By on March 15, 2007

shock.jpgMention the word “hybrid” on an automotive internet site and commentators clump into two camps. It’s either “I save the planet while getting 97.467 mpg driving my Prius up Pikes Peak” or “I search and destroy hippy trust-fund Prius drivers with my jacked-up diesel F-350”. Despite this ongoing socio-political clash over mixed propulsion, hybrid sales have brought the technology into the mainstream. Which puts us in a better place to answer the obvious question: what’s the future beyond the hype?

In the automobile’s infancy, battery electric vehicles (BEV’s) outsold and, in many famous cases, outperformed cars powered by internal combustion engines. But lead-acid batteries limited the BEV’s range, dooming them to obsolescence. In 1902, Ferdinand Porsche attempted to forestall the inevitable by developing the first gas – electric hybrid. Needless to say, Herr Porsche had better luck with gas-powered tanks and sports cars.

A hundred years later, Toyota had the guts, vision and cash to develop their groundbreaking series/parallel hybrid drive (gas engine and electric motor alternately or simultaneously propelling the car) using NiMH batteries. Despite its success, Toyota’s Synergy Drive has generally been seen as a transitional technology.

GM’s highly touted Volt concept (which follows Porsche’s principles closely) supposedly represents The Next Big Thing. It’s a serial hybrid– an internal combustion engine runs a generator that charges batteries that power the electric drive motor. Conceptually, it's the most efficient arrangement.  

Why the century-long wait? Lead acid batteries are simply too heavy and inefficient to git er done (e.g. GM’s EV1). Suitable alternatives are just now arising. Toyota has announced that Prius III will use lithium-ion cells. As will the Tesla and GM’s Volt. The industry is searching for (and closing in on) the new Holy Grail: a small, safe, powerful, fast-recharging, affordable battery.

Meanwhile, the industry is mad about hybrids. Even the highly diesel-dependent Germans are getting into the game. DCX and BMW have a joint venture with GM to share a sophisticated dual-mode full-hybrid drive. Mercedes and BMW (hmmm) just announced a partnership to develop a second, cheaper, mild-hybrid system. And VW and Porsche are hoping that hybridizing the Touareg and Cayenne will save their SUV’s.

And no wonder. A full hybrid system can boost real world mileage by some 35 percent; that’s as great an efficiency increase (over gas power) as a diesel. Diesel fuel’s higher cost stateside (seven to 15 percent) substantially reduces any pocket-book savings. What’s more, the cost of manufacturing clean diesels is roughly equivalent to gas – electric hybrids. Hybrid components are becoming cheaper; diesels are already highly evolved.

So why not build a diesel hybrid, doubling the efficiency gain? It’s an expensive proposition, and the efficiency differential isn’t there. The Atkinson-cycle gas engine (as used in parallel hybrids) already closes the gas vs. diesel efficiency gap considerably. Improvements in valve control, direct injection and upcoming HCCI (Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition) technology will narrow the gap further. And diesels have lost some efficiency with the latest emission controls, while the gas engine is poised for continuing economy gains.

Even if you’re not the pious Prius type, hybrid technology is already sneaking into your ride. Electric driven power steering, air-conditioning compressors and water pumps are all the fruit of hybrid technology, and spreading fast. Car builders love them; their use yields measurable fuel savings (up to 10% combined), allows quicker engine heat-up and disconnects the engine from other peripherals, making it micro-hybrid ready [see: below].

BMW just updated their 1 Series with these goodies. They also added brake energy regenerative system (iGR) that controls the alternator to charge the battery (as needed) when the engine is in over-run or going downhill. For good measure, an automatic-start-stop program kills the engine whenever neutral is engaged. Combined with improved Bi-Vanos valve control and lean-burn direct injection, the model’s efficiency has increased by 24 percent.

Prius purists may scorn, but “micro-hybrids” like the Saturn Aura Green Line are cheap ($1700 retail premium) and effective. The model’s belt driven motor/generator system yields roughly a 15 percent efficiency gain. With higher CAFE numbers on the horizon, look for more creative bundling of various degrees and forms of hybrid and related technologies. It’s not just about trying to catch or keep up with the Prius’ standard-setting full-hybrid approach.

Looking forward, plug-in hybrids like the [theoretical] Chevy Volt are inevitable. The DOE has said the US grid can recharge up to 185 million plug-in cars at night. Lithium for batteries is recyclable. Improvements in CO and other emissions are easier to deal with at the power plant source than in each car.

So if you’re in the “Prius search and destroy” camp, be prepared to keep your current battle tank going for a long time. The hybrid virus is regenerating and mutating quickly; it’ll be hard not to catch it.

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109 Comments on “Hybrids: The Not So Shocking Truth...”


  • avatar
    troonbop

    Very informative, particularly helpful for those who don’t have environmental angst but see the need for improvement.

  • avatar

    Excellent piece. I’ve also been telling people that mild hybrid systems will likely become ubiquitous at some point, simply because it makes sense to recoup some of the energy used to accelerate a car rather than use the brakes to convert it into heat.

    Results for the Prius on TrueDelta’s real-world fuel economy survey:

    http://www.truedelta.com/fuel_economy.php?stage=powertrains&brand=Toyota&modelCode=272&email=Guest

  • avatar

    Looks like lithium for batteries will be in short supply as automotive demand increases: http://www.thecarlounge.com/news/publish/article_641.shtml

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Tesla Motor’s CEO on what he thinks about the Li-ion cells in the Volt (page down to “Is GM Right?”):

    http://www.teslamotors.com/blog1/?p=46

  • avatar
    Mud

    Prius is harder on the environment than a Hummer?!?

