By on November 23, 2006

x07st_vu007.jpgIn 1971, U.S. Senator Roman Hruska rose to the defense of an undistinguished Supreme Court nominee named G. Harrold Carswell. "Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?" And their successors are entitled to wheels befitting their station in life, like the Saturn Vue Green Line.

Aesthetically, the Vue adheres to former NBC Chief Brandon Tartikoff’s “least objectionable program” school of marketing. Despite a recent cosmetic upgrade boasting (ironically speaking) a more rounded front end and a spiffy swage line, the Vue remains deeply, resolutely generic. The Vue’s panel gaps make it the automotive equivalent of a shotgun shack. To differentiate the hybrid Vue from its gas-powered cousins, GM gave it some natty five-spoke alloys, slapped on a bunch of hybrid badges and called it good.  

x07st_vu009.jpgThe Vue's cockpit is heavily cost-constrained. The flat, unsupportive bucket seats are covered with the least leather-like leather ever made by hand of man. The steering-wheel cruise-control buttons are like miniature Mormons: small, oddly oriented and hard to depress. The wiper stalk moves as if a plastic burr left over from manufacturing hasn't yet broken off. The belt-driven air conditioner cuts out at stoplights. On hot days, you have to disable “economy-mode”– if you can figure out whether the Eco button should be green, amber or unlit. The owner's manual (printed on what appears to be a cross between newsprint and Charmin) is entirely vague on this point.  

On the positive side, every important knob and dial on the center console is glove-friendly: oversized and edged in ribbed rubber (which sounds a lot sexier than it is). And the back deck carries a reasonable amount of luggage for a weekend away or a pack-light vacation. Technoheads get a line-in jack on the dash, three 12-volt outlets and an available backseat DVD system. The $1125 "comfortably safe" (only half right) package includes side air curtain airbags, XM Satellite Radio, power seat adjusters on the driver's side and heated front seats. We'll leave it to six-degrees-of-separation aficionados to explain how those four features are related, other than in the options package.

x07st_vu010.jpgThe Vue Green Line is a mild hybrid (also called assist hybrid or belt alternator hybrid). The vehicle marries an electric motor/generator and a 36-volt battery pack to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine. The electric motor provides some, but not a lot, of boost. When you come to a stop, both erstwhile propulsion systems shut down. When you start up, both engines start up. When the front-drive-only Vue hybrid slows down, the brakes regenerate electricity that goes back to the storage battery. The systems’ combined output is 170 hp.

That’s not a lot of oomph considering the Vue's 3420 pounds. It's no suprise that the zero to 60 amble takes 10-plus seconds. The Vue is pleasant enough to drive at 65mph– so long as you're in no hurry to achieve that speed and the road is perfectly flat and baby bottom smooth. Like most of us, the Vue is completely winded at 75. The SUV's speedometer goes to 130, but you won't. In-gear acceleration takes an eternity; the only clue to progress was a persistent vibration in the passenger door that disappeared when I reached the higher speed.

GM touts the Vue hybrid's 32mpg highway rating as the best of any hybrid SUV, although the Ford Escape and its sibling Mercury Mariner do better around town (36 mpg city, 31 mph highway). Still, the Vue Green Line represents General Motors' good-faith effort to do something nice for the environment. The crawl-before-you-walk premise is simple: we can’t give you a big fuel-economy improvement yet, but hey, it's cheap. So, hybrid fans, let’s do the math…

x07st_vu011.jpgThe base Vue Green Line runs $22,995. A loaded model is $26,250. The “hybrid premium” is $2k less the $650 tax credit, or $1350. The Vue gets 29mpg combined, which is 18 percent better than a standard four-cylinder Vue. At $2.15 a gallon, a Vue hybrid saves you 1.5 cents a mile. Divide the hybrid premium by the savings and you'll been even in, oh, 90k miles. No offense, Saturn, but it will take a dedicated owner to stick it out long enough to see payback. I'm not sure I could take seven years of buzzing door panels.

The Saturn Vue Green Line is a bridge vehicle between the old Saturn and the new Saturn, the "like never before" company that offers the Aura mid-size sedan and other modern cars. The Vue Green Line is from the "like always" side of the ledger: basic transportation that gets you where you're going. Consumers who spend money on the Vue Green line are advised to consider it a transfer payment to get GM to take where it needs to be going: into a full-hybrid and/or clean diesel future. The truth is, like G. Harrold, GM’s mid-size SUV is mediocre to its aging core.

