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Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 011
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~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0011 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [firstname.lastname@example.org]
In This Issue:
UPDATES: Hybrid Survey Continues – What’s Selling? – Hybrid Poetry Contest – New Site Features
VANITY PLATE WINNERS
We received over 200 entries. NV MY MPG, NO 4N OIL, and LOW EMSN are the first three in our top ten list.
HYBRIDS AND DIESEL MARKETS: FIERCE COMPETITION OR COMMON STRUGGLE
by Walter McManus
Former J.D. Power Market Forecaster (and new hybridcars.com blogger) Dr. Walter McManus breaks down the hybrid-diesel debate. He says both technologies have mass market potential.
DEAD END IN THE HOV LANE: TIMESAVINGS AS A HYBRID INCENTIVE
By David J. Miller
If Virginia is a legitimate test ground, giving solo access to HOV
lanes for all hybrids might be a short-lived experiment. In this piece, David J. Miller accepts the loss of "timesavings" as an incentive for hybrid ownership.
A FEW QUICK WORDS ABOUT COMPUTER SPEED AND HYBRIDS
by Dave Reuter
Hybrids wouldn’t be possible without high-speed computing. Dave Reuter makes sense of the technology for the technically challenged.
Greetings Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
This issue of the newsletter coincides with the release of an upgraded
hybridcars.com website: we have more content, an impressive list of
bloggers, and more comprehensive tracking of hybrid car news. It’s just the start of our 2005 plans for improvement and innovation. Feedback is always welcome. I invited two of the bloggers, Dr. Walter McManus and David J. Miller, to contribute articles to this issue. They’ve tackled two of the hottest and most complicated issues in the hybrid world: the hybrid versus diesel debate, and HOV privileges for hybrids. Dave Reuter adds a few words about the role computers play in the hybrid technology regimen. Enjoy the newsletter and the new site.
- Survey Continues
The idea of the hybridcars.com survey is to capture the experiences of hybrid drivers and shoppers–and use it to encourage the auto industry and government to push forward. It only takes about five minutes.
> Take the survey now
- What’s Selling?
No news since our last issue. We are at the 5-hybrid mark, and counting: Honda’s Insight, Civic, and Accord; the Toyota Prius; and the Ford Escape Hybrid. Next out of the shoot is the Lexus luxury SUV hybrid in
the early spring.
- Hybrid Haiku Poetry Contest
Writer Aaron Naparstek got over his desire to throw eggs at cars honking outside his window–by writing short poems about noise pollution, gridlock, and road rage. Hybrid drivers can do the same. Beat my entry:
Bumper to bumper
Big fat cars spew noxious fumes
My hybrid is hushed
The winners of our first annual vanity plate contest will quickly
dispel any doubts about the creative abilities, literary skills, and
intelligence of hybrid drivers. Market analysis has shown hybrid buyers to be the most educated of all car-buying segments. We had over 200 entries.
Be warned: the judge of the contest has a slightly perverse and crude
sense of humor. The drum roll please…
NV MY MPG (Envy my miles-per-gallon)
Tim Gravier, Frequent Contributor to Hybridcars.com Discussion Forum
NO4NOIL (No foreign oil)
Joan, 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
LOW EMSN (Low emission)
Ken Decker, 2002 Prius – 48.7 mpg
Carl Quick, 2004 Toyota Prius, 49 mpg
CVC DTY (Civic Duty for Civic Hybrid) — Tiffany
2GOB4 (In Latin, Prius means "to go before") — John Wood, 2002 Prius
HYBREW (Israeli driving a hybrid)
Varda Amir-Orrel, 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid, 41.2mpg
ATPCL-AMRCN (Atypical American)
Kathy A. Hedrick, Waiting for Toyota Highlander Hybrid
William Fitzpatrick, Considering Hybrid Minivan
The debate between the supporters of hybrids and those of clean diesel is becoming more intense. The CEO of the largestproducer of diesel light vehicles in the world (Volkswagen) not surprisingly told reporters at the Los Angeles auto show that diesel-powered vehicles are better than hybrids. Executives at the world leader in hybrid technology (Toyota) similarly claim that their technology is the path to the future.
At the Detroit auto show, both VW and DaimlerChrysler used significant portions of their very expensive exhibit real estate to promote diesel. Honda and Toyota, of course, did the same for hybrids.
Passions for hybrids or diesel are also evident in discussions on
We expect interested parties to be, well, partisan, so the claims and counter-claims of the makers of diesel and the makers of hybrids are hard to accept at face value. But it makes it hard for a reasonably intelligent person wanting to understand the pros and cons of hybrids and clean diesel to get unbiased information.
In this article I hope to begin to remedy this situation.
Higher Price Tags
Both hybrid and diesel light vehicle are beginning to build a presence in America, but both face obstacles on their way to mass adoption.
