By on February 22, 2008

bilbmw.jpgIn the world of hybrid-drive technology, far-sighted development can pay huge dividends. Just ask Toyota, whose sales of Hybrid Synergy Drive-powered vehicles passed the global million-unit mark last year. While Nissan is licensing Toyota's Synergy Drive for its Altima Hybrid, GM has passed on proven success in its pursuit of two-mode hybrid technology with BMW, Mercedes and Chrysler at their joint Hybrid Development Center in Troy, Michigan. Smooth move or just another example of GM throwing good money after bad? Yup, you guessed it.

The main reason for the cooperative approach on hybrid technology: the inherent complexity of the two-mode hybrid system and its correspondingly high development costs. At low speeds, the two-mode hybrid system operates in virtually the same manner as Toyota’s Synergy Drive and other “single mode” hybrids. The package uses one electric motor for drivetrain assist and another for power generation. It’s in the second “mode” of the system is where things get crazy… and expensive.

At higher speeds and heavier loads, an intensely complex twin-clutch system interfaces two sets of planetary gears with the two electric engines to create both stepped and continuously-variable transmission modes. The system moderately improves efficiency by routing power mechanically rather than electronically.

Coupled with “displacement-on-demand” technology (which shuts down cylinders under light power use), GM claims their system improves combined EPA fuel efficiency on full-size SUV's like the Tahoe/Yukon by as much as 25 percent. But the high development costs and technological complexity add about $10k worth of sticker shock over a stock Tahoe. It would take a whole lot of driving for an owner of a two-mode hybrid SUV to recoup the “hybrid premium.”

Even if GM sells tens of thousands of hybrid SUVs, it’s doubtful they will recoup their share of the investment in its development. But the only thing worse than overpaying for overcomplicated, under-performing technology is watching as your former development partners ditch you and innovate your technology into obsolescence. 

While GM has jumped right in to the market with two-mode Yukon/Tahoe models for '08 and is gearing-up for more models, BMW is planning on releasing only two two-mode hybrids. What’s more (or less), they’re only selling their X5/X6 two-mode hybrids stateside. Beyond that tepid effort, the chances increase daily that BMW will join Mercedes in washing its hands of two-mode technology entirely. Bimmer and Merc are jointly developing a lithium-ion battery based mild hybrid, touted as a cheaper and more efficient alternative to GM's two-mode unit.

Why wouldn't the Germans dump the two-mode system? With clean diesels on the way, and the BMW mild hybrid diesel coming down the pike, BMW and Mercedes are likely nursing a severe case of two-mode buyer’s remorse.

By any reasonable standard, GM should be too. Although part of the two-mode’s appeal lies in its advantages in truck, SUV and other high-torque applications which hold the promise of reinvigorating GM's flagging bread-and-butter truck sales, once again a simpler solution lies well within reach.

The General's recently released Duramax diesel V8 delivers a nearly identical 25 percent reduction in fuel consumption as the two-mode hybrid. Thanks to its particulate filter and NOX after-treatment system, the Duramax oil burner meets 50-state, 2010 emission standards. While the Duramax doesn't grab the green-friendly headlines which seem to motivate every GM efficiency development, it does provide 310 hp in a package the size of a small-block gas V8, with comparable noise vibration harshness levels, without the two-mode’s colossal price tag.

It is precisely on the point of profitability that GM’s green dreams have been faltering. Rather than cut bait and fish, GM is once again displaying copious quantities of its patented arrogance and preference for PR over hard graft and long-term thinking.

Not to put too fine a point on it, GM is ignoring the old maxim: when you’re in a hole, first, stop digging. The automaker is continuing to spread its hybrid efforts thin with its (rushed and compromised) mild hybrid Malibu. It continues to pursue the hugely expensive, untried and untested Volt electric – gas plug-in hybrid. And it refuses to abandon its two-mode snafu. Meanwhile, Toyota is plugging away at its Synergy Dive, steadily lowering costs, bringing the fuel efficient drivetrain within the price range of similarly capable gas engines.

GM remains held captive by its unrealistic goal of creating a truly revolutionary drivetrain. Like a degenerate gambler with a shrinking bankroll, GM seems convinced that ever bigger risks are the key to emerging from its decades-long neglect of fuel efficient vehicles. Rather than chasing the big score, GM would be far better off ceding the hybrid market. If it can’t satisfy new federal corporate average fuel economy regulations using traditional technology, it should join Nissan and license Synergy Drive from Toyota. That way it could concentrate its time and resources on restoring its branding and quality, and, thus, its fortunes.

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62 Comments on “General Motors Death Watch 164: Two-Mode Hybrid RIP?...”


  • avatar
    L47_V8

    God, this makes so much sense my head is about to explode.

    Which, of course, is precisely why GM would never dream of doing it.

    I’ve calculated (roughly) that you’d need to drive 25,000 miles per year and keep your Yukhoe hybrid for a decade simply to break even over a regular full-size SUV. Does that sound like any full-size SUV buyer you’ve ever heard of? Will the vehicles even last that long (how many ’98 model, 250,000 mile Tahoes and Yukons have you seen lately – and that’s with proven OHV V8s and four-speed HydraMatics; just think about GM’s build quality and the absurdly complex hybrid system)?

