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~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0020 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [email@example.com]
Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
In the few weeks since our last issue, the national average for gas prices has slid down by about 50 cents. That’s only halfway to the price of one year ago, but certainly enough to lull many American consumers into a state of complacency. While car buyers might have quickly lost their edge for maximizing fuel efficiency, HybridCars.com is working more enthusiastically than ever to follow the world of fuel efficiency, hybrids, the environment, and energy security. To that end, we have been on a tear with adding new content to the site.
To help you keep track of the latest and greatest content, we have redesigned our home page so you can focus on a single prominent new story at a time. We are committed to updating that stories two or three times a week for now, and – as soon as possible – five times a week. Hopefully, this will give you good reason to pop back to the site on a regular basis.
The new Honda Civic Hybrid went on sale a couple of weeks ago. Now, Honda can claim a full hybrid and two gas-electric hybrids with fuel economy over 50 mpg. Beyond that new offering, we continue our holding pattern at 10 hybrids available on the market. Still no minivans or convertibles.
See our list of available hybrids
Electric Drive Transportation Association Conference
It’s not too late to sign up for EDTA’s conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Dec. 6-8. HybridCars.com is proud to be a partner, along with the U.S. Department of Energy, on the learning forum on Dec. 7, entitled "Breaking Barriers: Broad Market Adoption of Light Duty Hybrids." Get all the details and registration information.
Are Hybrids Worth It?
In his recent review of the 2006 Civic Hybrid, Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning automotive journalist of the Los Angeles Times, found numerous examples of conservative writers and pundits dismissing hybrid technology as "an emotional sop for liberals, pure tree-hugging feel-goodism for the ‘Save the Whale’ and ‘Free Tibet’ folks." Neil’s article gave us a chance to revisit the question, "Are Hybrids Worth It?" Once again, we examine payback periods, maintenance costs, and resale values. Neil sums it up: "The reason hybrid cars are flying off dealers’ lots is not because they make such a galvanizing financial brief. It’s because people of goodwill, conservative and liberal, are growing weary of the moral calculus of gasoline. What people are learning is that private choices have public consequences. Sure, I’ll make my money back, but the more important thing is the 643 gallons of liquid crack I will save. Now that’s conservative."
Coverage of Congressional Briefing
High oil and gas prices could have a devastating impact on the American auto industry. That was the message delivered in a congressional staff briefing on Oct. 13 in Washington, D.C. In the event sponsored by Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois), panelists presented research demonstrating how higher gas prices will drive a consumer shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles – and how the American automobile industry is ill equipped to handle this transition.
At the briefing, Walter McManus, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation and a HybridCars.com blogger, said, "I’ve been an auto economist for 16 years, and in a very real sense, this research represents a significant evolution in my personal view. The old paradigm was that fuel prices for oil will be cheap forever, or that they will return to $25 per barrel. We had 100 years of relatively calm prices for oil. Now they are very volatile."
McManus described a domino effect in which higher oil prices would create higher demand for fuel efficiency, sending consumers away from the large SUVs that make up Detroit’s largest and most profitable segment. McManus said, "The traditional Big 3, headquartered in Detroit, would absorb 75 percent of those lost sales. And because their profits are so tied to those vehicles, they would lose $7 billion to $11 billion." Studies that McManus and the University of Michigan conducted with the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) estimate that between 297,000 to 465,000 jobs would be lost.
Environmentalists and conservatives are aligned on the need to reduce oil dependency and increase fuel economy. McManus posed the $64,000 question: "Is Detroit adopting technologies to improve fuel economy, especially in segments that are going to be necessary to make them competitive in the future?"
New Concept Hybrids
The recent Tokyo Auto Show gave carmakers a chance to roll out their concepts for the future of automotive technology. It’s not surprising that many of the concepts were hybrids. Here are a few highlights:
- The Toyota Estima Hybrid Concept minivan uses Toyota’s latest hybrid system, THS II, and an electric four-wheel drive (with independent in-wheel motors). Toyota claims the Estima will attain more than 40 miles-per-gallon. The exhaust has a heat recovery system for lowering carbon dioxide and other emissions. Other cool features include standard AC outlets, and the use of "eco-plastics" based on plant sources.
- The Daihatsu UFE III (which stands for "Ultra Fuel Economy") can transport three people – one in front, and two in the back. The UFE III slims the previous iteration of this vehicle from 1,400 pounds to less than 1,000 pounds. The hybrid system is composed of a 660cc direct-injection gasoline engine, two motors and a nickel-metal hydride battery. Its estimated fuel economy is 169 miles to the gallon.
- The Subaru B5-TPH is half sports car and half SUV. In other words, a stylish coupe/wagon/crossover parallel hybrid, powered by a 2.0-liter gasoline-turbo boxer engine and an electric motor. It uses a manganese lithium ion battery designed to last at least 15 years. The way-out safety technology uses two cameras and a radar unit to detect traffic lines and approach vehicles.
- The Lexus LF-Sh concept is more reality than concept. The Lexus LF-Sh, which may quickly morph into the LS600h, follows the same formula: hybridization to boost power with only a modest gain in fuel efficiency.. The LF-Sh will add electric motor and batteries to a V8 engine, to push performance into the stratosphere. No word on fuel economy numbers.
