GM: Hybrid Drive A Good Fit For Pickups

By dancurranjr On March 17th, 2009

gmIn today’s falling market for full-size pickups, towing capability is more important than ever, General Motors Corp. believes. And that, it says, is one reason for its recent four point gain in market share, to 42 percent, in the segment.

According to AutoTech Daily, GM figures more buyers will embrace the new hybrid-electric versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra currently being launched by the company. The new pickups are fitted with the same two-mode hybrid system — teamed with a 6.0-liter V-8 engine — offered on the 2008-model Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade hybrids.

GM says the two-mode powertrain,which has four fixed gears as well as a planetary gear that combinesthe output of the gasoline and two electric motors, is a good fit for the pickups. The additional gear ratios improve towing capacity — 6,100 pounds for two-wheel-drive versions of the Chevy/GMC pickups — including in all-electric mode at speeds up to 30 mph. Although towing capacity is down significantly from the traditionally powered counterparts (9,700 lbs for a 2wd extended cab truck), GM says its system provides more oomph than Ford and Toyota’s hybrid trucks, which top out at 3,500 and 1,000 pounds, respectively.

Refinements also have been made to other parts of the pickups to better complement the hybrid system and optimize fuel economy, which is listed at 21 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway in the two-wheel-drive model, up 40 percent in the city and 25 percent overall compared
to gasoline-only models.

The 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery drives the 42-volt electric steering unit through a DC-to-DC converter. In addition to recharging the battery, regenerative braking helps extend the life of the regular brake linings.

The 2010 pickups also get low-rolling-resistance tires. A new exhaust system is tuned specifically for the V-8’s cylinder deactivation
system — which cuts cylinders under partial-load operation.

A new hydraulic shock mount on the cab helps reduce vibration. The feature also will be included in GM’s non-hybrid pickups. In the hybrid models, the system is teamed with a new low-noise electric cooling fan for the battery pack.

Despite the benefits, GM expects fewer than 15 percent of its full-size pickup buyers to opt for the hybrid system. This compares to a 25 percent take rate for the Escalade hybrid, which GM says is one of the highest rates for a hybrid drive in vehicles that offer it as an option. The hybrid versions of the Tahoe/Yukon account for about 15 percent of Chevy/GMC full-size SUV sales.

The two-mode hybrid system was developed in partnership with DaimlerChrysler and BMW. Chrysler briefly offered the system in the Durango and Aspen before killing both vehicles in the face of the company’s economic woes. BMW will launch its version in the new X6 crossover later this year. GM also plans to offer the system in the Saturn Vue, although the program has been delayed and is somewhat questionable considering the future of Saturn itself is in jeopardy.

SOURCE: WWJ News Radio

2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid Test Drive and Review

By dancurranjr On February 19th, 2009

chevy-malibuSeveral months ago we tested a 2008 Chevrolet Malibu with the 2.4-liter Ecotec four cylinder and a six-speed automatic transmission that listed for just under $27,000 with all the neat stuff (leather seats, steering wheel audio controls, adjustable pedals along with a tilt and telescope steering wheel, and so on). It was the top of the line LTZ model and carried EPA numbers of 22 miles per gallon city and 32 mpg highway.

This 2009 Malibu is a hybrid, using the same 2.4-liter engine and an electric motor for low-speed and supplemental power. The combination is rated at 164 horsepower, and the hybrid technology includes shutting off the gasoline engine at idle (stop lights and stop signs, for example) and using regenerative braking to recharge the battery pack.

Sort of a “mild” hybrid, this package takes up a minimal amount of space in front of the trunk, doesn’t add a great deal to the cost of the car, and adds four miles per gallon to the city estimate and two mpg to the highway number, leaving the hybrid Malibu with EPA ratings of 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. This particular Malibu hybrid also carries a list price just under $27,000.

How do they do that? Well, for starters, this hybrid Malibu isn’t the upper-scale LTZ, so you give up a few things like the leather seats, adjustable pedals and so on. On the other hand, it has a slew of air bags front and rear, anti-lock brakes, a stability control system, air conditioning, an AM-FM stereo with XM Satellite radio, a tilt and telescope steering wheel, power everything that works even when the engine is shut off at idle, cruise control, and even the steering wheel audio controls.

In other words, it still has everything you need and nearly everything you want, even a power adjustable driver’s seat for comfort and 17-inch aluminum wheels for style, while being a little kinder to both the environment and your wallet. As we recall, the six-speed automatic transmission (now being used in a variety of General Motors vehicles) adds about a grand to the price of the car, but we’d be really curious to see what the six-speed might add to the fuel economy of the Malibu. Maybe next year.