[For the complete review, please visit www.technoride.com]

 

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42 Comments on “Saturn Vue Green Line Review...”


  • avatar
    JJ

    In other words; nobody should buy this thing.

    Btw, speaking of hybrids, I read somewhere that the energy it takes to create a hybrid drivetrain, or at least a Prius, far exceeds the energy it saves in lower gas usage during its life, when compared to a similar regular petrol engine.

    Is this true or made up by GM people when they found out they weren’t going to be able to supply hybrids for two years at the time the Prius was introduced.

    Personally I think this hybrid hype is just that, it has no significant benefits IMHO. I’m still waiting to hear more about the holy grail; hydrogen. The first production car is already available (7-series). More cars will follow.

  • avatar
    Eric Miller

    People will either rant or rave about hybrids. The VUE Greenline is a [very] mild hybrid and makes no apologies for not representing the bleeding edge of hybrid technology. The article incorrectly states that the combined hybrid system makes 170hp, that’s just the 2.4L variable-valve 4 cylinder in the Greenline; a significant step up from the 140hp 2.2L in the base VUE, and most of why it’s one second faster to sixty. When reviewing cost this is important. The Greenline also comes standard with ABS and traction control, a $600 option on the base gas VUE (The 2.4L, ABS, and TC are a $995 option on ION). Plus the Greenline has standard alloy wheels ($400 option on base), body colored mirrors and doorhandles, and a rear spoiler. The $2000 premium quoted for the Greenline falls to much less than $1000 when factoring the additional standard equipment. Then take the tax credit and the ‘premium’ is a few hundred bucks at most.

    The BAS alternator/starter does add 115lb-ft of torque to the equation and can ‘assist’ acceleration. Is it a perfect system? No, not by a long shot. Does it help? Sure, by exactly 5 mpg city and freeway with very little weight penalty (not true in other hybrids) and very little cost penalty (ditto).

    The Greenline Aura is due out this summer and is sure to carry this exact same drivetrain. In a lighter, sleeker sedan it is rumored to be well over 30 mpg city and near 40 mpg freeway and be priced a little less than the $22995 VUE Greenline, already the least expensive hybrid.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Eric makes a good point – the VUE is much closer to being an economic proposition than Escape (or Prius for that matter). Unfortunately it is also an old-style GM product but I guess there is always hope for the next model (isn’t there always with GM?)

    However, most hybrids are a long way from being mass-market material. Not only don’t the dollar numbers add up but they they are downright dangerous. The so-called low rolling resistance rubber that they fit to these vehicles have absolutely no grip in the dry or wet. Driving a Prius in challenging conditions is a traumatizing experience you would not want to subject your family to.

    If you want to save the world and your wallet, get a last gen Golf or Jetta diesel – better highway mileage, better handling and cheap to buy.

  • avatar

    @JJ

    … speaking of hybrids, I read somewhere that the energy it takes to create a hybrid drivetrain, or at least a Prius, far exceeds the energy it saves in lower gas usage during its life, when compared to a similar regular petrol engine.

    The energy consumed in manufacture is only relevant if you consider this from a holistic point-of-view.

    What matters to a consumer is how much gas they have to spend in order to make it from A-to-B, and there hybrids have a strong perceived edge, while also satisfying the desire to be doing something new.

    Serious bucks were spent on trying to undermine the hybrid movement, so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they made this claim. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? A Prius has two engines (one gas/one el) and a very large battery — thus more energy is required to produce these than would be required to make one gas engine …

  • avatar
    WaaaaHoooo

    carguy:
    “If you want to save the world and your wallet, get a last gen Golf or Jetta diesel – better highway mileage, better handling and cheap to buy. “

    But is it cheap to maintain? I haven’t checked out the maintenance specs for the VW diesels here in the USA, but I had an Audi diesel in Germany. It was a 1.9 and made 150hp. I loved it – mainly because the company picked up the maintenance tab. It didn’t break down per se, but it required some special oil that cost a bundle – I recall an oil change being in the neighborhood of about $120 and the oil being something like $12 a quart. I had my oil changed every 8,000 km so factoring this in was a fair cost hit. When I’d punch it in the city, a fair amount of soot blew out the back too … I could see it in my mirror.

    Still I wanted to bring it back stateside, but the engine was not supported here mechanically or technically. Audi said diesels don’t “fit into their sporty image” in the USA and it turns out the 90 hp 1.9 diesel VW offered here (at the time) was the absolute crappiest in their arsenal – I think the motor harkened back to like the early 90s or so in Europe. So saying only American companies sell us yesteryear’s tech is flat out wrong.