Waiting Lists, Deposits, and Automotive Darwinism
In a retail environment that, at its roots, still all too often recalls its horse-trading origins, buying a car that is in both high demand and short supply remains a crapshoot governed largely by greed. Are there any irrefutable laws of hybrid shopping? We’re glad you asked:
- Distribution systems favor dealers turning big volumes. You sell the cars – you get more cars. It’s Automotive Darwinism at its best, where rule of the jungle is won by those with the biggest drum.
- The best advice is to let your fingers do the walking. Call from dealer to dealer until you find a dealer that’s high on the pecking order – and one that emphasizes customer satisfaction and repeat business.
- Your deposit will invariably be cashed – no real point in holding onto a check – and you’ll wait for the periodic updates. That info should come from your salesman, but in a six-month process that sales desk might be occupied by three salesmen; best to get the business card of the sales manager.
- Flexibility Helps. Sometimes. Indicate upfront a second color choice or flexibility on options. If you have no flexibility, state that clearly in your buyer’s agreement.
- In an age of instant gratification, the few weeks or months you wait make the ownership experience that much more rewarding. And while waiting, do what the hybrids do: Put your motor on pause.
Advanced MPG Strategies
If you’ve mastered the basic techniques for driving at peak efficiency, then perhaps you’re ready for the advanced course. We recently posted guidelines for maximizing your mpg that were originally submitted by Steve (Hot Georgia) in the HybridCars.com discussion forum. Steve exemplifies the spirit the hyper-milers, folks achieving extraordinary fuel economy. The strategies are one part skill, and 10 parts commitment. Steve’s mileage commonly exceeds 60 mpg in a Honda Civic Hybrid. Steve offers 12 major tips, and 14 additional suggestions. Check out his top three recommendations:
Create a "Work" Space
Leave plenty of room to the vehicle in front of you. If the traffic ahead slows, you will have a buffer to maintain momentum and conserve energy, allowing you to plan ahead. I use a buffer of 500-1,000 feet or more. As a bonus, the vehicle in front of you won’t be spraying gravel on your car.
Try different routes for common trips. I could use the freeway for 99 percent of my daily commute. I have learned instead to take the first 20 miles of my 44-mile trip using a parallel highway. I travel an extra mile, but this way I avoid freeway speeds and traffic while gaining 10 mpg or more.
Memorize Common Routes
If your vehicle is not equipped with a good, accurate real-time mpg meter, it will help to keep a log between fills to determine which way saves you more. Get familiar with your route – know where a little gas is required and where you can coast.
Hybrid Fleet Coverage
Our new hybrid fleet section got started with three stories:
Taxi companies are now taking a serious economic hit from the rising cost of gasoline. As a result, the Ford Crown Victoria is receiving the first challenge to its preeminent position as the mainstay of the North American taxi fleet. In San Francisco, London, and Vancouver, green hybrids have been turned into yellow taxis. New York City, the city that many consider the taxicab capital of the world, is getting ready for a hybrid revolution. Taxicabs run 24 hours a day, and can rack up 100,000 miles per year. With these numbers, switching from a Crown Victoria to a hybrid can save a taxi company as much as $9,000 in fuel costs per year.
For the manager of a municipal vehicle fleet, the decision to add hybrids to the vehicle lineup is very complicated. We spoke with Kent Fretwell, who manages 113 hybrids for the State of Oregon; Mark Simon, who has oversight responsibility for nearly 900 hybrids in New York City; and Keith Nyquist, manager of transportation services at Michigan State University, who has added 10 hybrids to his fleet in the past four years. Nyquist said, "It made sense to test the water and identify the potential for the MSU fleet." Kent Fretwell said, "It’s about being economical and green at the same time, and getting the optimal mix of vehicles."
On its route from niche to mainstream acceptance, hybrids shed their elite image. Now, hybrid limo services bring a little bit of luxury back into the equation-along with eco-consciousness and common sense. You can find these services in Los Angeles, New York, and Boston. The long-term vision of Y. Fray, of ECOLIMO in L.A., as well the other hybrid limo entrepreneurs, is to have an ecolimo service available in every major city.
Forward Thinking: E85 Hybrids
Engineer Chris Ellis wants all new hybrids to run on any mix of gasoline and an 85 percent blend of ethanol. He writes:
"According to Ellis, upgrading hybrids to handle E85 will add less than $200 to the production cost. Congress, realizing that global warming, peak oil, and energy insecurity confront us, has put the necessary ethanol pump priming into the new Energy Policy Act.
"The argument basically runs as follows. Take the current annual U.S. consumption of gasoline. Assume that ‘aggressive hybridization’ cuts it by a quarter (mainly in city driving), and that a further quarter is cut by better aerodynamics and engine downsizing (enabled by hybridization), mainly in freeway driving. Now take a further slice out for plug-in electric drives, and assume that the U.S can continue to source at least 25 percent of its gasoline internally. That leaves an ethanol target of less than a quarter of current gasoline consumption to make the U.S. ‘gasoline independent’ again. The United States Departments of Agriculture and Energy have recently produced a joint report confirming that producing this quantity of ethanol is readily achievable without impinging on the current food producing capacity of the United States.
"If the economics don’t quite yet add up to the ideal (and realistic) automotive formula – the Plug-in Biofuel Hybrid – then the next step is to simplify the approach to an ‘E85 hybrid."
That’s all folks. We hope you enjoyed this jam-packed issue of our 20th newsletter.Thanks, and until next time…
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