As of 2008, the Chevrolet Malibu has become arguably a world-class car, winning the coveted J. D. Power and Associates award for “highest initial quality” in the mid-size segment. At the same time, it has gotten kudos for its interior design and quality as well as for its performance and fuel economy, but good fuel economy is becoming (no kidding) a GM standard throughout their whole line.

We have to admit, we’ve liked every Malibu we’ve tested in the last few years, particularly the Malibu Maxx, a sort of short station wagon, which is no longer in production as of the 2008 model year. The 2008 and 2009 Malibus have been uniformly well-built and a pleasure to drive as well as returning very good fuel economy numbers in the real world.

We noted above that GM is doing a great job on fuel economy improvement in their entire line, and are now also building new cars and trucks that offer improved fit and finish as well as better design and styling. (No, those aren’t the same thing.) In fact, the new GM stuff, model for model, is about as good as anything you will find on the market no matter where it is built.

We’ve mentioned the Malibu, among others (depending on what kind of car someone wants), to several people as a good car to look at if they are in the market, and gotten surprised reactions. Chevrolet is building good cars?

Well, yeah. And trucks. Not only that, they look good. The styling of the Malibu, inside and out, is top notch. Styling, of course, is subjective, but we’ve heard few complaints about the looks of either Chevy’s new cars or its new trucks, unless you’re just a dyed in the wool Ford buyer, and that’s okay, too. There are a lot of die-hard Chevy buyers and a lot of die-hard Chrysler fans (not as many, which is sad) along with those who won’t consider anything but a (fill in your favorite European/Japanese make here).

The great thing is, there are a lot of good cars on the market these days, and we hate to see any of them overlooked. Besides, you’re doing yourself a favor by considering everything before you decide, right?

Source: Oak Hill Gazette

Ford Fusion Hybrid Tops Camry, Prius in Comparisons

By dancurranjr On February 11th, 2009

2010_ford_fusion_mediumIf you’re in the market for an ultra fuel-efficient hybrid that makes a convincing family sedan, your best choice has always been a Toyota — until now. Toyota’s Camry Hybrid and Prius have been the only realistic alternatives for many. Most American-built hybrids simply haven’t matched their fuel economy, and the Nissan Altima Hybrid remains rare and hard to find.

A new entrant in the contest, however, may have knocked the Toyotas from their lofty perch.

The automotive press has begun testing the all-new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid in recent weeks. Two prominent publications have now published comparisons pitting the Fusion Hybrid against its Toyota competition, and the Ford has won both.

USA Today writes: “OK, let’s just get it out there: The 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid is the best gasoline-electric hybrid yet. What makes it best is a top-drawer blend of an already very good midsize sedan with the industry’s smoothest, best-integrated gas-electric power system. It’s so well-done that you have to look to the $107,000 Lexus LS 600h hybrid to come close.”

“The Toyota Prius crowd will protest,” they note, but USA Today says Ford’s car simply drives better. “A car is, after all, a driving machine. Brownie points for saving somewhat more fuel or offering a cargo-friendly hatchback, but driving feel is most important. And there, Fusion is without equal among hybrids.”

Car and Driver set the Fusion against the Camry Hybrid, Chevy Malibu Hybrid and Altima Hybrid, but the result was the same. “Ford has pulled off a game changer with this 2010 model, creating a high-mpg family hauler that’s fun to drive,” they write. “Nothing about the leather-lined test car, optioned up from its $27,995 base price to $32,555, seemed economy minded except for the mileage readings. On that score, the Fusion topped the others, turning in a 34-mpg score card for the overall 300-mile test run.”

In our time behind the wheel of the Fusion Hybrid, we quickly came to a similar verdict. The Fusion Hybrid corners with as much agility as its conventionally-powered cousin – one of the best-handling cars in the midsize class. With standard SYNC technology, it allows the driver to control Bluetooth-enabled phones and music players through the car’s speakers with voice commands. And its standard leather and high-quality stereo give it an upscale feel for an affordable price. Ford has a hit on its hands.

We had one minor complaint. Ford’s SmartGauge instrument cluster does a great job coaching the driver to drive more efficiently with information-rich displays, but the cutesy display that grows leaves as the driver reaches peak efficiency is distracting and can draw your eyes from the road. Still, following the device’s prompts, we hit 37.7 mpg in city driving on the first try.

The Fusion Hybrid qualifies for a federal tax credit of $3,400 until the end of March, but few of the cars will reach dealerships by then – if you’re in the market, you might want to consider ordering yours before the credit disappears.

If any Ford product has your eye, you should be aware that Ford is offering some of the deepest discounts we’ve seen in years this month.

Source: US News and World Report

How Much Do You Save Buying A Hybrid Car?

By dancurranjr On September 9th, 2008

One of out three buyers is seriously considering a hybrid. Hybrids do get better mileage than comparable vehicles, but usually cost more. Our partners at Consumer Reports, say in many cases, over 5 years, they can save you money.