  • avatar

    While the Duramax doesn’t grab the green-friendly headlines which seem to motivate every GM efficiency development

    Yes, but it does let them legitimately advertise they sell everything “from gas-friendly to gas-free” while they continue to muddle through hydrogen fuel cells and all-electric vehicles.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    Poor old GM, they quite get it right, do they? This is one of those rare (and I mean RARE) instances where an accountant on the R and D team might have been prudent.

    Even so, GM have developed a technology which prices them out of the market and makes their cars unviable. Where can they go from here? Well, maybe the picture is not so bad. Since BMW is a joint partner in this mess, maybe GM could license its “clean diesel” technology and launch a counter assault on Toyota’s hybrid system (which I’ll come to later). GM needs to let go of its corporate arrogance as it will kill them eventually. GM need to accept that its competitor has a better technology and should get hold of it in order to put it on its cars and let its brand loyalty do the rest.

    Funnily enough, GM isn’t the only company which suffers from corporate arrogance. The Germans are particularly prone to the “vossn’t inwented here” syndrome. Case in point, hybrids. Germans are absolutely fastidious about diesels being the way forwards and have been reluctant to embrace hybrids. They still push forward their “clean diesels” (note the inverted commas) and shun hybrid technology. Personally, I’m looking forward to Peugeot-Citroen bringing out their hybrid diesel technology*. Then let’s watch the fur fly!

    Now onto Toyota. A lot of people praise them for bringing hybrid technology to market and are hailed as a “green” hero. Which, to a degree, they are. But everyone forgets poor old Honda and their IMA system! Honda have much better green credentials than Toyota and yet their hybrids are forgotten. Why? The answer is staring us in the face. The Prius is seen as a fashionable, “must have” item. Toyota have done an excellent job of marketing the Prius as the ultimate “green machine”, whereas Honda marketed their cars as good cars, made better by its hybrid technology. The Prius is a good car and shouldn’t have had to resort to cheap tactics like that.

    Hang on! Toyota using marketing hype to sell cars…..? Don’t we chastise GM for doing them same thing…….?**

    * = http://www.jonfry.com/2006/02/psa-peugeot-citroen-unveils-diesel.html

    ** = “GM is once again displaying copious quantities of its patented arrogance and preference for PR over hard graft and long-term thinking.” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/editorials/general-motors-death-watch-163-two-mode-rip/

  • avatar
    Captain Tungsten

    “But the high development costs and technological complexity add about $10k worth of sticker shock over a stock Tahoe.”

    Sounds a lot like GM’s admittedly arrogant stance against the Prius when it was originally launched. And as gas prices increase, the cost premium goes down.

    “Meanwhile, Toyota is plugging away at its Synergy Dive, steadily lowering costs, bringing the fuel efficient drivetrain within the price range of similarly capable gas engines.”

    Sounds a lot like what GM is doing with the two mode technology, remember it’s been in production for quite a few years in transit buses, and is working it’s way down market, with the next application being the Saturn VUE.

    “It would take a whole lot of driving for an owner of a two-mode hybrid SUV to recoup the “hybrid premium.”

    This is the main reason why the Prius is the only successful (in sales) hybrid vehicle on the market. Few people buy these things to save fuel, it’s far more effective to save fuel by downsizing your vehicle, or going diesel. Prius buyers buy them to “look green”.

    And,FWIW, GM’s mild hybrid may not be flashy, but it does work. In the VUE Green Line, its a solid 10-15% improvement in mileage over the conventional 4-cyl version, AND 30 more HP to boot, which makes the vehicle much more driveable. Worst thing about it is the hard skinny tires that help with fuel economy but SUCK in snow…

  • avatar

    Katie – Toyota’s hybrids have the magic, silent start. Honda’s doesn’t – that’s the crucial difference, and why people opted for the Prius. Seriously — it makes a lot of difference when you want to show off what you’ve just bought.

    Dr Toyoda has stated that Toyota will make their hybrid technology available to any carmaker (at a cost, of course), and I guess it’s pride that’s keeping the others from knocking on his door.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    Stein X Leikanger,

    I know that Toyota will make its technology available to maker (they licensed it to Nissan, because they were too lazy to make their own, because Mr Ghosn thought they were a “fad”). But that wasn’t my point. My point was, we always forget poor Honda and their system isn’t exactly inferior, just not marketed as well.

    And I know it’s pride that’s stopping people like GM from using the techonology, but as I said in my post, it’s that pride which will eventually kill them. Remember, pride comes before bankruptcy!

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    This is more a case of GM having a lousy finance team than lousy engineering or product development.

    The costs to develop the two-mode are already spent. Trying to recoup them is not the issue. Someone with a brain needs to figure out what the marginal cost of a two-mode is vs. a conventional drivetrain, and price the product at that level at most.

    It is simply not credible that a transmission, even one as complex as the two-mode, has $10K worth of materials and machining in it.

    GM should take the opposite tack in pricing. It should make the two-mode standard on every Tahoe/Yukon/Suburban. In a single dramatic move, they will put themselves down the “e-curve” and and develop a low cost position, while catching up to Toyota’s million vehicle lead within 4 years.

