~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0056 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [[email protected]]

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IN THIS ISSUE:

Prius Runaway Story Raises Suspicion
Should Prius drivers be alarmed by the recent story of a man and his runaway Prius in San Diego. Or is he the latest balloon boy?

Toyota Confirms US Launch of Compact Lexus Hybrid
In recent weeks, Toyota officials confirmed that the Lexus CT 200h, a premium hybrid hatchback, and the RAV4 Hybrid are both coming soon.

VW Promises to Lead on Hybrids and Electric Cars
After years of arguing that clean diesel is a better efficiency strategy compared to hybrids, Volkswagen is aiming to “take the hybrid out of its niche status.” Audi plug-in hybrids and EVs are also on VW’s roadmap.

Geography, Oil and the Coda Electric Car
Fans of electric vehicles might celebrate Coda’s independent approach—but that’s being undermined by questions about the manufacturing origins of the Coda all-electric sedan.

Honda’s Hybrid Comeback: Hybrid Minivans and SUVs
Big is big again. Honda is developing a hybrid system suitable for larger cars such as the Odyssey minivan the Pilot sports utility vehicle.

BMW Moves Methodically Toward Electric Cars
BMW is developing the knowledge and capacity to deliver a small all-electric car by 2013. The company’s next test platform is the ActiveE, an all-electric version of the 1-series.

Report: GM Drops Cadillac Converj to Focus on Cheaper Plug-In Hybrids
General Motors stopped work on the Cadillac Converj, a sleek electric-drive coupe, to focus on cheaper plug-in hybrids for its luxury brand. What does that say about battery cost?

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Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
Despite the media hysteria associated with new reports of Prius unintended acceleration, the auto industry is picking up the pace for production of future hybrids and electric-drive vehicles. We’ve been tracking the exciting and overwhelming number of product announcements. Shameless promotion: If you like the service we’ve been providing, please vote for HybridCars.com as the “Best Transportation Website” in TreeHugger’s “Best of Green” Awards:

http://www.treehugger.com/best-of-green/cars-transportation/index.php

FYI. You can vote once a day from now through April 2. Thanks!

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Prius Runaway Story Raises Suspicion
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/prius-runaway-story-raises-suspicion-27469.html

James Sikes, a 61-year-old San Diego-based real estate executive, made national news last week when he claimed that his 2008 Toyota Prius sped out of control on California’s Interstate 8. Sikes said, “I pushed the gas pedal to pass a car and it did something kind of funny…it jumped and it just stuck there.” Speaking at a news conference, Sikes said, “I was trying the brakes…it wasn’t stopping, it wasn’t doing anything and it just kept speeding up.” The story was picked up by major national media and ricocheted around the Internet.

According to Sikes, he was unable to shift into neutral, power down the car, or apply the parking brake—but he did manage to call 911. While Sikes was on the call, which lasted 23 minutes, a California Highway Patrol officer raced to the side of the speeding car. The patrolman used a loudspeaker to advise Sikes to apply the parking brake and foot brake simultaneously, and thereby successfully stopped the car. There are conflicting reports about whether or not Sikes tried to put the Prius into neutral during the early part of the incident.

James Sikes was identified in a 2006 newspaper story as a longtime lottery player who won $55,000 and auditioned to appear on a California Lottery TV game show. Another report indicates that Sikes filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2008, and faced federal and state tax liens.

Toyota dispatched a field technical specialist to San Diego to investigate the report and offer assistance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also examined the Prius. So far, there’s no conclusive evidence of a technical problem with the vehicle. As the story rippled throughout the Internet, web readers repeatedly expressed doubts about the veracity of Sikes’s story.

Read the whole story, watch the video, and share your assessment:
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/prius-runaway-story-raises-suspicion-27469.html

Also check out:
Hysteria Trumps Reason in Prius Acceleration Story
https://www.hybridcars.com/safety/hysteria-trumps-reason-prius-acceleration-story-27481.html

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Toyota Confirms US Launch of Compact Lexus Hybrid
https://www.hybridcars.com/vehicle/lexus-ct250h.html
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/toyota-confirms-rav4-hybrid-27338.html

Toyota officials confirmed that the Lexus CT 200h, a premium hybrid hatchback, is coming to the United States, according to a report in Automotive News. The CT 200h would be Lexus’s first compact car, and the first compact hybrid sold by Toyota in the U.S.

The car was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month, but until recently the company insisted that the compact hybrid would be sold only in Europe. According to Automotive News, Lexus executives pleaded with Japan to bring to the car to the U.S.—partly in hopes that the smaller Lexus would appeal to a younger demographic. “When the all-new Lexus CT 200h enters the market it will be the only hybrid vehicle in the emerging premium compact segment,” said Mark Templin, Lexus Division group vice president and general manager.

