~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0053 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [[email protected]]
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IN THIS ISSUE:

Three News Flashes:
Chevy Volt is headed to California first. Hyundai has the most efficient fleet. German hybrids arrive with big engines and big price tags.

Top 7 Aftermarket MPG-Boosting Prius Accessories
The recent annual SEMA show, the ultimate pimp-your-ride Las Vegas extravaganza, got us thinking about what aftermarket products make sense for our mild-mannered hybrids.

The Tale of Three Detroit Electric Car Programs
Chrysler is killing its dedicated electric car program. General Motors is moving forward with its sleek electric-drive Caddy. What do these tell us about Detroit’s prospects in the bold new era of EVs and plug-in hybrids?

Nissan Leaf Updates
The national tour for the all-electric Nissan Leaf continues to make its way across the country. We were able to see the five-seat, 100-mile-range car and confirm a few key points.

Can Coal-Powered Cars Be Clean?
Skeptics of plug-in cars point out that swapping oil-based gasoline for coal-based electricity just moves pollution around, without reducing it much if at all. They are only half-right.

Aptera’s Uncertain Future, Foretold by Buckminster Fuller
Does the futuristic Aptera three-wheeled vehicle have a chance to succeed in the real-world market? Or is it destined to become another futuristic, but entirely impractical vehicle?

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Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
Evolution or revolution? Which will move the needle more for cars that have less impact on the environment? Many would argue that hybrid gas-electric cars like the Toyota Prius still use gasoline and are therefore more evolutionary than revolutionary. Yet, hybrids have not yet broken past about 3 percent of the market. Meanwhile, pure electric cars that never use a drop of gasoline might be considered revolutionary. How long will it take for pure electric cars to become as popular as today’s hybrids? And what will the transition mean for global car companies and for the environment? These questions provide the context for evaluating the flood of news stories about electric drive vehicles, which we examine in this issue of our newsletter. Enjoy.

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Volt in California, Hyundai’s Fleet, German Hybrids
First Flash: GM unveiled the production version of the Chevy Volt at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show. The company confirmed that the plug-in hybrid—with an anticipated 40 miles of all-electric range—would first be offered in California. That means limited availability in many parts of the country for the next couple of years. Why would GM limit the distribution of its star green car?

The answer came from Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman. He said that most Americans would not be willing to spend the premium of thousands of dollars for an electric car, and said the total market for plug-in vehicles by 2015 would be about 3 percent of auto sales.

Second Flash: Instead of aiming for one super-green car with ground-breaking mpg, Hyundai has managed to nudge up the average mpg of its entire fleet. In fact, the Korean automaker now is the most fuel-efficient automaker in America. That’s according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest annual fuel economy report. In lab tests to determine combined city-highway fuel economy of cars and trucks, Hyundai’s fleet achieved 30.1 miles per gallon. The runner-up carmakers in the EPA’s 2009 list of top five fuel-efficient carmakers are Honda (29.7 mpg), Volkswagen (29.6 mpg), Toyota (29.4 mpg), and Kia (28.0 mpg.)

Third Flash: Ten years after the first hybrids hit US roads, BMW and Mercedes both announced pricing for their first gas-electric hybrids arriving in showrooms this month. The BMW ActiveHybrid X6 will sell for $89,725. The Mercedes ML 450 Hybrid will only be offered on a lease of $659 a month for 36 months, or $549 a month for 60 months. And the 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V8 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7, billed as the most powerful hybrid sedan, will be priced from $103,125. It screams onto roads next spring.

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Top 7 Aftermarket MPG-Boosting Prius Accessories
https://www.hybridcars.com/decision-process/top-7-aftermarket-mpg-boosting-prius-accessories-26229.html

The annual SEMA show, the ultimate pimp-your-ride Las Vegas extravaganza, wrapped up last month. The crazy body mods, garish oversized wheels, onboard big-screen TVs, and high-horsepower antics got us thinking about what aftermarket products make sense for our mild-mannered hybrids.

As you might expect, boosting mileage is the name of the game. But looking a bit cooler, and easier access to your iPod, are not out of the question. We compiled seven nominees for the top hybrid accessories—some of which were slammed as useless by our readers. Two that were better received:

EV Button – $69
The Prius “Electric-Only Mode” option package is available for second generation Priuses, from 2004 to 2009. (The 2010 model comes standard with the EV button.) This replica of the OEM option—which was a de facto feature of Priuses in Japan but was disabled in North America—can be installed in minutes. Activating the EV mode via the button will put older models into gas-free EV mode for small stretches. The overall boost in mileage is modest, but it gives you a sweet taste of things to come from plug-in hybrids.

