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Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 013
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~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0013 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [firstname.lastname@example.org]
In This Issue:
What’s Selling? – Hot Discussion Topics – Blogger Review
HYBRID CARS IN THE EYE OF A POLITICAL STORM
Energy policy and national security are beginning to trump the environment as the raison d’etre’s for hybrid cars. Can greenies and neocons ride together peacefully in the hybrid parade?
SOCIETY OF AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEERS’ HYBRID SYMPOSIUM
John German, manager of Environmental and Energy Analyses for American Honda, pondered that hybrids could reach 50 – 70 percent of the market in 10 years. He added, "I live in Detroit. I don’t want to see the Big 3 go out of business. But that’s a possibility."
HYBRID POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
Six love poems from driver to car.
THE POLITICS OF PARKING
by David J. Miller
Imagine parking spaces with a green "H" right next to the blue handicapped spots. David Miller reports on cities using free or preffered parking to encourage hybrids.
BELT ALTERNATOR STARTER: B.A.S. or B.S.?
Is the belt anternator starter a cheap way to make a hybrid? "Hardly," says our friendly neighborhood hybrid engineer.
Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
Surveys show that hybrid owners are likely to buy another hybrid. Now you have living proof of that. Last week, I put down a $500 deposit on the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. I made the decision after getting an up-close and personal look at the Highlander at the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Hybrid Symposium (more on that later). Craig Childers of the California Air Resources Board was practically salivating over the engine—and the extra cabin space for his family to take longer weekend trips. Craig told me that the Highlander has an electric electric motor with as much oomph as the full-electric car he drives to work everyday—plus a 3.3 liter V6 gasoline engine.
Once I decided on the Highlander Hybrid, I called four local Toyota dealers. Two hadn’t a clue about availability or price; one acknowledged he was charging $3,000 over sticker; and one put me in the number four slot on the waiting list, with a fully refundable deposit, and a commitment to charge MSRP and not a penny more. Lesson learned: get a second, third, or fourth dealer opinion before buying. Some dealers want your business more than others. I’ll keep you posted about my hybrid purchase experience. For now, newsletter issue number 13 is coming your way. Enjoy.
Still no word out about a hybrid minivan or station wagon, but the Lexus and Highlander SUVs are getting mighty close to their release dates. The first Highlanders should start showing up in showrooms later this month. Last week, the price was set for the Lexus: a whopping $48,535 for what Los Angeles Times auto writer Dan Neil says, "feels like a masterpiece of both engineering and accounting." (Neil’s witty and insightful review shines light on Toyota’s strategy for dominating the hybrid market:
A few Ford dealers are starting to claim they have Escape Hybrids in stock; meanwhile, it’s catch as catch can for anyone looking for a Prius, Civic, or Accord. And there’s still a chance to pick up a 2-door Honda Insight before it becomes a collector item.
For those looking ahead, Lexus has announced their second hybrid offering: a Lexus GS luxury sedan.
> Newsworthy: The American Council of Energy Efficient Economy has released their 2005 Green Car Guide. The Ford Escape Hybrid is the first SUV to reach their Greenest Car list.
Hot Topics from HybridCars.com Bloggers and the Discussion Forum
- Walter McManus explains why gasoline is really cheap, cheap, cheap.
- David J. Miller wrote about the environmentalists who got roughed up at the International Petroleum Exchange.
- Alternative Energy Man explains why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has no guts.
- Maria McLean tries to fit a refrigerator in her Prius.
- Opinion is divided about the "Hybrid HOV Waiver in Virginia." Wagonman says hybrids aren’t cleaner and the lanes are already overcrowded. Jorge blames bottlenecks on carpool lane cheaters. Join the fray:
- Folks on the "Hybrid Conversions for Older Vehicles" discussion thread are trying to figure out how to make the impossible happen. They just might have an idea for converting your old jalopy.
HYBRID CARS: IN THE EYE OF A POLITICAL STORM
A recent flurry of news stories and opinion pieces have put hybrid cars smack in the middle of our hottest political and cultural debates. No, I’m not talking about Leonardo riding to the Oscars in his Prius again. (But if you are reading this, have your people call my people.) HybridCars.com has received numerous emails warning us from politicizing hybrid cars and HybridCars.com. Read the three stories below and tell us if it can be avoided? And even if it could, why pass up this great opportunity to participate in a good democratic debate? Besides, if it involves hybrids, we’re gonna post ‘em.
