How Hybrid Vehicles Are Made: An Amazing Peek Inside the Cleanroom

By dancurranjr On April 30th, 2009

2010-lexus-rx-450hThe supreme quality that defines the new Lexus RX 450h begins with the factory where it is built. The design, equipment, manufacturing procedures and the skills of master craftsmen working at the Kokura plant are all fine-tuned to achieve the best possible results on every car that comes off the production line.

The attention to detail is distinctively Lexus, ranging from strict environmental controls to staff being required to wear pocketless, anti-static clothing. “Clean and Silent” initiatives contribute to a quieter assembly line which helps workers concentrate, improves efficiency and helps cut down the number of faults.

Much of the manufacturing process is carried out by programmed robots, ensuring consistency, but the hand and eye skills of the takumi – the skilled master craftsmen – remain a crucial element in achieving Lexus quality standards.


A dust particle measuring just 20 microns – about the size of a grain of pollen – can have an adverse affect on the quality of body panel stamping, leaving scratches that are difficult to rectify later in the production process. Lexus has waged war on dust, subjecting its stamping dies to rigorous sanding and washing twice a week. As this process itself creates a lot of dust, the maintenance area is surrounded by a three-metre high net screen – nicknamed Niagara – across which there is a constant flow of water. Thanks to Niagara, the level of airborne particles in the stamping shop has been cut by more than 90 per cent.


A rigid body shell plays a major part in the quality of the RX 450h’s driving performance, ride comfort and quietness. In turn, this high rigidity is achieved by using advanced, high-precision welding technologies.

The bodyshell is made by the spot welding of around 300 stamped parts at up to 5,000 different points, work done by robots that move in and around the vehicle body as it is held on a jig. Lexus has developed a new slim robot that can work between the units, enabling many more welds to be made. For example, in the floor and side panel tack welding process, 14 robots were previously able to make spot welds at 70 to 80 different points; adding slim robots into the task has more than doubled this number.

Gaps between the body panels and panel alignment are measured on the production line with precision digital calipers. The measurements are displayed on a monitor alongside the line and the vehicle body cannot proceed to the next stage until all the measurements are within the required parameters.


Lexus has invested in lengthy research in order to achieve the superb surface quality from its multi-coating paint process.

Cleanliness is vital to achieving this quality and, once again, extensive measures are in place to keep the painting process free from dust and other airborne particles. Conventional methods focused on preventing contamination at the paint shop’s entry and exit points, but Lexus has introduced a system like those used in semi-conductor factories, installing a number of small, one-way air outlets that pressurize the area prior to the topcoat paint booth, so forcing air away from it. This has brought about a significant reduction in the amount of airborne particles getting into the booth.

To maintain an outstanding surface quality throughout the finishing process, the production line uses both the latest robotised technology and traditional hand polishing. All vertical surfaces are water polished with a plane sander after the intermediate coat is applied, then checked both by eye and with digital tools.

Hybrid Unit

Kokura is the world’s only dedicated hybrid manufacturing facility, designed to provide the perfect environment for making hybrid components.

Again, preventing contamination from airborne particles is of paramount importance and to help achieve this, the assembly line has a low ceiling and a positive air pressure system.

Air is constantly being forced outside the building, which helps prevent dust and other matter from entering. Inside, air pressure is modulated between different areas to create a flow of air that moves in the opposite direction to the manufacturing sequence. Components move downstream on shuttered conveyor routes; the further along they move, the higher the air pressure rises, with maximum pressure reached in the assembly process itself.

Temperature and humidity are rigorously monitored to maintain the stability of the factory environment all year round. Double measures are in place at the shipping exit to prevent any foreign matter entering, with a completely enclosed loading dock from where a conveyor moves parts to the receiving door via an airlock.

The attention to detail extends to workers being required to wear pocketless, anti-static clothing and to wash their shoes. They are also prohibited from bringing any metal items with them into the production areas.


“Clean and Silent” are the watchwords for the Lexus assembly line. Replacing the chain-driven conveyor with one that uses urethane rollers creates a quieter working environment, making it easier for the technicians to concentrate and hear the noise their tools are making, thereby improving precision and work efficiency. As well as being quieter, the new system also uses less energy and is easier to maintain.

Air tools that are typically used for engine and underbody mounting have been replaced with electric nut runners that automatically adjust to a preset torque for a consistently high level of precision. The electric tools are also quieter and vibrate less.

The RX 450h assembly process involves fitting several thousand parts to the bodyshell. Traditionally technicians would collect components for fitting from racks alongside the line, but by adopting the Set Part System (SPS), Lexus has eliminated the risk of problems caused by picking the wrong parts and has cut down the amount of walking the technician has to do, so increasing work efficiency.

