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Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 008
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~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0008 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [email@example.com]
In This Issue:
— Full Hybrid? Mild Hybrid? What’s the Difference?
Is it more important that your hybrid car can run at slow speeds in all-electric mode? Or is the overall fuel economy of the vehicle what really matters?
– The Technology of Plug-in Hybrids
It’s the first question the hybrid newbie asks: "Do you need to plug it in?" Today, the answer is flatly no. But what if you had the option to plug-in?
– How Can Hybrid Cars Help Avoid an Energy Crisis?
The potential consequences of our national oil addiction are severe. Who’s got ideas for changing our course? And do hybrids fit into the picture?
Greetings Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
In this issue of the hybridcars.com newsletter, we’ll offer our usual mix of consumer guidance, technical information, and analyses of the hybrid market and its deeper impacts. With the release of the Ford Escape Hybrid underway, we start with a look at Ford’s use of the term "full hybrid" to describe the Escape in its advertising campaign. Distinctions between full and mild are difficult for the typical consumer to grasp. To make the challenge even more difficult, in a few years, hybrids might have the ability (not the necessity) to get plugged-in. In fact, the future plug-in hybrids might blow away the current hybrids when it comes to fuel economy. Our hybrid technical specialist Dave Reuter explains the basics of the nascent plug-in phenomenon. Finally, we look at some major trends in terms of the hybrid market, oil consumption and energy security–and a few grand proposals on the table to deal with a pending crisis. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and stay tuned for news about new and improved tools and content on hybridcars.com.
Full and Mild as Advertising Terms
We can expect advertising campaigns to latch on to and amplify any key differences between their product and the competition. Advertising for the Ford Escape Hybrid uses the concept of "full" versus "mild" hybrid in exactly this way. The ad states:
"The Escape Hybrid is a ‘full’ hybrid with crucial differentiating technological features separating it from the competition’s ‘mild’ hybrid entries. ‘We designed Escape Hybrid with a full hybrid system because the fuel economy benefits are significantly higher and the technology is production-ready,’ says Chief Engineer Mary Ann Wright. "
I applaud Ford for bringing the first SUV hybrid to the market, but this kind of "messaging" undermines the broader hybrid agenda by obfuscating the true benefits of the technology: increased energy efficiency and decreasing pollution.
Hybrids use all kinds of strategies to achieve these goals: lighter overall weight, more aerodynamic design, idle-stop, and smaller gas engines, as well as the full hybrid’s capacity to move forward in all-electric mode.
The Road and Track review of the Escape Hybrid addresses the same confusion on the mild versus full hybrid question:
"Hybrid. The dictionary definition is simple: ‘one of mixed origin or composition.’ But defining automotive hybrids isn’t at all easy; which are ‘pure,’ ‘mild’ or hype?"
Clearly Defining the Terms, Or Not
I’ve been defining a car as a "full" hybrid if it can move forward without consuming any gasoline. The Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape hybrid can do this. The Honda hybrids and the upcoming GM trucks can’t. They move from a standstill only if the internal combustion engine is engaged. Dave Reuter, a hybrid chief engineer who is a partner and contributes to the technical side of hybridcars.com, actually includes the Honda system in the list of full hybrids, based on its voltage level, electrical energy storage on board, and regen braking capacity. Dave feels that that the Chevy truck is the only real mild hybrid system presently on the market. Dave says, “Most mild hybrids are start/stop units.” With the lines so blurry, does it make sense to put the Ford Escape and the Toyota Prius as the only cars in the fully hybrid circle? The Road and Track review states:
"Ford estimates the Escape Hybrid’s combined fuel mileage at 32 mpg…That’s a far cry from the Prius’ 60/51 mpg and the Honda Civic ‘mild’ Hybrid’s 47/48 mpg…"
The Escape Hybrid shows real improvements: double the city mileage, SULEV and AT-LEV certified, 120V AC power output, and for the first time, the entire hybrid package does not take up any noticeable room. However, the Escape is essentially an existing vehicle that has had its front wheel drivetrain replaced with a hybrid powertrain. The aerodynamics, vehicle weight, and brake regen systems did not go the full distance in terms of hybridization. One of the goals was to provide V6 performance that was similar or better than its V6 counter part. Ford has succeeded at that goal. We should also remember that Ford is on their first generation of hybrid vehicle. Hopefully, subsequent releases will show the same improvements that Honda and Toyota are showing now in their second and third generation hybrid cars.
