Electric Car Market Gets Useful Jump-Start, Tax Breaks

By dancurranjr On December 25th, 2010

When Toyota unveiled its gasoline-electric Prius hybrid in Japan in 1997, car executives here scoffed that the car was little more than an expensive novelty. When Honda began selling the first hybrid in the U.S. market in 1999, the two-seat Insight was derided as cramped and impractical.

OPPOSING VIEW: Subsidies? Just say no

Eleven years later, more than 2 million Priuses have been sold worldwide, and there are about 1.5 million hybrids on the roads here, including models from the U.S. automakers. That’s still a tiny fraction of the 250 million vehicles in America, but they have helped cut gasoline use.

Now comes Round 2, as General Motors and Nissan begin delivering their first new electric cars to buyers amid some of the same sort of skepticism that dogged the early hybrids. Americans should hope the skeptics are wrong again.

The two new cars, due to be followed by models from other automakers, are promising fuel savers. The Chevy Volt can go 25 miles to 50 miles on battery power alone; after that a gasoline engine kicks in to power a generator for a total range of about 350 miles before fill-up or recharge. The more limited battery-only Nissan Leaf can travel an estimated 62 miles to 138 miles before it needs a recharge.

It’s easy to deride the new electric cars, just as it was the early hybrids. The batteries take hours to recharge, and when the Leaf is out of juice, it had better be at a plug. It presumably would be useful only to short-range commuters with no other need for the car. Both cars are small, though the Volt is no smaller than many sedans, and automotive writers say it’s as quick and responsive as a gas-powered car.

The biggest drawback, and the one critics have made much of, is the cost, and not just to buyers. The Volt lists for $41,000 and the Leaf for $33,000, so the federal government, eager to jump-start a market for electric cars, is helping with the sticker shock by shelling out up to $7,500 per car in tax credits for the first 200,000 cars an automaker sells.

There’s a downside to this. The tax code would be far better if it weren’t riddled with tax breaks such as this one. In addition, the tax credit spends money the government doesn’t have.

But those are bigger, more important issues in which the credit is a bit player. The benefit comes if electric-car technology gets cheap enough to stand on its own, providing a way to trim U.S. dependency on foreign oil, now two-thirds of our use, some of it from countries hostile to us. There’s plenty of skepticism, but the automakers are optimistic enough to invest in the technology, betting that rising oil prices will boost sales, as they did with hybrids.

One of the best arguments for tax breaks is that they helped get the hybrid market where it is today, along with gas prices and the fact that some states allowed hybrid drivers access to HOV lanes.

Those hybrid tax breaks have been phasing out as the law required — just as the tax breaks for electric cars are required to do. Electric cars must eventually live or die without government help.

As the writer of the opposing view argues, there are compelling arguments against the new cars — but there are equally compelling arguments against every other alternative to the status quo as well. Nuclear is too dangerous, coal too dirty, solar and wind too unreliable, offshore oil drilling too risky and so on.

But the most compelling argument is that the status quo — more and more foreign oil — is unsustainable. Electric cars might not be the answer, but they are an answer, and that makes them worth a try.

SOURCE:

Honda Planning a Major Jump in Hybrid Sales in Japan in 2011

By dancurranjr On December 20th, 2010

Honda will put pedal to the metal in Japan next year when a new and bigger range of hybrid models will land on the market.

Joining the CR-Z and Fit Hybrid on the scene will be a hybridized version of the Freed, Honda’s quirky small domestic van. Honda will also introduce a stretched wagon version of the Fit hybrid for domestic consumption, according to sources. The front half of the body will be stock, but overall length will stretch by more than 2 feet.

The Fit hybrid wagon is expected out in March, while the Freed hybrid will arrive later, around fall 2011.

The redesigned Civic Hybrid, to be unveiled in January at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show and tipped to be the first Honda hybrid to get a lithium-ion battery pack, will be another 2011 debut, but Japan, in fact, might not get it.

