First Look: 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid

By dancurranjr On September 22nd, 2008

The Toyota Camry has been America’s best-selling car for years now and for 2009, Toyota apparently has invoked the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it clause. After all, the Camry was redesigned for 2007—and then beat the competition to become our 2007 Car of the Year—so its looks are still fresh and its technology is still relatively cutting-edge.

The biggest difference you’ll notice on the 2009 Camry is that the CE trim level has been dropped. The entry-level Camry is now simply the Camry, with the LE as a mid-level package, the SE in sport trim, and the XLE as the premium brew. Of course, there is also the Camry Solara for those who want two doors and a drop top (the Solara coupe has been discontinued for 2009) and the Camry Hybrid for those looking to be even more eco-friendly or just to save at the pump via its 33/34-mpg city/highway mileage rating.

In addition to plenty of space for five passengers, the Camry also can hold a good amount of gear. The base Camry has 15 cu ft of trunk space, while the SE and XLE get 14.5 cu ft. The Camry Hybrid uses some of that cargo area to house the hybrid hardware, resulting in a 10.6-cu-ft trunk. Warranty coverage is standard Toyota—a 3-year/36,000-mile comprehensive warranty, 5-year/60,000 powertrain warranty, and 5-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion-perforation coverage.

Pricing for the Camry is competitive. The base model with a four-cylinder engine and manual trans starts at $19,145 while the V-6 automatic XLE runs $28,695. The Camry Hybrid drops in slightly below the XLE at $26,150. Reasonable pricing such as this is part of the reason why the Camry continues to reign as the king of family haulers.

The Toyota Camry remains America’s best-selling midsize car, in a segment that has been steadily gaining competitors. Camry is available in four-cylinder and V6 models, and as the Camry Hybrid, equipped with Toyota’s industry-leading Hybrid Synergy Drive.

For 2009 the CE grade is replaced by the Camry grade. The Camry is now available in Camry, LE, SE, and XLE grades.

Source: MotorTrend

Spy Photos of the New Electric BMW Mini

By dancurranjr On September 22nd, 2008

These are CAR’s first spy pictures of the electric Mini – the miserly mini that will help BMW meet tough new American regulations requiring car makers selling vehicles in California also to offer zero-emission vehicles by 2012.

Our scoop photographer snapped the Mini out testing on the roads around Munich. And it wasn’t difficult for our man to spot the battery-powered Mini; apart from its telling lack of exhaust pipes, those ‘Hybrid Test Vehicle’ decals slapped all over the car were a bit of a giveaway…

It’s understood that BMW boss Norbert Reithofer will unveil the battery Mini at the 2008 Los Angeles motor show in November – the perfect location for the car’s public debut.

There’s still no word on the Mini’s electric drive system, but one insider claimed it was significant that BMW was using the front-drive Mini as a testbed for its electric drive system, rather than any rear-drive BMW models.

When can I buy an electric Mini?
Hold your horses. Mini will produce 500 electric Minis as part of its radical ‘Project i’ programme initiated to rethink low-emissions urban mobility (see the forthcoming November 2008 issue of CAR Magazine for full details on this innovative project, out on Wednesday 24 September 2008).

Mini plans to lease 490 of the cars by the end of 2009 to selected members of the public, with the remainder set aside for show and exhibition work.

So I can’t buy one in the UK?
Sadly not. At least not for now. The electric Minis are being built at the Oxford, UK plant without engine, transmission or fuel tanks before being shipped to Munich where they are being fitted with their electric innards.

All the cars will have a bespoke paint job – a silver body with a yellow roof. Not quite Duracell battery colours, but close enough.

Commenting on the Mini project, Reithofer said: ‘This step will allow the BMW Group to gain an initial knowledge of how mobility can be achieved efficiently using electrically powered vehicles.

‘Our task here is to combine the ultimate driving experience with an efficient electrified drive with practically no emissions.’

Despite the electric Minis being a sop to the Californian legislators, we can’t help feeling it’s a useful testbed for BMW’s future electric car plans.