With SPS all parts required for assembly move along the line with the vehicle. This has evolved further with the RX 450h with a new gondola system for door assembly parts. A technician fills the gondola with the required parts on a sub line, which then merges with the main assembly line to travel along with the door to which the parts will be fitted.

Vehicle Inspection

Cutting-edge measuring technology is combined with the human skills of the takumi craftsmen in the detailed inspection process. Automated in-line measurements and quality gate checks are made throughout the body welding and assembly process, with a final fitting inspection in which panel gaps and alignment are checked by hand and eye. The inspectors who do this have daily training and testing to maintain their skill levels.

For example, the door closing speed inspection involves all doors being closed by the inspector at a maximum, laser-monitored 1.2m per second – equivalent to a gentle push with the fingertips. Lexus build precision ensures the doors can be closed securely, even with such light pressure.

After comprehensive road testing, every RX 450h is transferred to a shower test booth to be checked for leaks. The booth simulates a rainstorm at a rate of 200mm per hour, which is more severe than even a typhoon, which will generate no more than 150mm of rainfall an hour.Second in a series introducing key features of the new luxury SUV: advanced manufacturing

Nissan Hybrid Joins Alliance To Build Nissan Zero Emission Hybrids

By dancurranjr On April 30th, 2009

nissan-ultima-hybridNissan Motor Co., Ltd has announced plans to partner with the nation’s largest energy research center to help build zero emission hybrids in 2010. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will play a key role in developing new hybrid technologies. The car maker is working with other partners that also share the belief in future electric vehicles.

“Nissan, through the Renault-Nissan Alliance, has committed to being a global leader in zero-emission vehicles,” Dominique Thormann, senior vice president, administration and finance, Nissan North America, said in a statement. “Nissan in Tennessee is working with partners that share in the belief that the introduction and expansion of electric vehicles is one of the best solutions to reducing CO2 emissions. It’s only through collaborative efforts such as this that we can make zero-emission mobility a reality,” Thormann said.

The first introduction of Nissan zero-emission vehicles will be in 2010 with a mass global market available in 2012. The automaker has been working on a new EV Prototype model which has been part of a coast-to-coast tour. The automobile uses a lithium-ion battery pack and a zero-emission electric motor.

Nissan will be part of the Deparment of Energy’s largest multi-purpose research lab to participate in a hybrid project.

As part of the ORNL, this does separate Nissan from other hybrid car manufacturers. The partnership is a $400 million research lab which develops energy-related projects. The current project is to develop an eco-friendly vehicle that produces zero emissions as well as longer battery life breakthrough technologies.
Nissan Joins Hybrid Electric Car Network

TVA is the nation’s largest public power supplier which is helping to lead the way in research into making a new transportation infrastructure. The power system will be a complete electric car charging network. The infrastructure is made up of solar energy and other natural resources.


PowerGenix Aims For Hybrid Car Batteries

By dancurranjr On April 30th, 2009

hybrid_battery_packPowerGenix has made its mark by commercializing nickel-zinc batteries for cameras, electric scooters and power tools, many of which will be shipped this fall. But its long-term goal is to tackle the battery market for hybrid electric vehicles as well.

As of now, San Diego’s PowerGenix doesn’t have its battery technology developed for the vehicle market. It’s looking to raise money to fund that activity. The company put some of its powerful nickel-zinc batteries in a Toyota Prius last May. The car has been driven more than 10,000 miles.

“For cars you need a high rate of discharge. That’s where our batteries have strength,” says Jeff Phillips, chief technology officer at PowerGenix.

PowerGenix Chief Executive Dan Squiller says the cost of his nickel-zinc batteries for hybrid cars could be half that of lithium-ion. The reason: Lithium-ion batteries are potentially flammable, and producers have to engineer around that, increasing production costs. (Nickel-zinc batteries don’t catch on fire.) The capital equipment for making lithium ion batteries is also more expensive, Phillips says. PowerGenix intentionally designed its nickel-zinc batteries so they could be manufactured on existing nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal-hydride production lines.

For power tools, PowerGenix’s nickel-zinc batteries cost about 40 cents per watt-hour. By comparison, lithium-ion batteries, such as those from A123 Batteries (also used in power tools), cost about 70 to 80 cents per watt-hour. For vehicle batteries, the cost will go up a bit because the systems are more complicated, says Ying Wu, senior analyst at Lux Research. But Wu still expects lithium ion to be more expensive than nickel-zinc for vehicles.