The recipe for the CT 200h is to place a Prius-type hybrid system—featuring a 1.8-liter gas engine with variable valve timing, and energy storage with a nickel-metal hydride battery pack—into small relatively affordable premium compact car. While fuel economy numbers have not been announced, the CT 200h’s small size and aerodynamics should push its mileage ahead of the 50-mpg 2010 Toyota Prius, currently the highest rated car for mpg.

Toyota is not stopping there. A few weeks ago, UK’s Autocar website reported that Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motors Sales, confirmed development of a hybrid gas-electric version of the company’s RAV4 crossover SUV. Lentz added that Toyota’s 1.8-liter hybrid system will become the company’s “core powertrain.” The RAV4 Hybrid is due in spring 2012, but only the five-door model will get the hybrid option.

There are also rumors that the Toyota Auris Hybrid, a small hybrid hatchback built on the Scion xB platform, will head to the US.

Get the details:
https://www.hybridcars.com/vehicle/lexus-ct250h.html
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/toyota-confirms-rav4-hybrid-27338.html

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Your Support
Check out the Hybrid Cars Store for hybrid accessories:
http://store.hybridcars.com

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VW Promises to Lead on Hybrids and Electric Cars
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/vw-promises-lead-hybrids-and-evs-27370.html

After years of arguing that clean diesel is a better efficiency strategy compared to hybrids, Volkswagen is switching gears. In a statement issued on the eve of the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, Martin Winterkorn, VW chairman of the board, said, “We will take the hybrid out of its niche status with our high-volume models. In the future, the heart of the brand will also beat with electricity.”

VW’s Electric-Drive Roll Out

* A hybrid Jetta will be offered in the US in 2012
* In August 2013, the Passat Hybrid will be introduced, followed by a Golf Hybrid two months later
* Starting in 2013, VW will begin rolling out pure electric cars, starting with the e-up! minicar, followed by an all-electric Golf, and other electric vehicles yet to be named
* VW’s luxury brand Audi will also launch hybrids, beginning with an Audi Q5 Hybrid in early 2011, and a limited introduction of the electric e-tron in 2012

The Volkswagen press release states: “Starting in 2013, the high-volume Golf and Jetta models of the Volkswagen brand are expected to dominate the hybrid and electric vehicle market.”

Read more:
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/vw-promises-lead-hybrids-and-evs-27370.html

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Geography, Oil and the Coda Electric Car
https://www.hybridcars.com/economics/geography-oil-and-coda-electric-car-27380.html

The Coda all-electric sedan, due late this year, is the underdog in the race for an affordable mass-market pure electric car. As a start-up, it doesn’t have the financial and marketing resources that Nissan and General Motors are putting behind the Leaf and Volt. Unlike Tesla and Fisker, Coda hasn’t received big government loans. So, Coda is playing the role of a small, smart and scrappy start-up electric car company, using every means possible to bring a practical, petroleum-free car to the United States.

Fans of electric vehicles, and supporters of good old-fashioned American entrepreneurialism, might celebrate Coda’s rugged and independent approach—but that’s being undermined by questions about the manufacturing origins of the Coda sedan. Critics say the car is manufactured in China, so it’s a Chinese car. Full stop. Forget for a moment that nearly every manufactured good we use today comes from China. An analysis of the nationality of the Coda is complex—considering the global nature of the automotive industry.

Where does the Code really come from? Connect the dots:

* The car is adapted from a gas-powered car from Chinese state-owned Hafei Motor Co. The chassis of that car was licensed from Japan’s Mitsubishi.
* The Coda visual design comes from Pininfarina, the legendary Italian sports car designer. Coda’s U.S. engineers put in more changes to meet U.S. performance and safety specs. Other design aspects came from global automakers, such as Porsche.
* About 40 percent of the components in the car, when measured by monetary value, come from U.S. manufacturers, such as Borg Warner.
* The battery inside Coda’s sedan comes from a joint venture owned by Coda and China’s Tianjin Lishen Battery Co. The electronics for thermal and battery management of the pack were designed and will be produced in the U.S. and shipped to Asia.
* The car will be built on assembly lines in China, with Coda engineers remaining full-time on the manufacturing floor to oversee production.

Read about the balancing act between U.S. Jobs and U.S. Oil Independence:
https://www.hybridcars.com/economics/geography-oil-and-coda-electric-car-27380.html

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Honda’s Hybrid Comeback: Hybrid Minivans and SUVs
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/honda-hybrid-comeback-hybrid-minivans-and-suvs-27277.html

Honda unveiled a sleeker, more stylish Odyssey minivan concept at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show in February. New design elements could appear in the 2011 Odyssey. Within three years, Honda could produce a hybrid gas-electric version of the minivan.

Honda is developing a hybrid system suitable for larger cars such as the Odyssey minivan the Pilot sports utility vehicle. Tomohiko Kawanabe, Honda’s chief operating officer for automobile research and development, today told Reuters, “We’ve left the research stage and entered the field of development.” Kawanabe said these vehicles could hit the U.S. market in about three years.