    GM’s problem isn’t lack of technology, it’s lack of balls.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    SherbornSean:

    I read recently that the 2-mode transmission plant is currently building 90/daily on one shift, soon to go to two shifts. That’s about 50k transmissions a year for the RWD version, not enough to make standard equipment without further ramping things up. Let’s not forget the FWD Vue version due to go online towards the end of the year and presumably at the same plant, but I’m not in the know. BTW, where are the 2-modes for the Chrysler products due to be built, at the same plant?

    The likely reason the Vue is the first recipient of the FWD 2-mode is because it’s built in Mexico, so that way GM is likely to break even or squeak a little profit selling it at $30k.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Am I mis-informed, or did I read a piece recently that stated that Toyota expects to turn a profit on the hybrids within two years? If true, how can anyone say, with certainty, that the business model will eventually even out as predicted? Remember, those marvelous battery packs are coming up for replacement and disposal, and I’m sure that unless they ship them to some third-world country for nighttime burial, the costs will be significant. Is it true that they’re being sold at a loss? Someone enlighten me, please, as to the fact of this report.(rumor?)

  • avatar
    Queensmet

    Without government subsidies to the buyer the Prius would not have been such a success either. The consumer will decide.

    I am sure that 100 years ago the car was considered way too complex compared to a horse and wagon.

    We’ll just have to wait and see. It is way too early to judge

  • avatar
    rodster205

    Katie, I don’t think Robert wasn’t criticizing them specifically for using PR. You skipped the last half of that statement. He said “preference for PR over hard graft and long-term thinking.” I think his point was that GM was leaving off the “hard graft and long-term thinking” part, while Toyota isn’t.

  • avatar
    crc

    I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a great idea to license toyota’s technology if you’re looking to sell a lot of hybrid cars. Nissan doesn’t hit Prius numbers with the Altima. Even though the Altima is a much better car in my opinion. The Prius has always clearly been a statement car.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    rodster205,

    It was Mr Niedermeyer who wrote the article, not Mr Farago. Also, I didn’t leave the second half of the quote out, it’s on my post.

    My point was Toyota IS leaving the “hard work and graft” behind within context of marketing their hybrids (more specifically, the Prius). Toyota went for the PR spin of “look at how green it is” and “Must have fashion accessory”. If Toyota went down the “hard work” road, they’d have marketed the Prius like Honda did; a good car, made better by its hybrid technology.

    The results are plain to see, Toyota’s PR spin made the Prius synonimous with “green” and Honda, well, everyone forgets about Honda……

    For the record and I did say this in my previous post, the Prius is a good car and does exactly what it says on the tin, better than any diesel could.

  • avatar
    jdv

    Too true…

    Unless they get it to work, in which case they were right all along.

    (Yah – a pretty big Unless)

  • avatar
    Buick61

    I agree with Queensmet.

    People viewed Hybrid Synergy Drive as too costly and complex, and it is indeed both of those things. It’s taken Toyota 11 years to get to where it is with Hybrids, and this “editorial” clearly doesn’t give that fact any acknowledgement.

    What would you have said in 1939 when GM was introducing a fully automatic transmission, while everyone else was still trotting out Semi-Automatics? GM is going beyond the status quo now, just like it did in the 1930s. They revolutionized cars back then, and they are on the verge of doing it again.

  • avatar

    KatiePuckrik :

    Toyota went for the PR spin of “look at how green it is” and “Must have fashion accessory”. If Toyota went down the “hard work” road, they’d have marketed the Prius like Honda did; a good car, made better by its hybrid technology.

    I’m confused here. Where’s the spin? The Prius is marketed properly, given its ability to meet (or exceed) its expectations. It IS a green car. Why SHOULDN’T they promote it as such?

    As for promoting the entire company as a green car company, well, that’s another matter…

  • avatar

    Logical and clever analysis, Edward. Even more interesting is how the two-mode hybrid parallels GM’s first stab at a Toyota crushing (well it was supposed to) compact car. Which the Senior Niedermeyer first alluded to: the Chevy Vega

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    A few thoughts:

    Yes, Hybrids often attract consumers who want to make a “statement”, and yes these consumers have driven Prius sales despite the considerable “hybrid premium” attached. Does anyone here seriously think that a 21/22 mpg Hybrid Tahoe makes the same statement as a Prius? This technology was driven (in part) by the misguided desire to see truck-based personal transport remain viable (popular)in light of $3 (and climbing) gas.

    The two-mode may not have quite 10k of machining and materials in it, but it’s obviously got a cubic ton of development money hanging out down there. Obviously GM thinks it can recoup those costs through sales, and people are free to believe them… but look up full-size SUV sales trends first.

    Also, there are intrinsic barriers to the proliferation of this technology. Namely that the transmission must be painstakingly calibrated and programmed for every application… as you try to apply this technology to new models, your economies of scale will be reduced by these additional development costs.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    I would just like to point out:
    1. CAFE regulations will require large vehicles (trucks, SUVs, etc.) to get a lot better fuel mileage in the future.
    2. Consumers still want to buy large vehicles (guess gas prices aren’t high enough yet)
    3. The majority of US consumers don’t like diesel (although, at least truck buyers are more open)
    4. GM’s 2 mode hybrid system doesn’t require extensive reengineering of the vehicle for installation because of it’s packaging.
    5. Gasoline engines produce a lot less emissions than diesel.

    I don’t think GM had any choice but to create the 2-mode system, even if they don’t make a profit from it.

