Toyota Confirms US Launch of Compact Lexus Hybrid

By dancurranjr On March 16th, 2010

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

The car was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show last week, but until recently the company insisted that the compact hybrid would only be sold in Europe. According to Automotive News, Lexus executives pleaded with Japan to bring to the car to the US—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 Lexus CT 200h will make its US debut at the 2010 New York Auto Show later this month. Production begins in late 2010. The car could go on sale in the US sometime in 2011.

Small Luxury Compact Hybrid Hatchback

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. Lexus said the CT 200h will ride on a new front-wheel-drive platform with a MacPherson strut front suspension and double wishbones at the rear.

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 [1], currently the highest rated car for mpg. It could also mean a more sporty drive compared to the larger Prius. Lexus claims that the CT 200h “does not compromise interior roominess,” despite the compact package.

The CT 200h will be Lexus’s second dedicated hybrid, behind the mid-sized Lexus HS 250h [2]. The smaller CT 200h is likely to be offered with the same luxury appointments and high-tech features [3] found in the HS 250h and other Lexus vehicles.

Commitment to Luxury Hybrids

There are also rumors that the Toyota Auris Hybrid, a small hybrid hatchback built on the Scion xB platform, will head to the US. The Auris Hybrid promised more than 60 miles to the gallon. However, the US launch of the Auris Hybrid could be delayed in Europe, according to the Sunday Telegraph in the UK. Tadashi Arashima, the chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe, said the global recall of Toyota vehicles due to accelerator problems could change the planned timeline. “We are discussing that, if necessary, we will postpone the launch timing. For us there is the hybrid in late May, which is really key,” said Arashima. “We want to make sure that this car is properly launched without any major issues.”

SOURCE: Hybrid Cars

A Premium Hybrid without the Hybrid Premium – Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid

By dancurranjr On March 15th, 2010

Although many hybrid cars are bought to make an environmental statement, a lot of people consider the choice of a hybrid on more dispassionate grounds. They’re looking to get better gas mileage, but the question alway is: Does the fuel savings offset the hybrid model’s extra cost?

That’s because in most cases, where a vehicle is offered with a choice of hybrid or conventional powertrains, the hybrid version is usually more expensive, sometimes a lot more.

That’s certainly the case with the ultra-luxury hybrids out there: the BMW Activehybrid 7 will run you $19,250 more than a 750i, and a Lexus LS hybrid carries a $34,350 premium over an LS460L AWD. With the Mercedes-Benz S-class, however, the hybrid is actually the least expensive variant: an S400 Hybrid undercuts the S550 by $3650.

So even before your first refuel, you’re ahead of the game. And speaking of refueling, the S400 Hybrid gets a not-insignificant 5 mpg better gas mileage than the S550, in both city and highway ratings. Still, its 19/26 mpg figures don’t exactly make it an economy car.

And there is a price to pay in performance. The S400’s 0-to-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds isn’t exactly slow, but neither is it the 5.4-second rocket blast of the S550. Nor does the S400 Hybrid’s big V-6 equal the muscle of competitor hybrid’s V-8’s (their V-8s help explain their higher prices). Still, the S400 is very quick pulling away from a stop, and its powertrain exhibits the same liquid smoothness as the S550. It’s only once you’re moving along that foot-to-the-floor acceleration requests are met with a noticeably less urgent response than in the V-8-powered car. When the S400 is doing its hybrid thing, shutting down the engine as you brake to a stop, restarting when you remove your foot from the brake, the processes are so transparent that the only way to tell is by watching the tachometer.

At $88,825 (before options), the S400 Hybrid is hardly an economy car, nor is its 19 mpg city fuel economy especially green. But the fact that it’s both significantly greener and also a bit cheaper than other S-class models and competitors’ hybrids, make a very strong case for the S400 Hybrid as a smart buy amongst megabuck sedans. And I’d guess that even rich folks are happy when they can both go green and save some green at the same time.

SOURCE: Automobile

Honda’s CR-Z Joins U.S. Hybrid Derby

By dancurranjr On March 13th, 2010

Honda Motor Co.’s new CR-Z sporty hybrid is the car that nearly wasn’t.

