IN THIS ISSUE:

New Comprehensive Guides to Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids
The HybridCars.com research team has been busy creating new online guides for the two hottest technologies in the green car world: electric cars and plug-in hybrids. We’ll tell you about our one-stop shopping pages for plug-in vehicles.

Prius Tops 2009 Fuel Economy Ratings
The 2009 Toyota Prius once again leads the efficiency pack with ratings of 48 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway. But there are two new entries on the Top 10 list: the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI and the Smart ForTwo.

Behind the Wheel: First Drives of Jetta TDI, Escalade Hybrid, and Vue Green Line Two-Mode Hybrid
In the past few weeks, we had a chance to get up-close and personal with three new advanced fuel-saving models. The results were mixed.

The Economy, a GM-Chrysler Merger and Hybrid Cars
Could a merger of Detroit companies combine resources to build a more competitive domestic program for hybrids and plug-in vehicles? See what industry insiders say.

Plug-in Pork
In the course of one week, President Bush signed a $25 billion loan for Detroit to retool for greater efficiency, and a $7,500 consumer credit for US buyers of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids—snuck in as part of the $700 billion bank bailout. Will it make a difference?

Ford’s New Smarter Hybrids
Ford showed off the upcoming 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid last week at the company’s product development center. The two main talking points? Longer all-electric distances and class-leading fuel economy. Also: Hybrid plans from Volvo and Hyundai, and Chrysler kills the Durango and Aspen Hybrids.

Plugging In Your Volt: Not With Just Any Old Cord
When you imagine plugging in an electric or plug-in hybrid car to recharge, what do you envision in your hand? A standard orange extension cord? Time to change that picture.

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Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
What a difference a month makes. In the time since our last newsletter, the American economy has gone into full meltdown. Washington started throwing taxpayers’ money at the problem—and some of it stuck to hybrid and plug-in hybrids. In a matter of days, President Bush signed over $25 billion for high-mpg retooling, and another $1 billion for plug-in car tax credits. Whether you like government bailouts or not, it’s one more sign that hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars are headed to American roadways in ever-increasing numbers. That bright future is being built day by day by today’s car companies, car buyers, and legislators. In this issue, we’ll take a look at where things stand. Thanks for tuning in.

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New Comprehensive Guides to Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids

The HybridCars.com editorial team has been busy creating new online guides for the two hottest technologies in the green car world: electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

On our electric car page, you’ll find a definition and diagram clearly comparing the attributes of gas-powered cars and electric cars—and then a complete rundown of all electric cars on the market or coming soon. The 28 electric vehicles are organized into four categories: Up and Coming, Limited Run, Low Speed/Three-Wheel, and Discontinued. We hope it provides a one-stop shop for all those hoping—some day—to buy an electric car.

Check it out:
https://www.hybridcars.com/electric-car

We took the same approach with our new Plug-in Hybrid page. We define what a plug-in hybrid is and offer a roll-over illustration so you can compare conventional hybrids to plug-in hybrids. The guide also offers the short list of plug-in hybrids that have specific release dates, an analysis of plug-in criticisms, a complete list of plug-in hybrid conversion companies, and a look at different plug-in battery strategies.

Check it out:
https://www.hybridcars.com/plug-in-hybrid-cars

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Prius Tops 2009 Fuel Economy Ratings

In mid-October, the EPA and Energy Department issued its 2009 fuel economy guide. Hybrids, once again, dominate the top of the list with five of the six most efficient vehicles. The 2009 Toyota Prius is the leader with ratings of 48 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway. There are two new entries on the Top 10 list: the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI sedan and wagon (30/41), and the Smart ForTwo convertible and coupe (33/41).

The outlines of the 2009 list give a clear picture of the most effective fuel-efficiency strategies available today: hybrid gas-electric technology is at the forefront, followed by clean diesel and small cars.

See the Top 10 List:
https://www.hybridcars.com/gas-mileage/prius-tops-2009-fuel-economy-ratings-25150.html

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Behind the Wheel: First Drives of Jetta TDI, Escalade Hybrid, and Vue Green Line Two-Mode Hybrid

Volkswagen Jetta TDI

By most accounts, clean diesel is making its run into the automotive mainstream in the United States. So, we decided to drive the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI and to judge for ourselves. We achieved 36.4 miles per gallon with the Jetta TDI in a 181-mile, mixed driving loop in an around the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. The test was composed of approximately 70 percent highway driving and 30 percent city driving. The results put this compact diesel ahead of most subcompact cars, and on par with many contemporary hybrids. The Jetta provided excellent handling and a smooth ride, in the tradition of meticulous German engineering.