Hybrids and diesel both add significantly to the purchase price of the vehicle. Economics may, in fact, be the biggest obstacle to mass acceptance for both technologies. As long as production volumes are low, costs remain high, but high sales volumes are unlikely until costs are low. Recognizing this dilemma, Congress and some states offer tax credits for buying hybrid vehicles. Similar tax credits for diesel vehicles have also been proposed.
> See tables with full range of added retail prices for diesel and
Added retail prices for hybrid systems can range from $600 for
stop/start systems in small cars to $4,100 for full hybrid systems in large trucks. Added retail prices for diesel engines range from $1,750 for small vehicles today, to $3,200 for larger vehicles in 2008.
Diesel engines are already more costly to manufacture than comparable gasoline engines because they need higher-pressure fuel injection systems. Meeting future pollution limits that make diesel as clean as gasoline will require additional, costlier pollution-control systems. These systems will bring diesel engines only to parity in pollution with the average gasoline engine. The emissions the systems will reduce include smog-causing nitrogen-oxides and particulate matter.
Compared to gasoline engines of the same size, diesel engines today get 35% better fuel economy and produce 25% more power. In meeting future tighter pollution limits, diesel engines will have their fuel economy advantage fall to between 30% and 33%.
Diesel Barriers: Tougher Restrictions, Fuel Availability, and Image
Makers of diesel engines have yet to demonstrate the ability to meet nitrogen-oxides pollution restrictions for the required 150,000 miles. They are confident that the restrictions on particulate matter can be met with added exhaust filters, but the nitrogen-oxides restrictions are more challenging. Meeting both sets of restrictions would make diesel as clean as gasoline, and would satisfy Federal regulations, but may not be enough for California and the Northeastern states that follow California’s stricter requirements. Engineers are working diligently to develop the components needed.
As an indication of how significant the pollution problem still is for current diesel engines consider that the diesel Jetta is rated 4 on the EPA’s Air Pollution Scale (1 to 10 with 10 lowest pollution) whereas the gasoline Jetta is rated 8. On the same scale, Prius earns a 10 and Escape Hybrid earns an 8. The stricter pollution standards for diesel engines do not fully take effect until 2007, so, if one is very concerned about not contributing to pollution, then one should wait until then to consider diesel.
Availability of diesel fuel is a concern for many drivers. Only about 33% of neighborhood service stations carry diesel, and often the diesel pump is dirty since spilled diesel does not evaporate like gasoline does.
Diesel suffers from an image problem. Owners of gasoline vehicles generally still believe that diesels are noisy, smelly and underpowered relative to gasoline vehicles. In large part, this is due to unfamiliarity with modern diesel technology. Compared with 1988 diesel technology, modern diesels have 100% more power, 60% less noise, 90% lower emissions, and 30% less fuel consumption. Modern diesels are not noisier than gasoline engines, do not produce a diesel odor, and accelerate as well as comparable gasoline vehicles. This suggests that many of the negative perceptions about diesels held by car buyers could be overcome with greater exposure to modern diesel vehicles.
In surveys by J.D. Power and Associates, owners of diesel vehicle expressed strongly positive perceptions of diesel vehicles. Diesel owners perceive their vehicles to be much more reliable, powerful, and fuel efficient than gasoline vehicles.
The combination of a conventional gasoline engine and an electric motor permits exceptional launch and acceleration. As is true for diesel, it is likely that manufacturers will offer consumers both increased fuel economy and increased power in future hybrid designs. In measuring advantages of hybrids analysts focus on the change in power and fuel economy achieved compared to a comparable non-hybrid engine. In other words, how much more powerful and fuel-economical is the Civic Hybrid than the non-hybrid Civic? For most consumers this is not the real-world comparison: they aren’t necessarily choosing between comparable hybrid and non-hybrid cars, but between a hybrid and a gas-guzzler. The comparisons derived by the analysts are the minimum gains these consumers would experience.
A full hybrid system in a car can increase power by 20% while doubling fuel efficiency.
> See full table of information related to "Improved Power and Fuel Economy of Hybrid Systems"
Hybrid Barriers: Performance and Image
The producers of the hybrids that have so far been sold in the U.S. have tended to compromise power and performance in their pursuit of high fuel economy and low pollution. Most American new-vehicle buyers care more about power and performance than fuel economy and pollution, so to become mainstream hybrids need to offer more. The Ford Escape Hybrid, the mild pickup hybrids from GM (Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra) the new Accord Hybrid, and the announced SUV hybrids from Toyota (Lexus RX400h and Highlander) all move in the right direction. This is neither to deny that many Americans care about pollution, nor that their numbers are growing. However, to go mainstream hybrids (and diesels) will need to appeal to significant numbers of new-vehicle buyers, the group whose preferences for size, performance, and power are reflected in today’s vehicles.
