Hybrids In an Era of Survival

The dismal economy is forcing companies, and individuals, to make tough decisions about what is essential, and what can get tossed aside to save a buck. In the past, car companies might have shelved green car technologies as nice-to-have but too expensive and not really critical. However, this time around, the world’s major automakers are holding firm to plans for hybrid gas-electric cars, pure electric vehicles, and other fuel-saving programs.

This commitment will be challenged as we approach the first anniversary of record-setting high gas prices and high hybrid sales—and reporter after reporter quotes annual declines in hybrid sales at 20 or 30 percent or higher. The hybrid market is unlikely to get a bounce from seasonal increases in gas prices this year. Oil price experts predict a maximum pump price of about $2.50 per gallon. Yet, as a new report from McKinsey Global Institute indicated last week, another oil price shock is in the works soon after the current global economic crisis ends and demand for fuel goes up. Auto companies are preparing.

The financial crisis is perhaps hitting GM harder than anyone else—but the company is not letting go of green. Edmunds, the auto consumer website, reported that GM’s Chevrolet Volt is still seen as vital to company’s future. “Given the challenges, we have with CAFE requirements and what consumers will demand, I don’t see any of those [green] initiatives going to the back burner,” said GM spokesman Kyle Johnson.

Honda is showing no signs of cutting back on its green plans. The company decided not to display at the Frankfurt Auto Show, and instead will use its European resources to strengthen new fuel-cell research and its hybrid vehicle portfolio, according to Edmunds. Honda posted 569 sales of the 2010 Honda Insight in its first week in the US, after recording higher than expected sales of the Insight in Japan.

Toyota is expanding the market for the 2010 Prius to 80 countries, with an annual goal of selling 400,000 units worldwide. And the company is planning 10 new hybrids globally by 2012. Ford is also trying to keep up. “I would love people in the future to say, ‘There’s Toyota and Honda and Ford,’ ” said Ford’s North American chief Mark Fields, in USA Today. It’s not a coincidence that Fields wants to keep company with the automakers that made the earliest commitment to hybrids, and continue to maintain a lead in the green car market.

Nissan Cube EV Test Vehicle

Nissan is rolling on with its plans to mass market an electric car. Nissan is using the Cube as a test mule for its electric drivetrain. The design for its electric car, due in 2010, will be original.

Every major auto company, without exception, is continuing if not expanding its hybrid and electric plans. HybridCars.com spoke with Mark Perry, Nissan’s product planner, on the Sacramento, Calif. stop of its nationwide tour to promote the company’s upcoming practical and affordable electric car. “This is our future. We absolutely believe, from a pure sustainability standpoint, we have to, have to [repeats] get to electrification,” said Perry. “We’re not saying that gasoline motors are going to disappear tomorrow. But the market is going into a transition. We would rather be at the forefront than the backside.”

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  • Anonymous

    About that Nissan car!

    CAN WE SAY U-G-L-Y !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 9691

    I don’t think it’s ugly at all, or at least not like the Toyota Yaris.

  • ACAgal

    The body is already on the road and very popular, it is only the OS that has been changed.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Isn’t the Nissan car body that is shown one that already exist? Is it possible that they are using it for a test bed for the electric car system? I think if and when they produce a electric car it will be put into a much more aerodynamic body like the Prius or Volt.

  • Less NOx

    If you read the caption under the photo of the U-G-L-Y cube, it says that it is a test vehicle only and the true design isn’t out yet but size similar to Sentra.

    I guess whatever the range they get from an electric powered cube can be improved upon by quite a bit if get the drag down.

    (Right about now we should be getting a post stating that covering the wheel wells will improve aerodynamics.)

  • stellis

    Don’t forget the boat tail and the belly pan!
    I’ve already ordered the extended garage door to accomodate the boat-tailed car of the future.

  • Jennifer M

    I’m just wondering why they pulled electric cars in the early 2000’s to begin with and why now they need to make all new ones? Can’t they just start producing the EVs that did so well then and actually try to market them properly?!

  • hamilton

    @ Jennifer: think about it like trying to revive a 1999-era laptop for work. Even if you could find someone to provide the hardware upgrades and software apps that would work on a windows 97 platform ten years later (unlikely), it’d cost a fortune to do so relative to starting over with modern versions.

    The shame is that none of the manufacturers have kept niche vehicles in production since 2000; gotta focus on the future, though

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Jennifer M and hamilton, I do not know about the other early EVs, but the Toyota’s Rav 4 EV was only intended as a test bed vehicle, leased out with an option to buy for some. The batteries associated with these first EVs are not as robust as the present day batteries.