Honda took an early lead in hybrid development about a decade ago, but has fallen behind Toyota and Ford in the race for appealing, fuel-efficient, gas-electric vehicles. Honda has been advocating a two-part efficiency strategy: diesel vehicles for larger vehicles and hybrids for cars. However, it appears that the company might be flipping that strategy by producing larger hybrids for the U.S. market and diesels with smaller engines for Europe and Asia.

The prospect of a full range of Honda hybrids, especially a Honda hybrid minivan, is expected to be well-received by hybrid fans. Toyota’s recent quality problems could create an opportunity for Honda to become competitive with hybrids. If Honda can succeed, a new level playing field for hybrids could emerge, with Toyota, Ford, Honda, General Motors and Nissan going head-to-head with electric-drive vehicles.

Read more:
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/honda-hybrid-comeback-hybrid-minivans-and-suvs-27277.html

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BMW Moves Methodically Toward Electric Cars
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/bmw-moves-methodically-toward-electric-cars-27323.html

One step at a time—slowly but surely—BMW is developing the knowledge and capacity to deliver a small all-electric car by 2013. In 2009, the company began leasing an electric two-passenger version of the Mini Cooper to about 600 drivers in California, New York, and New Jersey. That program was designed to help BMW learn about real-world driving and charging experiences.

Beginning in 2011, a similar number of drivers will lease BMW’s next electric test vehicle, the four-passenger ActiveE—essentially an electric-drive version of the BMW 1-series. The ActiveE will allow the company to further refine the requirements for a line of large-volume future electric cars, as part of its “Megacity” project. That name, the current working title for its 2013 small electric car, is based on the idea of targeting urban commuters in, well, megacities. Although the ActiveE will cleverly package the power electronics to allow for a decent sized trunk, the Megacity is expected to be a four-seat, three-door hatchback—similar in size to a Honda Fit.

The ActiveE puts out 125 kilowatts (170 horsepower), a similar amount of power as found on other 1-series Bimmers. The ActiveE’s 32-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack is slightly smaller than the Mini E’s. All of the vehicles apparently are targeting about 100 miles of range on a single charge—although aggressive driving and cold weather conditions have reduced the Mini E’s range by 20 or 30 miles according to multiple reports from drivers.

BMW appears to be very serious and specific about its electric car program. For example, the company yesterday announced it will use its plant in Lepzig to produce the electric vehicles. The inside story is that BMW executives believe that zero-emission electric cars, and fuel cells for that matter, are a must—that is, if the company is going to meet stricter guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s major global auto markets.

Learn more:
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/bmw-moves-methodically-toward-electric-cars-27323.html

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Report: GM Drops Cadillac Converj to Focus on Cheaper Plug-In Hybrids
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/report-gm-drops-cadillac-converj-focus-cheaper-plug-hybrids-27366.html

Bloomberg is reporting that General Motors stopped work on the Cadillac Converj, a sleek electric-drive coupe, to focus on cheaper plug-in hybrids for its luxury brand. The report is based on comments from two GM executives who asked not to be identified because the details aren’t public.

The decision, if verified by GM, represents an acknowledgement of the high cost of producing plug-in hybrids that run for long distances without using any gasoline—rather than the type of plug-in hybrids that can use smaller and therefore less expensive battery packs. The Cadillac Converj was intended to follow the design of the Chevy Volt—referred to as an extended-range electric vehicle or plug-in series hybrid—which runs up to 40 miles before the gas engine is used to maintain the vehicle’s range.

Cost is a major factor. GM has insisted that 40 miles of range, without using a single drop of gasoline, is critical. However, Toyota plans to offer a plug-in version of the Prius with about 13 miles of all-electric range, and Ford’s Escape Plug-in Hybrid will provide around 30 electric miles—with both vehicles expected to put the internal combustion engine to some use throughout the drive cycle, if it means overall greater efficiency. This approach is sometimes called a “blended” strategy. GM’s own plug-in hybrid SUV in the works is reportedly aiming for approximately 10 miles of electric-only range.

“The future lies in plug-in hybrids with smaller electric range,” Eric Noble, president of CarLab, an Orange, California-based automotive consultant, told Bloomberg. Dropping the Converj is “a tacit admission from GM that they over-batteried the Volt.”

Additional info:
https://www.hybridcars.com/news/report-gm-drops-cadillac-converj-focus-cheaper-plug-hybrids-27366.html

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WRAP-UP
Add up all these stories and you get a pretty impressive array of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs in the coming years. Bring it on!

Don’t forget to vote for HybridCars.com as the “Best Transportation Website” in TreeHugger’s “Best of Green” Awards:
http://www.treehugger.com/best-of-green/cars-transportation/index.php

Thanks and Happy Driving,
Bradley Berman
[email protected]