Newsletter Archive Index

~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0028 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [[email protected]]

Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
What goes up must come down. This has certainly been true for gas prices in the last half of 2006. With the lower prices at the pumps—almost a buck per gallon lower than in summer—we’re seeing the first real test of hybrid staying power. Did hybrids roll over the tipping point in 2005 and early 2006, only to tip back to niche status in the fall? To help understand the market trends, partnered with Polk Automotive to establish the Hybrid Market Dashboard. In this issue, we share details about the debut of the dashboard, examine the green car battle shaping up between GM and Toyota, give an under-the-hood farewell salute to the Honda Insight, and

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but this our first newsletter since the summer. Do we have an excuse for this tardiness? Yes, a great one. We’ve been working with the Globe Foundation of Canada to create an auto industry conference like no other. We will assemble the biggest names and brightest minds in the world of hybrids, alternative fuels, fuel cells, advanced electronics, auto batteries, and all matters related to what we might be driving in the near and distance future. And we’re taking a multi-disciplinary, multi-industry approach that includes carmakers, suppliers, financiers, oil and gas producers, electric utilities, labor unions, maintenance providers, insurance/reinsurance, and agribusiness. This is the big-picture approach to cars and energy in the 21st century.

AutoFutureTech 2007 will take place in Detroit, the birthplace of the automobile. Nowhere else in the world will the profound changes in automotive technology be felt as strongly and as immediately. Companies with vision who are first to adapt will thrive and survive, others will not. Are you ready?
> Learn more

THE LOSS OF A HYBRID GURU David Hermance, Toyota’s executive engineer for advanced technology vehicles, died Saturday, Nov. 25, when the airplane he was piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He was an avid pilot and, in his Interavia E-3 plane, a frequent competitor in International Aerobatics Club competitions. Dave was widely regarded as Toyota’s hybrid guru for North America. I interviewed Dave in 2004, and asked him if his involvement with the Prius was an environmental mission. Here’s his answer: "It is for me, personally, but I’m not sure it is for the mainstream marketing folks. I’m convinced that global warming is real, and that if we’re not principally responsible, we’re at least contributing to that. I’d like to leave the planet a little better than I found it. It’s going to be hard work to do that." Read the interview and leave a comment about Dave and his legacy. HYBRID MARKET DASHBOARD Are the vicissitudes of monthly hybrid sales—one month a little higher, another a bit lower—nothing more than cyclical and seasonal changes in the auto industry, or do they signal a broader long-term trend for eco-friendly transportation? That’s what we wanted to know, so partnered with R.L. Polk & Co. to look at actual hybrid vehicle registrations, available only from Polk, as well as widely published sales numbers. We crunched the numbers, put in an accessible visual format, and created the "Hybrid Market Dashboard." November was the inaugural version of the monthly report—a resource that will continually dig beyond the surface of reported sales numbers. For example, we not only looked at total registration numbers per state and market region; we also looked at "hybrids per 1,000 residents." Slicing the data in this way yielded somewhat surprising results. For example, residents in the New York City area put more than 9,000 new hybrids on the road this year. But when you adjust for population, you discover that Portland, Ore.—a city that has fewer overall vehicles (and thus fewer hybrids)—has more hybrids per capita than anywhere else. October was a tough month for hybrid vehicles in the United States, and November wasn’t much different. Visit the dashboards for details: TOYOTA’S "FLYING CLOUDS" & GM’S "MOON SHOT" In a performance of dueling "cool green car visions," we’ve been hearing big talk from the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carmakers. Masatami Takimoto, Toyota’s executive vice president in charge of powertrain development, gave a glimpse of his vision in late October at EVSS, the 22nd International Battery, Hybrid, and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Symposium in Yokohama, Japan. Takimoto spoke about flying clouds, magic carpets, and plug-in hybrids. Today’s hybrids do not need to be plugged in; however, the idea of extending a hybrid’s electric capability by plugging into a common household electrical outlet has been gaining momentum in the United States. Until recently, Toyota dismissed the idea as impractical. Earlier this year, Jim Press, president of Toyota North America, gave hints that the company may be researching plug-in technology. Takimoto’s talk added fuel to the fire. He showed slides comparing the current generation Prius with a plug-in version, and discussed the implications for fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions, and operating costs. While he made no announcements about vehicle launches, Takimoto made it clear that a plug-in vehicle could be in Toyota’s future. Breaking ranks from other car companies that view hybrids as a stepping stone to some other ultimate goal, such as fuel cell vehicles, Takimoto positioned hybrids as a core capability to be paired with any number of potential technologies. Toyota is shifting the question of future automotive technology from an either-or position—hybrids or diesels, hybrids or fuel cells—to a multiple choice question. Judging from Takimoto’s comments, Toyota’s answer will be “all of the above”: gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, diesel-electric hybrids, and fuel cell hybrids. GM may not let Toyota run away in the race for the cleaner, greener car of the future. In the Nov. 20 issue of Automotive News, Bob Lutz, GM’s product guru, said, "We’ve decided as a company to seize the initiative on the whole issue of who’s got the best technology. Our intent is that nobody will beat us." There’s a seriousness and focus in these claims that sounds much different than previous GM chitchat. GM’s Chairman, Rick Wagoner, has been repeating his regrets for halting the EV1. He told Motor Trend magazine that "axing the EV1 electric car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids" was the worst decision of his tenure. Lutz is calling for a "very substantial" financial commitment to moving research into hybrids and fuel cell vehicles into real-world vehicles. He’s calling it GM’s "moon shot." Report from EVS22: YOUR MILEAGE
How do some hybrid drivers achieve fuel economy far greater than EPA estimates—while others stay within the fuel economy range of mere humans? In the search for answers, it’s easy to get lost in the hundreds and hundreds of posts on discussion forums. So we took the trouble of reading everything we could find, and to speak directly with the most accomplished of fuel-efficient drivers. (Special thanks to Dave Bassage, Gary Gattis, and Bob Barlow.) Based on the online posts and the interviews, we established categories such as break-in period and route selection to dashboard display and gear selection.

