Cost & CO2 Calculator Helps Choose Electric, Diesel or Hybrid Car

By dancurranjr On November 30th, 2010

As the Environmental Protection Agency struggles with how to accurately label passenger vehicles for fuel economy and greenhouse-gas emissions, a new online cost and CO2 emissions calculator launched today to help fill the void.

“Electrics, hybrids, plug-ins, all these alternative powertrain cars are a hot topic these days, but there’s not a good way to look at the bottom line of what it costs to own one of these,” said Jon Lal, founder of, a frugal-living website that offers tools to help consumers save money, including its new calculator.

The calculator allows consumers to first determine which type of alternative-drivetrain vehicle best suits their driving needs based on what state they live in, how many city and highway miles they drive, how many road trips they take each year (and at what distance) and fuel costs in their state, whether it be electricity, gas or diesel.

Using its database of 64 vehicles (four electric, eight diesel, 13 hybrid and 39 popular gas-powered cars) the calculator then allows users to make side-by-side comparisons using EPA miles-per-gallon data, manufacturers’ suggested retail prices and other factors.

Electric car operating costs are translated into an mpg equivalent, or MPGe, using individual states’ electricity costs as calculated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Electric cars’ upstream carbon dioxide emissions are also calculated using DOE data on the electricity source for each state.

According to, Washington, Idaho, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas are the states with the lowest electricity rates, making electric cars most economical on a cost-per-mile basis. Vermont, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire are the best states in terms of electric cars’ lowest upstream CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour.

The top two states for electric cars’ lowest operating costs and greenhouse-gas emissions: Idaho and Washington.

California ranks sixth in lowest CO2 emissions, at 0.3 tons per kilowatt-hour (versus 0.001 for Vermont). The state ranks 45th in terms of electricity cost at 15.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (versus 8.3 cents for Washington).


Diesel Hybrids Deliver Big Savings to UPS

By dancurranjr On January 2nd, 2010

Score one for diesel hybrids.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory got its hands on six hybrid vans that United Parcel Service is using, and after testing them nine ways from Sunday found diesel-electric technology improved fuel economy more than 28 percent. What’s more, it cost significantly less per mile to operate while delivering the same reliability and performance as conventional diesel vans.

The federal eggheads spent a year analyzing fuel economy, maintenance and vehicle performance data for six first-generation hybrid UPS vans developed by Eaton Corp. It’s no surprise a delivery service would be eager to give diesel-electric tech a try — UPS must spend money by the truckload on fuel — and the NREL joined UPS in putting the trucks through their paces in Phoenix.

So why’d they team up for the research?

Because the Eaton parallel hybrid system was developed in part under a $7.5 million, 33-month contract from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Heavy-Hybrid Propulsion System program. The feds like the technology because it increases fuel economy and reduces emissions, and they wanted to see what we got for the money.

“Having provided funding for the development of the Eaton hybrid system, DOE was eager to participate in testing the system in a commercial fleet,” Lee Slezak, manager of the advanced heavy-hybrid program, said in a statement. “Our goal is to help develop more efficient vehicle technologies and then document their on-road performance.”

The feds compared six diesel-hybrid vans to six diesel vans. According to the lab’s report, the hybrids delivered 28.9 percent better fuel economy, averaging 13.1 mpg to the diesels’ 10.2 mpg. Maintenance costs were about the same, but the diesels showed slightly better reliability — a factor the researchers chalk up to “troubleshooting and recalibration issues” associated with prototype components.

The hybrids were driven 15 percent fewer miles per day, which the feds attribute to the fact the diesel-electrics were assigned to urban routes where they made more stops per mile and spent more time at low speeds or idling. Overall, the hybrids delivered a 15 percent improvement in total cost per mile.

UPS is, as you’d expect, quite pleased with the results.

“NREL’s report on the performance of our hybrid delivery vehicles is helping make this type of energy-efficient vehicle a standard in the industry,” said Robert Hall, the company’s director of maintenance and engineering. He’s hoping the findings speed up market acceptance of the technology.

Eaton supplied the hybrid propulsion systems for the vans, which were manufactured by Freightliner. The system uses an Eaton automated transmission with an integrated motor-generator and lithium-ion batteries. The electric bits are mated to a four-cylinder Mercedes-Benz diesel engine — the same one used in the conventional vans.

UPS must like what it sees, because the delivery company just ordered another 200 Eaton hybrid vans.


Sweet VW Diesel Hybrid Gets 70 MPG

By dancurranjr On December 11th, 2009

VW UP SeriesVolkswagen keeps teasing us with diesel hybrids, and its latest flirtation is a sweet ultralight, ultra-aerodynamic diesel-electric that gets 70 mpg on the highway.