    Incidentally, wonder why Hummer is set up as the anti-Christ to green? It’s essentially a Tahoe with a different body, right?

    http://clubs.ccsu.edu/recorder/editorial/editorial_item.asp?NewsID=188

    For me, the real issue is not WHAT you drive, it’s HOW you drive.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I still don’t see hybrids as the breakthrough they’re touted to be. For sure they have their purpose: their electric motor technology is setting the stage for when/if hydrogen cells are ready, and they provide a boost in gas mileage for commuters who are stuck in lots of stop and go driving.

    But for interstate driving, I don’t see the use. The only benefit is that you can use a smaller gas engine, and then use the electric motor as a temporary “boost” for passing maneuvers. But the downside is you’re dragging along hundreds of extra pounds of battery and motor to achieve this – not exactly energy efficient. If current gas engines weren’t so oversized and overpowered – who the [email protected]!* needs a 240 hp Accord?? – they would be a much more reasonable choice for higher speed steady-state driving. And then of course there’s the diesels…

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    A full hybrid (with Atkinson cycle engine) and aerodynamic body (i.e. Prius) can get phenomenal highway mileage, JuniperBug. It’s not “just” about city use. I own one, and I’ve seen 50 plus MPG regularly – very regularly – on the highway. In a mid-sized, comfortable car with 5 seats and decent trunk space, oh yes, with performance exceeding most mid-1960’s V8 family cars. (0-60 in 9.5 seconds).

    Plus, the absolute tripe and nonsense about a Prius being more wasteful over the life of the car than a Hummer is so slanted as to be ridiculous. The people “estimate” a life-cycle for the Prius of 1/2 of a Hummer. Try the other way around – which one is built by GM and which by Toyota?! Gimme a break.

    Yep I get people insulting me and calling me pious, etc., when in fact I’m actually not a leftie commie ex-hippie nor am I a greenie eat-granola-and-soy eater, either. I’m just an ordinary guy who realized that using 1/2 the energy to do the same job seems to be a smart way of conserving resources – as a Christian, it’s called being a good steward.

    As for lithium being in short supply, yes, all the rare earths are in short supply due to a limited numbers of mines and increasing demand. So, I put even more money where my mouth was and bought $500 of penny-stock in a company which owns a rare-earths mine in Canada, since 95% of rare-earths now come from communist China. No returns or gains – yet.

    Not forgetting the possibilities of hydraulic hybrids (which may work fine on somewhat larger cars where there is room for the high pressure hydraulic pressure tanks – such as SUVs, vans, and the current use – delivery trucks).

    As for “light hybrids” – yep – I’m totally scornful of them. Why? Because, Toyota plans on reducing the “cost-differential” of the full hybrid system by half in the next generation Prius. So, will it be $1500-2000 extra expense for a full hybrid (80 mpg real-world), or will it be $1700 extra expense for the addition of 10-15% mileage on a cobbled-up, jerry-rigged, factory conversion job? Which really makes more sense, here? Light hybrids are a waste of good batteries and limited resources which go into the batteries, which could better be used in full hybrids, IMHO.

    Personally, I hope that we can go totally plug-in and skip the IC engines soon. Perhaps rent a one-wheel trailer with onboard diesel generator for long trips (how’s that for lateral thinking?)

  • avatar
    ash78

    I’m coming around to hybrids a little more all the time, so great article. I’m surprised diesel fuel hasn’t yet corrected back to its old relative price, about on par with midgrade gasoline (pre-9/11, Katrina). As long as its selling at such a premium, hybrids will continue to look good.

    But the one other thing that diesel has is fuel flexibility. In a crunch, there are quite a few alternative sources of lightly- or unrefined fuel for the engine that don’t require massive capital resources to ready them for consumption. I have a lot of fear these days about the length and complexity of the supply chain for gasoline. There is just so much room for bottlenecks, sabotage, etc.

  • avatar
    MW

    “The Atkinson-cycle gas engine (as used in parallel hybrids) already closes the gas vs. diesel efficiency gap considerably.”

    I’m curious. How? If so, why isn’t it used alone?

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I’m not claiming that a Prius doesn’t get excellent fuel mileage. But for highway driving, couldn’t all the aerodynamic bits and the concept of a small, efficient gas engine be used to just as great – or better – effect without lugging around those electric motor and batteries?

    A current Jetta TDI comes around the same performance and highway mileage benchmarks as the ones claimed for a Prius, in a more substantial, and I suspect, more fun to drive package. Now imagine what it could be if the engineers had the same OCD towards aeros and effieciency as was the case for the Prius.

    My argument isn’t against the Prius or any hybrid as a whole; it’s against the concept of hybrid technology for steady-state, higher speed driving. Toting around hundreds of pounds of motor and battery when they can rarely be used doesn’t make sense to me for that sort of driving. The concept makes sense for certain scenarios, but it definitely isn’t the ideal powertrain for all vehicles and people.

  • avatar
    Dave Ruddell

    Glenn A.,

    Small, geeky, and picky point: lithium is not a rare earth element. For a quick discussion on the subject, you can use everyone’s favourite reference:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_earth

  • avatar
    seldomawake

    I’m a little confused here. Why compare the Prius to a Hummer? Why not to a TDI, or even an Echo? There’s a comparison I’d like to see.

