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Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 032
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IN THIS ISSUE:
Top 10 Tips for Buying Any Fuel-Efficient Car
HybridCars.com recently was asked to write a primer on buying a fuel-efficient car. That forced us to take a step back and get back to the basics of the fuel efficiency question.
A Diesel for Mr. Clean
The auto industry is working on the development of diesel engines that meet emissions standards matching the Toyota Prius. Does this mean that diesel vehicles are finally worthy of the "clean diesel" label? What can you actually buy and when?
Shopping For an EV? Bring Lots Of Money And Patience
Since the infamous demise of the major carmakers’ electric vehicle programs—led ignominiously by General Motors sacking its own EV1—there’s been a vacuum in the niche market for a zero-emissions, all-electric vehicle. Check out the cars that are trying to take up the slack.
Hybrid Car Rentals
In case you haven’t looked at a newspaper, magazine or television show in the last year, the American business world is caught up in a game of environmental one-upmanship. What are Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz, and Avis-Budget doing to greenify the car rental business?
Interview with Lisa Margonelli
If you have ever paused for a moment at the pumps to wonder where gasoline comes from and what it took to get it there, then race over to the bookstore—preferably on foot or bicycle—to pick up a copy of Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline by Lisa Margonelli. In the meantime, check out our interview with her.
Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
Despite a dip in late summer gas prices, the buzz about fuel-efficient cars continues unabated. In this issue, we offer some practical shopping advice. Before considering the purchase of a hybrid versus a conventional car—or thinking about a diesel engine vehicle or even an electric vehicle—what should you have in mind? Check out our Top 10 hints for buying a fuel-efficient car, followed by a reality check on so-called “clean diesels” and electric vehicles. With more and more vehicle options on the horizon, will we start to make changes in our car purchasing behavior? “That’s the big question,” says Lisa Margonelli. Check out what the author of Oil on the Brain has to say about hybrids and the “interdependent gears and economies and chemical reactions reaching out toward the gas pedals of those cars on the freeway, and back to the oil field far away.”
1. Analyze Your Needs
Before you get your mind set on any particular make or model, take a step back. Are you looking for a car primarily to commute to and from work? Or is it a second car for quick errands around town? How many passengers do you usually carry? Shopping for a car that meets—but does not exceed—those real needs is an essential first step toward fuel efficiency.
2. Choose a Right-Sized Vehicle
After an honest self-assessment of how you’ll use your car or truck, it’s time to think about the vehicle size (commonly referred to as “segment”): SUV, Minivan, Pickup Truck, Crossover/Wagon, Midsize Sedan, Compact, or Subcompact. Why is segment important? Because when it comes to fuel efficiency, size matters. Bigger vehicles weigh more than smaller ones—and vehicle weight is the single biggest determinant for fuel efficiency. A heavier vehicle needs more power, and thus more fuel. You’ll be way ahead of the fuel economy game if you “right size” your vehicle.
These first two tips will set you on the right course. Visit HybridCars.com to see the rest of the list:
In separate announcements, both Ricardo, a European automotive engineering firm, and Nissan recently announced that they are developing diesel engines that meet emissions standards that match the Toyota Prius. Does this mean that diesel vehicles are finally worthy of the "clean diesel" label?
Not quite yet, but apparently the time is coming closer. Neither company is saying when—or even if—Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle diesels will enter production. California’s SULEV standard is an impressive goal, but the more immediate goal is for diesels to meet federal Tier 2, Bin 5 standard (T2B5).
Today, there is one diesel car and five diesel SUVs sold in the United States that meet the EPA’s less stringent Tier 2 Bin 8 (T2B8) emissions requirement. That means today’s diesels are still dirty enough to outlaw their sale in five states.
2007 Diesel Vehicles (sold in 45 states)
Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec
Mercedes-Benz R320 CDI 4matic
Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI 4matic
Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI 4matic
Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD
Volkswagen Touareg TDI
You’ll have to wait another year for cleaner diesel cars that meet Tier 2, Bin 5 (T2B5) standards. These models will be available for sale anywhere in the U.S.
2008 Diesel Vehicles – Announced (sold in 50 states)
Audi Q7 3.0 TDI
Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec
Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec
Mercedes-Benz R320 CDI 4matic
Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI 4matic
Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI 4matic
Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Until the uncertain date when technology from Ricardo, Nissan, and others produce a diesel worthy of Mr. Clean, the T2B5 diesels will remain dirtier than the typical hybrid. The big issue is oxides of nitrogen (NOX)—gases that contribute to the formation of smog, particularly in cities. A T2B5 diesel in Los Angeles can emit as much NOX as 3½ Priuses. So while the new diesels are fuel efficient, they still pollute more, making them a mixed environmental bag.
