Wednesday, November 22, 2006

GM likely to launch new plug-in hybrid

Vehicle will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, newspaper says, citing company officials.

DETROIT (Reuters) -- General Motors Corp. will likely unveil a prototype plug-in at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, a local paper reported Friday.

The advanced technology vehicle would have an extended driving range on battery power and would also have a diesel or gasoline engine that could power the car when the battery was low, the Detroit News said, citing unnamed GM officials.

Plug-in s are gas-electric vehicles that can recharge their batteries with an extension cord and a normal wall outlet.

GM, which is trying to recover from a $10.6 billion loss in 2005 and stop a slide in U.S. market share, has been criticized for relying heavily on gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles. This year, it has also drawn sharp criticism for its decision to kill its EV1 electric car program.

The EV1 was introduced at the 1997 Los Angeles Auto Show and leased to selected customers. But GM pulled the plug on the project in 2002, citing insufficient public support.

The automaker eventually collected and destroyed almost all of the 1,000 EV1 cars, prompting the making of a documentary titled "Who Killed the ?"

The film was released this summer to wide acclaim from environmentalists and others concerned about the country's dependence on oil.

In an interview with Motor Trend published in July, GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said killing the $1 billion EV1 program was his worst decision. He said it did not affect the automaker's profitability, but did hurt its image.

The Detroit News said Wagoner will talk about GM's emphasis on advanced technologies in a speech he plans to deliver at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this month.

Other automakers are also researching plug-in technology, including Toyota Motor Corp., the world's leading producer of hybrid vehicles.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. has also called for exploring plug-ins and is conducting advanced research on hydrogen.

Ford Motor Co. has a fleet of hybrid hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as part of "real world testing of fuel cell technology."

Gallery: Consumer Reports' Most Reliable Cars

Source: CNN dot com

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Most fuel-efficient cars for 2006

s and diesels tops in EPA's new Fuel Economy Guide. top SUV.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The , a gas-electric car, edged out the as the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the U.S., according to new mileage ratings from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

Both get an estimated 60 miles per gallon in city driving.

The , a two-seat car, gets an estimated 66 miles an gallon on the highway, though, while the Prius gets 55 miles per gallon.

The , a car that's classified as mid-sized, uses a different system that delivers better mileage in stop-and-go driving than in steady highway cruising.

The EPA's fuel economy figures are based on laboratory tests. Drivers in real-world conditions generally report lower actual mileage.

Mileage estimates for the redesigned 2006 Honda Civic are not yet available. The 2005 version ranked fourth overall last year, behind two versions of the Insight and the .

The is the most efficient "mid-sized" sedan by a wide margin. The Hyundai Elantra is listed as the most efficient non- mid-sized sedan. It gets an estimated 34 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 in the city.

Diesel-powered cars from Volkswagen took the top spots in the "compact" and "sub-compact" car categories. The diesel VW Beetle with manual transmission is the most efficient sub-compact and the VW Golf diesel, which is built on the same vehicle structure as the Beetle, is the most efficient compact. Both get an estimated 44 mpg on the highway and 37 in the city.

The Beetle and Golf tied for third in overall mileage rankings.

Among SUVs, the is the most efficient. It gets 36 mpg in city driving and 31 on the highway.

The Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute are very similar and get the same mileage. All tied for eighth in overall mileage rankings.

Top 10 vehicles overall:

1. () -- 60/66
2. (hybrid) -- 60/51
3. Volkswagen New Beetle and Golf (diesel, manual) -- 37/44
4. Volkswagen Jetta (diesel) -- 36/41
5. Ford Escape FWD -- 36/31
6. Volkswagen New Beetle and Jetta(diesel, automatic) -- 35/42
7. Volkswagen Golf (diesel, automatic) -- 33/44
8. 4WD (Also Mazda Tribute and Mercury Mariner 4WD s) -- 33/29
9. Lexus RX 400h 2WD and Toyota Highlander 2WD -- 33/28
10. Toyota Corolla (manual) -- 32/41

Taken from cnn dot com

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Friday, November 10, 2006

BMW invents steam-powered hybrid system

Turbosteamer turns engine heat into steam which is used to boost power and efficiency.

NEW YORK ( - Engineers at BMW have created a new type of powertrain for cars. Instead of electricity, though, this system relies on steam power to boost the engine's performance and save fuel.

About 35 percent of the energy created when an engine burns gasoline is lost as heat, according to the book "The Isaac Newton School of Driving: Physics and Your Car," by Barry Parker.

BMW's Turbosteamer system relies on a heating unit that replaces the muffler. It heats water to temperatures up to 550 degrees. The resultant steam is then carried to what is essentially a small steam engine.

With much of its heat energy converted to motion in the engine, the cooler steam -- now about 150 to 200 degrees -- goes through a system that combines the steam's heat with heat from the car's regular cooling system.