Source: Car Magazine

BMW 750i Active-Hybrid

By dancurranjr On September 22nd, 2008

While we’re still trying to figure out what’s so efficient and ‘hybridish’ about a saloon the size of the 7-Series that’s equipped with a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 petrol engine, let us tell you that 7-Series ActiveHybrid concept car that will make its debut at the Paris Show in October previews BMW’s first production hybrid model that’s set to go on sale this time next year. Largely based on the new 750i, the ActiveHybrid is equipped with the same mild hybrid system as the Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHYBRID. And if you’re wondering why, the system was co-developed by BMW, Merc and GM.

The 7-Series ActiveHybrid uses the 750i’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine that delivers 407 HP with peak torque of 600 Nm or 442 lb-ft combined with an electric motor fully integrated in the transmission housing, developing maximum output of 15 kW/20 hp and peak torque of 210 Newton-metres/155 lb-ft (just like in the case of Merc’s S400 BlueHYBRID).

Electric power is provided by BMW’s latest variant of Brake Energy Regeneration. The energy generated this way is then stored in a high-performance lithium-ion battery. But unlike Mercedes which managed to house the battery in the engine compartment, BMW integrated it in the luggage compartment. As with most BMW’s today, the ActiveHYBRID also features an auto-start-stop function that prevents the combustion engine from running in the idle mode.

BMW has yet to announce official performance or consumption figures for the 7-Series ActiveHYBRID, but the Bavarian automaker did say that the drivetrain technology featured in the concept car combines enhanced driving dynamics together with a reduction of fuel consumption and emissions by 15 per cent in the EU test cycle versus the conventional 750i.

Source: CarScoop

Study Shows Parallels Between European, U.S. Hybrid Needs

By dancurranjr On September 22nd, 2008

A new Harris Interactive study has uncovered significant consumer demand for energy efficient technologies in the automotive sector in Europe. Comparison research in the U.S. mimics this trend.

Figures from the annual AutoTECHCAST Europe study, undertaken by global market research organization Harris Interactive, reveal that 20 percent of Europeans are very or extremely likely to purchase a vehicle that has plug-in hybrid technology, not taking into account estimated market prices.

The Harris Interactive AutoTECHCAST U.S. study evaluates similar domestic consumer trends and provides comparison data for marketers and manufacturers seeking to better understand key differences (and important similarities) in U.S. and European consumer markets.

The study reveals that 30 percent of European consumers who are likely to purchase the plug-in hybrid technology in their next vehicle expect to charge it at least once a day or more. Once the vehicle is plugged in, they expect to charge it for around 5.1 hours. A similar study in the U.S. shows that Americans expect to charge their vehicles slightly more often than their European counterparts – 56 percent anticipated charging their car at least once daily and for approximately 6 hours at a time.

The convenience of plugging in a vehicle every night instead of filling it up at the gas station every week is very appealing to plug-in hybrid considerers, with 72 percent of respondents in Europe preferring the plug-in option.

The study also highlights that further consideration is needed of the infrastructure required to support a population of plug-in hybrid vehicles. Among the European consumers surveyed, 21 percent of those considering buying a plug-in hybrid indicate that they currently park on the street when at home.

In addition to the plug-in hybrid engine, Europeans also show significant interest in the Start-Stop System1 technology. Before market prices are brought into the equation, approximately a quarter (27 percent) of those surveyed said they would be very or extremely likely to purchase the Start-Stop System technology for their next vehicle.

Source: Search

The Volt Isn’t A Prius. It Might Even Be Better

By dancurranjr On September 18th, 2008

The Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius look a lot alike, but they are fundamentally different cars that blaze separate paths toward the inevitable electrification of the automobile. And while the Prius is the world’s most-popular hybrid and the poster child for green(er) motoring, the Volt is more technologically advanced.

The Prius, like the Honda Civic Hybrid and the forthcoming Insight, is a parallel hybrid that uses both an electric motor and a gasoline engine to drive the wheels. It is designed to deliver optimal fuel economy at low speed or in stop-and-go traffic, when the electric motor does all the work. At highway speeds, it’s just another fossil-fuel burner, albeit one that gets 45 mpg and emits less CO2 than almost anything else on the road.