Since the infamous demise of the major carmakers’ electric vehicle programs—led ignominiously by General Motors sacking its own EV1—there’s been a vacuum in the niche market for a zero-emissions, all-electric vehicle. We’re not talking about the so-called “neighborhood electric vehicles,” which have top speeds of about 25 mph. We mean fast, fully functional vehicles that can provide everything you need in a car—except the global warming gases and other tailpipe pollutants.
Several small, scrappy companies aren’t waiting for the major auto companies to wake from their slumbers and address the market potential for gas-free, electric cars. The field of currently available EVs is limited, and the companies behind them all face the same bumps along the road to market acceptance: keeping the price tag reasonable, producing a decent number of vehicles in a timely manner, extending the range into internal combustion territory, and supporting customers with adequate warranties and service.
$98,000, Delivery Date Not Finalized
Tesla Motors achieved instant rock star status in 2006 when the company announced its Roadster, a screaming-fast, all-electric, two-seat sports car built on the frame of the Lotus Elise. There’s a lot to admire about the of Tesla concept: 0 – 60 mph in less than four seconds, 135-mpg equivalent, 200-mile range, and a brilliant tech design that wires together nearly 7,000 mass-commodity, rechargeable lithium batteries. But there have been bumps. In August 2007, Martin Eberhard, the company’s founding CEO, stepped down and was replaced in the interim with Michael Marks, an early investor in the electric car startup. Eberhard wrote in his corporate blog that the company’s first scheduled delivery in late September is “not yet fully within our grasp.”
AC Propulsion eBox
$70,000 for an Electrified Scion xB, 25 Units per Year
Backed by 15 years of experience in building electric cars from the ground up, AC Propulsion has shifted its strategy to converting a conventional car into an electric vehicle. So, your first stop in buying AC Propulsion’s eBox is a visit to your local Scion dealer to purchase a 5-speed Scion xB wagon, for about $15,000. Then, their engineers will remove the internal combustion engine and related components, and install AC Propulsion’s electric drive and battery system composed of more than 5,000 small cells.
Phoenix Motorcars’ Electric Sport Utility Truck
$45,000, Limited to Fleet Buyers for Now
Phoenix, based in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., takes an outsourced approach to building its all-electric Sports Utility Truck (SUT). The vehicle platform—all the metal, glass, and components, except for an engine and fuel system—is supplied by Ssangyong, Korea’s fourth largest automaker. Phoenix uses other suppliers for key components and vehicle integration to produce a practical all-electric truck that offers a 1,000 pounds of payload capacity.
$108,000 – $150,000 for 39-inch Wide Vehicle, Uncertain Delivery Time The Tango T600 electric car may be just the ticket for a daily commuter car—but putting this vehicle on your shopping list will take several leaps of faith, such as its six-figure price tag, limited range, and 39-inch wide profile.
Visit our electric car section:
In case you somehow haven’t noticed, the American business world is caught up in a game of environmental one-upmanship. The big auto rental companies have joined the competition—and rental customers seeking greener alternatives will eventually be the winners.
Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis-Budget all have recently added a few thousand hybrids to their fleets. By the end of the year, Enterprise—the world’s largest automobile fleet in the world with nearly 700,000 vehicles—will have ordered about 4,500 Priuses. Hertz is aiming to have 3,500 hybrids in their fleet by the end of 2008, and Avis-Budget is not far behind, having just announced the purchase of 1,000 Priuses and 500 Nissan Altima Hybrids.
“That’s a drop in the bucket,” said Chris Brown, editor of Auto Rental News, a publication that monitors the car rental industry. Certainly, converting 1 percent of available rental cars to hybrids will have little effect on global climate change, but it’s one more small sign that going green and efficient is becoming a business imperative.
More info about hybrid offerings from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz, and Avis-Budget:
Hybrid owners bought their cars for various reasons. Some were motivated by a concern for the environment. Others wanted to make a small political protest against OPEC. Somewere just tired of getting burned by high gas prices. About the only common thread is the deeper significance—vague as it may be—that they attach to the fuel so easily pumped into our tanks.
If you have ever paused at the pump to wonder where the stuff comes from and what it took to get it there, race over to the bookstore—preferably on foot or bicycle—to pick up a copy of Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline by Lisa Margonelli. In the book, Margonelli chronicles her suspenseful journey from a gas station in San Francisco to a Texas drilling rig to the trading floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange, and then to Iran, Nigeria, Chad, and Shanghai. I interviewed her at the Oakland, Calif., office of the New America Foundation, where she is a research fellow examining the promise and possibility of a post-oil world.