Get the details for these three vehicles:

Toyota Prius
Toyota’s sophisticated hybrid system allows nearly all drivers to achieve better than 40 mpg. Master the art of "gliding" and your mileage could far surpass the EPA’s combined estimate of 55 mpg.

Honda Civic Hybrid
The Honda Civic Hybrid—with its small engine and easy-to-view dashboard mileage gauges—gives the careful driver all the tools needed for extended coasting and super highway mileage. It lacks the ability to launch in all-electric mode—which helps to save gas in stop-and-go traffic—but makes up for it on the highway to produce overall mileage nearly equal to a Prius.

Ford Escape Hybrid
The Ford Escape Hybrid can reward the careful driver with mile-long stretches of all-electric driving, yielding fuel economy that surpasses most cars half its size. With a little practice, you can easily drop into all-electric mode (with a tap on the brake at the right time) or send a quick charge to the batteries (with the quick a release of the accelerator).

One journalist after the next purports the same point about hybrid gas-electric cars: they are not worth the extra cost. The writers’ lack of originality is only surpassed by their inability to get all the facts. When they proclaim that the extra cost of buying a hybrid will not be recouped in savings at the pump—as if they were the first person, rather than the thousandth, to "discover" a nefarious plot against American car buyers—the writer usually fails to consider tax credits, reduced maintenance, and historically excellent resale values. But nothing conjures up more fear and hysteria than these two words: hidden costs.

In June 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported that hybrid battery replacement costs dropped from $10,000 in 2001 to about $3,000 today. But three months later, Car and Driver columni
st Brock Yates—no fan of hybrids—wrote, "battery replacement will cost $5,300 for the Toyota and Lexus hybrids, and the Ford Escape replacements run a whopping $7,200." Yates—now former Car and Driver columnist, by the way—compared a hybrid’s rechargeable batteries to the "dry cells in your flashlight…[which] have finite lives and store less power with age." He also insinuated some kind of cover-up, writing, "Industry types are not talking about total battery life."

They’re talking—but Brock’s not listening. Jim Francfort, principal investigator at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, which is operated for the U.S. Department of Energy, has been talking about it. His hybrid battery tests showed that 160,000 miles of use had no effect on fuel economy. Andrew Grant, the Vancouver, Canada, taxi driver who drove his Prius for more than 200,000 miles in 25 months, tells all about his Prius, which has taken a pummeling and kept on humming. At industry conferences, engineer after engineer will tell anybody who bothers to ask that hybrid batteries are, in fact, over-manufactured for their task.

The Plot Thickens
The one item that nobody has been talking about is the replacement costs for batteries—because nobody is replacing them. That’s what I thought until I received an email from Ray Molton, who works in the real estate industry in Houston, Texas. Ray wrote, "My 2001 Toyota Prius lasted five years and 113,000 miles. And then the batteries seemed to die. My dealer estimated the replacement cost at $7,000. They recommended scrapping the car for parts."