    BTW, how much extra cost was involved in the Prius when it was first launched before economies of scale took over?

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    Mr Farago,

    It’s a “green” car, depending on which metric you use. In terms of mpg, then it’s great! But in terms of carbon footprint, it works out worse than a Jeep Wrangler! In the UK, Toyota got banned from using an advert because it overstated it’s environmental benefits*.

    So, why go down that road? Why not sell the car as a car with high mpg’s? Granted it’s not as glamorous, but it’ll be more honestly advertised and that’s part of the reason why people like Toyota. It’s not just the cars which are reliable, their reputation is, too……

    * = http://puregreencars.com/Green-Cars-News/Other-Green-Car-News/Misleading-Prius-Advert-Banned.html

  • avatar
    frontline

    I realize that I am in a minority with 4 children and a house up on a hill in Maryland but I need a large vehicle and 4 wheel drive. I was looking forward to the 2 mode in the longer Suburban. Why not combine the 2 mode with the small Duramax?
    Has anyone driven the 2 mode ? Is it seamless or is it jerky?

  • avatar
    frontline

    By the way, I know that the Niedermeyers are like Smiths in my neighborhood but, by any chance are Paul and Eddie related?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I couldn’t disagree more with this article. Although I will say it was well written.

    GM should not simply license Toyota’s technologies (a la Ford) and simply cede the territory. Not only will they be telling the world that they don’t have the technological competency to compete in the hybrid market. They will automatically give Toyota a strong marketing advantage AND economies of scale that will drive their prices down even further.

    That’s just for starters. By doing this, you also will be effectively saying one of two things…

    1) GM isn’t capable of making a long term investment in alternative technologies that can provide dividends in the future.

    2) Toyota deserves to dominate this market for the foreseeable future.

    Many of you are saying that GM has several technologies and that represents a disadvantage due to the limited financial resources. I disagree. This market is still very young and even Toyota has considered several alternative technologies. The same is true for Honda and BMW. The fact that a given technology is expensive for now (the original Prius hybrid technology was well north of 10k per car), doesn’t mean that it will remain so forever.

    Toyota may indeed be making money two years from now. That’s fine and they deserve all of the glory that comes with that achievement. However, it will have taken them ten years and four generations of the Prius to get them to that point. Toyota, at that time, also obviously had a greater motivation since the price of gas in their home market has remained substantially higher than the United States. The Japanese government also played a positive role in this evolution. A fact that generally gets ignored in the American press.

    By having GM simply ‘cede’ to Toyota, you’re also ignoring the strong possiblity that GM won’t be given similar incentives (market driven and government) that many of the other manufacturers have at this point. We obviously don’t live in a static world and, to say that GM should just give up and simply ‘cede the market’ is probably premature. It almost like saying that the Japanese should have never ventured past the Corolla, Starlet and Celica models since the Impala and Camaro were such strong models for their time.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    I have to disagree with one point in this article. I do not believe GM should license Toyota’s two mode hybrid system and be done with it. I think they should work on the home run next big thing technology. However, GM should work on one and only one fuel saving technology. I realize the future of automotive propulsion is pretty difficult to predict right now, but going half assed in a bunch of different directions isn’t going to put them ahead of anyone anyway. GM still does have great engineers and scientists and I believe they are just as capable as any manufacturer of making a major breakthrough. Put all of them to work on the Volt, forget the “it must be on the road by 2010″ bs, and give it the best, most fuel efficient and easily adapted to many different platforms drivetrain in existence. In the mean time they could license Toyota’s synergy drive or just make really aerodynamic cars with hard skinny tires.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Hybrids (1 mode, 2 mode, pie ala mode), diesels, E85, Direct Injection, etc. are expensive solutions to reducing our consumption of gasoline.

    The most effective way for us to make an impact is conservation – also the most difficult thing for Americans to do is reduce excess and waste – as our economy is built on our outright spending power (which has now become Chinese made goods) and not our intelligence.

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    frontline: Paul is my dad. Now way could I tackle subjects like this without years of rigorous dinner-table discussions, complete with mom and sis rolling their eyes in boredom. Speaking of which, my Dad knows more about this than I, but apparently a two-mode diesel hybrid would approach military price-point expensive (a big part of the reason BM and Merc are backing away).

    Lang and incognito: I don’t think there’s a serious chance that GM is going to “give up” and license Synergy Drive. But GM’s problems aren’t even necessarily relative to Toyota. After all, it has been totally unable to make anything resembling a profit on a fuel efficient car for years before hybrids even came out. Kinda points to its not quite being cut out for our world of ever-increasing gas prices, doesn’t it?

    What it does have is one of the best diesel V8′s on the market, and instead of pushing biodiesel (admittedly a stopgap effort) GM is running around touting E85 Ethanol (obviously a boondoggle). Instead of developing and bringing down costs on its rushed, belt-assist mild hybrid (BM and Merc are liking the mild hybrid approach) it rushed again into this two-mode nonsense. It’s not even that the General just makes bad decisions, it seems to ignore the reasonable options staring it in the face. Furthermore, the greatest environmental impacts are not going to come from unobtainable super-efficient vehicles… they will come from widespread proliferation of fuel efficient technologies. And guess what? That’s where the money’s to be made too.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    I’ll weigh in too (BTW, good job, Ted). The real issue here is that GM spent (is still spending)huge amounts on three different hybrid systems (belt assist, two-mode, and serial (Volt). And it turns out to be a very questionable strategy: the belt assist undershoots, and the other two overshoots what is clearly the sweet spot in the hybrid market (Prius/synergy drive). And it was GM’s arrogance that got them in this pickle: their determination to outdo Toyota. It’s not working. “If you can’t fight ‘em, join ‘em”.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I’m sorry but I must be missing something here.