Hybrids also have an image problem. Consumers think of fuel economy and low pollution when they think of hybrid vehicles, but they do not think of increased performance. Even owners of conventional gasoline vehicles see hybrids as exceptional when it comes to fuel economy and emissions, but when it comes to acceleration and power, most gasoline vehicle owners believe hybrids are inferior to gasoline vehicles. Gasoline vehicle
owners also give hybrids low grades for reliability, and they believe they are much worse when it comes to price.
Owners of hybrid vehicles have very different opinions about their vehicles. Not only do they consider them to be entirely superior when it comes to fuel economy and air pollution, but they perceive the hybrid’s performance and power to be just as good as that of a conventional gasoline vehicle and they give hybrids better marks for reliability. Even hybrid owners, however, see hybrids as worse when it comes to price.
Mass Market Potential for Both Technologies
Both diesel owners and hybrid owners hold better opinions of their vehicles’ technology than others do. The fact that those who know these vehicles well are happy with them is important, since it implies that except for price there is really no major market barrier to the success of either hybrids or diesels. Both technologies have mass-market potential.
How big could the hybrid and diesel markets become in the U.S. in five years? Hybrids and diesels could each represent 5% to 10% of new light-vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2010 and 10% to 15% each in 2015. Hybrids will probably achieve higher shares sooner than diesels. Makers of hybrids are already starting to offer the broader mix of hybrid technologies and vehicle capabilities that will be needed to attract more mainstream customers. Makers of diesels still face significant issues in reducing pollution from the engines before they will be permitted in large numbers in most of the U.S., and California and the states that follow California’s lead in pollution restrictions may never permit even the cleanest diesels.
Did you have a home cooked meal last night? Frozen meals and Boston Market don’t count. My wife and I ordered dinner in because, like most Americans we are always short on time.
The great American time crunch is the reason Americans shop at Amazon, talk on cell phones while driving, and outsource tasks from cleaning clothes to raising children. This lack of time is also one of the primary reasons that hybrid car sales of ballooned over the last few years.
For all the talk of cleaner air, lower long-term operating costs, and reduced dependence on foreign oil, the ability to save time by legally driving solo in an HOV (carpool) lane has been a powerful motivating force for some hybrid buyers—not to mention the time saved by less frequent trips to the pump. While I am not a daily commuter, solo HOV access was in my mind when tallying up the basket of benefits that hybrids offered. The ability to pass by gridlocked traffic would not only save time, but would probably lower my blood pressure.
The average person in America spends 51 minutes a day commuting to work. Given that 75% of drivers in America commute alone, the thought of solo HOV access has been a big draw for many hybrid buyers. In a recent Washington Post, the sales manager at one of the largest Toyota dealers in Northern Virginia said, “95% of the people who by a Prius say it’s to get into HOV.” Honda sales manager Mel Rapton in Sacramento said, “We use that pitch a lot, that you’ll be able to use it in carpool lanes.”
Virginia As a Test Ground
Though a handful of states have passed some type of hybrid HOV legislation, Virginia is the only state where the HOV benefit is actually in effect. Virginia has been cavalier and decided not to seek federal approval in changing how it uses federally funded roads. Because it allows hybrid access to HOV lanes, Virginia now has the second most number of hybrid vehicles in the US. California, with no HOV benefits in effect, leads the nation in hybrid registrations. This is amazing given that Virginia has roughly one-sixth of the population of California.
The law that Virginia hybrid drivers are benefiting from was passed in 1994 in attempt to lower air pollution in the region. Few drivers took advantage of the solo HOV benefit until hybrids were included in 2000. In fact, in that year, only 32 cars had clean fuel tags allowing solo drivers in HOV lanes. By the end of 2004, 6,800 hybrids had tags and now they comprise almost 20% of the traffic in various HOV lanes.
The result, beyond cleaning the region’s air, has been greater congestion in some of the HOV lanes. The Federal Highway Administration wrote a letter to Virginia state officials in December stating concern over the proliferation of hybrids in HOV lanes. Moreover, public backlash is beginning to rise as “traditional” HOV users are losing the benefit they once got for putting up with other people in the morning. In addition, portions of the public transportation system use HOV lanes and they depend on a smooth flow of traffic in order to keep the system on time.
A recent task force study on the issue by the Virginia Department of Transportation recommended that the hybrid exemption be allowed to expire in 2006. The debate is sure to continue as makers of hybrids, and more importantly, current hybrid drivers, are not expected to roll over that easily.
Will hybrid-solo-driving privileges fade away in Virginia? Will more HOV lanes be added on certain routes? How about a lottery system for clean air tags in Virginia’s future? Only time will tell, but it’s clear from Virginia’s ‘all hybrids are eligible’ experience that the ability to save time is highly desired whether we’re talking about hybrids or self-checkout at Safeway. Although advertisers and the media claim environmental improvement and gas savings are the core benefits of hybrids, perceived time savings have led to many sales.