Kiwi Diagnostics Game – $289
If information is power, then the Kiwi is omnipotent for a hybrid. The Kiwi device plugs right into your existing onboard diagnostic port near your steering column in a matter of seconds. Once installed, the Kiwi works like a game—rewarding you for sensible driving and observing the speed limit, and penalizing you (and your mileage score) for jackrabbit starts, excessive speed, and heavy braking. Think of it as a more useful and engaging screen than the one supplied by Toyota. By some estimates, playing the Kiwi mpg game can save you hundreds of dollars at the pumps.

Details and photos:
https://www.hybridcars.com/decision-process/top-7-aftermarket-mpg-boosting-prius-accessories-26229.html

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The Tale of Three Detroit Electric Car Programs
https://www.hybridcars.com/economics/tale-three-detroit-electric-car-programs-26225.html

This piece is excerpted from my recent op-ed in the Detroit Free Press.

Last month, Chrysler Spokesman Nick Cappa said that its in-house team of electric car development engineers had been disbanded and will be folded into the company’s org chart. This announcement comes three months after Chrysler took $70 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a test fleet of 220 hybrid pickup trucks and minivans. It comes less than a year after Chrysler built its case for federal aid—it received $12.5 billion—by showing flashy designs of electric sports cars, trucks and vans, and promising 500,000 battery-powered vehicles on the road by 2013.

With a swipe of his wrist, FIAT-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne cast aside Chrysler’s EV plans—commenting that batteries aren’t ready, the market is minuscule, and “electric vehicles are going to struggle.” In an era when green is the new black, the breakup of the company’s hybrid and electric car team is a public relations blunder.

General Motors, on the other hand, knows about such blunders—but has learned the lesson too well. After the infamous killing of the EV1, and years of dismissing hybrids as “making no economic sense,” the company is now using its forthcoming star car, the Chevy Volt, as a poster child for all things green and good. GM’s Volt program is tremendous and deserves due recognition as a major achievement. Kudos. Yet, the company continues to turn up the brightness of the klieg lights—now reaching a blinding level. For example, GM’s recent national Volt advertising campaign—promising 230 miles to the gallon—does more to obfuscate than to elucidated.

The publicity is working. The latest example is news that the company has given a green light to produce the Cadillac Converj, a slick electric coupe unveiled in concept form at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. As cool as the car looks, the news flash—picked up by major media outlets and the blogosphere alike—is all about marketing. “Cadillac needs as much excitement in its portfolio as possible, so I think it’s a good strategy for them,” Rebecca Lindland, director of auto industry research at IHS Global Insight, told the Detroit News. Bingo.

Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a Detroit auto company that saw the value of electric-drive vehicles (unlike Chrysler), and (unlike GM) was modestly going about producing common-sense, affordable electric cars and plug-in hybrids on existing global scalable platforms? Maybe something like an electric version of a practical, mild-mannered Ford Focus, or a plug-in hybrid variant of a small crossover Escape? No super fanfare. No rumors of slick, expensive future EVs that may or may not come. No Hail Mary passes. No bloated promises in exchange for handouts from American taxpayers.

That’s what Ford is doing, again proving that it’s moving in the right direction—not only for consumer value and profitability, but for the future of Detroit, the U.S. economy and Planet Earth.

Read full article:
https://www.hybridcars.com/economics/tale-three-detroit-electric-car-programs-26225.html

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Nissan Leaf Updates
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/nissan-leaf-details-revealed-national-tour-26258.html

The national tour for the all-electric Nissan Leaf continues to make its way across the country. We were able to see the five-seat, 100-mile-range car yesterday in Walnut Creek, Calif.—a few days before it arrived at the 2009 San Francisco International Auto Show. This gave us an opportunity to confirm a few key points, and discover one or two others.

Priced Like Fully Loaded Prius
The Nissan Leaf’s price—still not official—will be “about the same as a fully loaded Toyota Prius,” which means low-$30,000s. Only one package will be available, also fully loaded.

Battery Leasing
No definite word yet on battery leasing, but it looks likely. In other words, a portion of the purchase price will come off the top, and be financed in a lease to cover the 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack. The goal is to alleviate consumer concerns about battery longevity. If anything goes wrong with the leased battery, Nissan owns it—so the company replaces it.