    If memory serves me correct, the two-mode hybrid system was an outbranch from the Allison business and wasn’t brought up as an answer to Toyota or passenger cars. It was actually designed with locomotives and heavy trucks in mind… now they’re moving to the higher end SUV market. At least for now, that seems to be GM’s plan and their economies of scale and relationships in those markets is very strong. Just as Toyota has a strong advantage with passenger cars. I see them going with their core competency on this one.

    The Volt aims for the exact opposite side of the market spectrum. Perhaps there may be some possible overlap in the compact SUV market over the long-term. But the Volt is really a passenger car application. IF they can pull it off, it will be as much of an achievement as Toyota’s Synergy Drive and perhaps more so given the driving habits in this country. It’s definitely an audacious technology, and I’m willing to bet that the government will indeed subsidize it once the current occupant is no longer in office.

    GM has at least two distinct possiblities. This really doesn’t seem to be that far different than Honda or BMW. I like the thought of a diesel (own a TDI) but, again, the success of that may be dependent on our government subsidizing the price as it is done in most of Europe.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Combine a high efficiency small turbo-diesel combustion engine with a relatively light hybrid like a Prius or even the simpler Civic hybrid and you can make > 50 MPG mid sized family sedans with ease.

  • avatar
    frontline

    jthorner’s post is right on the money! If it is a quality piece , you will get 300,000 miles of reliable high MPG driving.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    Katie,
    I think you are right as far as Toyota and Honda both launching viable hybrids at about the same point in time. The difference is in the details.

    Toyota made a distinct-looking family sedan.

    Honda first made the two-passenger Insight. Great gas mileage (do I hear 80 mpg), but just too odd looking to win general acceptance. Maybe before its time. Perhaps people will be willing to consider an Insight when gas goes past $5/gal.

    Then came Honda’s big hybrid flop: Accord. The logic behind the Accord actually makes a lot of sense: in recent years most car makers have been using new technology to make cars more powerful, as opposed to better mileage. Honda did the same thing with its “performance” hybrid Accord.

    Somehow it didn’t fly. People expected to see great mileage with a hybrid. The performance idea just didn’t take.

    I’m sure Prius marketing played its role. But wouldn’t it be more accurate to blame Honda for failing to explain what the hybrid Accord was about?

    BTW, I think you expect too much honesty from Toyota’s advertising dept. In the US, advertisers fall somewhere between lawyers and politicians on the honesty scale.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Steven Lang: GM’s two-mode hybrid technology was originally developed for transit buses, not locomotives. But to scale it down for light truck and passenger car use took a huge and expensive engineering effort, which is why they brought in Daimler-Chrysler and BMW.

    When GM announced the program in ’05, they clearly stated (I can get you the link) that there would be two versions: the longtitudinal one for pickups and SUV’s; and a transverse one for CUV’s and passenger cars. At that time they also announced that the Malibu would get that tranverse two-mode, in ’08 or ’09. This is in addition to the belt-assist version. The Vue is getting this transverse two-mode system, so it is going in production.

    It’s now pretty clear that they’ve backed away from the Malibu version, and are going to have the Volt be the Prius fighter. The problem is the Volt’s much more expensive ($35-40k). Prius sales only really took off after Toyota dropped the price from about $23-25k down to $20-23k.

    So GM’s passenger car hybrid strategy is very flawed, in IMHO. The belt-assist Malibu is too little (not seen as a legitimate hybrid), a two-mode Malibu is toast, and the Volt is a risky, expensive, possibly (likely) unprofitable overachiever. Does that make it clearer?

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    KatiePuckrik :

    Mr Farago,

    It’s a “green” car, depending on which metric you use. In terms of mpg, then it’s great! But in terms of carbon footprint, it works out worse than a Jeep Wrangler! In the UK, Toyota got banned from using an advert because it overstated it’s environmental benefits*.

    The article you cite reads (to me) more like a disagreement than a clear-cut or intentional misstatement.

    So, why go down that road? Why not sell the car as a car with high mpg’s?

    I’m not stupid. I know that my one single car isn’t going to make any kind of environmental difference, and I can most certainly see through marketing hype.

    I bought my car because it has high mpg’s. Surely I’m not the only one. Let’s give the car-buying public a little more credit.

    Granted it’s not as glamorous, but it’ll be more honestly advertised and that’s part of the reason why people like Toyota. It’s not just the cars which are reliable, their reputation is, too……

    I still think the underlying issue of that article was a disagreement. A bureaucratic government agency disagreed with the “big-bad manufacturer,” and guess who lost?