  • avatar
    amclint

    Dave: The Prius used Nickel batteries I thought?

    http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=417227&in_page_id=1770

  • avatar
    amclint

    That link I posted is one argument why the Prius isn’t as good as a high efficiency gas or diesel vehicle.

  • avatar

    The quality of content at TTAC continues to impress.
    Thank you for the informative editorial, Paul.

    This is perceptive: “Even if you’re not the pious Prius type, hybrid technology is already sneaking into your ride. Electric driven power steering, air-conditioning compressors and water pumps are all the fruit of hybrid technology, and spreading fast.”

    As to hybrid vehicles in general:
    Pious greenie or not, for those who “do the math” it’s the time it takes to recover the premium price of a hybrid.

    Based in Detroit, Keith Naughton is Newsweek’s Midwest bureau chief.
    Below are some outtakes of what he wrote in May of 2006.
    ( From: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12958916/site/newsweek/ )

    “The price premium you pay for a hybrid…takes years to pay off at the pump, even with $3 a gallon gas.
    …hybrids still account for only 1.2 percent of the U.S. car market, and they’re outsold by SUVs 23 to 1.” –

    “…analysts project that hybrid sales will nearly quadruple to 750,000 units by 2010. Still, even at those lofty sales, hybrids will only account for 4 percent of U.S. auto sales. SUVs, by then, will still represent about one fifth of the market.”

    “…the regular Civic still gets better fuel economy than the hybrid Accord and all [of] the hybrid SUVs on the market.”

    “If you’re really interested in saving money at the pump this summer, there is a far cheaper way. Go out and buy one of the new little gas-sippers hitting the market now. The Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa get up to 40mpg and start at less than $15,000—at least five grand cheaper than the least expensive hybrid. If you want to buy American (sort of), consider the Chevy Aveo (built in Korea), which gets 35mpg on the highway and starts at under $10,000. These cars might not dazzle your friends with their sci-fi technology. But the payoff at the pump comes right away, not a long way down the road.”

    To sum up: “…many of those green-leaning initial hybrid buyers have been wealthy and well educated—in other words, the consumers who are least affected by high gas prices.”

    “To reach the next group of hybrid buyers,” says George Pipas, market analyst for Ford, which just resorted to zero percent financing to jack up sales of its Escape hybrid, “you’ve got to have a price premium that pencils [adds up].”

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    “Plus, the absolute tripe and nonsense about a Prius being more wasteful over the life of the car than a Hummer is so slanted as to be ridiculous. The people “estimate” a life-cycle for the Prius of 1/2 of a Hummer. Try the other way around – which one is built by GM and which by Toyota?! Gimme a break.”

    That study assumed that the Prius would be scrapped when its batteries crapped out (est. 100k miles) due to the high replacement cost. This is similar to people ditching a regular car if it needs a new $3000 transmission at 100k miles. Therefore, the study assumed 1/2 the lifetime for a Prius compared with a regular gas engine car.

  • avatar
    MW

    One obvious application of hybrid technology I’m looking forward to: small electric motors on the rear wheels of FWD cars to create on-demand AWD. Most “light” systems (such as the one on my Element) only operate occasionally in poor traction conditions (but sure are useful when they do).

  • avatar
    amclint

    http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2005/hybridwatch01.html

    Interesting read, I wonder how many Prius owners just look at the mileage gauge, compared to how many do the math between fill-ups by using gallons put in and dividing the miles on their trip computer to get fuel usage?

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Yesterday, i put almost 14 gallons or gas in my golf. It gets about 30 mpg with 2 litre 4 banger, which is alot. The gas cost me about 32 bucks. I am PISSED.

    Not so long ago it was a buck a gallon. I love driving, i could drive around aimlessly all day. Even in my little fuel efficient car, its begining to cost real money to buy gas. DAMM! So I want MORE mileage, ALOT more.

    I appreciate your article, because with these technologies, I can seemingly have my cake and eat it too! My friend has a civic hybrid, it works well enough but its more an appliance than a fun car to drive. My golf is fun to drive.

    I have been looking at diesels too – diesel fuel around here costs about as much as premium gas – you would think it would be cheaper. However, i’m gonna do something. My poor little car has about a year of reasonable life left in it.

    So bring on the hybrids! I love it. Bring on the sporty hybrids, the sporty diesels (they all make them, we just dont get them). Hell, train hamsters! Just make it cheaper for me to drive all over the place.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Paul,
    Thanks for the great editorial. What was great about it was that you avoided the usual argument pro- vs. con- the Prius and talked rationally about where the market is heading. You also avoided the usual argument over climate change and the role cars play in it, which I appreciate.

    Hope the comments can live up to your high standards and focus on the technolgies that are coming into use over the next few years, and the impact they’ll have on the driving experience.

  • avatar
    Dave Ruddell

    “The Prius used Nickel batteries I thought?”

    Good point, but OTOH, nickel isn’t a rare earth either. Anyhow, it doesn’t actually matter, I was just showing off my massive chemistry knowledge.

    Also, from the article you linked to, Sudbury has looked like that for a long time before Toyota ever started selling hybrids. (I do realize that the environmental impact of nickel smelting was not the reason you linked to it).

  • avatar

    Great article Paul.

    Reminds me how technically weak most journalists are, even (particularly?) motoring journalists. There’s so much hype and misinformation about hybrids, no matter what your ‘views’, you can sight an article or person of supposed authority who will agree.