That second system is used to operate another, lower temperature, motor that further boosts the car's power.

A more refined system may be ready for production in about 10 years, the company said.

Taken from CNN dot com

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hybrid Cars Quietly Take to the Road: Autos Save Gas, Easy to Drive

by Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer

It's a typical Monday morning, and here's the Doughty Commuter in his 1998 verstuffed V8-engine SUV, fearlessly slogging along with 140,000 other commuters as they creep-crawl their way toward the Bay Bridge toll booths.

The Overstuffed's V8, a wise and proven if overly thirsty design, is idling away, slurping up the $2-a-gallon fine stuff. The Doughty Commuter is watching his fuel gauge sink sadly toward the bottom, nearly as fast as last week's Nasdaq.

But in the next lane over, what do we have here? This silent little bug of a car, and we do mean silent. It is a -- or it could be a -- and it is driven by a hybrid power train, a combination of gasoline-powered engine and electric motor.

Depending on the model, it gets anywhere from 45 to 68 miles per gallon, as much as five times the efficiency of the Overstuffed V8, and when it comes to a halt, it shuts off and burns nothing.

s are finally with us on a routine basis, brought to market by two of the most successful automobile manufacturers on the planet. They are being sold as everyday vehicles that, unlike their purely electric (and mercifully temporary) predecessors, do not need the tether of an electrical recharge to get the car going when it runs out of juice.

Instead, a , in its simplest form, works like this: When it is more efficient for the electric motor to be working, onboard computers switch it on.

The gasoline half of the equation works the same way.

On the road, the computer-controlled switch between gas and electricity is practically seamless. Perhaps the most eerie thing about a is when you brake to a stop -- in that endless traffic jam on the Bay Bridge, for example -- and the car goes into "sleeper" mode. It feels as if you have shut down the engine completely. But when you tap on the accelerator, the car "wakes up" and moves along.

"It's not like driving any other kind of car," says owner Brian Roberts, a 29-year-old project manager for a company that makes telephone switching devices. "But it's enough like driving a normal car so you get used to it pretty quickly."

Roberts, who lives in Pittsburg, is typical of the Bay Area buyer: curious about new technology and tired of ransoming his paycheck to the oil companies.

"I had a Toyota 4Runner, and I was only getting about 17 miles to the gallon," he said. "It was costing me a lot of money."

He checked out the , "but it had no back seat." The Insight, which gets an advertised 61 to 68 miles per gallon, is indeed a two-seater. It also comes only with a five-speed manual transmission, but Honda says an automatic is on the way.

Needing a family car, Roberts bought the , a four-door whose interior, Toyota says, is only slightly smaller than that of the bigger Camry sedan.

"What I found is that this car goes everywhere you need to go, and it comes pretty much loaded," Roberts said. Asked about the car's uniquely chunky design -- a cross between a Toyota Corolla and some granite boulders -- he said, "I haven't had any negative remarks. It looks different enough that people are interested."

They're also interested because there just are not very many of these cars rolling around the country.

s represent a small fraction of 1 percent of Toyota and Honda's total output. Toyota sold 422,961 copies of its best-selling model, the Camry, in the United States last year. Since the Prius was introduced in July, the company has sold slightly more than 8,000.

Honda, whose top seller, the Accord, accounted for 404,515 U.S. sales last year, has sold fewer than 4,000 Insights since the car's introduction four months ago.

One reason for these low numbers is that, according to industry sources, Toyota and Honda are losing as much as $10,000 on each $20,000 they sell in the United States because the new technology, still being made in small batches, is far more expensive than it would be if it were in mass production. In fact, Honda says the Insight is "an investment in our future." The future, in the form of next year, according to Honda spokesman Art Garner, will bring a power train in Honda's popular Civic line.

"When you tend to integrate ( technology) into mass-market vehicles like the Civic," Garner said, "it won't be long before we'll turn a profit on the s."

Outside the auto industry, environmental and consumer advocates alike have little but praise for the hybrids. But they caution that despite this quantum leap from a century-old way of doing things (the internal combustion engine as the sole way of powering a car), the hybrid may well be only temporary, until something better comes along.

"We tested both cars," said David Champion, director of automobile testing for the magazine Consumer Reports. "We had both cars for some time, and we haven't seen any problems in them. They seem to be fairly reliable, and they come from Honda and Toyota, who make reliable cars anyway."

Last year, the Sierra Club, normally no fan of the auto industry, gave Honda the club's "Award for Excellence in Environmental Engineering," the first product award in the organization's 108-year history. A few months after honoring Honda for its Insight, the club gave the same award to Toyota for its .

But Champion, like others, says that "over the long term, we see the vehicles as a stopgap. They're relatively heavy for what they are, and they're carrying around two engines and two fuel sources -- a battery pack and the electric motor, and the engine and its tank of gasoline."

