Newsletter Archive Index

~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0025 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [[email protected]]

Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
These are confusing times. Big oil companies are taking out full-page ads to promote fuel efficiency and hybrids, while environmental organizations are doing the same to denounce hybrid makers for greenwashing. To further confuse matters, each environmental group seems to be attacking a different car company as the worst of the worst. After speaking with leaders from the various groups, I learned that they are galvanized around their support of California’s Pavley Law, designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016. In this issue, we take a look at the Pavley Law, and learn about environmentalists waging campaigns against Detroit and Japan. I hope you enjoy this issue’s environmental focus.

Special thanks to our sponsor, The Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy Fund.

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The Guinness Atkinson Alternative Energy Fund launched March 31.

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(Distributed by Quasar Distributors, LLC.)


  • The Lexus GS 450h, the first luxury sedan hybrid, goes on sale in the U.S. in May with a base price of $54,900, and a combined EPA mileage estimate of 26 mpg.
  • Subaru has confirmed plans to make a hybrid version of the Legacy and Impreza.
  • DaimlerChrysler finally announced that it would integrate the Smart car brand into the Mercedes organization, and put all its attention on the sales and development of the iconic two-door "Smart for Two" city car.
  • HOV Updates – The California Department of Transportation has issued 50,000 stickers allowing single-occupant hybrid vehicles (with fuel economy greater than 45 mpg) to use carpool lanes. With this milestone, the bill will be placed under a 90-day review to assess traffic impacts of hybrids in carpool lanes. The DMV will continue to issue stickers until it reaches the final 75,000 limit, or pending release of the findings. Drivers who have already received the HOV stickers will be allowed to use the carpool lane until Jan. 1, 2008.


Hybrids used to be the environmentalists’ great shining hope for combating auto pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and gas guzzling. Those were the romance days for hybrids, the first two or three years following their introduction in 2000. But the honeymoon is over. With the emergence of performance-oriented hybrids, and ultra-mild hybrid systems, environmentalists now see the technology as one more example of how Big Auto has hoodwinked consumers into believing their products are as green as they can possibly get. But it may be too late for the automakers to put the hybrid cat back in the bag. Everybody has seen what the best of hybrid technology can do, shattering Detroit’s myth that it lacks the know-how to greatly extend average fuel economy. "Hybrids are the poster child for the fuel economy debate," said Jason Mark, director of the Clean Vehicles Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Guzzle a Little, Guzzle a Lot
The Union of Concerned Scientists, like the Sierra Club, BlueWater Network, the Rainforest Action Network/Global Exchange, and others, share the view that the latest hybrids are being used as greenwash, but they appear divided on which car company is the worst culprit. The UCS, for example, sees General Motors as enemy number one. They have applied the term "hollow hybrid" to G.M.’s current hybrid offerings. Jason Mark said, "We think that hybrid technology ought to be reserved for the environmental and consumer benefits they can deliver. Every quasi-hybrid under the sun is being labeled as hybrid for public relations benefits." Mark thinks that hybrid technology should be put to better uses than turning a 16-mpg vehicle into an 18-mpg vehicle. "The point is not to turn extreme gas-guzzlers into moderate gas guzzlers."

What perturbs Mark and others is not only the mislabeling or misuse of hybrid technology on the part of certain automakers, but that those same automakers are lobbying and litigating to block any public policy that will hold them accountable for the detrimental environmental and social effects of their products. Mark calls G.M. "the bad boys of public policy for fuel economy, emissions, and greenhouse gases. In all public forums, they are the most aggressive in fighting environmental regulations. If you ask anybody to rank the automakers on their policy performance, G.M. would be on the bottom."

Prove That It’s Easy Being Green
The folks at Jumpstart Ford, a project of Global Exchange and the Rainforest Action Network, might disagree. Their disapproval and public protests are aimed at the Ford Motor Co.. Jennifer Krill, zero emissions campaign director for the Rainforest Action Network, thinks that Ford deserves credit for producing the Ford Escape Hybrid. But, she said, the same year that Ford released the Escape Hybrid, they "had the worst overall fuel-efficiency record. One hybrid doesn’t let them off the hook for being the most wasteful automaker."

Don’t think that Prius-producing Toyota has escaped the attention of the environmentalists. Last fall, when Toyota launched their "Hybrid Synergy Drive" ad campaign, BlueWater Network launched their own campaign, entitled "Toyota: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing." The full-page ads in the New York Times and other publications showed CEO Katsuaki Watanabe in the foreground and a man wearing a wolf’s head in the background. Danielle Fugere, director of climate change at BlueWater, said, "What people don’t know, and what we wanted to tell them, is that Toyota is not as green as it makes itself out to be. Yes, it has some good green technology, like the Prius. But Toyota has consistently lobbied against every attempt to increase vehicle fuel economy. It’s part of a group of automakers suing against California’s greenhouse gas law."

Whereas the various environmental groups have each chosen a different company to target for their public education campaigns, they stand unified in their criticism of the automakers who have sued California to block the enactment of AB1493, the greenhouse-gas-capping law known as the Pavley Law. The regulation, which could affect as much as 30 percent of the U.S. market (not just California), would phase in from 2009 to 2016. It would require the auto industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its new fleets by approximately 30 percent.

