The LA Auto Show: Hybrid Battery Replacement and Winterizing

By dancurranjr On December 21st, 2010

The thirtieth meeting of the Milwaukee Hybrid Group (MiHG) on Saturday December 18 featured Wayne Gerdes’s eagerly anticipated report on the Los Angeles Auto Show, lively discussion of new projects for the five year old organization, and comparison of mileage and winterizing methods among the members.

Gerdes, organizer of, advocates ending American dependence on imported oil entirely. He supervised a staff that test drove and examined cars at the LA show, which featured 20 world debuts of new car models, and 30 American debuts. While reporting on the features of the new Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, Gerdes played up mid-size high-mileage gasoline cars, and mid-size or luxury electric and hybrid models, such as the Volvo C30 electric, Lexus CT 200h, Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, and Honda Fit EV. He expects these cars to attract many drivers who are not interested in the Prius or the Chevy Volt.

“Range anxiety” is a new term discussed at the meeting, a concern to those who will be driving cars powered solely by an electric battery. Randy Mays, a member of the MiHG planning committee, observed that Milwaukee commuters do not have to drive the distances of Chicago or LA drivers, and that he rarely drives more than fifty miles in a day. The Nissan Leaf has an EPA estimated range of 73 miles without needing to be recharged.

Gerdes related that Nissan is experimenting with direct current (DC) Level 3 charging equipment at Cracker Barrel parking lots near the Nissan plant in Tennessee that will be producing the Leaf, which can bring a battery to eithy percent of capacity in half an hour – less than the time it takes to eat lunch. This equipment is not likely to be available for individual home use for several years.

Owners of current hybrid models were glad to hear about a company called ReVolt, based in North Carolina, that provides replacement batteries. A member who arranged a battery swap at the Green Drive Expo in Madison last summer reported paying $1700, about half the price a dealer would charge. Gerdes observed that the company has a good reputation, and offers Gen II cells in replacement batteries, an upgrade from the Gen I cells in older Prius models.

More immediate practical discussion for the winter included use of standard foam pipe insulator material, available at most hardward stores, to block the flow of cold air through the grill. Cutting tubes of insulation in half, then fitting strips into the grill, can save a few miles per gallon.

Debbie Anders’s Ford Escape Hybrid continues to amaze with an average of 40 miles per gallon, and a couple from Fond du Lac reported their Toyota Highlander gets 29 mpg if they keep the speed under 55 miles per hour. Anders and Gerdes trained drivers for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sanitation District in the MiHG Drive $mart program, resulting in a sixteen percent mileage improvement. MiHG Bradlee Fons continues to hold one of the top records, with 88.8 average mpg in his Honda Insight.


Honda’s Next Generation Hybrid PHEV Concept Unveiled

By dancurranjr On November 30th, 2010

Honda’s next-generation hybrid features a two-motor system that continuously moves through three different modes to maximize driving efficiency: all-electric, gasoline-electric and a unique, engine direct-drive mode.

The plug-in hybrid also uses regenerative braking to charge the battery.

It is compatible with daily driving habits, allowing for short, frequent trips in all-electric mode, while providing long-distance driving capability when needed.

In all-electric mode, the vehicle uses a 6kWh lithium-ion battery and a powerful 120 kW electric motor. The all-electric mode achieves a range of approximately 10-15 miles in city driving and a top speed of 62 mph.

Fully recharging the battery will take 2 to 2.5 hours using a 120-volt outlet and 1 to 1.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet.

The vehicle can also run in a gasoline-electric hybrid mode, the platform features a fuel-efficient 2.0-liter, i-VTEC® inline 4-cylinder, Atkinson cycle engine, paired with an electric Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT). An onboard generator adds to the battery powering the electric motor.

For more efficient high-speed cruising, the vehicle can engage in a direct-drive mode, in which only the engine drives the front wheels.

With Plug-Ins and Hybrids Dominant, Is Diesel Dead in the U.S.?

By dancurranjr On December 8th, 2009

citroen_ds5-diesel-hybridGerman automakers Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are selling their newest “clean” diesel vehicles nationally, including in California—home of the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show—a state that, historically, with its air pollution regulations, has been hostile to diesel cars.

But even the auto companies with umlauts on their computer keyboards are making plug-in electrics and hybrids a major part of their U.S. future. The Germans keep plugging away to make their case for diesel to Americans. At the same time, BMW showed a hybrid, and Audi showed its fully electric e-Tron Concept at the LA show.

