda Tribute Hybrid
  • Best in Value for SUV Under $45,000: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
 At Consumer Reports, there were five hybrids on their list.
  • Best Overall: Toyota Prius Touring and Toyota Camry Hybrid
  • Best Value Family Cars: Toyota Prius Touring Edition, the standard Prius, plus the Camry Hybrid
  • Best Midsized SUVs: Highlander Hybrid
  • Best Value Small Cars: Honda Civic Hybrid.

Hybrids were all over the Best Overall Values of 2009 from Intellichoice:
  • Compact over $17,000 - Honda Civic Hybrid
  • Full-Size Pickup 2WD 1/2 Ton - GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab Hybrid 2WD
  • Full-Size Pickup 4WD 1/2 Ton - GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab Hybrid 4WD
  • Midsize over $21,000 - Toyota Prius Touring and Toyota Prius
  • Midsize under $21,000 - Toyota Prius Standard
  • Midsize Crossover - Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • Compact Utility/Crossover - Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid
  • Sport Sedan/Wagon over $38,000 - Lexus GS 450h Sedan
I almost forgot to mention, Kelley Blue Book selected the Ford Escape Hybrid as one of its 2009 Best New Family Cars.  KBB uses a host of factors (emphasizing fuel economy), not  necessarily based on value, so it's not really part of the above discussion.  But it's just one more award added to the list hybrids have accumulated over the past decade.

Get Four Free Price Quotes From Yahoo! Autos Hybrid Research and Pricing at Edmunds.com

Automotive Parts

E-Bay Motors


  © Link to Privacy Policy

Back to TOP