The other problem is that cars powered by plain old diesel or gasoline engines have become so efficient that they can challenge s in the annual mileage sweepstakes held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Volkswagen's diesel-powered Jetta, Beetle and Golf cars get up to 49 miles per gallon, and various gasoline-powered models made by Honda, Toyota, Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Chevrolet get up to 41 miles per gallon.

Many experts say fuel cells are the wave of the future. Using any kind of readily available fuel -- such as natural gas, methanol, gasoline or ethanol -- the fuel cell, like a battery, creates electricity using an electrochemical process that extracts hydrogen from the incoming fuel.

But mass-produced fuel cell vehicles are probably five to 10 years away, and for now the choice is what we've been using for the past 100 years or hybrids.

And if you want to be probably the only one on your block with something different, then the names are either Prius or Insight.

"I like it," Roberts says, "because it's unique."

Taken from San Francisco Chronicle

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hybrids: Save gas, lose money

Consumer Reports says will lose value faster than other cars. Are they right?

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney staff writer

NEW YORK ( - Buying a will save you money on gas...but you might still come out behind.

One of two main reasons, according to a recent analysis by Consumer Reports, is an additional cost that has typically been treated as an unknown: depreciation. Another factor, the report found, is purchase price -- s simply have higher sticker prices than their non- counterparts, and gas savings don't do nearly enough to close the gap.

According to Consumer Reports' analysis of six gasoline/electric vehicles, they will lose 2 percent to 3 percent more in value over five years of ownership than otherwise identical non-s.

With the purchase price difference, depreciation and other costs like financing and insurance factored in, only the and Honda would save owners any money -- $406 and $317, respectively, over 5 years. That final figure includes the impact of a federal tax incentives for s. Without those incentives, buyers face a net cost of ownership of $2,700 more than Corolla buyers.

Other hs would cost owners thousands more than non-s over five years of ownership, even after federal tax credits.

For example, a Toyota costs $7,185 more to purchase than the non- version. That results in $558 more in sales tax and $2,653 more in financing costs. It also will cost $358 more to insure for five years and $12 more in repair and maintenance costs. In addition, the will also lose 3.9 percent more in value than the non-.

The will save you about $1,392 in gasoline over that time. So, even with a $2,200 federal tax credit in your bank account, the will ultimately cost you $5,508 more after five years than a similarly-equipped non- Highlander.

Figures originally published in Consumer Reports magazine on March 1 showed the cost gap being much larger and none of the vehicles saving owners any money. A correction posted to the magazine's Website Wednesday morning adjusted for a miscalculation in the rate of depreciation. The corrected figures narrow the gap, but all the vehices still depreciate at a faster rate than non-s, according to the magazine.

Depreciation debate

Depreciation is a major factor in Consumer Reports' analysis. But, experts say, it's difficult to accurately predict depreciation since few mainstream-targeted hybrid vehicles have entered the used car market.

supporter and owner James Bell, publisher of the automotive guide IntelliChoice, recently sold his two-year-old for just $4,000 less than he originally paid for it -- a remarkably low rate of depreciation

Even Bell acknowledges, however, his experience isn't a perfect indicator. Unlike most s, the is a uniquely designed vehicle that exists only as a . There are still waiting lists for new es at dealerships, so some impatient buyers will look for used ones instead.

And even for the Prius, some experts are saying that, because of ' technical complexity and additional costs, used car buyers will become wary of them in years to come.

Still, Bell thinks will hold their value at least as well as, if not better than, regular, non- vehicles. "We don't see any reason at this point to think that a is going to track along as an outstanding value and then suddenly crash," he said. In spite of increased production, systems will likely remain rare enough to command a premium among used car buyers, Bell said.

Nonetheless, there may be more effective ways to save on gas than buying a . Buying a smaller car, for example, or just getting a smaller engine. "s are kind of a luxury item," points out Jeff Bliskell, who wrote the feature for Consumer Reports.

Some luxury items that provide a tangible benefit, like heated seats, generally add to a vehicle's resale value. Whether a powertrain provides a real benefit, and will add to the car's value, will depend on a potential buyer's feelings about the social and environmental impact of fuel consumption.

Raj Sunderam, president of Automotive Lease Guide, a company that predicts residual values of cars for the purpose of calculating lease terms, also sees possibly losing value faster than non-s.

"We would agree with Consumer Reports that this is an area of caution," he said.]

But among the unknowns, Sunderam said, is long-term durability. "There's no track record of how they hold up after 80,000 or 100,000 miles," said Sunderam.

As the number of s available increases, that could also drive used prices lower. But it could also increase familiarity with the systems and ease potential used car buyers concerns about getting the car serviced, said Sunderam.

Still, said Sunderam, given the issues surrounding s, the prudent course is to assume they will lose value faster than non-. It will be up to future used car buyers to prove that assumption wrong.

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