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    “Btw, speaking of hybrids, I read somewhere that the energy it takes to create a hybrid drivetrain, or at least a Prius, far exceeds the energy it saves in lower gas usage during its life, when compared to a similar regular petrol engine.” – jj

    The one “study” I saw about this compared a big Hummer and a Prius. One of the interesting assumptions was that the Hummer would last 300,000 miles and the Prius would last 100,000 miles and their manufacturing energy cost was amortized over the life of the vehicles. It was good for a laugh.

    The energy cost to manufacture something will be reasonably proportional to the actual cost to manufacture the vehicle, because the price of the energy is in the manufacturing processes that go into the car.

  • avatar
    JSForbes

    “Btw, speaking of hybrids, I read somewhere that the energy it takes to create a hybrid drivetrain, or at least a Prius, far exceeds the energy it saves in lower gas usage during its life, when compared to a similar regular petrol engine.”

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, speaking from a pure energy standpoint. But, energy used for manufacturing (electricity) and energy used by the hybrid itself (gasoline) aren’t the same and shouldn’t be treated the same.

  • avatar

    Other reviews have also stated the the 170 is a combined figure. This is a very weak electric motor–it only contributes five horsepower to the total, and perhaps none at the power peak. Figures from C&D:

    http://www.caranddriver.com/shortroadtests/11746/2007-saturn-vue-green-line.html

    My site can be used to quickly determine the price difference. Adding things optional on the regular Vue but standard on the GL AND including the $650 tax credit yields a difference of $1,555. However, a $1,000 rebate is only available on non-GL VUEs, widening the gap to $2,555.

    Features this doesn’t account for are the larger engine and a rear spoiler. GM charges $650 for the larger four in the HHR (my site doesn’t adjust for engines), and a spoiler is worth about $200. So, if we’re going to give the GL the benefit of the doubt (the extra horsepower is largely canceled out by the extra curb weight), the premium after everything is about $1,705. So, if anything the figures in the article err in the VUE’s favor.

    http://www.truedelta.com/models/VUE.php

    Edit: I take back the bit about the curb weight. The GL weighs only about 130 pounds more than the regular VUE 2.2 automatic.

  • avatar
    NoneMoreBlack

    “Btw, speaking of hybrids, I read somewhere that the energy it takes to create a hybrid drivetrain, or at least a Prius, far exceeds the energy it saves in lower gas usage during its life, when compared to a similar regular petrol engine.”

    Here is a decent summary of the article:
    http://www.thewatt.com/article-1070-nested-1-0.html

    And the actual article (450 pages of it):
    http://cnwmr.com/nss-folder/automotiveenergy/

    Basically, it calculated the entire cost, in energy terms, of manufacturing, running, and recycling a vehicle. It determined that due to hugely greater energy costs for the manufacture and recycling of hybrid vehicles, the net effect of their lifetime of operation was simply to export pollution to the country of their manufacture. Additionally, they were more expensive that many other surprising vehicles, such as the H2.

    From what I’ve read about it, it sounds like the methodology is pretty strong. However, I haven’t read the entire thing yet, and seeing as it isn’t in a peer-reviewed journal, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Hybrid, Diesel, jet-powered or normal, normal, normal — if the car is lousy to drive with an awful interior, WHO CARES?

  • avatar

    On the face of it, that CNW report is pure BS. It’s necessary to look critically at such things, not simply assume that since it’s hundreds of pages long it must be thorough and accurate.

    Just look at the bar charts in that summary article. Let’s assume a car only lasts 120,000 miles, which is probably well below the current average. Supposedly the “dust-to-dust” energy cost of a non-hybrid Civic is about $2.40 per mile. This suggests a lifetime energy cost of $288,000, which is far above any credible figure.

    The Civic might cost $20,000 to buy, which includes profit for the manufacturer and dealer. If it gets 30 mpg, then it will use 4,000 gallons of gas over its lifetime, so perhaps another $10,000. What other costs might there be? Perhaps another $5,000 for maintenance and repairs? This leaves over a quarter-million dollars unaccounted for.

    Even if we look at the cheapest car shown, the Scion xB, the total lifetime cost is about 40 cents/mile (why so much less than the Civic?), which works out to at least $48,000. Still well above reality.

    This tells me that CNW used thoroughly implausible, worst case scenario and then some assumptions to arrive at their figures, and thus that this report is, as I said, pure BS and certainly not worth the energy cost of its creation and dissemination.