Speaking of plugging in, one of the biggest rivals to diesel in terms of grabbing the green spotlight is Chevrolet’s Volt extended-range electric plug-in, which we drove recently. The car promises to go around 40 miles on a charge before the gas-powered motor kicks in to power the battery.

At an estimated $40,000-plus before government tax credits whittle the price down, one wonders why GM wouldn’t consider opting to bring a diesel over from Europe. “A lot of it is marketing,” says independent marketing consultant Dennis Keene. “An extended-range electric is greener, cleaner and whiz-bang technology that could vault Chevrolet’s image ahead by light years if they pull it off, and a diesel Malibu that gets 40 mpg just isn’t going to do that.”

Chevrolet chief Brent Dewar agrees. “Diesel presents a big hurdle in terms of marketing to American consumers,” he says. Plus, “we [GM] aren’t convinced the cost of meeting future clean-air regulations is going to make diesel cars and light trucks too tough a business case to sustain,” Dewar says. GM had several separate events touting the Volt this week, including a panel to discuss electric infrastructure in California and the rest of the U.S. to support what Chevy hopes is an onslaught of interest in extended-range EVs and straight EVs.

Toyota has avoided diesels in the U.S. as well, instead focusing on plug-ins and hybrids. Toyota not only showed its Lexus LF-Ch hybrid concept, but also the plug-in Prius that will challenge the Volt for attention. When fully charged, the Prius is targeted to achieve a maximum electric-only range of approximately 13 miles and will be capable of achieving highway speeds up to 60 mph in electric-only mode. The Lexus offering, in the meantime, is a slick, brawny-looking hatchback. Finally, Toyota put some styling mojo into a hybrid.

“One of the things hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles have going for them is that two behemoths like Chevrolet and Toyota are invested in making these vehicles successful and are spending big money to market them as the best technology,” says Peter Sullivan, a Los Angeles–based consultant specializing in green marketing. “What diesel has been in Europe, hybrids and EVs are in the U.S. And that train has left the station.”

Indeed, Chevrolet and Toyota seem to be in a cage match over which company seizes the plug-in-hybrid limelight. Toyota is putting 150 U.S. drivers into PHEVs starting early next year for real-world driving evaluation and, of course, social-networking fodder. That’s 50 more cars than GM is planning. The battle between automakers used to be about horsepower, and now it is kilowatt-hours and the number of vehicles you can get into the field with the Twitter and Facebook crowd.

Volkswagen, on the other hand, is the diesel leader in the U.S. with its TDI technology. About 40 percent of Jetta sales today are running diesel, and 90 percent of Jetta Sport Wagons are TDIs. But VW is grappling with an interest in hybrids too—unveiling a concept at this show that has the best of both worlds, according to the German automaker; diesel and hybrid. The Up Lite is a diesel hybrid capable of up to 70 mpg on the highway, with room for four adults. It’s powered by a 0.8-liter two-cylinder TDI clean diesel engine, and an electric motor that acts as the vehicle’s starter, alternator, and e-drive unit. “Hybrid technology is uniquely popular in the U.S., but we think there is definitely an opportunity to combine the best of our diesel technology with hybrid to set new standards in fuel economy,” says VW U.S. chief Stefan Jacoby.

Audi, along with sibling company Volkswagen, perhaps the biggest booster of diesel in the industry when it comes to marketing spending, showed the e-Tron electric sports car in North America for the first time, trying to prove it too is ready to play both sides of the green street. But the company is far from abandoning diesel. Audi this year funded an ad campaign to promote clean diesel as a flanker effort to the Q7 and A3 TDI launches. The campaign—whose tag line is “Diesel: It’s No Longer a Dirty Word”—has been aired on TV and the Web, specifically all over Facebook. “We have a great advantage in diesel technology that other automakers do not have,” says Audi executive director of powertrain Wolfgang Hatz. “We have enormous economies of scale for diesel, and the experience of selling it on multiple continents for decades.” The TDI moniker is 20 years old.

