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Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 023
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~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0023 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [email@example.com]
Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
Public awareness of hybrids shot up further in the last few weeks, as two prominent American figures (of varying popularity)—President Bush and Kermit the Frog—endorsed gas-electric vehicles. In his State of the Union address, Bush admitted that America is addicted to oil, and said, "We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars." One week later, Kermit appeared in a Super Bowl television commercial to say, "Maybe it’s not difficult to be green." In this issue of the newsletter, we’ll offer some analysis of these events, a look at the recent Detroit Auto Show, and provide a list of the 10 most persistent myths about hybrid cars.
This issue marks the two-year anniversary of the newsletter. Please let us know how we’re doing. What would you like to see in future issues? How could we make the newsletter even more valuable to you?
The list of available hybrids continues to hold steady at 10 models, if you include General Motors’ hybrid pickups. Last month, we mentioned that Toyota and Nissan are spending millions of dollars to add another hybrid plant. Last week, General Motors announced that it would invest $115 million into its White Marsh, Md., facility to build transmissions for hybrid gasoline-electric SUVs there by 2007. GM made the announcement just prior to Toyota celebrating record profits—as the Japanese automaker moves closer to taking the title as the world’s largest automaker.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid and Saturn VUE Hybrids are expected as the 11th and 12th hybrids, by mid-year. What other hybrid models should we expect down the road? Csaba Csere, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver magazine, spoke on Feb. 1 at the SAE Hybrid Symposium in San Diego. He sees potential in four types of hybrids not currently on the market: a hybrid station wagon, a hybrid minivan, a luxury hybrid fuel-miser (unlike the Lexus offerings, which emphasize performance), and a hybrid super-fueler in the mold of the two-door Honda Insight—but with a back seat.
The Virginia Senate passed a bill on Feb. 1 to allow hybrid vehicles to continue using the carpool lanes of state highways until July 1, 2007, despite concerns that they are crowding out the carpoolers.
Preferred Hybrid Dealer Network
We are pleased to announce the six newest members of our preferred hybrid dealer network:
AutoWay Toyota in Pinellas Park, Fla.
Earl Stewart Toyota, in Lake Park, Fla.
Lexus of Santa Monica (Calif.)
Roush Honda in Westerville, Ohio
Toyota of Santa Monica (Calif.)
Toyota of Hollywood (Calif.)
If you’re shopping for hybrid in these locations, give these guys a call. These dealerships have made a commitment to providing the best possible service to hybrid shoppers. See the full list of our preferred hybrid dealers.
Calling All Dealers: Contact us for more information about how to join the network.
As we’ve reported, used hybrids are holding their value very well. Who cares if you save enough at the pumps to justify paying more for a hybrid, if you make it all back (and more) when it comes time to sell? To help you in this effort, we launched our own classifieds service. The last time I checked, we had all of two vehicles listed—but you have to start somewhere, right? Our overall site traffic continues to grow, attracting tens of thousands of hybrid shoppers every month. Whether you’re buying or selling, check out our hybrid classifieds.
Special offer to subscribers to this newsletter: If you have a used hybrid for sale right now, we’ll give you a one-week listing for free. Send us an email, and we’ll provide an online coupon for the free listing.
President Bush: "America Is Addicted to Oil"
In his 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush made a commitment "to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025." Bush’s statements indicate that the United States is beginning to understand the real consequences of its addiction to oil. The ambitious target of radically cutting oil imports—by deploying hybrids and alternative fuels— could have a profound impact on broader geopolitical goals in the Middle East and beyond.
Engineer Chris Ellis, a regular contributor to HybridCars.com, provided an immediate response to President Bush’s State of the Union address:
"American drivers might conclude that running their big SUVs on fuel made mostly from ethanol produced in North and South America will solve the country’s energy security problems and begin to address global warming. However, for many years there will not be enough cellulosic ethanol to go around, and there may never be unless we radically reduce the fuel consumption of all our vehicles. So the ‘silver bullet’ may come in two halves: one labeled ‘E85′ and the other ‘Hybrid’."
Walter McManus, auto economist at the University of Michigan, wrote in his HybridCars.com blog:
"Ford and General Motors, two of our nation’s largest manufacturers, simply are not solvent enough to produce the innovation fast enough to both transform our domestic fleet and stay out of bankruptcy. If our domestic automakers don’t do it, their foreign competitors will and will own the technology. History is full of shining moments of federally assisted breakthroughs. And America has reaped the benefit for generations. Now is the time. America needs to be at the cutting edge, again…What about it, Mr. President?…Will you lead us to the cutting edge?"
One web visitor responded to Walter’s blog, writing, "Bush isn’t changing his stripes mid-stream as many of you seem to believe…He has been devoting billions to these technologies since taking office. Who do you think actually implemented the original hybrid tax deduction and now the more aggressive hybrid tax credit that has hybrid cars flying out of dealer showrooms? Yup, Bush."