Having announced the end of Civic sales in Japan and with that longer Fit hybrid wagon in the wings, Honda may feel that it doesn’t need the new Civic Hybrid in Japan anymore, not even as an iconic stand-alone model.

Honda will also have the Insight to fall back on, of course, and the good news there is that that to-date lackluster model is due for a major revamp next July.

Toyota will counter with a hybrid version of the new Vitz (Yaris) and Mazda is promising a face-lifted Mazda 2 with the automaker’s new Skyactiv G gas engine that can achieve hybrid-type economy without the weight and complexity of battery and motor.

Add it up and, although the technology is light and compact, Honda’s IMA hybrids have yet to truly catch on and/or frighten Toyota, the market leader. So will 2011 at last be the turning point for Honda?

Inside Line says: The new Honda hybrids could be big in Japan where the word “hybrid” is a major come-on, but in the U.S., given the inevitable price premium for the technology, such small gasoline-electric models could be a harder sell.

SOURCE: InsideLine.com

Insight Into Honda’s Hybrid Future

By dancurranjr On December 6th, 2010

Honda reckons many motorists are put off hybrid cars because they view them as expensive and elitist. So it’s aiming to change that attitude with its new Insight, as Rob Maetzig reports.

It’s now been more than 10 years since Honda launched its first petrol-electric hybrid car to the world.

That car was called Insight, and it was a swoopy-looking little two-door car that achieved incredibly low fuel consumption. It never was made available for sale in this country, although Honda New Zealand did import one for evaluation and promotional purposes.

The aim behind that original Honda hybrid was clear: To avoid waste. Engineers reasoned that if energy generated from braking and deceleration could be harnessed and stored in a battery pack, it could then be used to power an electric motor that would supplement the performance of the car’s petrol engine.

That led to development of what is known as a parallel hybrid system, in which the petrol engine is the main source of power and torque, and is assisted sometimes by the electric motor.

Honda called its system Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), and it comprised a low-friction 1.3-litre engine as the primary power source, an ultra-thin electric motor, and a lightweight and compact battery pack, all mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission.
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This basic setup hasn’t changed much over the intervening 10 years, but it has been vastly improved as it been progressively introduced to other Honda vehicles, including the Civic hybrid we get in New Zealand.

Now another Honda hybrid has arrived – and appropriately it is called Insight. It’s an impressive new five-door hatchback that uses a modified version of the 1.3-litre engine from the Civic, and features a fifth-generation IMA system that is 24 per cent more compact than the fourth- generation version currently in the Civic.

Some real improvements have been made with this new IMA. The electric motor is now much thinner than before – 35.7mm compared to 61.5mm on the Civic – which helps make the entire system more compact and light.

Big improvements have also been made to the battery pack, which is 19 per cent smaller and 28 per cent lighter, which allows it to be stored under the floor of the Insight’s boot.

End result of all of this is a new hatchback that in every sense is just that – a hatchback. The compactness of the latest- generation IMA means so little storage space is required that the rear cargo room is 408 litres with all the seats in use, which is more than most other hatchbacks including the Toyota Corolla, and there is normal leg and headroom throughout.

Even the hybrid system works in a normal and unobtrusive way. On its own, the engine produces 65 kilowatts of power and 121 newton metres of torque, and when combined with the IMA this increases to 72 kW and 167 Nm.

All this is allowing Honda to market the new Insight not so much as a hybrid but as a hatchback, albeit one that has the technology to cost 40 per cent less to run than a conventional hatch.

Insight also carries a conventional price – which, Honda New Zealand claims, makes it the most affordable high-technology car on the market.

The base model S retails for $35,600 and more upmarket E for $38,800, which is not only almost lineball with conventional hatchbacks of a similar size, but way cheaper than the other hybrids currently on the market here, particularly the $42,000 Civic and the $48,500-$62,000 Toyota Prius.

This is all part of a grand plan by Honda, which discovered during recent overseas research that most motorists considered hybrids to be too expensive, and many others considered them to be elitist status symbols rather than efficient, cleaner modes of transport.