The Volt, which General Motors finally unveiled Tuesday, is a series hybrid, also called a range-extended electric vehicle. Like the Prius, it’s got an electric motor and a gasoline engine, but the engine merely charges the battery as it approaches depletion. Electricity alone turns the 17-inch wheels. The Volt is designed to travel 40 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery, meaning most drivers will never burn a drop of gasoline.

Assuming it works, of course.

GM is confident it will, and it’s given 700 people — many of them veterans of the groundbreaking EV1 electric car GM unceremoniously killed in 1994 2003 — a blank check to make sure the Volt is in showrooms by the end of 2010. The company reportedly will spend $400 to $500 million on the project during the next two years. “We can do anything we want to make this happen,” Andrew Farah, the Volt’s chief engineer and a veteran of the EV1, tells us. Many industry analysts and battery experts say it’ll be close, but GM almost certainly will meet that deadline.

“GM is staking its reputation on the Volt working and it’s spent a lot of money to make sure it will work,” says Mike Omotoso of JD Power & Associates. “I think they’ll be able to mass produce them by 2010.”

The heart of the car is a T-shaped 16-kilowatt-hour battery comprised of 220 lithium-ion cells and a 111-kilowatt (150-horsepower) electric motor good for a top speed of 100 mph. GM says the drivetrain will produce acceleration similar to that of a V-6 engine. The goal is to get the battery down to 396 pounds and no more than 64-inches long and 33 1/2-inches wide across the top of the “T.” That’s light-years ahead of the similarly shaped lead-acid battery that powered the earliest EV1s; it weighed 1,200 pounds and was 92.5-inches long. The Volt’s battery will run the length of the cabin, taking up the space beneath the center console and the rear seat.

GM is testing batteries around-the-clock at labs in Michigan and Detroit, where engineers have as many as 40 battery packs on test rigs that measure life-cycle depletion rates, thermal behavior and load performance. “Extreme cold temperature and battery life are the biggest challenges,” Denise Gray, director of advanced battery technology, says. The objective is to build a battery that works as well in Nome, Alaska or Flagstaff, Arizona as it does in the lab — and is good for 150,000 miles. “It’s a high hurdle to clear,” Gray concedes. “Maximum” Bob Lutz, VP of global development for GM and the guy cracking the whip to keep the Volt on schedule, says the batteries are performing “flawlessly” and “it’s almost scary that we aren’t seeing any problems with them.” GM is testing batteries from LG Chem/Compact Power and A123 Systems/Continental, and Lutz says the company’s decided who’ll get the contract but won’t announce it until the end of the year.

General Motors wants the Volt to recharge in eight hours using a standard 120-volt wall outlet or three hours with a 240. Of course, that won’t do you any good if you’re miles from home when the batteries are winding down. At that point, the Volt’s 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine kicks on, powering a 53-kilowatt generator that will keep the battery going. The original plan called for a 1-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine, but GM went with the four because it’s lighter and simpler. “To be honest with you, we’ve got enough technology in the Volt,” says Micky Bly, director of hybrid drivetrain engineering. “We don’t need the added complexity of a turbocharger.”

Bly says the engine will produce less than 100 kilowatts (134 horsepower) but promises that’s enough to do the job. And because the engine drives a generator that will run at a constant speed, the power band can be optimized for maximum fuel efficiency and lowest emissions. “We can run it in the sweet spot at all times,” he says. Just how sweet that spot is remains to be seen, because GM isn’t saying what kind of fuel economy or emissions we’ll see from the Volt, although 50 mpg has been mentioned.

The engine will not fully charge the battery. Instead, it will keep the battery in what Farah calls “charge sustaining mode” at about 30 percent of its capacity, providing enough juice to keep the car going. The idea, like so much of the technology in the Volt, was born of the EV1. Engineers testing the EV1 in the early 1990s needed a way to keep its battery charged as they racked up miles on the track. They fashioned a generator from a snowmobile engine strapped to a trailer towed behind the car. Farah thought it was a great way to improve the EV1’s range, and some of the engineers urged GM to incorporate it into the car.

If it had, what was the EV1 might have been the Volt.

Source: Wired