New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman: No Mullah Left Behind
By adamantly refusing to do anything to improve energy conservation in America, or to phase in a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax on American drivers, or to demand increased mileage from Detroit’s automakers, or to develop a crash program for renewable sources of energy, the Bush team is, as others have noted, financing both sides of the war on terrorism.
P.B.S. Journalist Bill Moyers: There Is No Tomorrow
Millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed–even hastened–as a sign of the coming apocalypse.
Slate: As Green as a Neocon
A curious split of foreign policy and energy policy is occurring in Washington, D.C.: Many leading neoconservatives who pushed hard for the Iraq war are going green.
SOCIETY OF AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEERS’ HYBRID SYMPOSIUM
When I returned home from the SAE Hybrid Symposium in Costa Mesa, Calif., in early February, I reviewed my copious notes. How to make sense out of two all-day jam-packed sessions dealing with various hybrid configurations, energy storage approaches, fuel choices, legislative developments, and market forecasts? My answer: it’s been 100 years since car inventors debated over the right technology to power our mobility. Today, the choices are greater than ever before. That was the lead for my article about the symposium, which ran in the New York Times on February 22, 2005.
- We’re coming into a period of great variety regarding hybrid technologies. Few people are ready to pick a winning technology yet.
- Anthony Pratt of J. D. Power & Associates predicted that hybrid cars would account for only a meager 3 percent of new car sales (approximately 500,000 annually) five years from now. The symposium audience, which included several automakers that are investing heavily in hybrid technology, questioned the J. D. Power forecast.
- Dr. Menahem Anderman of Total Battery Consulting, who has spent eight years conducting assessments of battery technologies and energy-storage systems for advanced vehicles, said he could not predict which kind of battery would best serve the needs of hybrid engineers. The shortage of Nickel Metal Hydride batteries is temporary. [Soon after the symposium, Toshiba and Sanyo each announced they are heavily investing in boosting their production capacity.]
- Government regulations and incentives could also play an important role in encouraging the growth of hybrids.
> Read the New York Times’ article, "Automotive Landscape Explored at Hybrid Symposium"
The Engineers Are Bullish on Hybrids
In the symposium’s final session, panelists from Ford, Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen were invited to speculate about the future. Dr. Michael Tamor, manager of Ford’s Sustainable Mobility Technologies stated, "If you think about the 15- to 20-year timeframe, you could argue that all vehicles are going to be hybrids. It’s just a matter of which powerplant is used in the hybrid system." This forecast assumes a redefinition of a hybrid to include any vehicle that has a transmission with the ability to store energy [most likely through a battery of some kind].
Dr. Wolfgang Steiger, Volkswagen’s Group Research Director of Powertrains, added to the definition, explaining that a hybrid’s dominant feature is its ability to manage complexity. He explained, "A hybrid vehicle is a highly sophisticated engine management system." Steiger warned engineers not to forget about the needs of drivers. He said, "We have to make it easy and simple. There may be 100 computers in the car, but for the driver, it must be simple. If the vehicle is too complicated, consumers won’t understand it."
Producing vehicles that can store energy, and manage multiple powertrains and fuels, requires a long-term commitment from carmakers. "Hybrids are different than most technologies," said John German, manager of Environmental and Energy Analyses for American Honda, "If an OEM is sitting back on developing diesel engines, he won’t be in too much trouble. But with hybrids, it’s becoming more and more sophisticated. You just can’t turn it on. If you don’t make the system now, as Toyota continues to make hybrids much cheaper and in greater numbers, the others won’t be able to catch up."
German pondered that hybrids could reach 50 – 70 percent of the market in 10 years. He added, "I live in Detroit. I don’t want to see the Big 3 go out of business. But that’s a possibility."
Tamor, from Ford, agreed. "To freeze time and pretend that hybrids are not going to happen doesn’t make sense."
HAIKU POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
The following six haikus about hybrid cars were selected for their poetic language, successful use of the hybrid form (5-7-5 syllable scheme), and for their skillful imagery. Basho, the 16th century Japanese Haiku master, would be proud. What would Basho-san drive?
Start up in silence
Pull away from the driveway
Hear leaves and twigs crunch
Big cars go fast oops
They just ran out of gas oops
Hybrids just Go Go
Ten gallons of gas
will take me to Chicago
from New York City
You, in the Hummer,
Driving like you own the road,
come back down to earth
Ensconced in silence
I pause a moment, and breath.
Traffic light turns green.