  • alyssa

    wtf is this world coming to seriouslyy!!! thats the most uglyist car eva! it looks like a dam box! 4 sure…

  • alyss

    you telling me buddy…

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Lost Prius to wife,
    I don’t know where you get your information but you’re badly WRONG. The RAV4EVs are doing great. Many are well over 100,000 miles on the original NiMH batteries and still going strong. Some have had to have the batteries reconditioned but they’ve sprung back to like-new performance.
    The Rav4EV was, just like the EV1, EV+, RangerEV, S10EV, and Altra, a hedge in case the auto manufacturers couldn’t kill the ZEV mandate that GM had requested in California. The mandate was successfully emasculated so the manufacturers killed the cars.
    Read “The Car that Could” by Shnayerson or see the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” by Chris Paine and Sony Pictures for more details of the beginning and the end of the ’90’s EVs.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    ex-EV1 driver, I never said that the Toyota RAV4 EVs weren’t great. In fact, I wish that they had continued making them for the rest of the country so I could have had one. I have not read “The Car that Could” by Shnayerson or seen the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” by Chris Paine and Sony Pictures, but everything that I have read indicated that the Toyota RAV4 EVs were deployed as leases with some having an option to buy, supposedly similar to the fleet leasing of the plug-in Prius today (I believe that there is no option to buy for the plug-in Prius). I have looked at the pricing of the few RAV4 EVs that have come available for sale – and often they sell for more than what they were originally valued at. That is called “appreciation” instead of the normal “depreciation” associated with cars. Why wouldn’t someone want such a car, even if they did have to recondition the batteries every once and a while? And according to Toyota, they did use the information from the RAV4 EVs to help in their design and decision making for the frist generation Prius. And I am sure that they are using the information from the RAV4 EVs and Prius for their future BEVs.

    My comment was that the batteries associated with these first EVs are not as robust as the present day battery designs. This is indicated by this site’s article “First Numbers on Hybrid Battery Failure” published May 29, 2008. The first generation Prius batteries were not as robust as the second generation’s batteries. And the third generation’s batteries are even more robust than the second generation. RAV4 EVs’ batteries are probably similar to the first generation Prius batteries. Although they are robust as far as you and I are concerned, they are not as robust as present day NiMH battery designs.

  • Electric Vehicle Owner

    @ Lost Prius to Wife

    Define robust.

    There are many, many different lithium chemistries, all with different strengths and limitations and characteristics, all different from the NiMH in Toyota Rav4 EVs. Battery life longevity and usefulness is clearly a strength for nickel power pack chemistries, if I may make a sweepeing generalization. That does nothing to take away from the strengths and excellent characteristics of more current (pun intended) lithium configurations. Indeed, nothing stops automakers from using multiple differing energy carrier configurations at the same time in their vehicles (except maybe a few unused patents held by oil companies, and no, I’m not a conspiracy nut).

    Frankly, your comments on this and other blog threads come across as just so much unhelpful and uninformative FUD. Meanwhile, electric drive continues to penetrate transportation markets, not so slowly and as unstoppable as a diesel electric drive hybrid freight train or mining dump truck.

    Are you unhappy with electric fork lifts, too?

    Last, if are truly searching for the first EV, you have to go back to 1828.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Electric Vehicle Owner, you are right in that robust is a relative term. I will try to better define my usage of the term for you now.

    I thought that I made it clear that the battery technology of the 1990s is different than the 2009. There have been improvements in NiMH and lithium battery designs. What was the best NiMH or lithium battery designs back in the 1990s are not the best NiMH or lithium battery designs now in 2009. This is why I sited the Hybridcars.com article “First Numbers on Hybrid Battery Failure” published May 29, 2008. This indicates the first generation Prius batteries failure rate was ~1% compared to the second generations ~.003% for the same parameters. Based on this information, would one say that the first generation Prius batteries were as robust as the second generation’s? Definitely no. Were the first generation Prius batteries robust and/or robust for their time? Definitely yes. Toyota would not have put a battery system in the first generation Prius that they would have to be consistently replacing under warranty. This is the best that I can provide for the term “robust” as I have used it.

    From your statement “Are you unhappy with electric fork lifts, too?” I can only assume that you think I am against all battery electric vehicles (BEV). For the record, I am quite happy with the abilities of the electric fork lift that I use on a regular basis at work. And I also know once a BEV meets my driving range needs, I will be quite happy with it also. And if I could get my hands on a RAV4 EV, even if it would need the batteries replaced, I believe it would meet my present driving range needs for my daily work commute. And with the newer battery technology, the range would probably be extended beyond what it was in the 1990s. The problem is that they are very rare and expensive. There are not that many people willing to part with them. It is not hard to imagine why.

    I have no doubts that the RAV4 EV, EV1, EV+, Ranger EV, S10 EV, and Altra were great vehicles. But as far as I know, there are only RAV4 EVs available to any extent today. Why are there no Chevy EVs? If my understanding is correct, all the Chevy EVs were leases with no options to buy. It is also my understanding that is how Chevy got all the EVs back to destroy them – the lease ran out and they owned the car. I truly believe ex-EV1 driver when he (or she) stated that all those EVs were only “a hedge in case the auto manufacturers couldn’t kill the ZEV mandate.” And that “hedge”, along with no ZEV mandate, would ultimately make them “test bed” vehicles only, not true “production” vehicles. It is just that some of the Toyota leases had the option to buy – and some people were smart enough to use that option.

    I hope to own a BEV some day, along with a hybrid for longer trips, but that day is not here yet.

  • tapra1

    we have with CAFE requirements and what consumers will demand, I don’t see any of those [green] initiatives going to the back burner,” said GM spokesman Kyle Johnson.Yaneto