The response from automakers is that greenhouse gas restrictions are a surrogate for fuel economy, because increasing fuel efficiency is the only effective way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Therefore, they claim, California is trying to regulate fuel economy standards, which only can be established at the federal level. Otherwise, they argue, manufacturers would have to produce vehicles based on two or more different emissions standards. (In fact, tailpipe emissions are already set at the state level.)

BlueWaterNetwork, Rainforest Action Network, Global Exchange, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and the National Resources Defense Council have all joined the lawsuit to defend the Pavley Law against the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Alliance of International Automobile Manufacturers, which includes all of the major carmakers, including those who sell hybrids.

The state of California and the environmental groups say that greenhouse gas emissions are not strictly related to fuel economy. Fugere said, "The automakers can comply by using alternative fuel vehicles. In some cases, an alternative fuel vehicle will get less fuel economy. California doesn’t care if fuel economy goes up or goes down. We want to know how much CO2 is coming up from the tailpipe."

The legal contest, scheduled for 2007, is shaping up into the biggest battle over automobile emissions and efficiency since CAFE was enacted 30 years ago.

It also highlights the fact that producing a hybrid—however you define it—no longer qualifies a car company as a green company. Fugere said, "I would like to have a name like ‘hybrid’ to denote this is a great, fuel-efficient vehicle. (But) Point of fact, the auto manufacturers are using the hybrid terminology to fool people."

Now, the only way for a car company to considered environmentally friendly is to remove their name from the lawsuit blocking the Pavley Law. Toyota? Honda? Ford? Anybody?

In 2000, after 100 years of refusing to endorse products, the Sierra Club—the world’s largest environmental member organization—established an Excellence in Engineering Award. The award was given to the Honda Insight in 2000, and to the Toyota Prius in 2001. The award, according to Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, encourages automotive engineers "to spend their weekend tinkering with how to make a car that’s better for the environment, and to go fight the guys with the green eyeshades who never want to do anything new."

After a two-year hiatus, the Sierra Club issued their award to Ford for the Mercury Mariner Hybrid in 2005. Some environmentalists questioned if the Mariner—Ford will only produce 2,000 of the Mariner SUV hybrids each year—deserved the award. I spoke with Carl Pope in his office in San Francisco.

Bradley Berman: How did the Sierra Club choose the Mercury Mariner for its most recent engineering award?

Carl Pope: When Ford came out with the Escape Hybrid, we actually tried to work with them on the launch, to do what we had done for Toyota and Honda. But the second-tier vice presidents at Ford froze us out, because they were irritated that we kept pounding for other things they were doing. So Ford didn’t really want to play ball. And they launched the Escape.

By the time they launched the Mariner a year-and-a-half later, Bill Ford had made it clear that he thought that was kind of foolish. Why not have the support of the Sierra Club? So we launched the Mariner at our Summit in San Francisco.

We actually think it is our job to try to encourage automotive innovation. The public perception is that we are all “stick,” always beating up on the auto industry. Actually, we have a robust history of trying to offer financial carrots to innovate, all of which have been rebuffed.

The auto industry has structural problems, such as legacy costs. We understand that Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler are slow to innovate for reasons that are structural as well as cultural. I would argue that there are some cultural things as well, but there are big structure impediments to rapid innovation in the American auto industry. We have repeatedly gone to them and said you need public assistance to overcome your structural impediments. We need a grand bargain. You say you’ll be accountable for innovation, and it will be the job of the government to level the playing field. They say, ‘we’ll get back to you." They never do.

BB: Other environmentalists have criticized Ford, GM, and Toyota for moving in the wrong direction on fuel economy, despite having produced hybrids.

CP: Most of these companies are deserved what they are called. Most of the companies are doing what’s being said. They are not leading. We are very unhappy with Toyota. We’ve told them that. We’ve never said that Toyota is a good guy. They have two [hybrid] models. We are trying to distinguish between praising people when they do good things. And giving them an A for effort, when they do not really deserve an A for effort. Nonetheless, if Johnny got an A on his math test, he still ought to get an A, even if I think he’s a lazy son of a bitch.

BB: When you visit the automakers, who do you meet with?

CP: At G.M., we meet at the vice president’s level. Chrysler, at the division chief’s level. Ford, we’ve met at both the vice president’s level and at the top. And with the UAW, we’ve met at the top. And what they say is yes, you are right. We will eventually start investing in catching up, but we can’t yet because this year, we have some other problem that comes first. They say yeah, but not yet. Not yet.

Read entire interview


Many hybrid drivers know there is not a single fuel economy number for their vehicle. What’s the weather been like? Have you been commuting in city traffic or taking a long trip? Who’s behind the wheel? Answers to these questions can send your mpg figures way up or way down.

This doesn’t stop people from their personal quest for their "real" mpg. is no exception.

