Newsletter Archive Index

~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0012 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [[email protected]]

In This Issue:

What’s Selling? – Hybrid Poetry Contest – Hybrid Tax Info

Corporate leaders set the direction for an entire company. What have the leaders of Toyota, Honda, Ford, GM, Chrysler, VW, and Nissan been saying lately—and what does it say about where they are taking their companies?

A quick spin through the discussion forum, including: When is a hybrid worth buying? What’s the actual mileage for the Ford Escape hybrid? What effect does cold weather have on miles per gallon? How many electric motors does a hybrid need?

BLOGGERS CALL CARMAKERS ON THE CARPET bloggers aren’t bashful. They’ve recently taken shots at GM for producing oversized pickup trucks, at Toyota for joining the lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board, at the EPA for not providing the most useful mileage metrics, and at all the automakers for not pursuing plug-in hybrids. And Insight Bob tells us about his other car: a barstool with an electric drivetrain.

Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,

Our usual approach to creating content for this newsletter is to search far and wide for the most important recent developments in the world of hybrid cars. For this issue, however, we’ve shifted gears and looked inward. We’ve read every page in the site, summarized the hot topics from our own discussion forum, and pointed to the most insightful and entertaining of our recent blogs. The result is a snapshot of today’s hybrid car zeitgeist. Our top story shows you where seven top auto executives stand on the issue. Enjoy issue number 12—and let us know what you like and don’t like about it.


What’s Selling?
A press release from Toyota this month confirms that the 2006 Lexus RX 400h will go on sale in April. MSNBC reports that the Toyota Highlander “rolls out in March.” These two hybrid SUV will join the five existing hybrids: Honda’s Accord, Civic, and Insight; the Toyota Prius; and the Ford Escape Hybrid.

Hybrid Haiku Poetry Contest
Our recent vanity plate contest was a smash success. Entries to the hybrid haiku contest are slow, but the quality is extraordinary. How about these two examples, from Joan and Paul respectively?

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

Give it a try. It’s fun and easy.

> Get the details

Hybrid Tax Info
Hybrid drivers who bought their cars last year can still claim the full $2,000 deduction on their 2004 returns (as long as they file Form 1040, that is; the deduction can only be taken on line 35 of that form). The deduction for hybrids had been scheduled to start phasing out last year, but the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 postponed the reductions.

For some reason, the 2005 Honda Insight and Civics aren’t on the IRS list for eligibility. I suspect this is an oversight that will be corrected soon.


When we spoke to Toyota’s Dave Hermance last year, he explained that a car company’s commitment to the environment and new technologies must begin at the top. “Toyota believes that man-made CO2 is a global warming gas, and it’s their obligation if they want to stay in business on a long-term basis—and they do—to reduce the impact our product has on the environment,” he said. “So it’s a huge corporate commitment at a very high level, that then runs down all the way down through the organization.”

When asked just how high the commitment goes, he replied “The top. Current President (Fujio) Cho is very adamant on that being a part of the corporate culture. It’s his number one goal for his tenure as president.”

Just how committed are the major carmakers to hybrid vehicles? Let’s see what their chief executives have to say:

Toyota President Fujio Cho
“I can’t be concrete but [we should sell] 1 million hybrid units within five years. Eventually each [Toyota] model range will have a hybrid version.

“It costs more than an average car because of the battery, motor, inverter and so on. But with improved design and manufacturing methods, and increased volume, we have reduced costs significantly. I can’t say when a hybrid will reach parity with a conventional vehicle but it’s our objective.”

Honda CEO Takeo Fukui
”Honda is the first automaker to offer three different hybrid models…including two of the industry’s top selling models. And we are advancing this technology for future expansion. But we believe the effort to improve fuel economy should not be limited only to hybrids.

"Our Civic will offer four advanced powerplants [I-VTEC, diesel, natural gas, and hybrid]. This is an industry first.”

Ford Chief Executive Bill Ford
”A few years ago, we were under great pressure to cut [our Escape Hybrid] program because people said that for 20-30 thousand units, it’s not worth the trip. Frankly, that was the kind of thing that would have been cut in the past. We would not let that happen. We did not build our results by cutting our product programs.

“Hybrids do represent a way for us to differentiate ourselves, because for the first time in a long time, there are companies that have a significant new technology and there are companies that don’t. We have our own patented hybrid technology and proprietary drive system and electronic controls, and by the time many of our competitors offer a hybrid, we’ll be on to the next generation. Some [of the competition] won’t be able to afford their own proprietary system.”

General Motors Vice Chairman Robert Lutz
”We business-cased it, took a hard, analytical look and thought the engineering and investment were irresponsible vis-à-vis our shareholders. We failed to appreciate what Toyota has basically treated as an advertising expense.