VW rolled into the Los Angeles Auto Show with the Up! Lite (and no, we don’t know why there’s an exclamation point in the name). The super-slick hatchback is the latest in VW’s Up! series, and though it’s just a concept, it looks like it could easily segue to production. It isn’t the most efficient concept we’ve seen from VW — that would be the radical Volkswagen L1 with a very impressive 170 mpg. But unlike the L1, the Up! Lite is something that could sell in big enough numbers to make producing it economically viable.

While the L1 is handsome car, it looks like an aircraft fuselage without wings and the tandem seating — not to mention tiny size — would make it a hard sell. But the Up! Lite concept looks like something you would see parked on any street, anywhere in the world. It’s an attractive hatchback that made us think of the Honda CRX.

The four-seater features a two-cylinder turbodiesel mated to an electric motor and Volkswagen’s very nice DSG seven-speed gearbox. It’s pretty much the same drivetrain in the L1 wrapped in a more practical package. Aerodynamics is the name of the game when maximizing fuel economy, and VW’s designers have sculpted a car with an aerodynamic drag figure of just 0.237. That makes it more slippery than the 2010 Toyota Prius. The Up! Lite is a tiny car — just 12.5 feet long, 4.5 feet tall and 5.2 feet wide.

CO2 emissions are equally small, just 65 g/km. VW also claims that the overall CO2 footprint makes it the world’s most environmentally friendly four-seater. They don’t call it the Up! Lite for nothing, either. Tipping the scales at just 695 kilograms, the latest VW show-stopper would make
Colin Chapman proud. It takes Chapman’s less-is-more ethos to a whole new level.

Under the hood, there’s a newly designed 0.8-liter TDI two-cylinder engine (the same one used in the L1 Concept) that puts out 38 kilowatts (51 horsepower). There’s also a 10-kilowatt (13.4-horsepower) electric motor that does all sort of interesting things. For one, it’s designed as a “pulse start module” that combines the jobs of starter, alternator and electric drive in one neat package. It also recovers kinetic energy via regenerative braking. The car isn’t very quick — zero to 60 comes and goes in 12 seconds — which is why VW says the Up! Lite is designed for city driving.

Speaking of that oomph, the engine and motor work together at certain times (say, during passing) and will combine their power for a total output of 48 kilowatts (64.3 horsepower). And at other times, like when you’re tooling around downtown, the Up! Lite will run without using the TDI engine at all. If you take your foot off the accelerator and start to coast, the engine shuts off. And over shorter distances, the electric motor will propel the car using energy stored in a lithium-ion battery. There’s even a stop-start system that shuts down the engine when you’re at a stoplight.

We know that’s all very nice, but the thing must be as safe as a soda can, right? Not so, says Volkswagen. It has an electronic stability-control system, is slathered in airbags and the four occupants are ensconced and cosseted by a highly innovative safety frame of aluminum, steel and carbon fiber.

Will VW build the Up! Lite, or something based on it? Who knows. At this point, we’d be happy with the diesel-electric Golf VW showed off awhile ago. It’s high-time VW jumped on the hybrid bandwagon.


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

Will Volvo’s 2012 Plug-In Hybrid Also Be a Diesel?

By dancurranjr On June 11th, 2009

The maker of some of the world’s safest vehicles will soon be the maker of one of the world’s most fuel-efficient vehicles. Volvo announced today plans to produce a plug-in hybrid vehicle that will be available in 2012.

“Most car journeys are short trips, for instance to and from work. We will be able to offer a product that fulfills this transportation need. In order to cover longer distances as well, the car will also be equipped with one of Volvo’s fuel-efficient diesel engines,” Volvo President and CEO Stephen Odell said in a press statement.

The new development will be a joint venture between Volvo and Swedish energy company Vattenfall. Volvo plans to create a plug-in version of an existing model rather than create a new one, and its charging systems will be developed and supplied by Vattenfall.

Volvo has previously stated its plans for a fleet of 10 plug-in hybrids. The Swedish car company did not name which of its existing cars will be the first to go plug-in, but last year Volvo road-tested the ReCharge Plug-in Hybrid, which is based on the C30 coupe platform and uses a diesel engine to power the lithium ion batteries.

A video on (posted by shows interviews with Volvo and Vattenhall executives explaining the partnership and features a diesel plug-in hybrid Volvo V70 that can travel up to 50 km (31 miles) on a single charge and be charged from a standard wall socket, which would cost Swedish owners approximately 3 euros per 100 kilometer (60 miles). Based on current currency exchange, that works out to approximately 7 cents per mile. The diesel engine uses 2 liters per 100 kilometer m (.5 gallon per 60 miles), according to the video.

Volvo also announced plans to debut three demonstration plug-in Volvo V70s this summer that will be used to gather information on customer driving habits and technology preferences. Vattenfall will be testing various concepts for high-speed home charging and developing a public charging and billing system infrastructure. The power company is also tasked with accelerating the vehicle’s charging time. The video shows a 8 kw battery being charged in 5 hours from a standard wall socket.

Source: CNET