Pre-Order in February. Wait for a Year.
Pre-orders, with a “modest” deposit, will begin about February 2010. The first 5,000 cars go to the five markets participating in a Department of Energy project: Phoenix/Tucson, San Diego, Portland/Salem/Eugene (Ore.), Seattle, and Nashville/Knoxville. Folks in other markets will have wait until 2011. At that point, customers with deposits will take their first test drive, and decide whether or not to complete the transaction.

Learn more:
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/nissan-leaf-details-revealed-national-tour-26258.html

Also check out “A Boring Conversation about the Nissan Leaf:”
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/boring-conversation-about-nissan-leaf-26272.html

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Can Coal-Powered Cars Be Clean?
https://www.hybridcars.com/environment/can-coal-powered-cars-be-clean-26233.html

Skeptics of plug-in cars point out that swapping oil-based gasoline for coal-based electricity just moves pollution around, without reducing it much if at all. Indeed, half of U.S. electricity still comes from coal. That’s an improvement from decades past, when coal’s share of power generation was near 60 percent. States such as California, a long-time booster of cars that can run on electricity and other alt fuels, have cleaner power than average. Nonetheless, per unit of energy delivered to a car’s tank or battery, even California electricity, entails more greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum fuel. On a national average, BTU-per-BTU basis, electricity is 1.7 times as planet-polluting as gasoline.

But that’s only half the story. As any EV buff will righteously—and rightly—assert, electric drive is far more efficient than an internal combustion engine.

Perhaps the best apples-to-apples comparison is provided by the Mini Cooper electric and gasoline stablemates. When we ran the math, we learned that under average U.S. conditions, replacing a gasoline mile with an electric mile cuts global warming pollution in half.

Check out our detailed calculations:
https://www.hybridcars.com/environment/can-coal-powered-cars-be-clean-26233.html

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Aptera’s Uncertain Future, Foretold by Buckminster Fuller
https://www.hybridcars.com/history/aptera-uncertain-future-foretold-buckminster-fuller-26235.html

Does the futuristic Aptera three-wheeled vehicle have a chance to succeed in the real-world market? Or is it destined to become another futuristic, but entirely impractical vehicle, much like Buckminster Fuller’s 1933 three-wheeled Dymaxion Car?

The Aptera 2e and 2h—all-electric and plug-in versions, respectively—earned an almost cult-like following nearly from the moment the first images of the vehicle hit the web in 2007. The vehicle, something like a cross between a motorcycle and an ultralight single-occupant airplane, garnered tens of millions of dollars of investment, thousands of $500 deposits, and innovation awards and cover shots from prestigious publications. The Aptera’s lightweight, aerodynamic design, and electric drive, promised hundreds of miles per gallon. But in recent days, it appears that the visionary reach of its founders may have exceeded their grasp.

Wired.com, the Los Angeles Times, and the unofficial online Aptera Forum reporting a few weeks ago that founders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony were ousted from the company over a dispute with Paul Wilber, the CEO hired to run the company in 2008. Apparently, the founders wanted to push the vehicle into production ASAP as a way to generate cash for the struggling company, while Wilber insisted on modifications to satisfy the needs of real-world customers. For example, Wilber reportedly wanted the Aptera to have windows that could roll down, instead of the fixed windows built into the gull-wing doors.

More than 70 years ago, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Car held similar promise. Like the Aptera, the Dymaxion was built as a lightweight, aerodynamic, tear-shaped vehicle with excellent fuel efficiency. It got 30 miles per gallon—an amazing achievement for a car 20 feet in length with capability to carry 11 passengers. Fuller found an angel investor who helped him build a couple of prototypes, which were fawned over by the media and celebrities. However, an accident at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, damaged the first prototype badly, killing the driver and the prospects of a production version.

The Dymaxion is now considered an oddball of automotive history—but it’s credited as the inspiration for many streamlined aerodynamic designs that would follow, including the Aptera. Hopefully, Aptera and its founders will bounce back. But regardless of the fate of Aptera 2e, it has already earned its place in history alongside Buckminster Fuller’s creation—as an inspiration for what car designers might achieve with innovative body design, propulsion system, and fresh ideas.

Read more:
https://www.hybridcars.com/history/aptera-uncertain-future-foretold-buckminster-fuller-26235.html

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WRAP-UP
Thanks for checking out this month’s newsletter. Next month, we’ll take a look back at 2009’s top stories. It was a crazy year of ups and downs in the hybrid world. And we’ll glance forward to 2010, the beginning of the second decade of hybrid cars in the United States. The green car revolution is only beginning.

Happy Driving,
Bradley Berman
[email protected]