Read more about Ray’s experience:

CalCars founder Felix Kramer has been using his blog to chronicle the growing support for plug-optional hybrids. Can you say 100 mpg? At first, nearly all the carmakers were reluctant, dare we say antagonistic, to the idea of hybrids with more battery power and the capacity to charge overnight. Did something change in the summer of 2006? Maybe.

In the last couple of months, Bill Ford Jr. told his shareholders "we’re keenly looking" at Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), reports surfaced that General Motors will build a PHEV, and Toyota’s top US executive say, "We are pursuing a ‘plug-in’ hybrid vehicle…conserving more oil and slicing smog and greenhouse gases to nearly imperceptible levels."
Read more:

Perhaps the big carmakers can hear the angry approaching mob of plug-in entrepreneurs as they approach with their improved battery technology, investment dollars, and power cords knotted as hangmen’s nooses. Michael Millikin of Green Car Congress tells us about a few of these companies: AFS Trinity, AES Corporation, Hydrogenics, and Lithium Technology Corp. Mike also mentions a just-released study by global market research company Synovate. The company found that—once the concept of a plug-in hybrid was explained to survey respondents—49 percent of them said they would consider purchasing one. This is roughly the same level of consideration given to standard hybrid technology by these same consumers.
Read more:

There’s something about hybrids that instills a sense of enthusiasm—strike that, a sense of revolutionary zeal. To make sure that we’re not taking ourselves a wee bit too seriously, has enlisted the sober guidance of John DeCicco, senior fellow of Environmental Defense. John, a professor of mechanical engineering who specializes in automotive strategies, evaluates vehicle technologies and helps develop market-based policies for addressing the car-climate challenge. He’s been on the case of sustainable mobility for a couple of decades. We call this Q&A series, "Stopping for Directions," and—unlike some of you guys out there—we’re not afraid to do it. What have we learned so far?

On High Gas Prices: "The fact that high gas prices have motivated more people to pay attention to fuel economy is no more of a good thing than is, say, a fever after you’ve let yourself get run down, get sick, and don’t finally start taking care of yourself until you’re running the fever…There will only be a silver lining on the high gas price cloud if it serves as a wake-up call for new habits regarding fuel consumption.”
Read more:

On Practical Steps to Real Change: "The most immediate and practical step the president could take is to embrace a national policy to cut carbon (i.e., reduce global warming pollution). He should shift the Administration’s strategy from procrastination to passing a law to cut carbon on a clear timetable. A firm commitment to use less carbon-producing fuel, on the other hand, would mean that the country is serious about changing its energy system."
Read more:

On Billions of Research and Development Dollars: "The American public has not seen a return on the substantial investment of tax dollars into auto efficiency R&D, and so it’s difficult to say that the funds were well spent. Research should not be used as an excuse for inaction, but U.S. leaders seem to prefer throwing money at the automobile energy use problem rather than taking steps to solve it. In their perennial fascination with "supercar" research, politicians from both parties wait for breakthroughs while shirking a duty to pursue policies that would make better use of technologies already at hand."
Read more:

This month McDonald’s is giving away toy Hummers—42 million of them, in eight models and colors—with every Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal. When we learned about this at, we just couldn’t just sit as quietly as our cars at idle. It’s just too outrageous that the fast-food chain that helped make our kids the fattest on Earth is now selling future car buyers on the fun of driving a supersized, smog-spewing, gas-guzzling SUV originally built for the military. (I know, it’s just a toy. But c’mon.) In response, the Environmental Working Group and launched On the site, you can use the Ronald McHummer Sign-O-Matic™ to tell the world what you think of this misguided marriage of two icons of American excess. Then you can send a letter to Ralph Alvarez, president of McDonald’s.

The Ronald McHummer Sign-O-Matic™ is a hoot. Type a few words into a box on the site and watch your original slogan appear on a faux McDonald’s marquee. After you’re done creating your own sign, scroll through what others have to say about the Hummer giveaway and vote for your favorite. Here are a few of ours:

Fries, Lies, and Happy Meal Prize
Pollution, Corruption, Supersize

Big Burger
Big Butt
Small You-Know-What

Drive a McHummer
Run Over

You deserve a good chuckle today. Visit We did it all for you. And send your email to McDonald’s.

That’s our summer of bummer hummer August-September issue. We’ll be back in October with more hybrid cars news and info, and a close-up look at the Saturn VUE Greenline—we’ve been giving it a spin this week. Until next time…

Happy Driving,
Bradley Berman
[email protected]

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