The wedge-shaped, two-seat hatchback was almost killed twice because engineers weren’t convinced it was a unique concept and because U.S. bosses originally didn’t want it.

When Norio Tomobe was appointed chief engineer of the project in the summer of 2004, the car was still a blank sheet. And in the early years, the working model had a traditional gasoline engine.

“We had serious doubts about whether this would bring new value,” Tomobe said during a recent interview at Honda’s headquarters here. “I really struggled for a new idea, and we decided to start over from scratch. The hybrid finally gave us the wow factor.”

Yet going hybrid brought its own problems. Today critics assail the CR-Z as neither especially fuel-efficient nor sporty. And Tomobe is quick to admit at least one thing he wishes the CR-Z had: “more horsepower.”

He said he would like a Type R sporty version of the CR-Z someday with a spunkier power-to-weight ratio that lives up to its sporty styling.

Compromise solution

But in the meantime, the CR-Z is an exercise in compromise. It was conceived as a 1.3-liter car for Europe but was given a 1.5-liter engine to appeal to U.S. drivers. It aims to be sporty with a six-speed stick-shift option but also comes in a version with continuously variable transmission to squeeze out extra fuel economy.

The result: a 122-hp package that delivers a 0-to-62-mph time that, at 9.7 seconds, barely edges the Toyota Prius. And fuel economy is only 36/38 mpg, well below the Prius’ 51/48.

The 0-62 time comes from a leaked early edition of the Japanese sales catalog. Honda has dropped all references to it. Indeed, Honda conspicuously omits a 0-60 speed for a car that it touts as sporty.

The CR-Z went on sale in Japan in February and reaches U.S. showrooms this summer.

Honda plans to sell 40,000 to 50,000 CR-Zs a year worldwide, 15,000 in North America. Japan sales are projected at 12,000 a year, and Europe will get the rest.

Tetsuo Iwamura, president of American Honda Motor Co., was skeptical right up until he drove the final prototype.

“He kept saying they don’t need a hybrid,” recalled Tomobe.

“In the American market, people equate hybrids with the Prius,” he said of Iwamura’s cool response. “If the hybrid is sporty, it’s going to confuse the customers and dealers.”

The CR-Z’s fate was put before Takanobu Ito, now president of Honda Motor but then head of r&d. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about the States, just keep developing it,’ ” Tomobe said.

While driving early prototypes, Iwamura relentlessly derided the car, Tomobe said. But when he got behind the wheel of the final version, his reaction changed.

Suddenly, the project was a go.

“It’s ironic that the United States was the most vocal in saying they didn’t want the car, but the CR-Z still made its world debut at the Detroit motor show,” Tomobe said.

Tomobe, who cut his teeth as chief engineer on Japanese market projects such as the Mobilio Spike and Elysion minivans, is unapologetic about the CR-Z’s compromises.

“I’m satisfied,” he said. “This is what the future of sports cars will be for Honda. We are not pursuing absolute maximum speed. What we aim for is a car that is exhilarating to drive.”

On paper, the CR-Z’s power may seem lackluster. But sporty handling makes up for it, Tomobe said. The three-mode drive system helps by delivering extra throttle responsiveness.

Drivers can select normal, economy or sporty driving modes. In sporty mode, drivers of the CVT can simulate stepped shifting manually by flipping paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The CR-Z borrows liberally from its hybrid forerunner, the Insight, which came out last year. It has the same engine room, front flooring, fuel tank and hybrid system. The motor, battery and inverter essentially are the same as the Insight’s, Tomobe said.

Room for improvement

Not only is its engine larger than the Insight’s 1.3-liter, but the CR-Z’s engine has 16 valves instead of the Insight’s eight. This is to help increase power at higher rpm and improve efficiency at lower speeds.

Up to 2,300 rpm, one intake valve per cylinder is closed to limit fuel consumption. Above that, all four valves are working to optimize power.

The CR-Z is also the first Honda hybrid to get a six-speed manual transmission.