    I’d write a critique for TTAC, but another 600 words on this report would be a waste of my energy.

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    I would very happily cycle or take the bus to work so that I could burn rubber on the weekends guilt-free.

    This car sounds pretty half-hearted. Or half-assed. But hey, baby steps.

    BTW, you get a bigger break on Hybrids in Canada, and I think you’ll be able to use HOV lanes as a single passenger, so there’s a possible advantage.

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    It’s a pet peeve of mine when people complain about stock tires – because almost all stock tires suck. If you want decent tires you’ll have to change them whether it’s a Prius or a WRX STI.

    I had a ’95 Saturn and it’s a little sad that they are still so pathetic. At least they are semi-green and pathetic though, and I hope the Aura Greenline works out well. Supposedly that car is pretty decent anyways so the Greenline version might not suck, in fact if it really is decently cheap then it might even be kinda cool.

    I don’t know about all you guys, but I think the hybrid thing is kinda neat. So far only the Accord Hybrid has been a power model but the torque characteristics of the electric motor will be put to use sooner or later. Batteries will get better and lighter, etc. etc. The fact that they are on the road and can push up efficiency by even 18% counts for something in my book.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    carguy:

    dangerous tires? i drive a honda hybrid around alot, no problem with grip in wet or snow.

    I also like golfs alot too, incidentally.

    Jonny Lieberman:

    the honda hybrid replaced a year old vue that was the worst piece of shit i have ever been in. And I had a mid 80′s mustang, the previous record holder.

    Michael Karesh:

    You are right, the CNW report is crap on the base of it, and still is after looking at it for a while.

    Now then:

    In the city, the honda hybrid which, like the vue, has a mild hybrid, returns AMAZING fuel results. My VW 4 cyl is embarassed.

    ALso, its not just about fuel use. Hybrids also tend to spew fewer tailpipe emissions. Which in a city , is greatly appreciated.

    I am not a fan of hybrids generally, i am afraid of cars that rely on too much programming. HA! The honda was recalled because of a software upgrade! Shades of Microsoft. And u think cars are unreliable! I’m a systems engineer. Hang on kiddies!

    Nevertheless, a car the gets better milage while reducing tailipe emissions will always get my attention, if not necessarily my dollars. Hybridize a fast sports car, so it does not kill me driving around in the city, and im there.

  • avatar
    rtz

    This article is a fine example of what happens time and time again. Vehicle manufacturer develops a vehicle and releases it and a review such as the one above results.

    That is their first problem, error, and mistake. They should have built it, had it reviewed, then corrected every fault that was pointed out about it in the review. If this would have happened, it would have been interesting to see how the review would have fared if all the faults found above were nonexistent.

  • avatar
    HawaiiJim

    Brendan, nice point. Let’s take your bicycle analysis even more outside the box. Does the couple who have no children get a break on their car choice because they will not produce generation after generation of energy-users? Looking at long-term environmental impact and energy consumption, that childless couple shoud be able to drive an airliner to work without guilt.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    This vehicle is the epitome of the problem with General Motors today. Back in 1955, the Chevrolet division of the General debuted a 265 cubic-inch, overhead valve V8 that established a new technological benchmark; of course, that engine has survived because it was so spot on for the times and so versatile to the needs of both engineers and industrial designers. That engine was the brainchild of Ed Cole, who would later take the helm of GM (and whose son, now a college professor, heads up the Transportation Design Institute at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor).
    All that is lost now as GM follows the lead of other companies, such as Toyota and Honda, in terms of technological breakthroughs. It was pathethic when the Saturn division had to buy a V6 engine from Honda, for its higher-end, internal-combustion engined (only) VUE. Now, they come up with a hybrid system with a net gain in mileage is so neglible, that this car’s value is merely symbolic; the General’s way of saying, “Hey, we can indeed build a hybrid, also.” Thing is, if you’re going to follow in someone’s footsteps, you want to best them – at least, if you want to one up them in the marketplace. No wonder Captain Kirk is dumping his stock. But then again, I could be wrong; and maybe GM will surprise us all. But the VUE Green Line sure isn’t that surprise.

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    jj

    I don’t usually pay attention to “energy studies” that show some technology is good or bad.
    1. Analyzing energy use sounds easy but is hard – which energy inputs do you include? Where do you get your numbers?
    2. Some forms of energy are cheaper than others – example electric power is cheaper per Joule than gasoline.
    3. Some of these “studies” are very poor quality, example the CNW study.