The challenge: Billions of dollars are being spent by large automakers such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda in joint ventures with battery makers to roll out lithium-ion batteries for electric and hybrid electric autos. If it can get federal loans, A123 Systems of Watertown, Mass., is planning to spend $2.3 billion to build factories in Michigan to make its lithium-ion batteries for Chrysler and others. PowerGenix has raised just $61 million, and the U.S. Department of Energy no longer spends money researching nickel-zinc batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries do have a higher power density than nickel-zincs, and a longer run time. That means they’re better suited to electric-only vehicles–a market that PowerGenix’s Squiller says he won’t be pursuing.

If history is any guide, PowerGenix may be able to overcome some steep challenges.

The company traces its roots to a meeting in the 1990s at Apple Computer. Morris Eisenberg, a charismatic chemist who had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp, tried to convince Apple’s then-power group technology manager, Jeff Phillips, to use his nickel-zinc batteries in Apple laptops.

Phillips passed because the batteries didn’t have the energy density of lithium- ion cells, but he saw other opportunities for them. He eventually left Apple to join Eisenberg at a company he started called Next Century Power. That company folded in the late 1990s; its assets were bought by investors who started PowerGenix. Phillips has served as chief technology officer at PowerGenix since it was founded in 2000. Eisenberg has since passed away.

Squiller is hoping to get some money from the federal stimulus package, in which up to $4 billion is allocated for energy storage. But he’ll have to wait a bit. “No one knows how that money will be given out,” he says.

SOURCE: Forbes

Bright Automotive Unveils New 100mpg Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) IDEA Van

By dancurranjr On April 29th, 2009

bright_idea_plug_in_hybridA new automotive startup based in Washington DC named Bright has just revealed its latest product – a plug-in hybrid commercial van that the company claims will achieve a fuel economy of 100mpg. Named the Bright IDEA, the slipper-shaped van certainly looks the part, and if it lives up to the company’s claims then we should start seeing plenty of these things around town in the near future.

Featuring an AWD system, the Bright IDEA differs from most commercial vans chiefly in its drive system. The car is made from aluminum and other materials, and to really draw in their primary market the company claims that the materials used for the car and its production are both fully sustainable.

Inside, the van features two seats, however, the front passenger seat can be converted into a mobile office for the driver – according to Bright, most commercial vans are only ever occupied by the driver, so utilizing this space makes perfect sense.

The Bright IDEA will also feature an on-board computer with a touch screen to allow the driver to see the hybrid mode in action, receive mileage figures, use GPS and track inventory. The focus on the commercial market is not being disguised at all by the Bright IDEA, and the company is also claiming that using its vehicles for fleets could help a 250-car fleet save around $500,000 annually in fuel costs.

SOURCE: Motor Authority

Why The Prius and Insight Look Alike

By dancurranjr On April 29th, 2009

2010_honda_insight_hybridWhy do the exterior design elements of many hybrid models seem so similar?  A commenter awhile back said of the new Honda Insight, it bears a striking resemblance to the new Toyota Prius.  Coincidence?  Not likely.  Is Honda trying to copy the Prius in hopes of sales success?  Also highly unlikely.  So why do they and so many other hybrids on the market look at least somewhat similar and are immediately recognizable as hybrids?

Hybrid design is driven solely be aerodynamics.  There is little room left for originality after the designer take aerodynamics to the extremes.  The wedge shape profile, and high roof cut along with the stiff drop off in the rear all contribute either to less drag, or a lower fontal area.  The designs yield a coefficient of drag in the neighborhood of .27.  This low number increases fuel efficiency slightly.  But every slight improvement is needed to help hybrids achieve maximum efficiency.

Once the design team has maximized aerodynamics, the stylists can come in and make subtle changes such as grill design, front and rear fascias, etc.  However, the design changes are then retested for aerodynamic efficiency and then evaluated.  The result, a car that is aerodynamically efficient, but looks like other cars designed in the same manner.

Even without seeing the Prius, Honda engineers could design an Insight from the ground up and end with a result that appears identical to a Prius.  Copying a Prius is not their end goal, but aerodynamically, the Insight and the Prius are nearly perfect for a car and aerodynamic perfection will always look alike.

Quoting the commenter I referred to above, “Ok, this car looks EXACTLY like the Prius. Not just kind of like it, EXACTLY like it. Its a shame the old Insight was cool looking!

Unfortunately, orignality does not exist and can not exist in a fuel efficient design and the old Insight, though distinctive, simply did not meet aerodynamic requirements and its design had to be altered for the sake a 1 to 2 mpg.

SOURCE: All Cars Electric