Sales of hybrids are hot these days. With gas still closer to $4 a gallon than $3, Toyota dealers have a tough time keeping Priuses on the lot.

Our partners at Consumer Reports compared the 5 year cost of owning hybrids compared to similar all-gas models.

Rik Paul from Consumer Reports said, “We compared several factors, including depreciation, repairs and maintenance, and fuel costs, based on $4 a gallon and driving 12 thousand miles a year.”

With some hybrids, you also get a tax credit, so that was factored in. Here’s what they found…

The Toyota Prius can save you $2,000 over five years compared to owning a similar Corolla.

Paying more upfront for the Chevy Malibu hybrid pays off. With a 5 year cost savings of $1,800.

For the Toyota Camry hybrid, the savings are over $4,000.

Buying the Ford Escape hybrid will save you almost $3,000 over 5 years and owning a Saturn Vue hybrid instead of the gas only version means $4,500 in savings.

Finally buy the big Chevy Tahoe hybrid instead of the gas-only Tahoe, and you can save $3,700.

Current federal tax incentives on hybrids range from around $500 for the Honda Civic to more than $2,000 for the Nissan Altima.

But you may not qualify if you pay the alternative minimum tax. And be aware, the federal rebates phase out once an automaker has produced 60,000 hybrids. That’s why there are no more rebates for Lexus and Toyota hybrids. Rebates for the Honda Civic hybrid will run out at the end of the year.

You can read more in the October issue of Consumer Reports, on new stands now.

GM has extended its employee discount to everybody through the end of September.

The offer is good on almost all 2008 models (some mid-sized commercial trucks are not included), and a couple dozen 2009 vehicles.

While the discount varies, it’s usually about 10 percent below the invoice price.

The employee discount is good on GM’s hybrid models as well.


Which Hybrid Vehicles Save You The Most Money?

By dancurranjr On September 3rd, 2008

Despite their higher price, many models pay off after only a year!

Gas/electric hybrid vehicles present a conundrum for many car shoppers. They typically deliver the best fuel economy in their class, but they’re also priced higher than similar conventional cars. So it has been difficult to know whether a hybrid will save money overall.

Not anymore. With gas prices soaring, our latest analysis of owner costs shows that you can save more than $4,000 over five years by choosing a hybrid over a similar conventional gasoline-powered vehicle.

Six of the 12 affordable hybrids we looked at can save you from about $500 to $4,250, even without tax credits, and pay back their price premium after only one year. They are the Toyota Prius and hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Malibu and Tahoe, Ford Escape, Saturn Vue, and Toyota Camry. For several, you can save even more by taking advantage of federal tax credits.

The Honda Civic, Nissan Altima, and Saturn Aura hybrids will cost you a little more than their conventional counterparts—from $250 to $750 over five years—but some consumers might find it worthwhile to drive a more environmentally friendly car. With federal tax incentives, all three come out ahead after just one year.

Three hybrids—the Lexus GS 450h and RX 400h and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid—cost significantly more than their counterparts in the first five years.

Hybrid payback

Interest in hybrids has been on a parallel trajectory with gas prices. Hybrid sales jumped almost 40 percent last year. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 32 percent of active car shoppers are considering a hybrid for their next vehicle. And this past summer automakers had a difficult time keeping up with demand for the most popular models.

It would take many years for most hybrids to pay back their premium price just on fuel savings. But fuel costs are only a relatively small part—25 percent—of the overall owner costs in the first five years. Other factors include depreciation, insurance, interest on financing, maintenance and repairs, and sales tax.

In this affordable hybrid analysis, we compared the five-year owner costs of 12 hybrids with those of similar conventional vehicles, using Consumer Reports’ new-car owner-cost estimates, introduced in our April 2008 issue.

The Toyota Camry Hybrid, which got 34 mpg overall in our tests, saves the most money, about $4,250 over five years, compared with a similarly equipped four—cylinder Toyota Camry XLE, which gets 24 mpg.

The Saturn Vue Greenline Hybrid can save about $3,000; the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Tahoe save $2,000 and $1,500, respectively. With tax credits, the Vue and Tahoe come out ahead by about $4,500 and $3,700. Federal tax incentives are no longer available for Toyota and Lexus hybrids.

The Lexus models and Toyota Highlander Hybrid show five-year losses ranging from about $1,250 for the Highlander to $5,500 for the GS. All three are positioned as the flagship models within their model lines and offer extra features and/or performance at a significantly higher price. The Lexus GS 450h, which emphasizes performance over fuel economy, is priced more than $8,000 higher than its all-gas sibling, a hefty premium despite saving about $1,500 in gas over five years. The Highlander Hybrid and RX 400h are priced about $6,000 and $4,000 higher, respectively, than their all-gas siblings.

Source: Consumer Reports