Felix Kramer, of CalCars, summed it up. "All in all, this shows that people at the top levels of government are hearing the urgent calls of so many organizations, coalitions and opinion-makers to chart a new direction in energy and transportation."
TEN MYTHS ABOUT HYBRIDS
My article about the top 10 hybrid myths received attention prominent attention (and links) from Yahoo!, Digg.com, and Autoblog.
Here’s the top 10 list:
1. You need to plug in a hybrid car.
2. Hybrid batteries need to be replaced.
3. Hybrids are a new phenomenon.
4. People buy hybrids only to save money on gas.
5. Hybrids are expensive.
6. Hybrids are small and underpowered.
7. Only liberals buy hybrids.
8. Hybrids pose a threat to first responders.
9. Hybrids will solve all our transportation, energy, and environmental problems.
10. Hybrid technology is only a fad.
A lot of the responses on these mainstream sites focused on Myth #7: "Only Liberals Drive Hybrids." One conservative gentleman said, "It’s a myth that only liberals buy hybrids? That is no myth at all. Of course it is mainly liberals buying those cars. No one is buying them to save money, that’s for sure. It’s the "I’m so green" highbrow left-wing wackos trying to impress their lefty friends. C’mon let’s keep it real."
This drew a response from the other side of the aisle: "I’ll give you something real, in about 5-15 years. Every automaker will be selling nothing but hybrids, so even the Neocons will have little choice but to explain their delayed stupidity for not getting a Hybrid sooner to their Right-Wing buddies."
EPA TESTING CHANGES
On Jan. 12, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it plans to change how it calculates fuel economy for new cars and trucks to more accurately reflect the real-world mileage experience of American drivers. The EPA has increasingly come under criticism for outdated procedures that overestimate mileage by as much as 50 percent in some cases. Consumers are likely to see lower, more accurate numbers on window stickers of model 2008 vehicles arriving in dealer showrooms in the fall of 2007.
The EPA’s proposed ratings downshift does nothing, however, to require automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of their cars and trucks. The EPA conducts extensive evaluations to produce fuel economy and emissions ratings, but the agency merely spot-checks the testing and calculation conducted by automakers to determine compliance with mandated fuel economy levels under Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules. Under CAFE, the required average fuel economy is 27.5 mpg for passenger cars and 21.6 mpg for light-duty trucks and SUVs under 8,500 pounds. The average fuel economy for today’s new cars and trucks is lower than it was 20 years ago. Despite the rapid growth of the hybrid car market, hybrids accounted for only 1.2 percent of new car sales in 2005.
The EPA made changes to fuel economy numbers in 1985, when it began adjusting the mpg test numbers downward by 10 and 22 percent for city and highway mileage, respectively. The lower numbers have been used since that time, but automakers won a lawsuit to prevent the EPA from changing the numbers for the purposes of CAFE. "It’s an absurd situation," said Therese Langer, transportation program director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, an independent non-profit organization that monitors energy policy. "The numbers generated to demonstrate manufacturers’ CAFE compliance have little basis in reality."
Digging through our pile of hybrid research, we came upon a paper entitled, "Investigating Vehicle Fuel Economy Robustness of Conventional and Hybrid Electric Vehicles," presented in April 2005, by researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, Ill. The study showed that a hybrid’s fuel economy suffers under more demanding driving conditions, including high speeds and/or fast acceleration. On the other hand, more aggressive driving patterns could produce higher rather than lower efficiencies in some conventional vehicles.
Hybrids and International Politics
Peter Maass, writing in the New York Times Magazine, asked, "Countries with a lot of oil are lucky and rich, right?" Nope. In Maass’s Dec. 18 article, he cites economic studies that show how countries dependent on natural-resource exports experience low growth rates and suffer greater amounts of repression and conflict. This phenomenon is known as "the resource curse." He writes, "Domestic restrictions on drilling have had the unintended effect of insulating our tender consciences from the worst impacts of oil extraction…Perhaps a few more drilling platforms in our most precious lands and waters would make us understand that the true cost of oil is not posted at the gas pump.”
In her HybridCars.com blog, Maria McLean is not letting us forget about the true cost of oil. She has been documenting various crusades waged by victims of the resource curse. Here are a few examples:
- Nigeria’s highest court has finally put its foot down and ordered oil companies to stop wasting natural gas by flaring it. The bad news is that residents of the Niger River Delta have had to suffer the effects of it for 45 years.
- Bolivia passed a law raising oil and gas production taxes and royalties to 50 percent, while making the state sole owner of production.
- In Ecuador, a lawsuit aims to force Chevron to clean up the toxic mess it inherited when it bought Texaco.
- In Venezuela, ExxonMobil is resisting President Hugo Chavez’s ultimatum: enter a joint venture with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, or risk losing you’re the company’s Venezuelan oil business.