So the company set about changing that, embarking on a big effort to bring the price of the Insight down to much more acceptable levels.

It did it by using a large amount of existing componentry. For example the suspension, brakes and steering are pinched from the Honda Jazz. The engine compartment is also from the Jazz, and the engine and IMA system are modified versions of what is already aboard the Civic.

At a conference for New Zealand media in Queensland last week, special guest Yasunari Seki, the Insight’s project leader, said the aim of the development project was to reduce the size, complexity and price of components and systems in a big effort to drive the Insight’s final retail price downwards.

“Our engineers have shown great tenacity and skill in reducing the cost of the IMA system, which has allowed us to reduce the build costs of Insight,” he said.

Insight has been on the New Zealand new car scene for some weeks now, with potential customers taking the 40 demonstrators based at various dealerships for test drives. Interest has been such that as at last Thursday’s media conference 175 orders had been taken, and HNZ boss Graeme Seymour is confident things will settle to down to an average of more than 30 sales a month.

It’s an attractive car that looks more new-age than most other hatchbacks, with bodyshell lines that are reminiscent of the futuristic FX Clarity hydrogen- powered car that is now sold by Honda in some parts of the world.

But it’s pretty conventional all the same. The only real indications that the Insight is a hybrid are various features that are designed to “coach” the person behind the wheel to drive economically.

The primary such feature is a speedometer that glows green when the car is economically sipping petrol, and changes to blue when it is not.

It is a simple method of telling the driver how things are going, and far less intrusive than many of the other economy-encouraging systems aboard this car, including one that electronically grows leaves on trees during thousands of kilometres of being driven carefully, and rewards the driver by electronically presenting him or her with a trophy icon.

Research by Honda showed that different driving styles can cause variances in fuel economy by as much as 20 per cent. But the IMA aboard the Insight is capable of immediately getting back half of that via an ECON button that, when pushed, does such things as optimises gear ratios, engine revs and output by 4 per cent, controls air air conditioning and even keeps an eye on the cruise control, all in the interests of using less fuel.

Honda says the remaining half can be dealt to by subtly encouraging encouraging drivers to use more fuel-efficient driving techniques – and that’s what the coaching system is all about.

I recently drove an Insight more than 1800 kilometres during the AA Energywise Rally from Auckland to Wellington and back, and last week’s media event included a drive programme of another 250 km inland from the Gold Coast.

Both times I quickly discovered that rather than being anal about things and using every little guide to fuel economy available in this Insight, it was easier to simply hit the ECON button, keep the speedo colour green as much as possible, and take it from there.

Both times this allowed me to achieve an average fuel economy of 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres. In Aussie I also tried things out with the ECON off and the speedo coloured blue as often as possible – and the economy figure went out to 5.9 L/100 km.

And even that’s pretty good for a new Honda that to all intents and purposes is a conventional five- door hatch with excellent interior room and sound performance. The difference is that it will also reward careful driving but not severely punish the lead-footed stuff.

SOURCE: Stuff.co.nz

An Overview of the 2011 Honda Insight

By dancurranjr On December 1st, 2010

Recently, we found ourselves amazed that despite all the cars we have tested over the years, we have yet to test either the Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight! So, in early September we contacted Honda to check if they could help in easing our curiosity once and for all.

Design
It is difficult to talk about the Insight without comparing it with its direct competitor the Prius from Toyota. As both cars strive to achieve drag-free designs, both Toyota and Honda have taken a similar design direction in order to offer the best aerodynamics possible within the given price point.

While we never were huge fans of the two first generation Prius lines, the design started to get more intriguing with the release of the third generation Prius that finally started to offer something different, with sharper and more aggressive lines.

However, despite Toyota’s effort, we’ve always been more attracted to Honda’s vision of what a Hybrid family oriented five-passenger vehicle should look like. The Insight is just plain better looking, with sharp lines and refined detailing. It offers a more elegant alternative to the Prius. We especially like the Insight front grill which is similar to Honda’s 2nd generation Fuel Cell vehicle the FCX.