Man with a Prius
Drives past many a gas station
And smiles to himself
The promotion of cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles usually involves the carrot and stick approach. The stick in the campaign for hybrids is government regulation. Except in its mildest form, regulations forcing manufacturers to increase the efficiency of their vehicle are heavily resisted by the carmakers, and often get lost in litigation and/or government lethargy. The carrot is consumer incentives, which make both carmaker and consumer happy, and can often be managed at the more nimble local level. The newest twist involves incentives for merely parking your hybrid.
From California to Sweden, governments are dabbling with offering parking-based incentives for hybrid users. San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, offers free metered and public garage parking to drivers of hybrids if the cars were purchased at a San Jose auto dealership after Jan. 1, 2003 (sorry pioneers) and the auto has a special permit from the city. With garage parking rates of $300 a month in this metropolis, that’s no small incentive.
Cities big and small–from Hermosa Beach, Calif., to Albuquerque and even famously mass transit-unfriendly Los Angeles–are at various stages of implementing free metered parking for hybrids. A brief look shows that all of these cities are struggling to determine how to implement these green policies. In Sweden, the Stockholm City Council may offer ‘free’ parking to workers and residents who obtain neighborhood stickers–a revenue generator that is common in many American cities where demand for street parking outstrips supply. Normally, a personal use parking permit in Stockholm costs 250 Euro ($330 on 3/01/05). Commercial, or distribution vehicles, also will be offered major savings as their parking permit fees will drop from 850 Euro ($1120) to 50 Euro ($66). The Swedish Health and Environmental Protection Agency has been working on free parking incentives since 1998 and are hoping to see the implementation of this effort this spring.
The Future of Parking Incentives
Like any new program, these hybrid-based parking incentives have had teething troubles. Motorists parking at UCLA and in Hollywood–both part of Los Angeles–have been confused to find those locations aren’t part of the hybrid parking exemption.
More importantly to policymakers and their constituents, very little data has been released showing whether parking incentives have significantly impacted municipal budgets. If enough hybrid drivers use San Jose’s free parking incentive, will the city find itself needing to trim programs?
Despite these issues, there certainly will be positive developments in the use of parking incentives. Roche Pharmaceutical in New Jersey created a fleet of hybrid vehicles–a move that’s generated reduced fuel and parking costs and increased goodwill and status as a more "green" company. Progressive firms such as Timberland and Hyperion have offered cash bonuses to employees who purchase hybrids, while other companies have dipped their toes in by offering preferred parking in company lots or parking coupons for employees who commute in their hybrids.
Can the day be far off when hybrid drivers can pull into their local Best Buy’s parking lot and find three green "hybrids only" spaces reserved next to the blue spaces for disabled parking?
BELT ALTERNATOR STARTERS: BAS or BS?
What is all the recent hype about belt hybrids? Is it going to shatter the world of hybrids? Hardly. The belt system, Belt Alternator Starter (BAS), planned for the Saturn VUE Hybrid and other hybrids, is the least a carmaker can do, and still claim the hybrid badge. It’s the answer when cost is the major decision factor. As others have said about this approach, you get what you pay for.
The concept is to replace the belt driven alternator with an electric motor that serve as a generator and a motor. Thus when the engine is running the motor, and acting as a generator, the system will charge a separate 36 volt battery. When the engine needs to be started, the motor then applies its torque via the accessory belt, and cranks the engine instead of using the starter motor.
In this scheme, the motor/generator can be made larger than a standard starter motor so more torque can be generated when in the motoring mode. This allows for quicker starts of the engine, and makes the start/stop operation possible. Stopping the engine while vehicle is at idle is a means to conserve fuel. The disadvantage to this type of system is that you notice the engine starting and stopping. The control system for this technology so far has been somewhat crude in comparison to the full hybrid engine startups and for some people it could be annoying.
The belt is a short-term solution to get 2% to 5% increase in fuel economy and it mostly affects the city mileage with hardly any effect on the highway mileage. On extremely small vehicles, the belt alternator starter might nudge a vehicle into the mild hybrid category. Otherwise, consumers should know that dealers describing vehicles with this technology as hybrids are full of BAS.
Thanks for tuning in. In our next issue, we’ll explore the issue of gas prices, and share some preliminary analysis of our hybrid cars survey. In the meantime, we continue to work on new features and tools on hybridcars.com to help you decide when it’s time to join the ranks of hybrid drivers—and to get the most out of your hybrid after you do.
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