    I wonder if hybrid technology will see renewed interest in gas turbine powered vehicles? Designline in NZ make a series hybrid gas turbine bus. Hybrid technology seems to overcome some of the problems with turbines (e.g. slow start-up, don’t like varying RPM etc), they’re much more efficient that ICE (petrol or diesel), and they can run on a range of fuels.

    cheers

    Malcolm

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    One other instant gas saver is getting a 5 speed and ( this is hard for me) and and not burying the throttle. I was actually quite surprised at how good the Prius to drive but being tall the top of the windscreen seemed relatively low. Anyway I would suggest the US is lucky to have such low gas prices. I was surprised to $5+ for a gallon in Canada from a Post here a couple of day ago.

  • avatar
    rashakor

    BTW, People seem to ignore than Mercedes had hybrid buses and even made several car prototypes gasoline/electric back in 1978. Granted Toyota has brough it to the market but a lot of manufacturers had hybrids well before Tomoco.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    Prius batteries will last the life of the car, per Toyota. Figure 250,000 miles, not 100,000 miles. I have read that they still have prior generation drivetrains running after these miles and have had no in-field failures of batteries. This must be why they offer an 8 year warrantee on the hybrid components. Their confidence shows through like a beacon.

    Rare earths may not be needed in the newest hybrid batteries coming along, but they’ll still be needed in permanent magnet motors, I understand.

    The Atkinson cycle engine cannot easily be used without electric motors alongside, because the Atkinson cycle produces less torque (accelerative power) than Otto or Diesel cycle – however, when teamed with (inherently very high torque) electric motors, it’s a combination made in heaven. Atkinson (as used in Prius) uses a 13 to 1 expansion ratio and a 10 to 1 compression ratio. This is accomplished by having the intake valves “open” during 1/4 of the compression stroke, which self-supercharges the engine for the next charge, somewhat. It also means the explosion gets more fully spent, adding near-diesel efficiency.

    All of these “pay-off” calculations based upon the higher cost of hybrids vs. MPG saved and how long it takes blah blah blah are pure anti-hybrid Bullfeathers.

    Does anyone out there go “oh, let’s see, how long is it going to take to pay back the extra cost of heated leather seats, vs. the cost of aspercream?” Or, how do you figure pay-back on a Hemi V8? That’d be kind of backwards, right?
    Or how do you figure payback on a sunroof? Cost of toupe’s not bothered with?

    What a load of nonsense.

    My “payback” was IMMEDIATE. I had intended on buying a Hyundai XG350 and instead bought a Prius. I “lost” heated leather power seats, sunroof and a “ersatz Bentley” look and gained a futuristic car which obtains 250% the miles per gallon of the Hyundai, has similar room, slightly less performance, etc. for essentially the same $24,000. Plus I gained futuristic features and benefits such as not having to pull out any keys for the ignition (there is none on the Prius – it’s a button). I keep the keyfob in my pocket and drive. I can’t possibly leave “keys in the ignition” can I?

    Paul, kudos on a great article and kudos to everyone writing in – a lot of really good points and “discussion points” which I may not agree with, but it is nice to have a civil discourse.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I’ll be interested more in diesel tech coming than hybrid or some sort of combination or diesel/hybrid/cylinder deactivation etc the car manufactures come up with. I believe the new MINI Cooper D gets 64mpg. I’d be much more apt for a MINI D than a Prius.

    I’ll just have to keep paying to play and factor it in to the monthly budget. I drive a minimum of 12 hours per week if not more and every minute is my time and I want my time to be fun. Driving an appliance even something like the Tesla (no exhaust note, no rumble from the engine) is not something I could do. May as well drive a golf cart.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Nice article…

    If plug-in hybrids become commonplace, it will be interesting to see how the utilities deal with the increased strain on the grid. We’d probably start seeing off-peak electrical rates (maybe some jurisdictions have that already), and homeowners will have more incentive to reduce their bills by installing photo-voltaics and other forms of household power generation.

    It’s about time we start heading in this direction.

  • avatar
    radimus

    Hybrids, huh? Yawn. Wake me up when the fuel cell/battery hybrids hit the market. Until then I’m just not interested. Too much complexity for way too little benefit.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    I have a book at home, a 1973 World Cars Book by the Italian Motor Club (I believe is the title) in which there is a chapter on electric cars (after the chapter on exotic cars, prior to the alphebetized list of all the world’s production cars for the year).

    Toyota showed a gas-turbine electric hybrid Crown in 1973.

    Yeah, microturbines might be the bee’s knees for semi-distant future hybrids such as the Volt – i.e. not connnected to the wheels at all. Gas turbines (with a ceramic regenerator) running at full bore under full load are very efficient and can burn any liquid combustable.

    Like, unleaded gasoline; diesel; bio-diesel; ethanol; butanol; methanol; peanut oil. Chrysler even proved in the early 1960’s that their turbine car could burn taquila. They toured Mexico with the car and the then-President of Mexico was curious. So apparently, they quickly telephoned back to HQ, poured some taquila into a tank on a turbine on the test-bed, and viola, it ran.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    Mustn’t forget that when I bought my Prius instead of a “conventional car” I inadvertently saved the life of a young teen boy who, a month after I bought the car, ran across the road in front of me with a wheelbarrow filled with yard-trash. He simply wasn’t looking (and yeah, my headlights WERE on and it WAS broad daylight).

    Prius (with vehicle stability control) also has a facility which is programmed to “understand” when we humans are making a panic-stop (the time between the go and stop pedals is short) and since human nature is known (i.e. we don’t push the brake pedal hard enough on panic stops), the system does it for us.