The Jetta TDI’s combined benefits—high performance, high fuel economy, and small carbon footprint—come at the right price: about $22,000. That’s less than half the price of Mercedes’ Bluetec vehicles, the only other clean diesels available in all 50 states.

More:
https://www.hybridcars.com/decision-process/first-drive-2009-volkswagen-jetta-tdi-25138.html

Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

This is one really, really large vehicle. The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, which is 17 feet tall and seats eight, went on sale this past August. But unlike the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid on which it’s based, the Escalade takes no extreme measures to reduce weight and increase mileage.

The Escalade Hybrid’s truck heritage is never too far from the surface. Over the rough country road surfaces of Bear Mountain, N.Y., it was pretty obvious that this 5,700-pound vehicle had a live rear axle. The rear wheels wanted to twist and hop rather than soaking up the bumps individually. And while interior noise was commendably muffled, the ride hardly brought to mind “luxury” in the traditional sense of a fast, comfortable, elegant sedan.

After an afternoon of fairly aggressive driving, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid’s dashboard mpg display told the story: 16.3 mpg. But If you need a really big vehicle—and have a taste for luxury and the cash to match—this $70,000+ hybrid truck might be your cup of tea.

More:
https://www.hybridcars.com/vehicle/cadillac-escalade-hybrid.html

Saturn Vue Green Line Two-Mode Hybrid

HybridCars.com was able to spend almost an hour behind the wheel of the 2009 Vue Two-Mode, with lead vehicle engineer Tom Dye along for the ride. This big V6 is mated to the Two-Mode Hybrid system jointly developed by GM, Chrysler, Daimler, and BMW. The result is a compact crossover that accelerates from 0 to 60 in 7.5 seconds, can tow a 3500-pound trailer, and still returns (projected) mileage of 28 city/31 highway. (By comparison, the slower, less expensive four-cylinder Vue Hybrid returns 25 city/32 highway.)

In our short time with the Vue Two-Mode, we weren’t able to get useful mileage figures on our own; that will have to wait for a longer road test. But we did get an impression of what it’s like to drive in a variety of uses.

First, it’s heavy and solid. The standard two-wheel-drive Vue V6 is already heavy at 3,870 pounds; the Two-Mode package adds another 250 pounds on top of that. (The Vue Two-Mode isn’t offered with all-wheel-drive, unlike the Highlander Hybrid.) We experienced some road roar over the coarse surfaces on the mountain, perhaps due to the high-pressure (38 psi) in the low rolling-resistance tires. (We also heard a slight wind whistle from one window in our pre-production vehicle.) But otherwise, the car felt well screwed together, as solid as an anvil, and quiet.

When it’s running solely in electric mode (Dye estimates e-range at 0.7 or 0.8 miles), it lacks the slight whine that current hybrid owners are used to. Perhaps it’s the compact hybrid crossover for buyers who don’t want to be seen in a hybrid? Saturn hadn’t revealed pricing as of late October, but said it expects the MSRP to be “under $33,000”—meaning $35,000 to $38,000 with tax, title, and options. The Vue Two-Mode will arrive at Saturn dealerships in January and February.

More:
https://www.hybridcars.com/vehicle/saturn-vue-green-line-two-mode.html

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The Economy, a GM-Chrysler Merger and Hybrid Cars

On Oct. 10, media organizations started buzzing about a possible merger of General Motors and Chrysler. We wondered what such a merger would mean for the future of domestic hybrid and plug-in cars—so we asked a panel of auto industry analysts. Our top question: Could a merger of Detroit companies mean sharing resources to build a more competitive domestic program for hybrids and plug-in vehicles?