Bradley Berman: What should drivers know about the people who sell gasoline to them?
Lisa Margonelli: The people who run independent gas stations make about five cents per gallon. Sometimes they make less on actually reselling the gas. They’re leveraged. They have to borrow money to fill their tanks. And then they need to respond to the wholesale market and the retail market at the same time. Their customers are very sensitive to high prices. They’ll cross the street for a difference of two cents to go to another station. So they need to keep their prices low, but at the same time, the brand name stations are getting a deal from the refiners who will sometimes lower the prices to create competition on the corner. It’s tough to run an independent gas station.
And then you have to deal with consumers’ hostility. People think they are being ripped off by the corner gas station, when in fact, A, I would argue that they are not being ripped off. And B, the places where profits are taken are far up the supply chain.
BB: Why are they not being ripped off?
LM: I think that gasoline is extraordinarily cheap in the United States. It’s cheaper than almost any other fluid. The dangers of transporting it and storing it are huge. And its value to the economy is huge. There are a lot of hidden subsidies that keep the price low. You pay a lot for gasoline on April 15th that you don’t really think about, in terms of subsidies to the oil and gas industry, in terms of supporting things like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and you pay a lot in terms of quality of life in ways that you don’t really realize. But the actual physical price is not that high, and it could be higher.
BB: As vulnerable as the indy gas station owners to price fluctuations, the distributors are getting even more squeezed.
LM: Yes. The distributors are making about a quarter of a cent per gallon for deliveries. When you think about what that means, the risks that they are taking as they transport the stuff, it’s pretty huge. They are also very dependent on the wholesale market. Because demand is so close to supply right now in the United States, particularly in certain markets like California, a tiny outage in a single refinery can cause a big price spike. And it can happen over the period of 10 minutes. There’s a huge price spike that totally changes the way a distributor would need to calculate and ship their goods. So, it’s a very moment-to-moment kind of job, and yet it goes on 24 hours a day.
BB: In the book, you describe one of the distributors named Mark Mitchell…
LM: Mark graduated from Stanford and was quite highly ranked as a tennis star. He followed his parents into the oil and gas industry, and worked on delivery. He’s a very smart businessman, but you still see those quick-twitch tennis muscles going. This kind of business requires someone who can really think and react on their feet.
BB: And yet you describe him as really stressed out. And at the end of the day, he drove home in his V8 Lincoln.
BB: You carry this paradox throughout the book. His life is controlled by fluctuations in the market, and by our unceasing demand. And yet he’s driving a gas guzzler.
LM: Right. But the last line in the chapter, he says “My next car is going to be Prius.” In that segment of the industry, people realize that over the last 10 or 15 years Americans’ demand for gasoline has increased by about 1.7 to 2-something percent per year, every single year. Every 1 percent in California is, I calculated, 18,000 tanker truck loads. What that means is that for every 1 percent per year, you’ve got that many more tanker truck loads on the freeway, and you’ve got that many more cars on the freeways. You’re ending up with this kind of log jam, or backup in the pipeline. And the infrastructure is really stretched to capacity. And people in this business realize that more than anyone else.
BB: In the end of the chapter focusing on refineries, you write:
“I imagine a big machine of interdependent gears and economies and chemical reactions reaching out toward the gas pedals of those cars on the freeway, and back to the oil field far away. I find this vision strangely comforting, because it suggests that consumers could make rational choices to prepare—optimize the best—for five, 10, and 20 years in the future. But will we?"
LM: That’s the big question. I don’t think we will until prices get high enough that people move beyond the momentary panic and outrage, and really start to rationally view it. My metaphor right now is that we need to stop acting like the people who go to the slots in Vegas, and we need to start acting like professional Poker players where we really look at the cards on the table. When you look at this from the beginning of the supply chain to the end, we absolutely have to make changes and we have to follow strategies of least risk, which means reducing the amount of gasoline we use, and investing in things like hybrid cars and other types of dramatic fuel-reduction technologies, rather than investing more in gasoline — which just goes out of our bank account.
Lisa Margonelli speaks about:
As you can see from this issue of the Hybrid Cars newsletter, we’re starting to spend more and more time thinking about the full range of car choices, from electric vehicles and diesels to alternative fuels and hydrogen. Expect more of the same in the future. Thanks for tuning in.