  • avatar
    Honda_Lover

    Ultimately, electric vehicles or hydrogen powered will be the only way to go. Either electricity generation or fuel-cell production provided by nuclear plants. Problem solved. Then when fusion reactors come on line in 50-70 years, our energy crisis will be over forever.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    …and the Volt is a risky, expensive, possibly (likely) unprofitable overachiever.
    Paul,
    I agree with much of what you say, but calling the Volt an overachiever is a bit premature. Notice for example how the Tesla Roadster range keeps creeping downward. And lest we forget, the batteries still need to be invented, making the Volt’s specified all-eletric range of 40 miles a completely meaningless figure.

    So let’s rephrase: …and the Volt is a risky, expensive, possibly (likely) unprofitable potential overachiever.

    Or even more accurate: …and the Volt is a risky, expensive, possibly (likely) unprofitable unknown.

    Either way, your point remains: Hardly a wise strategy to mortgage the farm on this vehicle.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    Ultimately, electric vehicles or hydrogen powered will be the only way to go.
    Who knows. I suspect if you are right, it will take about 200 years. The ICE is going to be around for a while. Allow me to explain:
    Based on the underlying fundamental advantages that liquid fuels offer, I would be very surprised if anything replaces them anytime soon. I consider it much more likely that we will find ways to produce the same gasoline (and diesel) that is so convenient, in new, renewable ways.

    Take for example the nuclear-power-generated hydrogen you mention. Presumably one would want to build a few huge facilities (rather than one in every NFL city) to take full advantage of economies of scale. What would be a good way to safely distribute the fuel around the country, preferably using existing infrastructure?

    Here’s one way. React the hydrogen with CO2 in a reverse water-gas shift reaction:
    H2 + CO2 -> H2O + CO

    Next, do a Fisher-Tropsch liquification using the CO from the first reaction:
    2H2 + CO -> -CH2- + H2O

    Voila, clean and renewable (not counting the nuclear waste) gasoline and diesel.

    That’s the way I see it. I could be completely wrong, of course.

  • avatar
    Honda_Lover

    Here’s one way. React the hydrogen with CO2 in a reverse water-gas shift reaction:
    H2 + CO2 -> H2O + CO

    Next, do a Fisher-Tropsch liquification using the CO from the first reaction:
    2H2 + CO -> -CH2- + H2O

    Voila, clean and renewable (not counting the nuclear waste) gasoline and diesel.

    That’s the way I see it. I could be completely wrong, of course.

    That’s getting too chemistry-intensive for me, but I’ll say that there is going to be a lot of transition in the fuel-delivery infrastructure for this to be possible. Either electric charging stations or hydrogen refueling stations. Something has to truck it in to the cities. However, I see these as minor problems compared to building up the fission plants we need for electricity generation, much less to help replace dwindling oil. That’s why all this ANWR controversy is so much tempest in a teapot. It’s literally a drop in the bucket when it comes to American civilization.

  • avatar
    hansbos

    Why always this talk about people buying Prius to “make a statement”? I own one and don’t care at all what other people think of my car. However, I love that it gets 48mpg, has a useful hatchback, is smooth and quiet, and one of the most reliable cars on the road. The silent start and ability to drive in EV mode continue to be entertaining, even after nine months of ownership.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Yep, thanks for filling the holes. It looks like GM may have a dead end unless there is a very substantial breakthrough in the next few years.

  • avatar
    shiney

    I agree with hansbos:

    No one I know that owns Prius has any pretensions of making a “green” statement; all of them are people with no interest in cars, who spend a lot of time driving/commuting in thick traffic. Prius are replacing Camrys as the white collar commuter vehicle of choice, due to their far superior mileage in stop/go driving, silence when sitting still, good interior space, and the reliability people associate with the Toyota brand name. While Toyota nailed the size and price point for the Prius, Honda missed the sweet spot. The Civic looks small and still has a “first car” entry level image to many buyers, and the Accord is huge and delivers a sporty drive but relatively mediocre mileage.

    Actually, the hard core greenies I know drive bio-diesel fueled cars or trucks.

  • avatar
    L47_V8

    drifter :
    February 22nd, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Toyota suckered GM into Hybrid war only for GM to loose money and go belly up. Reminds me of Reagan-era arms race with Soviet Union.

    I hope this was sarcasm. I completely fail to see how Toyota is actually responsible for what GM does, regardless of what it is.

    That’s like saying that because the other kid did it, you had to.

    Welcome to America, where we blame everyone else for our failings.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    Why are so many people talking about GM licensing Toyota’s tech? Why on earth would Toyota do that? Why give away a major competitive advantage to a competitor?

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    SherbornSean said:

    “The costs to develop the two-mode are already spent. Trying to recoup them is not the issue. … It should make the two-mode standard on every Tahoe/Yukon/Suburban. …”

    Dude’s right. They are playing a bad hand and they are running out of money. This is where they are and the way they need to go is all in.

    If they make the 2 mode standard, they should price it aggressively. Their competition is putting $K on the hood to move metal. They need to make this a value proposition.

    And, hell yes, they should green wash it. Why not? Toyota has been doing it. GM is not going to earn a place in Al Gore’s pantheon, no matter what they do. They just need to stay in business. There is no money in eco-breast beating.

    Edward Niedermeyer: “The two-mode may not have quite 10k of machining and materials in it, but it’s obviously got a cubic ton of development money hanging out down there. Obviously GM thinks it can recoup those costs through sales, and people are free to believe them… but look up full-size SUV sales trends first.”