“We should have said, ‘We’ll lose $100 million a year on hybrids, but we’ll take our advertising budget of $3 billion, make it $2.9 billion and treat it as an advertising expense.’ Toyota very cleverly has used hybrids to gain an improved perception of the brand.”

Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche
“Toyota and Honda are on their second-generation hybrids, while most of the world still doesn’t have a first generation. We can only admire the skill with which this has been accomplished.’

“Clearly this success has to be captured.”

VW CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder
“The best solution is a diesel engine and not a hybrid. This means we at Volkswagen think we are very well positioned.

“[Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles] are not a real solution or a viable one. In the end, [it’s] not what works in the laboratory but what the consumer accepts."

Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn
”[Hybrid cars] make a nice story, but they’re not a good business story yet because the value is lower than their cost. The same is true for fuel cells. The cost to build one fuel cell car is about $800,000. Do the math and you figure out we’ll have to reduce the cost of that car by 95 percent to gain widespread marketplace acceptance.

“Nissan is a profit-driven company. If volume growth is antagonistic to profit, we don’t want to go there. We don’t want to build or sell cars that don’t make a profit.”

In January 2005, visitors created 43 different topics in our discussion forum. Some of the issues were hotly debated. When the diesel versus hybrid topic flared up, forum participant “Chuck” wrote, “When people come into this forum and say, ‘my diesel is great, and your hybrids suck,’ it adds nothing to the discussion…and only serves to diminish intelligent discussion about the pros and cons of diesel, instead focusing on misinformation and hyperbole.”

Chuck further explained, “That’s what is nice about this forum—for the most part it is frequented by reasonable folks who would rather engage in a profitable discussion, as opposed to other forums which are more often filled with "I’m great, you’re stupid" posts…This forum is for folks who just want to talk about hybrids, fuel economy, or whatever, in a reasonable and gracious manner.”

What are the highlights from this intelligent, reasonable, and gracious online arena?

Topic: When Hybrids Will Be Worth It?

Summary: This monster thread of 28 posts began with Walt saying, “When you see city taxi fleets converting to hybrids, then you will know it’s time to buy.” Vince replied that hybrids are already worth it, evidenced by the number of people who are saving money by lower operating costs for themselves, and lower health and other costs for the entire country. Hot Georgia added, “I’d never claim that hybrids are the best mpg-to-dollar car you can buy. Better to get an Echo or similar bare-bones econo car in that situation. However, if you want the most technological advanced auto to date, potentially fantastic mpg not obtainable with conventional methods, or want to make each and every commute a fun and exciting experience, then a hybrid might be for you.” Chuck concurred with this entry: “Paying an extra $1,500 to cut down on emissions, use less gas, promote a new and hopefully beneficial technology, and to try keep the U.S out of more Mideast wars? For me, it’s worth it, independent of whether I personally recoup any of that cost or not.”

Topic: Hybrid Highlander (and Lexus) Waiting Lists?
Summary: Every Toyota and Lexus dealer has a different policy about pricing and waiting lists for the Highlander SUV Hybrid. One dealer has a waiting list of 55 people who have made deposits. Sue says, “The Lexus dealer told me the list was so long it would take until the end of the year to get one. Plus, they were fully loaded and going for $53k.” Another entry encouraged shoppers to compare multiple local dealers to find the shortest list and best price. Kim added, “My experience with the waiting list lists has been ‘it is fully refundable at anytime, for any reason.” Karen submitted a check for $1,000 to her local Toyota dealer in Northern California. She cautioned, “You aren’t going to have much bargaining power. The high demand for these vehicles means you are going to pay MSRP or higher.”

Topic: Honda Accord Hybrid
Summary: John Mark Carter, an Insight owner, bought an Accord Hybrid as a second car for his family. He says, “It’s a sweet car, designed and built to be worth the $34k I paid for it. I hated paying $2,500 over MSRP, but that’s what I get for being the first to drive one.” John added, “The 6-cylinder engine really kicks butt. After driving the 70 horsepower Insight, it’s actually hard to not burn rubber in the Accord.” Eric is disappointed about the 18-19 mpg he’s getting with his Accord Hybrid. And that’s “driving like a granny.” Carol is averaging 31 mpg. She was expecting 35 mpg , but still likes the car. Carol, who has back problems, says, “The Accord was the best compromise for me after finding the Civic & Prius very uncomfortable to sit in for more than 30 minutes.”