Ultimately, isn’t the proof in the pudding? Shouldn’t we be judging the value of the hybrid by its effectiveness in getting great gas mileage and spewing less pollution and greenhouse gases than its non-hybrid counterpart? The Honda Insight is consistently at the very top of the most fuel-efficient cars on the road. Why should it be considered somehow secondary to a SUV hybrid that uses two or three times the amount of gas to get down the highway?
Forget about the labels, people. Drive less. Drive more efficiently. And keep your eyes on what really matters: fuel economy, clean emissions, and an enjoyable, safe driving experience.
The Technology of Plug-in Hybrids
By Dave Reuter
Today’s hybrid cars do not and cannot be plugged into your home outlets. However, the hybrid car of the future might offer that option. How would this work? And what benefits would result?
Electric-Mode Range for Most Local Needs
A plug-in hybrid’s system is similar to today’s existing hybrids, with the exception of battery storage capacity, which is greatly increased. Plug-in hybrids are also known as PHEV’s or HEV-30 or HEV-60, where the number after the HEV is the range in miles the vehicle would be able to drive in pure electric only mode. Today’s standard hybrids would be called HEV-0′s because they do not have a purely electric driving mode for any extended range.
A plug-in hybrid vehicle would be able to charge off your home electrical service using your existing household plug. The battery pack would commonly be able to fully charge itself within 8 to 10 hours. Studies show that a 60-mile range covers about 60% of the Untied States population’s daily commute. Therefore in many cases, one would be able to drive a plug-in hybrid to and from work each day without having to use the gasoline engine. In this case, you would be paying only for the energy consumed from the electrical outlet in your home during overnight off-peak charging hours, which in some cases can add up to as little as 0.5 cent per mile driven (compared to ten cents or more per gallon for a gasoline car.)
Speed and Longer Ranges
The electrical power train of a plug-in hybrid is scaled large enough to give the driver the normal everyday feel of any standard gasoline engine when it comes to acceleration and speed. One of the design considerations is that pure electric mode must provide the entire speed range of the vehicle from about 0 to 80 mph.
If the miles driven in a single charge exceed the range of the electrical system, then the gasoline system would begin to operate more and more, eventually behaving much like today’s hybrid vehicles, such as the Prius. Thus, the same vehicle you use to drive purely as an EV to work and home each day could also be used for the extended family vacation.
Steps in the Plug-in Direction
This technology is scalable, within reach of the manufacturers, and has little impact on current infrastructure. If the manufacturers started on their designs today, the plug-in technology could conceivably be added to the existing hybrid vehicles within two years. EPRI and DaimlerChrysler have been working on a Dodge Sprinter delivery van that is a HEV-20 vehicle. This vehicle, which is in limited production as a fleet vehicle could be used for cargo, pickup and delivery, and airport shuttles, is being tested in these applications to collect field data of how well the system works.
As batteries continue to get lighter, smaller, and more powerful, we will be able to store more energy on board in the future. A 30- or 60-mile range plug-in hybrid today may have an EV range of 150 miles in the near future.
The power utility companies are pursuing the technology more aggressively than the auto companies, for the following reasons:
- To develop a new market for their electric power
- To balance electricity generation between peak use and off-peak charging
- To stabilize the loads put on the electric grid–the power company could buy back power from the vehicle batteries when there is a surge in demand
- To more fully capitalize on the development of cleaner and more efficient ways of generating electric power
How many miles per gallon will these vehicles get? It is hard to say since it depends on driving habits and how many miles one drives in a day. If you seldom need to run the gasoline engine, then you might get a few months of operation on a tank of gas. The consumer may eventually become more interested in how many kilowatt-hours are used in a day.