    My advice – following the money. A free market system prices products and services based on supply and demand, and in the long run prices will reflect the true resource cost – how much and how scarce. Be a cheap-skate: if you can save money (purchase + fuel + repair) with hybrid then buy it, otherwise buy something else. Simple (“the law of the green cheapskate”).

    Another place where energy analyis has been used is showing how ethanol is “good” or “bad”. Again this is waste of time – right now it is significantly more expensive without subsidy.

  • avatar

    GM’s Dual Mode Hybrid is a thoroughly leading edge system, with greater potential efficiency and performance than Toyota’s current best system. They simply took a two-pronged approach, with the VUE’s hybrid as a much simpler, much lower cost system.

    As for changing the vehicle based on reviews, inside any of these companies there are plenty of people who know exactly what should be fixed well before the new product reaches production. These people just are not listened to efficiently or effectively in most cases. One reason is it’s not easy for an organization to determine which supposed experts truly know what they are talking about. This was the topic of my Ph.D. thesis:

    http://www.truedelta.com/execsum.php

    I wrote it based on GM. But just last week a Ford product development engineer wrote me to say it described his organization as well.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    Tastes can be argued about, but it’s hard to settle an argument about it. I thought this generation Vue was quite distinctive in the style department. At least I have no problem spotting them on the road. I can’t say the same for the merc ml, kia sorento, hyunday santafe/tucson, crv, rav4 and other who all look like a big blob.

    But fear not, the next gen Vue will be a blob as well.

    I think the hybrid Vue is a good effort from GM. It does not look very appealing from reading your article. However, they have a better chance to steer a few people their way with the magic ‘hybrid’ keyword.

    Arguing about the 1.5c per mile advantage is pretty dishonest. I have yet to see such calculation for any hybrid that will let you recoup the ‘hybrid premium’ in a reasonnable amount of time. Even though 90k miles is not that high of a mileage.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Compared to the 2.2L non-hybrid, this truck is heavier, has a larger and more powerful engine, and a drag-increasing spoiler. How does one explain the improved highway economy? Low-traction tires? Higher gearing? Marketing lies?

  • avatar

    The calculation was very favorable for the Camry Hybrid before the tax credit got cut in half, but this assumed a similar discount as on a regular Camry.

    As for highway fuel economy, the EPA’s highway loop includes some stopping and acceleration, just not as much as the city loop. So a hybrid system will still have some benefit. Also, as I corrected myself earlier, the GL weights only about 130 pounds more than the regular VUE automatic, a negligible amount.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    Just one minor issue. Has anyone calculated how hybrids in general will depreciate? I’d imagine they’d at the very least do as well as their more conventional counterparts, if not continue to hold more value. That’s gotta count for something. Not that it’s a huge redeeming factor in the GL’s favour, just that it’s a bit of a copout to say that the only way it’ll earn its keep is by not using a lot of gas.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    If I’m understanding GM’s “weak” hybrid technology, it provides a meaningful improvement in efficiency for relatively little extra weight, cost and complexity — particularly compared to other types of hybrids.

    If this is correct, isn’t the key problem right now that economies of scale aren’t yet adequate to bring the cost down? So if GM offered this type of hybrid across the board as an option, might it not become affordable enough to be viewed as preferable to a conventional engine?

  • avatar
    CAHIBOstep

    With regard to the VW TDI engine, my ’99 used 5W40 synthetic oil ($4.50 per quart). Oil changes were required every 10,000 miles.

    The timing belt needed to be replaced every 50,000 miles at $800 a pop. Otherwise, everything else was pretty standard in terms of maintenance.

    Having said that, the turbocharger burned up at 51,000 miles on mine, and VW treated me terribly. In fact, they refused to honor the warranty on the engine. I sold the car immediately. They really blew it, because I loved that car and I would definitely be driving a new one today.

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    hawaiijim
    Brendan, nice point. Let’s take your bicycle analysis even more outside the box. Does the couple who have no children get a break on their car choice because they will not produce generation after generation of energy-users? Looking at long-term environmental impact and energy consumption, that childless couple shoud be able to drive an airliner to work without guilt.

    But not an H2.

  • avatar
    JSForbes

    SunnyvaleCA: Maybe it has taller gearing with its more powerful engine? Anyone know?

  • avatar
    whitenose

    Iff hybrid cars are dubious investments in terms of absolute profit/loss, this is the most dubious one yet.

    I think Car and Driver’s Vue Green Line review said it better: “less hybrid for less money.”