    I missed the kid by about a few inches. In a conventional car, he’d have been splatted – dead. I was going about 50 in a 55 zone when he ran out and was about at 5-10 mph when he finally swerved away from me and got out of the way.

    Yeah, I was shaking for about 1/2 hour after that. He probably needed to go change his shorts.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    HEATHROI:
    March 15th, 2007 at 11:05 am
    “…I was surprised to $5+ for a gallon in Canada from a Post here a couple of day ago.”

    I don’t know where you got that info from, but here in Montreal, gas has been hovering around $1.00/L. By my math, that converts to 3.21 USD/gallon. (Exchange rate of .85USD to 1.00 CAD, and 3.78L per US gallon).

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Mud, amclint: The CNW studies about Prius vs. Hummer have been well refuted numerous times. They have become a joke and an embarassment to anyone who believes or posts them. The Sudbery environmental damage was done in the 1960’s -1980’s, before modern environmental controls.

    Anyway, the manufacturing of Lithium-ion batteries is a drastically cleaner operation.

    Glenn A: I know you love the Prius (and I do too), but spreading misinformation is not helpful. Toyota never said that the premium for the next gen Prius was going to be cut in half; that’s a long term goal for Toyota.

    Also, Toyota’s goal for Prius III is a 20% improvement in efficiency; given the current EPA adjusted (and real world) mileage of about 42 mpg, that would mean Prius III will do about 50 actual, real world average mpg. Excellent, but talking about 80 mpg is utter misinformation.

  • avatar
    whitenose

    FWIW, the trust-fund wankers tend to drive huge SUVs, not tiny hybrids.

  • avatar
    BostonTeaParty

    Still can’t top the 70mpg highway and minimum of 40 in the city i used to get in my turbo diesel when i was in the UK.
    It’s not just hybrids but the whole concept of builing a car, lighter materials, clever engineering, lighter drivetrains. Everything seems to be way heavier than it needs to be over here, and it really makes me laugh to see high horsepowered cars stuck in their commutes not living to their expectations. america needs to get over its problem with high horsepower.

  • avatar
    Fred D.

    I think it’s silly to have two drivetrains in a vehicle. If you look up the replacement costs of just the Prius hybrid components alone, stuff like the battery, generator/motor, electronics, etc. — it all adds up to over $13,000 worth of stuff. G-d forbid one (or more) of these components fail over the lifetime of these vehicles.

    I like the idea of a light hybrid, something enough to keep accessories running while you are stuck in traffic, but not enough to propel the car.

    Automakers really need to focus on making vehicles lighter, not this hybrid crap. A theoretical 1,800lb aluminum or composite bodied car with decent aerodynamics and transmission will deliver everything a Prius does today, without any of the added complexity a hybrid system introduces.

    My cynical side says the automakers are building complex systems into cars now with the intention of receiving substantial downstream income from replacement parts.

    Think about it – a car manufacturer can build a fuel efficient car two ways, lightweight with a small engine OR heavy with hybrid system. The lightweight car does nothing for the manufacturer (financially) several years down the road, yet the hybrid does.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Glenn, it may surprise you to find out that vehicle stability control and electronic brake force distribution aren’t proprietary characteristics of hybrid-powered vehicles.

    I think it’s great that you’re happy with your Prius, and I’m elated that it helped you avoid an accident, but how is this anecdote an argument for or against hybrid technology?

    I could use the same logic and say, “If you’d been driving a Mercedes S600 AMG, the electronic stability control and brake force distribution, combined with its radar-based avoidance system would have GUARANTEED you wouldn’t have hit the boy. Therefore the twin-turbo V-12 is the powertrain of the future.

  • avatar
    John

    No one ever mentions THE HYBRID RIPPLE EFFECT in discussions about effeciency. For those of you that have never ridden along in a Prius, the HRE is this:

    Not only does the hybrid vehicle itself get good mileage, but every vehicle trapped behind the hyrid gets better mileage too.

    Plenty get trapped back there as the hybrid driver nurses the throttle to avoid gasoline consumption. Judging from the trapped drivers’ body language, they probably aren’t enjoying their enhanced effiency as much as the lead car’s driver, although the leader seems oblivious to this.

    BTW, my wife drives a Prius.

    John

  • avatar
    htn

    Living in california I am not able to buy high efficiency VW TDI products.
    Recently shopped for a replacement car. Didn’t really need 200+ hp but to get the goodies (stability control, sport suspension) found that I was forced to buy 244 hp V6 rather than 170hp I4. Hope that the next iteration of models will feature high milage models with all the bells and whistles. That is part of the attraction of the Prius.

    Howard

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Fred D: an aluminum or composite ultra-light car would probably be much more expensive than a hybrid.

    I have yet to hear of a Prius with a battery pack failure – they’ve been out since 1997 in Japan.

    John: Excellent point. I think that’s where the “pious” label come from, in part.

    Frankly, I want to go 80+ and get 35 mpg.

  • avatar

    Paul, I couldn’t have put it better. What the CNW study does is demonstrate that some (even most) people judge the quality of research based on how much its conclusions agree with their prejudices.

    I didn’t critique it for a long time, because I couldn’t believe that anyone would take it seriously, but I was wrong. So I’ve recently posted a couple of critiques:

    http://www.truedelta.com/blog/?p=48

    http://www.truedelta.com/blog/?p=66

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Fred D.:

    Structural aluminum repair is also a big problem.

    A Honda Insight hit a minivan in a parking lot at 15mph. The Insight was declared totaled.

    A Lotus Elise hits a low ramp in a parking lot. Control arms are bent and the aluminum tub is damaged. Repair of the car requires getting a new tub from England as repairs to the tub are not authorized by the manufacturer.