I want this newsletter to emphasize how fun hybrid cars are to drive. And they are fun to drive. I want to write about how much sense they make and how accessible the new technology is. The cars are here, and can make a difference. But when newspaper headlines scream out about oil prices breaking the $50 per barrel level, it’s hard to ignore the ominous handwriting on the wall. What are the trends, what’s at stake, and can hybrids help us avoid a crisis?
We’re Driving and Guzzling More
In the United States, we consume around 18 million barrels of oil or approximately 360 million gallons of gasoline every day. The trend over the past 10 years is for Americans to drive larger, less fuel-efficient cars and SUVs, and to drive these vehicles more miles each year. I’ve commonly seen the average set at 15,000 miles of driving per year, which divides down to 40 miles per day for each driver.
The Hybrid Market is Miniscule
The widespread use of hybrid cars are among our best and most immediate solutions to avoiding an energy crisis but the current hybrid market is not a serious factor in the transportation energy picture. In 2004, we will see approximately 100,000 hybrid car sales or about one-half of one percent of the 17 million new cars sold this year. If every new hybrid driver effectively (and optimistically) doubled fuel economy from 20 mpg to 40 mpg for his or her 40 daily miles (by ditching their old car and buying a hybrid), then a gallon per hybrid car would be saved every single day. That’s a whopping 100,000 gallons per day chalked up to hybrid car drivers. But, we’ve only reduced our daily U.S. consumption from 360 million gallons to 359,900,000 gallons.
Severe Energy Security Risks
America’s rate of oil consumption is growing rapidly while our domestic production over the past couple of decades continues to dwindle. In 1998, American dependence on imported petroleum crossed above the 50 percent mark, and continues to rise. Most industry observers agree that the price of oil will continue to rise, given strong U.S. rates of consumption, growing competition for the oil from China and India, and serious instability in oil-producing countries (Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, etc.). The production facilities and shipping routes for this oil are very vulnerable. With one significant attack on a Saudi oil field or in one of the chokepoint shipping routes, the impact on the global oil market and the American economy could be severe.
The Tepid Response of the Carmakers
We simply cannot expect the automakers to factor these broad geo-political issues into their hybrid business plans. This doesn’t excuse any of the manufacturers, especially the American companies, from totally missing the boat on hybrids. General Motors is mostly talking about research into hydrogen fuel cells, which are most likely a couple of decades away. DaimlerChrysler is getting closer to the release of hybrid pick-up trucks, which will likely not reach above twenty-miles per gallon and will be released in very small numbers. And Ford, which has touted the Escape Hybrid in full-page New York Times advertisements, will sell no more than 4,000 of the hybrid SUVs in this calendar year.
Are the Japanese manufacturers doing everything they can? Toyota has announced that they are upping monthly global production from 10,000 to 15,000 for the red-hot Prius, with more than half slated for the United States. Considering the long waiting lists, and the dire need for change, shouldn’t Toyota boost production even more? Some argue that there’s just too much uncertainty in the hybrid market. The technology is not yet mature, and the manufacturing supply line may already be maxed out.
Many new players and models will be hitting the market. Only time will tell if folks on the Prius waiting list will leave the line and pick up the new Honda Accord Hybrid instead. Toyota is not taking that chance, even if it looks like they could easily sell ten times the number of Priuses targeted for 2005. It may be a couple of years before Toyota is really willing and able to open the floodgates on its hybrid production. We can only hope this happens before a major disruption to our oil supply.
Proposals on the Table
These are certainly perilous times. Is anybody seriously trying to steer us away from the worst of the potential dangers? Let’s take a look at few campaigns and proposals, not including legislative resolutions that have been stalled in Congress for some time.