Honda already is eyeing improvements. By boosting the storage capacity of the battery and making the motor and inverter smaller and lighter, future generations of the CR-Z should deliver better performance.

Said Tomobe: “There is room for further evolution.”

Critics say Honda could score by offering a gasoline-only CR-Z. But Tomobe said the company has ruled that out. The car’s identity is too closely linked to being a hybrid, he said.

But a Type R racing incarnation is another story. “If that appeals to people and contributes to Honda’s sporty image, we need to consider all options,” Tomobe said, adding that he would like to see an R.

That would require reworking the power-to-weight ratio and boosting the maximum speed. Tomobe said that is still a tall order for the current CR-Z and its eco-friendly mission.

Said Tomobe: “The CR-Z is supposed to be an intelligent sports car.”

SOURCE: Autoweek

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Ford Fusion Hybrid Seeing Many First Time Ford Buyers

By dancurranjr On March 12th, 2010

In case there was any doubt about which American automaker has a real shot at longevity, Ford recently announced that 60% of those who bought the Fusion this year were buyers new to Ford.

The Fusion’s new Ford buyers, of  ”conquest sales,” have been increasing steadily, up 6 percentage points from January of this year, according to a release, and 11 points from the 2009 calendar year. The latest numbers for the Fusion Hybrid, featuring a hybrid gas/electric engine, are even better, with 82% of those who purchased them in February new to the brand. The Ford Fusion comes in seven different models ranging in fuel efficiency from 18/27 MPG City/Hwy (on the V6) to 41/36 MPG City/Hwy (on the Hybrid).

“It’s extraordinary that a car could set sales records and continue to excel in an environment where overall industry sales in the midsize segment are down 19 percent from a year ago,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president of Marketing and Sales and Service, in a statement. What’s perhaps more extraordinary is that no American automaker, until now, has tried to capitalize on the growing market for fuel-efficient mid-sized cars.

SOURCE: Earth Techling

Porsche Wants To Build The 918 Hybrid Supercar

By dancurranjr On March 11th, 2010

We, like just about everyone else in the automotive world, were blown away when Porsche took the wraps off the 918 Spyder hybrid supercar. The wizards in Stuttgart built the plug-in hybrid on the QT and kept it super-secret until rolling it out in Geneva, where it almost literally stopped the show.

Now it seems Porsche is actually going to build it.

According to England’s Autocar magazine, the Porsche are intent on building a production version of the 918 Spyder, and offering it for sale to anyone with deep enough pockets. The way Porsche sees it, going green(er) doesn’t have to mean sacrificing performance, which is why it stuffed the sexy all-wheel-drive roadster with a 500-horsepower V8 and two electric motors putting down a combined 281 horsepower.

“The 918 Spyder provides the answer to whether there can be high-performance cars in the future. Many have said they are finished. This car shows they are not,” Porsche boss Michael Macht told Autocar. “There is no one inside Porsche who doesn’t want to build the 918. The response has been marvelous; we will ask buyers to sign letters of intent.”

So you could say step right up and get in line now. If you think Porsche really will build the 918. We’re not suggesting it shouldn’t; we most definitely think it should and we’d be first in line for test drives (Feel free to call us, Mr. Macht). But we’ve been led down this path before. Every gearhead has. How often has an automaker dazzled us with a wonderful show car we’ve fallen madly in love with only to have our hopes dashed. The Lamborghini Estoque hybrid comes to mind.

Yet there’s the big man at Porsche himself saying the 918 will come to pass. So why are we reluctant to jump up and down in glee? Because of this quote from Autocar:

Insiders say the production 918 is likely to go on sale within five years. However, like all Porsches, it will need to make money, despite its ‘halo’ status within the firm’s range.

“It will need to make money.” That is the greatest get-out-of-jail-free card in the auto biz. Of course the 918 “will need to make money.” Have you seen Porsche’s books lately? Germany’s government has, and let’s just say that Porsche doesn’t have bushels of Euros to throw around at the moment.

Porsche is going to build the 918? We hope it’s true, but we’ll believe it when we see one in a dealership.

SOURCE: Wired