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    I agree with the comment that “payback” is the wrong measure to use for new technology. Those that are using and paying for new technologies are helping to fund the research and development that will help us all, especially those of us that can’t afford to pay for it. Thank you all that have bought hybrids, electrics and diesel cars.

    Personally I am looking forward to the hydrogen powered cars, there is something wonderful about the concept of using a fuel that can be made from water and produces oxygen as a waste product. Until then all of you that have trust funds, high incomes, or just a lot of credit, please buy the newest and latest in technology so the manufactures can make enough profits to invest in new technologies.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    Will all the money you saved on gasoline be used up when it comes time to maintain and repair the vehicle?

    To me, you become a hostage to the dealer for repairs, and with all the redundancies in the systems, keeping one on the road when it is old and/or high mileage sounds expensive to me.

    I know one person who had a Prius – his computer went on the fritz (under warranty), but the cost of the repair scared him so much he traded it in on a new Corolla.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Cars don’t have to be out of aluminum to be light. Take a look at cars from 20-25 years ago and what they weighed, what their engines displaced and the physical size they took up (I’m thinking about cars like the Civic/CRX, Rabbit, Accord, etc). Granted, we don’t necessarily want to go back to the safety or performance levels of back then (or do we…?), but with today’s technology surely we could scale back the size, weight, displacement and power output of our conventional cars. Incorporate that with many of the concepts that efficiency-oriented cars like the Prius, Insight, etc. offer, and I bet we could keep cars light, safe, simpler and efficient.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    So bring on the hybrids! I love it. Bring on the sporty hybrids, the sporty diesels (they all make them, we just dont get them). Hell, train hamsters! Just make it cheaper for me to drive all over the place.

    JerseyDevil: You could get a small motorcycle: 75mpg and fun to ride. Obviously not the hot ticket for winter in the Northeast, but then again who the hell wants to drive around for fun in the wintertime?

    Seriously, those who argue that hybrid technology is just a fad because it can’t acheive this or that level of efficiency are missing the point. The solution to our energy needs are not going to be found in one solution, more likely there are going to be multiple solutions: Hybrids, electrics, ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, shale, etc etc. Any one of these – by itself – may be insufficient but a combination of them can be very effective.

    Second point, saying “this or that technology is useless because it’s still more efficient to use fossil fuels” assumes that prices for fossil fuels will stay the same. But of course, that’s not what happens. As the prices for fossil fuels rise, alternatives that were once not economically feasible become economically feasible.

    If there’s one thing I believe it’s that as long as people want to drive their own cars, there will be a market for alternative fuels, hybrids, diesels and other new technology solutions to our fuel desires. Like JerseyDevil, I love to drive, and the more I can drive the better.

    Now let’s see some fuel-efficient hybrid small trucks, okay? I predict they’d be big sellers with both small businesses and with recreational users like me!

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    People who don’t care for hybrids seem to dismiss them with one of two arguments:
    1. You’re not going to save much money (if any) or
    2. You’re not going to save the planet (you self-righteous weenie).
    Well, I agree with Gottlieb that consumers are essentially contributing to the future in terms of technological advancements, research and development, engineering, etc. Like it or not, this is the direction we are headed. Modern-day hybrids are transitional technology–a stepping stone. But why delay the inevitable? Can’t we move forward without being forced to do so? Bring it on!

  • avatar
    MW

    People love to hate Toyota for selling Priuses with one hand and Tundras with the other, but you have to give them credit for upping the ante with the Prius. This has forced numerous automakers to invest in bringing new technologies to market instead of just slathering chrome and leather on antiquated pickup truck platforms. Ultimately this is good for everyone, because the more options available to people to meet their own transportation needs without wasting limited resources, the better. Personally, the best combination for my household would probably be a diesel minivan (for long highway trips) and a small all-electric car (for short trips around town).

  • avatar
    Fred D.

    Paul: “an aluminum or composite ultra-light car would probably be much more expensive than a hybrid.”

    The aluminum or composite body would certainly be much more expensive than conventional steel. However, that added cost is balanced out by other systems being cheaper. A lighter car needs a less massive suspension, smaller engine, brakes, etc. Even if a lightweight car ends up being the same cost as a hybrid, it is more desireable (to me) due to the fact that there is no chance of ultra-expensive hybrid component failures.

    starlightmica:

    Yes, aluminum bodied cars are more expensive to repair. That could be offset by automakers making bumpers that actually work. Remember the recent news article comparing bumper performance of a 25 year old Ford Escort to some modern sedans?

    This is another example of manufacturers designing a car with the intention of future earnings on replacement parts. A generation ago, car bumpers could withstand 5-10 mph collisions without damage. Now, this common accident causes thousands of dollars of damage.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Fred D: I think we’ve seen the highwater mark in car weight. With a new push for efficiency, reducing weight is “in” once again. You will see increased use of aluminum, composites, etc. But probably in some combination with some degree of hybrid technology too.

  • avatar

    I seem to remember a civic from the early ’90s that got 50 mpg. What happened to that?

    Frankly, I love internal combustion. It has more character, in my mind, at least, than hybrids or electrics will ever have. Nonetheless, unless there is some miraculous breakthrough in carbon sequestration, I can see the handwriting on the wall. Great article, as usual.