Interior
One of Honda’s weakest points has always been to offer dull interiors that tend to lack “ambition.” Sure, there have been some interesting attempts to try something different with a kind of mildly futuristic dashboard, but there is nothing too fancy in the Insight. Also, in order to keep our car as light as possible and still competitive, Honda had to cut down as much as possible on higher grade plastics and materials. This said, please rest assured that the Insight interior is not ugly, but it does lack personality or shall we say, presence.

On the Road
The major difference when it comes to comparing an Insight to a Prius comes in the approach that both manufacturers took when it comes to Hybrid technology.
We, at NihonCar, prefer Toyota’s Hybrid technology which offers, as far as we are concerned, an elegant way to introduce EV technology to the masses, which will enable your engine to fully switch to “All Electric” mode for periods of time. After all, who wants to purchase a Hybrid vehicle that will help save the planet, in a very small way over a long period of time, if they cannot feel immediate vindication by being able to drive purely on the power of its electric engine?

Honda, unfortunately for us, took another approach to this situation and does not include any “EV” mode (Eclectic Vehicle) whether your battery is fully charged or not. Like Toyota, Honda comes with the well-known Start-Stop technology, but switches to electric assist technology for the remainder of the time. Basically your engine will never stop running when your car is in motion, but will however be assisted when possible by an electric engine offering you more power at any given time without pumping too much gasoline from the tank.

On a technical stand point, Honda’s approach to the Hybrid world is sound. It is no better or worse than what is on offer from other manufacturers, it is just simply different. This simply means that at any given time when your car is in motion, even a little, your engine will be on, and personally I think it just spoils all the fun of owning a Hybrid.

To improve the Insight’s fuel efficiency by a whopping 10%, Honda has added an “ECO” button that, once pressed, will tweak your car’s driving behavior, performance and gear ratio. The effect of pushing this button is immediate and will turn your Insight into a rather under powered family car with sluggish response and feeling. On the flipside, ECO mode driving results in dramatically improved mileage.

Bottom line is that the integration of the 10-kilwatt electric motor in Honda’s usual 1.3l i-VTEC engine is absolutely seamless and gives you a total of 102Hp ( 14 + 88 ) offering, if you are careful, a 4.4l/100km consumption (City/Highway Mixt mode), a nice mark that can all go wrong if you start to be less gentle on the throttle.

Conclusion:
Sure the Insight does not incorporate the nice EV mode that is only available in Japan on the Toyota Prius, but all in all, the Insight delivers what it promises; excellent mileage with an ECO heart that it does not have to be ashamed of when compared to a Prius. So at this point what will matter most is if you prefer the Insight lines compared to the Prius, and this, my friends, may just be the most difficult part when you have to choose between the two.

SOURCE: NihonCar

New Features and Cheaper Base Model for 2011 Honda Insight

By dancurranjr On December 1st, 2010

The slow-selling Honda Insight hasn’t exactly stolen any of the Toyota Prius’ thunder since its introduction last year, and with new green cars like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf ready to join the battle, the future of Honda’s hybrid hatch doesn’t look too bright. Still, the Japanese automaker has given the Insight a host of improvements for the 2011 model year, including a new base model that retails for $18,950 (including the $750 destination charge).

So, what do you lose gain with the base Insight? For starters, a downgraded stereo system is on hand, with a single CD player and two – yes, two – speakers. Audiophiles need not apply. Remote entry is standard on the base Insight, but if you want amenities like cruise control, a USB audio interface, center armrest and floor mats, you’ll need to opt for the mid-grade LX trim. In other words, the new price leader is something of a municipal and fleet special. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the pricier EX now comes standard with steering wheel-mounted audio controls and can be optioned with navigation.

The Insight’s 1.3-liter inline-four with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist carries over largely unchanged, with fuel economy rated at 40/43 miles per gallon, city/highway.

SOURCE: Autoblog