California Air Resources Board: Just last week, California regulators approved a plan to drastically reduce vehicle emissions related to global warming over the next 11 years. "It’s the most challenging regulation that’s ever been proposed by the California Air Resources Board, or even the E.P.A." says Thomas C. Austin, a top research consultant on the regulation. The new regulation, which could affect as much as 30 percent of the U.S. market (not just California), would phase in from 2009 to 2016. It would require the auto industry to cut the car emissions from its new fleets by approximately 30 percent. This plan will face opposition: the automakers, even Honda, say they don’t have the technology to make this happen; lobbyists say there would be no health benefits to the plan; there’s great debate about what it would cost; lawsuits are expected from the auto industry; and the resolution requires presidential approval. Despite these challenges, the CARB plan might stand the greatest chance of coming through. Other plans, each worthy of support, raise serious questions about feasibility, timelines, and budgets.
The Apollo Project: Taking their name from President John F. Kennedy’s Apollo Project to put a man on the moon in under ten years, the new Apollo Project is a $300 billion, public-private program to create three million new, clean energy jobs to free America from foreign oil dependence in ten years. This is a very ambitious project, which includes these lofty (and worthwhile goals): link blue-collar America with the environmental movement, to build a sound energy infrastructure for the future, spur a national construction boom, stimulate the economy from the ground up, excite and unite workaday Americans in a shared mission, and provide a positive model for the rest of the world. In terms of cars, the Apollo Project aims to "to save the American auto industry," which is losing market share to the Japanese who have innovated with higher efficiency vehicles, such as hybrid cars. Their board and advisory board is a virtual who’s who of the biggest names in the environmental and labor movements.
Set America Free: Stating that we can "no longer afford to postpone urgent action on national energy independence," the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies are calling for the investment of $12 billion over the next four years to have automakers build flexible fuel capacity into their cars; to have one-quarter of American gas stations add pumps for alcohol fuels; to give major incentives for consumers to purchase hybrid cars, to support the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, and other measures. They have spelled out a plan for the next four years as a step towards "full market transformation" which will take 15 – 20 years. The chairman of the plan is former CIA Director James Woolsey.
JumpStart Ford Campaign: Global Exchange, in partnership with Rainforest Action Network, has launched a nationwide, grassroots campaign calling on Ford Motor Company and the rest of the auto industry to break our oil dependence. They are asking that Ford and its competitors improve the efficiency of their vehicles to 50 mpg by 2010 and to completely eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. They are targeting Ford because of the company’s prominent brand, which serves as a symbol of American entrepreneurship and innovation—and because Ford cars and trucks have the worst fuel efficiency of all the major automakers, according to the US EPA.
The Detroit Project: Taking a Hollywood-activist approach, the non-profit group called "American for Fuel Efficient Cars" has mounted a fundraising effort to produce an ad campaign aiming to get Detroit to build more fuel-efficient cars. The group was co-founded by columnist Arianna Huffington, film producer Lawrence Bender, environmental activist Laurie David, and movie and TV agent Ari Emanuel. Lawrence Bender, who produced "Pulp Fiction" and "Good Will Hunting," and director Scott Burns, co-creator of the "Got Milk?" ad campaign, have agreed to donate their services to make these ads a reality.
Any one or more of these campaigns could help influence carmakers and the government to accelerate support of hybrid cars. It’s equally or perhaps even more possible that none of them will make it past their opponents–and that we will continue on our treacherous path until we are shocked out of our complacency by skyrocketing gas prices or worse.
I hope the serious final note of this newsletter encourages hybrid shoppers to take the plunge, and current owners to get more involved. The next issue will take a generally lighter approach and focus more on the 2005 crop of hybrid cars. If you like the newsletter, and you believe that hybrids are the way to go, then please forward this email to a handful of your friends. An archive of past newsletter is available at:
Thanks for your interest. Until the next time,
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