“I don’t think mergers between automakers are the answer for faster hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle development. Now, if one (or more) of the Detroit Three starts shopping for battery companies and brings the development of critical hybrid components in-house, then things could get really interesting. That would be a signal that they are serious about electric-drive vehicles.”
– Reid Heffner, associate, transportation practice, Booz Allen Hamilton

“A merger of Detroit companies will certainly offer intellectual capital for alternative powertrain development efforts, but you’d hope they wouldn’t be thwarted by “merger red tape” should an actual marriage occur. In 2006, GM, Daimler and BMW opened a Hybrid Development Center in Troy, Mich. While the collaborative focus was developing a two-mode hybrid system, it’s unclear how aggressive their research objectives were since we’ve not heard much about subsequent efforts.”
– Lonnie Miller, director, industry analysis, R.L. Polk & Co.

“I can’t see how it would help. Mergers of failing companies produce one big failing company.”
– Walter McManus, auto economist, University of Michigan

In late October, the news got worse for GM and its hybrid program. The company confirmed but downplayed reports that it would be cutting off nearly all product development spending for the next two years in an effort to trim as much as $1.5 billion in spending. A GM source said, “The 2009 stuff that’s too late to cancel is coming out, then everything else gets pushed out anywhere between three months and up to a year…It’s not just capital budget; it’s also engineering, design… everything that would cause money to flow out in 2009.”

The GM source added that the company’s two highest profile projects—the Volt and the Camaro—will not be affected by the cuts. Right now, the biggest casualty looks to be the Chevy Cruze sedan, which had been slated for release in the 2011 model year.

Read the complete articles:
https://www.hybridcars.com/carmakers/gm-chrysler-merger-and-hybrid-cars-25137.html
https://www.hybridcars.com/carmakers/gm-cutting-product-development-two-years-25206.html

Also:
In October, Tesla Motors acknowledged that it is losing money, struggling financially, laying off employees, and closing its Detroit-area office. At this point, fewer than 50 vehicles have been delivered to customers—and those were delayed by nearly a year after a series of key technical problems. It’s unknown how long it will take for Tesla to deliver the $109,000 Roadster to 600 customers with confirmed orders.

Get the details:
https://www.hybridcars.com/carmakers/driving-tesla-near-edge-or-over-25171.html

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Plug-in Pork

The $700 billion bailout bill signed by President Bush on Oct. 4 includes tax credits up to $7,500 for buyers of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Only one such vehicle—the Tesla Roadster—is on sale today, and volume production by other makers will not start for at least another two years. Total funding for the credits is $1 billion, and they will expire in 2014.

The goal is to help offset the high retail prices of vehicles with high-capacity—and initially very expensive—battery packs, to kick-start consumer purchases and get much thriftier vehicles on the road faster. General Motors, for example, has quoted a price of $40,000 for its compact Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid vehicle.

For qualifying light-duty plug-in electric drive vehicles, the amount of the credit is based on the energy stored in the battery. The battery pack must have at least 4 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to qualify; the base credit for a vehicle with that pack would be $2,500. The credit rises by $417 for each additional kWh, to a maximum size of 16 kWh—which is, not coincidentally, the size of the pack in the Chevrolet Volt, qualifying that car for the full $7,500 when it launches late in 2010.

The credits would begin to phase out once more than 250,000 qualifying vehicles are sold in a single calendar year.

$25B Loan, Not Bailout, to Detroit

Three days prior to the $700 billion bailout, President Bush signed a bill Tuesday that includes $25 billion in low-cost government loans for the auto industry. The idea is to allow automakers to borrow money in order to retool plants to build more advanced technology vehicles—including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and clean diesel cars—with a goal of boosting fuel efficiency by 25 percent.

The low-cost loans will carry a discounted interest rate of about 5 percent—enough to save Detroit automakers more than $100 million for each $1 billion borrowed. Otherwise, the Detroit Three would face interest rates of 15 percent or more in this banking environment. Congress also approved $7.5 billion to cover the costs of insuring the loans.

“This is not a bailout,” said Walter McManus, auto economist at the University of Michigan. “Investing in new products and technologies takes cash. Without incentives to invest in the fuel-efficient products that consumers are now demanding, Detroit will continue to spend scarce resources to sell yesterday’s products instead of developing tomorrow’s cleaner products.” Automakers have up to 25 years to repay the money.