Eight months ago, we recruited more than 300 hybrid drivers to participate in our own hybrid mileage study. We devised the test to root out as much false information as possible. To discourage boasting—of course you wouldn’t do that—the participants couldn’t see each other’s numbers. To eliminate bad math, we relied strictly on total lifetime odometer readings. We even tried to eliminate computer glitches by having some participants send paper records to back up their data entries.

Here are the highlights:

  • The average fuel economy for 47 drivers of 2004-05 Priuses was 49.95 mpg, or 9.2 percent less than EPA’s combined estimates.
  • The average fuel economy of 34 Civic Hybrid drivers was 47.36 mpg, or .8 percent more than EPA’s combined estimates.
  • Using the A/C or heater could decrease the ratio of actual to expected fuel economy by nearly 3.5 percent.
  • Adding 10,000 miles to the odometer could increase the ratio by 3 percent, suggesting a learning curve for hybrid drivers.

Our next step is to open the mileage tracking tools up to much wider sample of hybrid drivers. Mileage tracking is merely one facet of’s big push to provide a full range of tools for drivers to document their experiences and share it with others. Our May newsletter will provide more details and instructions for how you can create your own hybrid blog, upload photos, track mileage, and participate more fully in an online community of hybrid drivers.

Big thanks to Claudette Juska and Charles Griffith from the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., for their excellent work analyzing the data and creating a final report.

See more details about the mileage study.

The need for more robust battery technologies to power vehicles and their accessories prompted Environmental Defense to conduct a three-month study in 2005 to examine environmental impacts related to the extraction, manufacture, use, and disposal of nickel metal hydride batteries, as well as lithium ion—which many believe will be the battery of choice in the next five years. Environmental Defense then compared those impacts to lead acid. "Our initial conclusion is that lead is the worst, nickel is next, and lithium is the least harmful," said Karen Thomas, state policy manager at Environmental Defense.

While not nearly as dangerous as lead, nickel is not without some environmental risks, and is considered a probable carcinogen. There are also concerns about the environmental impacts of nickel mining, and apparent challenges with fully recycling the nickel used in hybrid batteries.

See the full story about hybrid battery toxicity.

Forecasting the future of hybrids is tricky business. Nobody predicted how high and fast the sales numbers would grow since hybrids were first introduced. Future predictions conjure up images of crystal balls, divining rods, and fingers held to the wind.

In February 2004, Dave Hermance, Toyota’s hybrid guru, said, "The Japan and U.S. markets are taking orders for the product at a much higher rate than expected.” Fourteen months later, in April 2005, Dieter Zetsche, DaimlerChrysler CEO said, "We underestimated the interest that Toyota and Honda hybrids would generate." In May 2005, Mary Ann Wright, Ford’s former hybrid chief, said, “Frankly, we underestimated the demand for the Escape Hybrid." As late as October 2005, Kazuo Okamato, Toyota executive vice president of R&D, was still showing surprise. He declared, "We didn’t think demand would jump like this."

Current forecasting methodologies require listening closely to statements by auto executives, but not necessary taking them at their word. Anthony Pratt, senior manager of global powertrain forecasting at J.D. Power, in an interview with, said, "A fair amount of grandstanding takes place by vehicle manufacturers.”

J.D. Power is long regarded as the gold standard of vehicle forecasting, but that does not mean the company can see into the future. “A forecast is a tool, like a compass of the general direction of the market,” said Pratt.

For details about forecasting methodology.

Here are some highlights from recent entries from our in-house Hybrid Cars’ think tank:

Walter McManus: Fuel Economy Requirements Increased for Light Trucks
"While the new rules close the SUV loophole and cover the largest SUVs (weighing 8,500 to 10,000 lbs.) for the first time, they leave in place a loophole large enough to drive a ¾-ton pickup truck through."

Felix Kramer: Plug-In Hybrids Gain Momentum Since January
"Most people noticed when the president started talking about plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs). That’s only one of many major recent developments. In the past two months; much has happened to confirm the still-growing momentum for PHEVs."

M.P. Jees: The Downside of Advanced Tech
"What about fuel cell vehicles? The government and industry is pouring billions of dollars into them, but will you or I own one in the next couple decades? Don’t bet on it. Or how about plug-in hybrids? They’re just the latest in a line of advanced tech being touted as the vehicle of tomorrow. Will they make it? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, I have sincere doubts you’re going to get 500 mpg in one, like advocates of the technology are claiming to the press (and, by extension, the Washington pols)."

Maria McLean: Still Messing with Alaska
"People at the helm of these corporations tend to forget that the environment is more than just a word….Clean air and water, as well as public land, are the right of all people—not just a handful of executives and shareholders. Who gets to decide which corporation "owns" the oil underground?"

Check out all our recent blog posts.


Well, that’s it for our green issue. You may have bought a hybrid based on environmental concerns, or perhaps that’s not your top concern. Either way, you’ll soon have the ability to maintain your own free personal blog on We are going full throttle in building community tools for you to share your experiences, post photos, track mileage, and participate in new and improved community forums. We’ll send details in our next newsletter.

Happy Driving,
Bradley Berman
[email protected]

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