  • avatar

    I think Steven T is on the right track. I think a mild hybrid system like this one will eventually become very common, at an additional cost of perhaps $500. When oil prices rise again, and historically they have to go up, then $500 would be cheap enough to make such a system worthwhile in just about any vehicle.

  • avatar
    Eric Miller

    It was pathethic when the Saturn division had to buy a V6 engine from Honda, for its higher-end, internal-combustion engined (only) VUE.

    Honda approached GM as they were interested in GM/Isuzu diesels for Honda to use in parts of Europe until they developed their own (which they now have). GM then got to use the 3.5L SOHC V6 in the VUE in the US for four years. The next-gen VUE will offer the same 3.6L V6 that powers the Aura and Outlook (and several other GM products).

    Compared to the 2.2L non-hybrid, this truck is heavier, has a larger and more powerful engine, and a drag-increasing spoiler. How does one explain the improved highway economy? Low-traction tires? Higher gearing? Marketing lies?

    The 170hp 2.4L has variable valve timing. The 2.2L does not. In every vehicle where GM offers both the 2.2L and the 2.4L they get the same fuel economy ratings. Ain’t technology grand.

    The ‘spoiler’ is not for downforce but to smooth the turbulent air over the roof and rear gate. Those who have driven a minivan, wagon, or SUV on a dusty road will understand.

    Most hybrids use specific tires chosen for low rolling-resistance. The VUE Greenline also sits at least an inch lower for better aerodynamics.

    The VUE GL does use a slightly different (3.63) final drive ratio versus 3.05 in a gas-only VUE. All four gear ratios and torque convertor are the same. The computer controls are much more sophisticated and use much different algorythyms for the hybrid coast/regenerate/restart. The GL’s transaxle also has external electric pumps to cool trans fluid and maintain line pressure when the engine isn’t running.

    Michael Karesh is right, the horsepower add from the electric motor is negligible, esp. at peak power, but the TORQUE add is 115lb-ft available from zero rpm. That’s a significant assist.

    The VUE GL is 129 pounds heavier. Keep in mind that figure also includes the ABS/Traction equipment which is probably offset by the aluminum wheels and lack of a spare tire. The 36V NiMH batteries weigh about 50 pounds, IIRC. The rest is the BAS, extra wiring (the 36V ought-ought gauge wiring running from underhood to cargo area has got to weigh a lot), and the liquid-cooled powertain computer.

    I’m only adding this info as I find it very interesting and have read alot about it. I wouldn’t personally benefit from a hybrid. I’m more of a diesel guy (owned several in fact).

  • avatar
    NoneMoreBlack

    On the face of it, that CNW report is pure BS. It’s necessary to look critically at such things, not simply assume that since it’s hundreds of pages long it must be thorough and accurate.

    Hence my saying “should be taken with a grain of salt”

    Just look at the bar charts in that summary article. Let’s assume a car only lasts 120,000 miles, which is probably well below the current average. Supposedly the “dust-to-dust” energy cost of a non-hybrid Civic is about $2.40 per mile. This suggests a lifetime energy cost of $288,000, which is far above any credible figure.

    1) The average lifetime of the vehicle takes into account the vehicles that are scrapped. So, even if most consumers will take their vehicles to 200k+ miles before they expire, the number of vehicles that are totalled at numbers much lower than that will drag down the average.

    2) You are misinterpreting their “cost” equation, which you would know if you had bothered to read the long caveat section in their report. They explicitly state that they calculated the costs of things such as manufacture, fuel, and repair into energy terms of kilowatts, joules, etc. These were then converted to dollar figures, in order to “make the report easier to understand for consumers.” These numbers would be easier to interpret as a simple ordinal number with no units, as they merely represent the cost to society through an intermediary in the form of US dollars.

    This tells me that CNW used thoroughly implausible, worst case scenario and then some assumptions to arrive at their figures, and thus that this report is, as I said, pure BS and certainly not worth the energy cost of its creation and dissemination.

    1) What exactly is so implausible?. Hold all things constant, and examine each variable; if one vehicle is more expensive to recycle in energy terms, does it not cost more, “dust to dust,” to run? Certain factors may have more or less impact, and are worth examining; practically nothing, however, is impossible.
    2) The very idea of “worst case scenario” implies a value judgement on both your part and theirs; that they were attempting to prove that hybrid vehicles are costly to society, and that this is the costliest they could possibly be shown to be. Since the president of CNW is an alternate energy adovocate, and has been since the days of the EV, this is unlikely. However, it demonstrates to me that you have personal sentiments about what the data should show, and that those have colored your impressions.
    3) The entire foundation of economics, cultural studies, sociology, etc, is that it is impossible to take into account all extant variables, which are infinite. Thus, in order to perform any meaningful research whatsoever, you must make assumptions, and then carefully operate within the confines of those assumptions. Calling anything BS simply because it makes such assumptions is a fallacy.