  • avatar

    My ONLY complaint about Hybrids is the way their drivers seem to almost universally drive at some arbitrary speed about 5% slower than everyone else around them… no matter where they are or how many other cars are stacked up behind, unable to get around them. They are like miniature RVs everywhere they go, except they NEVER use the slow vehicle pull-outs like the occasional RV does out here in the western states. If I were a Washington State Patrol member I could make a mint in fines for my district by just tagging every Hybrid that has 5 or more cars stuck behind them.

    Otherwise no complaints from me about Hybrids.

    I’ll stick to my Diesels though.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    MW

    “I seem to remember a civic from the early ’90s that got 50 mpg.”

    At one point, my wife owned a mid-80s Escort that would get an honest 45+ mpg highway at 70-75 mph. How? It sure wasn’t the advanced engineering that went into that car. Just take a small car, put in a small engine, few options, and a tall-geared 4 speed stick. I don’t think the car was even especially light or terrifically aerodynamic. It’s not that hard to get that kind of mileage if you’re willing to accept 0-60 in around 12-13 seconds or so.

  • avatar
    jl1280

    Is it 40% or 50% of all trips are less than 5 miles. What about just taking the bus or transit (remember those modes?) or just do as I have done for years. It’s called a bicycle. The best hybrid yet invented. My leg power coupled with free air.

  • avatar
    Johnson

    Hybrid technology isn’t transition, at least in Toyota’s view. Toyota views hybrid technology as here to stay, since it can be adapted to work with any kind of drivetrain or propulsion technology.

  • avatar
    speedy4500

    I personally love the idea of a gas micro-turbine hybrid. If someone could also develop a compact co-generation system, efficiency would be quite high. Especially since turbines can run on any number of fuels allowing people to use whatever fuel is local (say biodiesel on the west coast, ethanol in the midwest, etc), the side effect of which would be lower transport costs for fuels.

    Plus the sound of a turbine spooling up is pretty neat. I’d buy one just to hear that sound every time I go driving.

    I don’t think that composites or aluminum are necessary as a well designed steel car can weigh less than 3000 lbs. Actually, they may be necessary if you want a light-weight car while retaining the luxuries that we all expect new cars to have available (nav, instant A/C and heating, heated/electric seats, materials to reduce NVH, “soft touch” interior materials, etc). If you really want light weight and low cost, you have to give up something. If you want light weight and luxury, it won’t be cheap. Most people want cheap and luxury, and that’s why weight is usually sacrificed. Even the all-carbon Enzo Ferrari and Carrera GT tip the scales in the 3300-3400 range. In 1967 (forty years ago!), Chevrolet produced the steel Nova SS with an all-iron V8.. curb weight 2955 lbs.

    Unfortunately, people today seem to want everything without giving up anything. This ideal doesn’t apply only to cars, and I see it as a big cause in the current state of affairs nationally and globally.

  • avatar
    noley

    Environmentally minded as I am, I still am not ready to pull the trigger on a hybrid. I haven’t even gone to test drive one. I listen to the hype, look at a Prius (which aren’t too bad to look at) and think about how I use a car. And I don’t see it being all that much of a benefit.

    I drive about 13K a year, at least half of it on highways at 75-80 mph. At that speed I get 27 to 30 mpg in my Saab 9000. My wife, in her Saab 9-5, gets 30 to 33 mpg. At 65-70 she gets 34-36. A Prius can do 40 on the highway at 75-80, so it’ll take awhile for the savings to show up. Locally, either car gets 22-24 mpg, so the Prius obviously has an advantage there.

    But then I also hook a trailer onto one of the cars and tow 2000 lbs of topsoil, firewood, etc. I may be wrong, but I think a Prius might come up a little short there. So to me, five or more years to break even while driving a boring, appliance-car is not appealing.

    Then there is just how it feels to drive. I haven’t driven many Toyotas that were fun to drive once you got 10 mph above the speed limit, especially on a what most gearheads would consider a fun road. And since going a bit faster than I’m supposed to is part of the pleasure of driving, I’ll wait for a hybrid that actually be *driven*, as opposed to being ridden in. And there are no Toyotas with good seats.

    For the moment, give me more 4 cyl turbos or a diesel. Or how about a small turbo 4 in a hybrid instead of the dinky little lawnmower engine?

    Finally, hybrids’ unique technology will sentence buyer to dealership service for a very long time, which definitely increases the cost of ownership, not to mention the pain involved with having dealer service managers try to rip you off..

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Johnson: I meant that Toyota’s parallel system is transitional. Synergy Drive won’t work with a fuel cell, for instance. That’s the reason for GM’s serial hybris system; it’s essentially plug-in compatible with other power sources, whether thats a gas or diesel ICE, fuel cell, turbine, etc.

    That doesn’t mean that Toyota’s parallel system may not be around for quite a while; that depends on how things develop.

  • avatar
    adehus

    Glen-

    You said:

    “Mustn’t forget that when I bought my Prius instead of a “conventional car” I inadvertently saved the life of a young teen boy who, a month after I bought the car, ran across the road in front of me with a wheelbarrow filled with yard-trash. He simply wasn’t looking (and yeah, my headlights WERE on and it WAS broad daylight).”

    Well… your Prius may have helped you to stop, but it was also likely the reason the kid wasn’t aware of your car- pedestrians can’t hear it coming!

    I just happened to be taking a walk a few days ago, during one of the first few nice days of early spring. I walked out from between two SUVs to cross the street, and an utterly silent Prius whizzed right by me… given the way the parked cars blocked my view, it was undetectable until it was almost too late.

    We have cellphones that make fake shutter noises when they take pictures, do we need our electric cars to make fake engine noise?

