Thursday, October 14, 2010

Federal Tax Credit for the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
The 2011 Sonata Hybrid will come with a $1,300 tax credit (if you qualify). Unfortunately, if you're interested, you need to get it now. The tax credit expires at the end of the year. Which means you only have one month to buy the new hybrid which will be available in the beginning of December.

The Hyundai Hybrid received an EPA rating of 36/40 mpg city/highway. That put it below the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which got the full tax credit of $3,400. But then, Ford has already sold the 60,000 hybrid cars that put it over the limit, forcing the tax credits to phase out back in April. Toyota and Honda hybrids ran out of tax credits much sooner than that.

The price has not been released yet on the Sonata Hybrid.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Volt Accused of Not Going All the Way

Is it or is it not? That is the question being asked this past week as news comes the Chevy Volt may not be as electric as it claims to be. Edmunds says GM has lied: "it isn't as electric as GM has been saying for the past three years."

Electric, Hybrid, or Neither?

GM has fired back in a statement: "There is no direct mechanical connection (fixed gear ratio) between the Volt’s extended-range 1.4L engine and the drive wheels. In extended-range driving, the engine generates power that is fed through the drive unit and is balanced by the generator and traction motor. The resulting power flow provides a 10 to 15 percent improvement in highway fuel economy." and "If the traction motor is disabled, the range-extending internal combustion engine cannot drive the vehicle by itself."

Seemingly at the heart of the debate is what the Volt can call itself. GM claims the Volt is an electric car (ignore the gas engine behind the curtain, please). Edmunds (and others like the NY Times) claim the Volt is a hybrid, really a plug-in hybrid.  But that's not really the problem here.

Back Story, the Birth of an E-REV
The story I have had in my head based on all I've read and learned about the Chevy Volt E-REV goes like this. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid vehicle, but a variation within that framework, one I had come to realize deserves a new name to distinguish it from other plug-in hybrid vehicles. The Volt runs on electric power alone for 40 miles (electric power you have stored up overnight by plugging in). After that, the electricity is produced by a small gas engine which supposedly just recharged the battery pack.

Shocking Truth?  Or Just Media Bias?
It's shocking, to me and others, to find that story isn't quite true. According to Edmunds, the gas engine is assisting the electric motors at highway speeds (at or above 70 mph ). Kicking Tires points out "there's a power-split device similar to the type in hybrids from Toyota and Ford. "

It doesn't really matter if the car can only move if the electric motor is also running.  ("The engineers say yes. They say the arrangement produces a slight increase in efficiency, but they emphasize that it's not as if the gas engine takes over from the electric drive. The electric drive is indispensable, at high as well as low speeds, they say." Source: MSNBC") What matters is GM has been clear for years now the gas motor would not be capable of pushing the car.

Truth or How Dare They?
And the real kicker, does this mean the gas engine will kick in at highway speeds even in the first 40 miles? Can you really call a car like that an E-REV? What's exciting about the Volt is the ability (if you only travel less than 40 miles a day), you can own an electric car without the 'range anxiety' an all electric car brings. The Leaf goes for 100 miles, but after that you need to recharge. In other words, you need to find a plug and about 4-8 hours of time. The Volt just needs to pull into a local gas station if you don't have a handy plug.

And that's why most of the questions I've seen about the gas engine are 1) can it be even smaller? and 2) what if you don't go over 40 miles for a year or two?  Doesn't the gas go stale?

That's the way people are thinking about the Volt.

Truly an Electric for 40 miles or not?
But if that's not true, if your commute involves highway driving at 70 mph, and the gas engine is going to turn on anyways... Well, now we have a real problem.  This is what the true furor is about.

Consumers are hoping for an electric car for most days, but a gas car when you need it to go farther. What if they don't use gas for a couple of years? GM has said they have thought of this and it won't be an issue. Now I'm wondering if this is why they were so confident about that.

"The buzz around the internet — and at this event — suggests the world will soon come to an end because the Volt isn't what people thought it would be, that it's somehow a lesser vehicle. I don't see it. Once the engine starts, the point is efficiency." (Source: Joe Wiesenfelder at Kicking Tires)  With all respect to Joe, that's not the point at all of the Volt.  A true plug-in hybrid electric vehicle will be more efficient than an E-REV.

If the gas engine only 'assists' the electric motor after you are in 'extended range', then the furor over the name calling (what's in a name, after all?) will be over in my mind. The gas engine is already on and what difference does it make that the engine is not only recharging the battery pack, but it's also helping move the car a little bit increasing the efficiency.