    Now, if you would please read my own caveats:

    I have not read this report in its entirety, as it is long and I am lazy. There are certain parts of their methodology that are troubling to me, such as taking into account the energy costs of the workers who assemble the vehicles getting to and from work. Probably the most important point is how they went around this conversion of energy costs to dollar figures; the entirety of the report’s conclusions rest upon this. With any research project involving this much data, extrapolation and interpretation, there are likely to be shortcomings, some of which may be fatal. I just don’t know enough about it at this point to say what those might be.

    My point here is simply that you are committing the very sin you seem so vitriolic about; it appears that just as some conservative anti-alternate-energy douchebag would embrace this report blindly, you have taken your stance merely upon reading its conclusion, perused it only with enough care to find points which you can use to support your preconceived notions, and then waxed rantical about it. Let’s look critically at things then, remember that “critically” means a lot more than simply finding faults.

  • avatar
    Captain Neek

    IMO, the main issue with hybrids is WTF do you do with the battery when it comes to recycling / crushing / landfill time? As far as I’m aware (and I’m a luddite, admittedly) the stuff (heavy metals?) that goes into baterries is really, really nasty and can’t be recycled….

    Another thought – what happens when a hybrid is involved in a serious accident? Do the emergency services know that they are dealing with and that the vehicle represents different, if not greater, risks?

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I would be much more impressed by a clean-diesel version of the Vue with great fuel economy and decent performance.

    Hybrids are mostly the wrong answer to the fuel economy question. More weight, more parts, more complexity, yuck. Great engineering lies in elegance and simplicity. Hybrids are the ultimate mash-up engineering excercise, and here GM doesn’t even do a good job of a bad idea.

    I eagerly await Honda’s promised clean diesels!

    John

  • avatar

    NoneMoreBlack,

    There are no caveats that can sufficiently explain being off by nearly an order of magnitude in many cases. If the summary of a report says 2 + 3 = 37, I don’t need to dig into the details. It’s clearly wrong. “Putting it into terms that the normal person can understand” is an explanation best restricted to theology. Where I’m personally not crazy about it, either.

    120,000 was a “giving them the benefit of the doubt” number, as were all of those I used in my quick calculations. Maybe they used 100,000, even though few cars expire that early. Doesn’t matter. Their results are way off and inconsistent.

    We live in a market economy. With a few minor exceptions and one major one, all energy costs are reflected in the prices of products. The energy workers use getting to and from work is paid for by their wages. Their wages are paid for by the buyer of the product. The cost of energy can only be greater than the price of the product if someone else, like the government, pays it. And except for military spending the government isn’t paying.

    Similarly, the cost of recycling is handled by junk yards. It’s not necessary to pay junk yards to take cars. Usually they give you money. Hence, the cost of recycling must be lower than the value of the car at the end of its life. Put another way, this cost is also reflected in the initial purchase price of the car.

    Hybrids use NiMH batteries that do not contain heavy metals. I have looked into the cost of recycling the size battery pack that is in one of the Toyotas before (which is larger than that in the Prius) and it came out to a couple hundred dollars. The nickel in these packs tends to be worth more than the cost of recycling them, especially today when nickel is fetching high prices. Needless to say, the cost of recycling these packs includes the cost of the energy used in the process.

  • avatar

    Diesels and hybrids are not mutually exclusive. Toyota has already announced that it has a diesel hybrid in the works. Which wouldn’t be new. Nearly every railroad locomotive has been a diesel-electric series hybrid for decades.

    As I said in an earlier comment, I think nearly every car will eventually include a simple hybrid system. Combine an enhanced generator with a battery pack, and you’ve got a hybrid. Recouping energy othwise dissipated as heat by the brake rotors simply makes sense.