The bill requires the Energy Department to draft final rules overseeing the loan program within 60 days of it becoming law. It also provides $10 million to hire outside consultants to help them write the rules. That process could take “six to 18 months or more,” according to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

More:
https://www.hybridcars.com/incentives-laws/congress-throws-cash-plug-hybrids-25093.html
https://www.hybridcars.com/incentives-laws/25b-loan-not-bailout-detroit-25075.html

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Ford’s New Smarter Hybrids

Ford showed off the upcoming 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid last week at the company’s product development center. Ford emphasized two main talking points for its first two hybrid sedans: (1) The Fusion Hybrid and Milan Hybrid can travel as a fast as 47 miles per hour, or as far as eight miles, solely on electric power. And (2) The hybrid sedans will offer city fuel economy of approximately 38 miles per gallon—beating the Camry Hybrid by 5 mpg.

The two hybrids will officially debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and will arrive in showrooms in Spring 2009. The engine for the Fusion and Milan hybrids is a 155-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder. With the addition of the Fusion and Milan hybrids, Ford plans to double its annual hybrid sales from 25,000 to 50,000. Currently, Ford offers hybrid versions of the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, and Mazda Tribute—all are SUVs.

More on Fusion and Milan Hybrids:

https://www.hybridcars.com/news/ford-fusion-hybrid-mercury-milan-25209.html

Volvo and Hyundai getting into Hybrid Game; Chrysler Bowing Out?

Volvo loyalists have been wondering for some time now about the Swedish carmaker’s near-term plans for producing an eco-friendly offering within its lineup. Volvo’s green campaign will begin—according to company announcements—in 2010, when the company implements micro-hybrid stop-start technology in several of its smaller gas-powered models. This would include the C30 hatchback, the S40 sedan, and the V50 wagon. Larger vehicles would receive the new system in the following year.
https://www.hybridcars.com/carmakers/volvo-hybrid-car-campaign-25121.html

Hyundai hasn’t yet put a hybrid car on the market, but the company sure is throwing around some big numbers for its hybrid program. Let’s start with 38 miles to the gallon. According to Hyundai, that’s the mileage expected from the hybrid version of the Santa Fe small SUV, on display at the recent Paris Motor Show. Perhaps the biggest number recently offered up by Hyundai is 500,000. That’s its target for annual hybrid sales by 2018, according to Brandon Yea, senior vice president for marketing.
https://www.hybridcars.com/carmakers/hyundai-plans-sell-500000-hybrids-annually-25096.html

It appears that Chrysler will discontinue the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen full-sized hybrids just two months after both vehicles began full-scale production. A company press release stated, “In response to the continuing global economic slowdown and auto industry contraction, as well as the market’s continuing movement toward smaller vehicles, Chrysler is announcing…the pull-ahead of the closure of the Newark, Del., Assembly Plant.” The release further details the Dec 31, 2008, shutdown of the plant, where both the hybrid and non-hybrid versions of these two models are built. Approximately 1,000 jobs will be lost.
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/durango-and-aspen-hybrids-killed-25192.html

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Plugging In Your Volt: Not With Just Any Old Cord

When you imagine plugging an electric or plug-in hybrid car into the wall to recharge, what do you envision in your hand? A standard orange extension cord? Time to change that picture; production electric-drive vehicles will all use a special cord, with a plug and socket on the car end unlike any you’ve seen before.

GM’s much-touted Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid will plug into a wall socket to recharge its 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack for up to 40 miles of travel solely on electricity. It may be many Americans’ first exposure in a century to cars that plug into the wall. Every car will come with its own cord, with the special plug on one end to connect to the car, and a standard three-prong plug on the other end to plug into the wall socket in your garage—or perhaps your carport.

Why is a special cable needed? There are several reasons, including predictable charging, better connections, future “smart charging”, and a desire for global standards for auto technology. All of these factors feed into a committee that has been working since August 2006 to agree on the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J1772 standard, which defines the mechanical and electric specifications for the plug and socket to be used in plug-in hybrid and electric-drive cars. It includes shock protections and an interlock to prevent driving away with the cord in place, and specifies that the equipment must last for at least 10,000 charge cycles. GM is one of several “very active” parties in developing this standard.

See photos and read more (including info about the big vision for smart charging):
https://www.hybridcars.com/technology/plugging-your-volt-not-just-any-old-cord-25203.html

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WRAP-UP

Exciting and troubling times, for sure. I hope our humble hybrid car newsletter provides a little help in putting it all into perspective. Thanks for giving it a read.
Happy Driving,
Bradley Berman