    Nothing is a given, except death and taxes. GM has two choices: they can give up on the two mode and write off their investment, or use the two mode and write off their investment. Either way the sunk money is gone and it is not coming back.

    Further, the full size SUV sales may be down but they are not out. Going hybrid will help stanch the bleeding and what is more, the crocodile will get Ford and Chrysler first. No bronze medal will be awarded.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Why on earth would Toyota do that? Why give away a major competitive advantage to a competitor?

    Toyota is already doing just that, licensing the technology to both Nissan and Ford.

    Every hybrid vehicle on the market helps Toyota, because they support Toyota’s relatively new image as an R&D leader. Consumers associate hybrid technology with Toyota, so any company that builds a hybrid can’t help but look as if it is playing catch up.

    At this point, I have difficulty seeing how GM could possibly use hybrid technology in such a fashion that it could use it to create a unique advantage for itself. That advantage has already been lost to Toyota, and no other automaker will be able to take that away from them.

    GM’s current hybrid push is oddly detrimental to the company’s own PR effort, sending a conspicuous signal to the world that Detroit is behind a curve that is shaped by players who are many miles away from Michigan. If GM is going to bet on an R&D initiative to enhance their image, then they have to do something completely different from what the competition is doing. They’d be better off putting the engineers to work on other projects.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Drifter said: “Toyota suckered GM into Hybrid war only for GM to loose money and go belly up. Reminds me of Reagan-era arms race with Soviet Union.”

    I’ve been having similar thoughts.

  • avatar
    EJ_San_Fran

    The 2-mode hybrid gives only 25% improvement?
    That’s the fatal flaw.

    The Prius gives around 2x improvement over a Camry. Now we’re talking. Improve a bit more, add a plugin feature, fill the tank with biofuel and we’re getting to some real progress.
    Toyota has patiently invested for more than a decade and is now reaping the reward.
    Well deserved, Toyota. GM, not.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    The Prius has an EPA rated 50% improvement in fuel economy over the Corolla (Camry is not the proper comparison).

    The Camry Hybrid has a 35% improvement in fuel economy over the regular Camry.

    The 2-mode Tahoe has a 35% improvement in fuel economy over the regular Tahoe.

    Does that mean that Toyota is also wasting money on any Hybrid that is not a Prius.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    SkiD666, that’s common anti-Prius FUD. The Prius is as close or closer to a Camry in size than it is the Corolla.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Camry Corolla Prius
    Length 189.2 in. 178.3 in. 175 in.
    Width 71.7 in. 66.9 in. 67.9 in.
    Height 57.9 in. 58.5 in. 58.7 in.
    Weight 3307 lbs. 2615 lbs. 2932 lbs.
    WhlBase 109.3 in. 102.4 in. 106.3 in.

    The Camry is distinctly larger than either the Corolla or the Prius. I would say that the Camry is a D segment or Mid-size car, and that the other two are C segment or Compact cars.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Based upon interior volume, the EPA classifies the Corolla as a compact, and classifies both the Prius and Camry as midsizes.

    Interior volume of the Prius’ passenger area is 96 cubic feet, which is five cubic feet smaller than the Camry, but one cubic foot larger than another midsize, the Malibu. So if anyone wants to argue that the Prius is on par with a Corolla, you had better be prepared to say the same about the Chevy.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Sorry about the formating in that table.

    Responding to M1EK the Corolla is smaller than the Prius in only 2 external dimensions, weight and wheelbase.

    I think that the 317 lbs weight difference is attributable to the Hybrid drive train. The Camry Hybrid is 380 lbs heavier than the ICE Camry.

    The wheelbase is larger in the Prius than the Corolla, which probably enabled them to give it more rear seat hip and leg room, which is the important interior difference between the two. Some of that difference may be attributable the Prius being a hatchback and the Corolla being a sedan.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    As Pch101 indicated, in the useful metrics, the Prius is bigger than the Corolla, and classified as a midsized car. Who cares how big it is on the outside? I’m not a big guy and when I sit in the back of a Corolla, my knees often hit the seat in front of me.

    You guys still don’t get it – but obviously carbuyers do – it’s a nicely sized and very useful car; the Corolla is considerably smaller where it counts. But go ahead, scoff at all the presumed idiots who must be buying it only because of the green halo.

  • avatar

    In today’s TorontoStar, Wheels ca. section the editor a Mark Richardson is heading to Yellowknife in a Hybird, Chevy’s two mode hybird to be exact to see how this vehicle performs in the Canadian Artic, its 7,000 kms from Toronto, he chose the Tahoe because its supposed to be easy on Gas, he says how will the 300 amp hybird battery pack fare in a lot colder temperature north of Edmonton, Alberta?
    He plans to write a daily journal each day on wheels.ca should be an interesting trip

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Interior volume is affected by body style. Prius is a hatchback. Malibu and Camry are sedans. If the only difference between 2 cars is hatch vs sedan. the hatch will have more interior volume. The EPA classification system is not really very helpful in making fine distinctions.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The EPA classification system is not really very helpful in making fine distinctions.

    Actually, the EPA classification is more useful than is yours, because it takes into consideration the space available.