Topics: My Ford Escape Has Arrived! and Actual Mileage for Ford Escape Hybrid
Summary: Kim was thrilled that on her 30-mile drive home from the dealer with her brand new Ford Escape Hybrid, she averaged 37 mpg. Gary, who has a green Escape Hybrid on order, wanted to change the color to white, but was informed by Duane that once the car has been “serialized,” the order can’t be changed. Apparently, “serialized” means the customer’s choices are already accepted into the production system. The good news is that, once serialized, the wait is down to three or four weeks. Duane went on to explain Ford’s complicated production system, which affects the delivery status. In 20 posts in the “Actual Mileage” thread, the consensus seems to be high 20s for Escape mpg.

Topic: Winter Driving in Honda Civic Hybrid
Summary: Stephen started the thread by wondering why the winter mileage on his Civic Hybrid dropped from 49 mpg to around 40 mpg. He commented that the idle-stop doesn’t work when the fan is on. Jeff explained that there’s very little that can be done, saying “In cold weather, any engine [not just hybrids] is less efficient until it gets up to operating temperature.” There were several comments about “winter blend” fuels decreasing efficiency as well. Others commented, some with shock, about the makeshift strategy of using foam to keep the radiator warm. Robert, who drives his Civic Hybrid in Northern Michigan, has also seen a drop, and pointed to tire pressure issues as a possible cause for reduced economy. Stephen took action and added eight pounds of air pressure, bringing his tires to 33 pounds. By doing so, he saw his mpg jump to 43 mpg.

Topic: Multiple, Inline Electric Motors
Summary: In this thread, the gearheads had a grand old time debating the wisdom of using two rather than one electric motor in the hybrid drivetrain. Steve said, “The Prius system does use two motor generators.” Tim responded, “All hybrid power engines that I’ve seen use a single stage stator that receives the current from the batteries, and a single, permanent magnet rotor that reacts with the stator to produce motion.” He continued with talk about “geometry and trigonometry to the crankshaft, camshaft, and valvetrain of the ICE. “ The conversation migrated to flywheels and planetary gear systems. Finally, Lucas pitched his idea for turbocharged, two-cylinder opposed, 2-cycle, air-cooled diesel hybrid with a lithium ion polymer pack to produce a vehicle that can burn rubber and get 90+mpg.

Recent blogs show the contributors aptly fulfilling their role as industry and technology watchdogs. They may have tough words for the manufacturers and regulators, but it’s tough love. The bloggers want the best for our roads and our environment, and are willing to push a little to bring about a brighter future.

> Blog Homepage

On Jan. 22, AEMan (Alternative Energy Man) lambasted GM hybrid trucks for getting less than 20 mpg. He conceded that the hybrid pickups reflect a gain in fuel economy on a percentage basis, but criticized the more popular use of oversized trucks for general purposes. He wrote, “Detroit is pitching this as having your cake and eating it too: all the brawn of a monster truck, with an environmentally friendly engine that sips gas. Sips gas my ass.”

On Jan. 27, David J. Miller offered a hilarious entry about a hybrid man in China. He followed on Feb. 2 with praise for market and social forces, which encourage innovation, such as the backyard conversion of the Toyota Prius into a plug-in hybrid. Miller hopes “automakers are paying attention to this development so when I go to buy my next hybrid (in 3-5 years), there will be a plug-in option on some models. “

On Jan. 24, Walter McManus questioned the usefulness of window stickers showing mpg for city and highway driving. Walter said it’s “a failure and satisfies the information requirements of neither individual consumers nor public-policy-makers.” He proposed an alternative metric that would tell consumers the amount of fuel used in driving 100 miles. The blog includes a table that compares hybrids to their closest comparable vehicles on two measures: increase in miles per gallon and gallons saved per 100 miles. The Ford Escape 4WD saves the most gallons per 100 miles of the alternative hybrids. The Prius shows the greatest increase in mpg (25.1 more miles per gallon) relative to an average of the Camry and the Corolla.

On Jan. 17, Maria McLean questioned Toyota’s involvement in a lawsuit blocking the California Air Resources Board (CARB) plan to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles. Maria, a devoted Prius driver, asks Toyota to “use those funds to invest in more research to improve fuel economy instead of legal fees for this frivolous lawsuit.“

Also: Bob Oldham announced the early results from his backyard electric vehicle project: the creation of a barstool with an electric drivetrain; Paul Burnett used his GPS to test the accuracy of his Civic Hybrid; and Craig Van Batenburg gave recommendations on oil changes for hybrids.


That’s all for now folks. I hope this issue gives you a glimpse into the community of hybrid drivers at Today, I’m heading out to Costa Mesa, Calif., to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ “Hybrid Vehicle Technologies Symposium.” Expect a full report (and our usual format of longer articles) in our next issue.

Happy New Year,
Brad Berman
[email protected]

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