    BMW showed a different sort of hybrid about a year ago that is probably more of a stretch. It used exhaust heat to create steam, which then powered a small steam engine to the effect of ten or so horsepower. Which might not sound like much, but it’s roughly half the energy needed to move a car at 60.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    Captain Neek – The heavy metals are recoverable with different methods depending on the battery metals. For example, some batteries are melted down, and the result of the molten mess (smelting) are layers of heavy metals in liquid form that are skimmed off, layer by layer. I am sure that every manufacturer of hybrid vehicles has a free battery recycling policy in effect.

    jthorner – I feel the same way about hybrids. I made the best case I possibly could when I nominated the Prius for the TWAT awards. (I used 19th century German Philosophy, called it a Rude Goldberg contraption on wheels, likened it to the convoluted vehicles in the “Mad Max” series of films, but all to no avail.)

    Ryan – Maybe the depreciation on hybrids will be higher because of the slow and steady deterioration of the battery (and accompanying “fuel efficiency” deterioration) unitl the cost of battery replacement is fully realized?

    jerseydevil – I agree with you when you say “I am not a fan of hybrids generally” but disagree with your reasons when you say “i am afraid of cars that rely on too much programming.”

    The problem with very complex software (millions of lines of instructions) like a MS OS is that it has to work with trillions of different combinations of hardware, and perhaps even more combinations of user installed utilities. Hybrids do not have all of these permutations of hardware and user loadable utilites, and they have no security holes for infiltration by viruses, so the need to update the simple one-use software for the hybrid system every other week like a MS OS does not exist. Maybe once or twice during the lifespan of the vehicle (if that often), but not every other week.

    Adamatari – I agree with you that car manufacturers do tend to put crappy tires on their cars for one reason or another (usually cost); according to the reviewers here even the BMWs could perform better with something other than their expensive run flat OEM tires.

    Also, I am under the impression that the national name brand/model tire that is sold at a big box retailer is inferior to what is sold at an independent store at a 50% price premium or more for the same brand/model. (Any way you slice it, you get what you pay for.)

    That is all for now :-)

  • avatar
    ash78

    I’m just curious why they developed this drivetrain for a soon-to-be defunct “SUV” (or was it REALLY just developed for the Aura, with the Vue being used as the bug testbed, a la Microsoft?).

    IMO, crappy tires have less to do with cost and more to do with CAFE and EPA ratings. OE scourge of safety and performance, thy name is Michelin Energy! Gain 1-2mpg over stickier, safer tires and give the people a nice, quiet ride and 40k miles of life. However, they cost ~$100 a pop, while much better Japanese tires can be had for $60-$90. It’s not the cost.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    allen5h:

    honda has already had recalls to upgrade the hybrid engine management software. Perhaps Toyota has too. Obvoiusly this is not multinational accounting accounting system software, but our dependance on advanced computerized systems started out slow and small. I am concerned with software because I am a software specailist, and am painfully familiar with its benefits and hazards.

    If the manufacturers are aware and dilligent, this will not be a problem. Some times they actually are! I laughed because many is the time I have documented a problem with software that the manufacturer sheepishly acknowhedges, then proceeds to ignore. This is for some fairly high end product. But I wonder how much of this foolishness a typical car owner will endure.

    I like hybrids, especially in the city where they can sometimes run on electric only (well full hybrids anyway). They save a ton af gas and reduce emissions on crowded rush hour highways and small city streets.. And perhaps software problems will be folded into the bewildering web of modern auto repair. I dunno. The only thing i DO know, is that its coming. Fast.

  • avatar

    Are you sure there have been formal recalls, and not just an informal campaign? Either way, auto makers reflash powertrain computers all the time to fix various problems. When you consider the time and effort this requires, it strikes me as a simple repair.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Michael Karesh:

    im not sure if it was a former recall, and i sincerely hope its always a simple reflash. Mulit-engine hybrid software is somewhat more complicated than the usual powertrain logic, though.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    GM built 470,000 1991 through 1995 Cadillacs that they could never get to pass emissions. Initial customer complaints in 1991 was engine stalling with A/C, GM did several “chip” replacements to fix stallings but could never get ‘em to pass emissions. Problem was never resolved, GM paid fines to EPA and gave their customers waiver/redemptions for so many dollars on purchases on new Cadillacs.

    This is how not to deal with these hybrid problems. First you make sure you have a fix, (either new software flash or ‘puter hardware or engine hardware or all three), then you fix it.

  • avatar
    Saturnhybridvue

    Don’t buy this car. I’ve had several thousand dollars warranty/hybrid repairs after purchasing this garbage NEW. Customer service is a joke. The car stalls out and I was told by the service rep that I should trade it in and they would give me $1500!!! I just paid $1500 to fix this crap. I can’t believe they suggested I pass this death trap to someone else!!!!


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