- The Inuit of Alaska and Canada filed a 175-page petition in the Interamerican Court of Human Rights to produce plans for protecting Inuit culture and resources, which are threatened by the massive climate changes already being seen in the Arctic.
Get the details, and stay tuned for more reports from Maria.
MOTOR CITY PROVIDES A GLIMPSE OF HYBRID-TOWN
Excerpted from Michael Millikin’s Blog
The North American International Auto Show in Detroit (the 90th incarnation of the Detroit show, the 19th as an international event) was held last month with a three-day preview for about 7,000 journalists and analysts. After the doors opened to the public, an estimated 800,000 attendees flowed through the hall before it closed on Jan. 22. While this year’s show was far from being green, due to the preponderance of high horsepower on display, it was the venue for a number of extremely significant hybrid product introductions and concept previews.
Topping the list was Toyota with the introduction of its Camry Hybrid. The car, one of the newly re-designed Camry line, uses a new version of the Hybrid Synergy Drive along with an Atkinson-cycle engine. This 40-mpg car could add significantly to the number of hybrids on the road; Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for eight of the last nine years. The new Camry Hybrid may just give the Prius some serious competition as the top-selling hybrid in the U.S.
What I wanted to hear in Detroit was a non-glitzy speech from the CEO of a major US automaker who would say:
(1) We have set a corporate goal of an average 40 mpg across our entire fleet by 2012
(2) These are the reasons we believe it is important, and
(3) These are the technologies we will use to achieve it.
The closest I came was the speech from Honda President and CEO Takeo Fukui, who said:
“…to further advance environmental conservation, I think the entire auto industry must think of ‘we’—not just ‘me.’…I want to challenge the entire industry, including Honda, to further improve fuel efficiency. So, let’s enter a race together. A race for the benefit of all customers and the global environment.”
Maybe next year.
See Michael’s full report, "Motor City Provides a Glimpse of Hybrid-town." And more show details from writer John Voelcker:
SUPER BOWL ADS
For easy web access, we posted the Toyota and Ford Super Bowl spots:
HybridCars.com blogger David Miller wasn’t too excited about Ford’s use of Kermit the Frog as a pitchman. He wrote: "In an attempt to get the American public to believe Ford has something good up its sleeve, the company has hired the green, fuzzy flesh of Kermit the Frog to hawk its hopeful vision of the future during the Super Bowl.
"Perhaps the strategy is to infantilize America while it is drinking suds and open to the ‘wild ideas’ that Super Bowl commercials sometimes bring. At that moment—BLAMO—Ford and Kermit deliver a civics/environment lesson as if everyone is back on Sesame Street…Can the Super Bowl really be a serious venue for social and policy debates? Or is Ford just paying a trusted character to dance for it on the biggest stage of the year and shill Bill’s "way forward?"
Site visitor "Barry" called the blog mean-spirited. "The vehicle is good. The frog is cute…Ford is doing what it can to ensure there’s still something left of major American-owned manufacturing. Sorry everybody went out and bought all those gas-guzzling SUVs, which Ford profited from. Things change, they just need to adjust, and they will."
Another visitor, Steve, replied: "Something like a third of known frog species are on the verge of extinction, so maybe the frog is a metaphor for Ford.
ARE YOU MINDFUL OF THE FOOTPRINTS YOU LEAVE BEHIND?
by Andrew Grant
What’s a footprint? An outline or indentation created by pressing the foot on a surface, such as a step in wet sand or a muddy print left by a shoe.
But you knew that. What’s easy to forget is that everything we do leaves behind a mark of some kind. We can get caught up in the day-to-day running around and we forget how our individual actions—no matter how small—are leaving a mark. Every action we take in our daily lives is either helping to improve – or damage – the quality of the planet.
Land Rover uses an interesting says: "Tread Lightly." Think about it for a minute. When they say "Tread Lightly," they are talking about the impact their vehicles have. Land Rover created a 4×4 driving program for the owners of their vehicles so they could learn how to do the least amount of damage to the environment when driving off-road. I know that a Land Rover is not a low emissions vehicle, but the point is to consider the phrase “Tread Lightly” as a metaphor.
Could we do the same thing as individuals without creating a personal marketing and education program? Could we have an impact as soft as a feather? If our individual choices were made for a global bottom line—instead of a personal bottom line—then the results from our decisions would begin to leave less of a footprint.
We don’t live in a perfect world, but we can each do our part to be responsible for the small piece of that imperfect world over which we do have some control. This planet has so many resources to offer, or to abuse. We have an opportunity each and every day to treat the planet as a little slice of heaven, or hell. What type of footprints are you leaving behind in your daily walk through life?
Thanks for tuning in. In our next issue, we’ll down to more details about the next two hybrids to hit American roads: the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Saturn VUE Greenline. Until then…
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