    Your methodology is based upon the notion that the length of the car is an indication of its utility, when it clearly isn’t. I don’t see how welding several more cubic feet of sheet metal onto the front of a Prius would enhance or detract from its functionality and value to the consumer.

  • avatar
    EJ_San_Fran

    I can see myself switching from a Camry to a Prius.
    That’s why I make that comparison.

    I think the main point is, you have to redesign the whole vehicle for best results. You can’t just drop a 2-mode hybrid into a big barge and be done with it.
    Is it okay to be a bit smaller? Can you save weight? Can you satisfy consumers without using so much heavy metal?

  • avatar
    M1EK

    This claim that the vehicle only has more interior room because it’s a hatchback is yet more FUD – the hatch style has nothing to do with rear legroom.

    Once again, this is a desperate attempt by people with an axe to grind to cling to the discredited idea that the Prius is only outselling the entire Buick and Saturn lines because of a presumed green halo.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    drifter :

    Toyota suckered GM into Hybrid war only for GM to loose money and go belly up. Reminds me of Reagan-era arms race with Soviet Union.

    Toyota launched its evil, nefarious “Prius plan” way back in the early to mid 90′s, and put the first Prius on the road in 1997 or so. That’s some long-term “arms race” thinking there.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    Umm, stating fact is not stating FUD.

    Prius is physically more similar to a Corolla than a Camry (dimensions and weight listed earlier).

    Prius has a longer wheelbase than a Corolla, that results in more rear seat legroom (no one stated interior volume = legroom).

    A Hatchback/Notchback configuration will increase interior volume when compared to a sedan (just like a station wagon configuration also increases interior volume).

    Total volume of Prius is 110.6 cu ft, ’09 Corolla’s volume is 108.6 cu ft, Camry is 118.7 cu ft. Which one is closer to the Prius?

    People have realized that they can make do with smaller vehicles, buying a Prius instead of Camry for instance.

    Other people still want large vehicles, manufacturers (including GM and Toyota) build the vehicles that people are willing to buy.

    GM’s 2-mode system is a good solution for large vehicles (it should return better overall mileage than the Toyota’s current Synergy drive).

    In the future, CAFE regulations will mean that if you want to drive a large vehicle, you will have to pay for either a hybrid or diesel or both. If Toyota was the only one building and licensing hybrid technology, how competitive would GM (and others) be?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Total volume of Prius is 110.6 cu ft, ‘09 Corolla’s volume is 108.6 cu ft, Camry is 118.7 cu ft.

    Not according to the EPA:

    Prius — 96 cu. ft. passenger volume + 16 cu. ft. interior volume = 112 cu. ft. total interior volume

    Corolla — 89 cu. ft. passenger volume + 14 cu. ft. interior volume = 103 cu. ft. total interior volume

    Camry — 101 cu. ft. passenger volume + 15 cu. ft. interior volume = 116 cu. ft. total interior volume

    The Prius has 4 fewer cubic feet than a Camry, and 9 more than a Corolla. That puts it closer to a Camry than to a Corolla on the size spectrum.

    It also has interior space roughly equal to the Mazda 6 (96 cf passenger + 15 cf luggage) and VW Passat (96 cf passenger + 14 cf luggage).

    The Prius is a mid-size vehicle, per the EPA. You don’t have to like it, but that’s the reality.

    I’m personally not nuts about the Prius, but the efforts to liken it to a golf cart or a toy are misguided and inaccurate. It’s a real car, with a real back seat and reasonable luggage capacity, and it should be judged accordingly.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    With respect to whether or not the Prius is a mid-size or compact… I carefully compare the driver’s seat only. The rest of the dimensions in the car get lumped into the category “cargo.” Life’s tough, kids. Get used to it.

    That aside, when you compare the individual interior measurements, the Prius is within an inch of the Malibu on everything Edmunds reports.

    The Corolla is also within an inch of many Prius dimensions but some are off by enough that it’s clear the rear seat is going to offer less room and comfort. And there’s significantly less luggage room. The Prius IS a bigger car than the Corolla.

    Earlier, Drifer said Toyota suckered GM into a hybrid war.

    That’s not quite true. GM suckered itself. There are other market segments where GM could have invested their time and effort.

    Toyota still sells 30K to 40K Corollas per month. There are lots of opportunities to sell a good small car without hybrid drivetrain.

    In fact, just spending the money to make a better Cobalt might pay off. If I thought GM was building a Cobalt with the reliability and fuel economy of a Corolla, I’d be interested. What would it cost to build it better and improve the fuel economy?

    Or… a Cobalt with “mild” hybrid might make a lot of sense. The only problem with that is GM’s “mild” hybrid is still relatively expensive considering the negligible benefit in the EPA testing.

  • avatar
    Michael_Grad_Student

    GM is VERY interested in providing products consumers will buy. Why did Toyota sucker GM?

    GM is also VERY interested in making an impact with their technology. While YOU may not be able to drive their hybrids, or even a Prius, GM is drastically improving fuel efficiency, 100x more than all the Prius-es.

    BIG PICTURE:
    “Currently, 720 buses with GM’s 2-mode hybrid system have been delivered to 56 cities across the U.S. and Canada, saving an estimated 1 million gallons of fuel annually.”

    http://www.electricdrive.org/index.php?tg=articles&idx=Print&topics=64&article=1481


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