More States Join the Battle
Late last year, the California State Assembly passed a bill allowing hybrids that achieve 45 mpg to use the state’s HOV lanes. The Hummer driving Governator signed the bill, which limits the number of permits to a miniscule 75,000. Unlike Virginia, California is awaiting federal approval, limiting the number of passes, and discriminating between hybrids based on absolute fuel efficiency.
Other states, including Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Arizona have all passed some type of Hybrid HOV legislation and are waiting on Federal or Congressional approval. Each state has tweaked their version of the legislation. For example, instead of the absolute fuel efficiency that California is imposing, hybrids in Georgia’s HOV lanes “must have a fuel economy that is 1.5 times the Model Year 2002 EPA composite class average for the same vehicle class.” That would mean my 4WD Escape Hybrid would be eligible as it achieves an EPA rating of 31 mpg. This is more than 1.5 times the 2002 Escape fuel efficiency and even better when compared to the entire class of SUVs. Based on the Virginia experience, this could mean Hybrid Escapes will sell better in Georgia than in California. This would certainly make Bill Ford Jr. happy. The CEO and Chairman of Ford has railed against the California HOV incentive approach for demanding absolute miles per gallon regardless of auto class.
Different parties are responding differently to implemented policy and passed legislation in different states and with 40 odd states to go its likely to get more confusing. Fighting against it all are many environmentalists that think any activity favoring increased personal use of highways and cars instead public transportation use should be discouraged.
Time’s Up on Saving Time
As discussed, most states are waiting out federal action before allowing qualifying hybrids to enter their HOV lanes. That may take awhile. According to Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), Washington is not likely to take action for at least six months. HOV congestion in Virginia and the delay in other states might kill the HOV promise that had passed so easily from the lips of hybrid salesmen and supporters alike.
The loss of “time savings” associated with purchasing a hybrid will likely affect sales in urban areas with lots of traffic congestion. The test for hybrid technology supporters and automakers is now to make it clear to the buying public that other attributes make the hybrid auto a better purchase than comparable combustion driven models. While nothing can make up for lost time, the time savings that hybrids offered for a brief moment should be seen as an interesting—although probably brief—benefit to encourage the adoption of hybrid cars in America.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT COMPUTER SPEED AND HYBRIDS
by Dave Reuter
Today’s zippy computer processing speeds have helped hybrid cars become reality. Hybrid computer control systems are extremely complicated. Without recent advances in processing speed and power, the invention of graphical software environments, and real-time operating systems, it would be difficult if not impossible for engineers to develop these complex hybrid computer systems. Also, the use of high-speed “communication buses” on the vehicle, known as CAN (Controller Area Network) have played a huge role. These communication buses allow one microprocessor (also known as anembedded controller) to talk to one another.
Two Powertrains Under Reins
What kind of communication are we talking about? Who is really talking and who is listening? Let’s take anti-lock brakes (ABS) found on many cars, not just hybrids, as an example of this process. A brake controller for ABS can communicate information about wheel rotation and speed to the engine controller and transmission controller. The engine controller can determine how much acceleration (the amount the accelerator pedal is pressed) or how much torque the driver is asking for from the engine. The torque then can be communicated to the transmission to select the proper gear. If the brake controller indicates that there is a wheel spinning/slipping – this information can then be communicated back to the engine via the CAN bus to reduce torque and thus control the spinning/slipping wheel. We call this “traction control.”
The hybrid system is a much more complicated control system than that mentioned above and controls more than one powertrain. The hybrid powertrain is essentially two powertrains — a gas engine powertrain and an electric motor powertrain. The hybrid controller coordinates the two. Picture a horse and buggy hitched up to two animals, a horse and a donkey. The driver is trying to control both animals. The driver is the hybrid controller and the horse and donkey are the engine and electric machine working together. A tug on the reigns here, a little pat on the rump there, and the cart keeps moving down the road.
Systems Controlling Multiple Systems
With the hybrid controller, the communications occur between multiple layers of control and communications systems: electric motor controller, engine controller, battery management system, brake system controller, transmission controller, electrical grid controller, and some systems have 42 volts components as well. The control system integrates many of the functions that use to be only one controller’s responsibility. A good example of this complex coordination is regenerative braking. Part of the braking is shared between the standard foundation brake system—traditional friction pads, rotors, and drums—and the braking recovery system that sends electrical energy to the rechargeable batteries. Each component system knows what the other is doing, and is adjusting its own status based on information provided by the other. In terms of regenerative braking, the net result is the ability for the car to stop in a normal controlled manner while recharging its batteries without having to plug in. Give thanks to high-speed computer processing for making it all possible.
Thanks for your interest in hybrid cars. Please spread the word.
Happy New Year,
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