Is the campaign working? Audi is finding that 40 percent of its Q7 sales are TDI, above expectations of about 15 percent. Those are the kind of numbers that encourage Indian automaker Mahindra, which plans to enter the U.S. in 2010 with a midsize pickup offered with only a diesel engine. Mahindra is not represented at the Los Angeles show, and is not expected to be at the Detroit Auto Show either. “It could be they will stand out for being the first Indian brand and for having the uniqueness of an all-clean-diesel lineup,” says green marketing consultant Sullivan, “but they would definitely have an easier time of it if it was a hybrid.”

SOURCE: Popular Mechanics

Prius Receives Best Buy Status From Consumer Guide

By dancurranjr On December 2nd, 2009

toyota-phev-priusJust how far has the automotive world come in the past few years? The Toyota Prius has just won Consumer Guide Automotive’s best buy status. And it’s not just a mainstream consumer magazine that is recognizing hybrids, Car & Driver magazine, a publication that is about as oil drenched and horsepower addicted as they come, has just awarded the Ford Fusion Hybrid a spot on its coveted 10 Best Cars For 2010 list.

Consumer Guide Automotive has been cranking out reviews for new and used cars for over 40 years, and their 2010 Best Buy and Recommended Awards is aimed for the general car buying public to make car buying easier. It’s about as wide ranging an inventory of recommendations as you could ask for, suggesting the best overall values in 18 vehicle categories.

“This once fringe technology has finally matured,” said Tom Appel, Associate Publisher at Consumer Guide Automotive speaking of Toyota’s Prius.

The standouts on the list are hybrids and alt-fueled cars. In addition to the list-topping Prius, there are a record setting 23 hybrid or diesel fueled cars that receive recognition. Another notable car on the list was Ford’s Fusion, which was given “Best Buy” honors in the midsize car category by Consumer Guide. They did not specify which Fusion, but it’s worth noting that the Fusion Hybrid has been a real stand-out since its introduction.

At least that’s the way Car & Driver feels about Ford’s hybrid sedan.

When C&D announced their 28th annual list of 10Best cars sold in America this week, it was hard not to notice that the Ford Fusion Hybrid was on the list. It was one of only two American made cars (the other being the 2010 Cadillac CTS / CTS-V) and was only the second hybrid ever given the honor. The other being the Toyota Prius, that made the list in 2004.

Car & Driver was fairly up front about the inclusion of the Fusion Hybrid, saying putting it on the list was “A positive sign of the times for a US car manufacturer … ‘ The rest of the list is about what you’d expect from Car & Driver: the Porsche Boxster / Cayman, the BMW 3-series / M3 and Honda Accord made the list, and of course the evergreen Mazda MX-5 (a long running favorite of ours here at Autopia).

Maybe, finally, things are starting to turn a corner. Perhaps with people like the staff of Car & Driver coming on board, there will not only be more acceptance of hybrids and alt-fuels by the car buying public in general, but also acceptance by the dyed-in-the-wool hot rodders out there too.


Buick Brings Business Hybrid Concept To Shanghai

By dancurranjr On April 25th, 2009

buick-business-hybrid-conceptHere in the U.S., today is not exactly GM’s day. Between the continuing bailout coverage and the cutting of 1600 jobs from GM’s payroll, folks in the General’s American PR department probably wish they’d called in sick. Assuming they still jobs, of course.

On the other side of the Pacific, it’s a very different story. At the Shanghai Motor Show, GM just unveiled the Buick Business Hybrid Concept, bursting with all of the sensible, no-nonsense promise that we’ve come to expect from minivans.

In photos, the Business Hybrid Concept looks a little unusual. (One TCC staffer said: “It looks like the next-generation Buick Enclave was [REDACTED] by a [REDACTED] of metrosexual minivans.”) But crude similes aside, we kind of like the beltline, which gives the vehicle more of an edge than your run-of-the-mill van. Also nice: the greenhouse, including the glass panels on the roof, which might keep the Business from feeling like a Super Shuttle. And who wouldn’t dig that crazy instrument panel, stretching from driver to passenger?

Under the hood, the Business Hybrid Concept was apparently designed with a new hybrid system that will soon launch in China. It’ll make use of new lithium-ion batteries that are said to boost fuel economy by 20% or so. Sweet.

The one curious thing? This statement from Ed Welburn, Vice President of Global Design for GM: “The Chinese market and business person have some unique requirements. Our team has responded with an elegant solution to their business and personal needs.” How, exactly, do captain’s chairs and the lack of a B-pillar address all that?

SOURCE: Car Connection