What's in a Name
The E-REV definition separates the Volt from an all electric car. It also separates it from a plug-in hybrid (like the one expected from Toyota in the next year or so). But only if the gas engine doesn't assist at high speeds in the first 40 miles. If it does, then the Volt will need to be relabeled as a plug-in hybrid. Because that's what it would be, whether GM wants it to be called that or not.  Toyota and Ford hybrids already drive at low speeds on all electric power as just hybrids.  The difference maker for the Volt was being able to go any speed up to 40 miles (you're miles will vary).

BTW (To Mark Phelan at freep) who says "If you don't believe Parks and the independent testers who've driven the car, though, ask the federal government. It has approved the Volt for a $7,500 tax credit that only applies to electric vehicles. Hybrids need not apply." That's not true. The credit is not to 'electric cars' and the Toyota Prius plug-in will probably qualify for the tax credit.

Read More
To read more on the controversy: Money TimesIB TimesUS NewsKicking TiresEarth TechlingGMfreep
Join the Discussion at Clean MPG

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

End of Government Help Means Lower Prius Sales in Japan

The BBC is reporting the end of government subsidies has led to a drop in Prius sales in Japan. For almost a year and a half, Toyota has sold more Prius each month than in the prior year.

The Prius has also been the most popular car in Japan since the subsidies started. But with the end of the subsidies has come a drop of 14% over last years sales numbers. The Prius was still the number one car in September, however.

The Honda Fit was the second most popular car in Japan according the Japan Automobile Dealers Association (JADA).

"The Prius remains hugely popular, but its sales tumbled due to the end of green car subsidies," said association spokesman Toshiki Miyake.

"Many consumers put off decisions to buy green cars following the end of government incentives."

The Prius will continue to be the most popular car for months to come, as the back log of orders is still being filled.

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Toyota Works on Their Own Smart Grid

Toyota is working on their own plug-in smart grid system for homes. With plug-in hybrids coming in the next couple of years, Toyota wants to be ready for the new phase of vehicle development.

One of the biggest limiting factors on electric (or even partially electric cars) is the limited sources for plugging in. Add in how long it takes to recharge a battery pack and you can understand why most people would be reluctant to switch out of their gasoline powered cars.

Nissan, with the new electric Leaf, had installers come and emplace vehicle recharging stations in homes of people who buy the Leaf. Toyota has the same intentions, apparently, but they want to install their systems into new car buyers homes.

The smart grid installation from Toyota "allows people to see on TV screens and mobile handsets how much electricity is being consumed by a household, how much a plug-in vehicle has charged, and how much electricity has been stored in the home. Source: Detroit News"

It also works out when to shut off gadgets that aren't being used and how to maximize when to recharge the battery in your car (rates are cheaper at night).

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Would You Buy a Car That Gets 62 MPG?

The Obamam administration is working on the new fuel efficiency guidelines starting in 2017. By then, the fuel economy average is supposed to be 35.5 mpg under the most recent guidelines adopted by the government over the past couple of years.

From 2017-2025, the discussion has continued on how much more can the US force out of the vehicle manufacturers. Administrative leaks have the goal for automakers being set anywhere from 47 to 62 mpg. That's an annual increase of 3 to 6 percent.

Environmentalist and other interested parties are pushing hard for at least 60 mpg by 2025. They argue the higher goals will force innovation and create new jobs in the automotive industry. The automotive industry says the new rules will cost consumers greatly when they go to buy their new cars.

The new proposals are expected in September, 2011, with the final ruling set in July 2012.

What's remarkable about these proposals is how few cars now meet or exceed these limits. The Prius, for instance is rated at 50 mpg. Although it should be pointed out the CAFE rules being revised are different from the ratings you see on the side of your car. The numbers can be wildly different under the two rating systems. Also, the rules require a fleet-wide average, not on individual cars. Plus, the rules are different based on the type of car being built (cars vs trucks, for instance).

Some groups, like the NRDC, are pushing hard for the higher standards:
"The Obama Administration is on the right path in recognizing the need to use the Clean Air Act to improve emission efficiency standards, but it should pursue the best option possible," Natural Resources Defense Council Transportation Program Director Roland Hwang said. "The problem with setting the bar at just a 3 percent improvement per year is that it puts the U.S. auto industry on a path towards mediocrity. A 6 percent improvement, which translates into a 62 miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency standard, will really encourage innovative ideas, create more jobs, and do more to put the country’s auto industry back in a leadership role. But beyond the jobs and economic benefits, a stronger standard will help break our crippling dependence on oil."

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