  • avatar
    dolo54

    I was sent that Hummer vs. Hybrid lifecycle article by a friend and instantly identified it as BS. As I pointed out to my friend, even if all the hypothetical numbers quoted were true (i.e. Prius thrown out after 100k miles, Hummer after 200k) which I don’t believe… Even if that were true, there still the fact that this is new technology taken to marketplace and proved, which can then be improved upon. In other words even if the Prius or whatever hybrid was more expensive in the long run or had a larger ecological footprint than a standard car, the R&D into future improvements in invaluable. I mean lets face it, the combustion engine is technology at the end of its lifecycle. Something better will be invented, absolutely needs to be invented, and hybrids are part of that process.

    That being said, I once saw a Prius with all these obnoxious bumper stickers all over the back (“my hybrid sips, your suv sucks”, etc.) I really had the urge to kick a light out or something. And I’m FOR hybrids. I guess that was the “smug” that that South Park episode was referring to.

    On another aside WHY OH WHY do SUV drivers insist on driving in the fast lane at or well below speed limit? I know it “feels” like they’re going fast in that big lumbering beast, but why block the guy behind you who obviously wants to pass? So many drivers need to respect other drivers. Nobody owns the road.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    noley – I don’t think anybody has ever saved money on a hybrid purchase. It’s more of a purchase for your conscience. If you want to actually save money you could by a slightly used suv at a crazy cheap price, save probably $20k over a Prius and never come close to spending $20k on gas over the life of the suv…

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    adehus: The issue of quiet opertation of the hybrids and electrics is being studied by Toyota and others. On NPR recently there was a segment about the dangers of these cars especially for the blind who depend soley on their hearing to discern the presence of traffic. Sometimes we forget that everyone is not the same.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Yeah if you read an earlier post from Glenn, he nearly hit a young guy and scared the crap out of himself and the kid.
    Pesonally I can’t afford to save that much money Figure in the initial cost, repairs at a dealer’ and the other points made by the varios posters.It just don’t add up.
    I drive a 6yr old Grand Am I keep it tuned up I have gentle right foot and I try to limit my driving,and it financially works out OK.

  • avatar
    kps

    David Holzman: “I seem to remember a civic from the early ’90s that got 50 mpg. What happened to that?”

    199x Civic VX: EPA combined 51mpg. What happened? Partly, emissions (the VX ran lean, and a three-way catalytic converter only works at the stoichiometric air/fuel ratio) but mostly, simple lack of demand. Built to maximize fuel efficiency — small, light, 92hp, standard transmission, no A/C — it was not a smash hit in the land of the rolling living room.

  • avatar
    Johnson

    Paul Niedermeyer, Toyota does have actually some fuel cell hybrid vehicles as well as busses undergoing testing over in Japan, although I’m not exactly sure if they are running with the Synergy Drive.

    Toyota’s Hino subsidiary also has hybrid trucks and busses, and I believe they use a series hybrid design.

  • avatar
    kestrel

    MW-
    That’s exactly the issue. The benefit of the hybrid is not simply the electric portion of the drivetrain…that actually is an additional loss mechanism since charging and discharging are not 100% efficient. The fact that the hybrid is stuffed with a tiny engine is the other half of the equation. It takes only ~ 20-30 hp to keep a car at highway speeds…if people were willing to accept sub 100 hp cars, which can do highway speeds, we would see a large spike in fuel economy.

  • avatar
    skor

    As I recall, ol’ Nick Tesla never learned to drive.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Johnson: Toyota’s Synergy Drive is essentially a transmission that allows one or both motors (gas & electric) to either take turns, or drive together. As such, it’s only relevant when attached to an internal combustion engine.

    In all fuel cell vehicles, the electric output of the fuel cell goes to the electric drive motor; either directly, or increasingly, thought a bank of batteries, because its hard to match the electrical needs exactly. That’s what the Volt does; its a multi-functional platform whose batteries will be charged either by the engine/generator, or a fuel cell.

    This layout will inevitably be the format for future electric vehicles. That doesn’t give GM credit for coming up with it; Porsche did that in 1902.

    Parallel hybrids (Synergy Drive) are relevant only as long as the ICE is actually being called upon to drive the wheels directly. Beyond that, its time is over.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    Chuck goolsbee –

    Your experience with hybrid drivers, I’ve heard, is part of the reason that HOV lane stickers for hybrids are being phased out here in California. Seems the state complaint lines were overflowing with pissed-off carpoolers stuck behind Priuses doing 60 in the leftmost lane.

    Regarding the noise issue, my wife owns a Prius, and yes, we once were stuck behind an elderly blind man ambling down the middle of the Trader Joe’s parking lot… for two minutes. (what do you do? Honk?)

    That said, when a car passes at more than say, 20 mph, tire whir and wind rush contribute to what you hear just as much as engine noise. I do find the idea of an artificial, user-customizable “exhaust note” intriguing, though. “What’re you in the mood for today, honey? Hemi Cuda, or Formula Ford?”

    Paul, thanks for one the most enjoyable, spin-free hybrid editorials I’ve ever read.

  • avatar
    partsisparts

    I agree we need to conserve oil. But,my thoughts are on hydrogen as the wave of the future. I think the complexity of a hybrid is going to be a problem down the road.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    Forgot to mention. Regarding battery replacement, CalTrans (our public works entity) uses a fleet of first-generation Priuses as company cars. I’m told that many of these cars are pushing 150K-200K miles, and that none has required a battery replacement.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    doesn’t it seem odd that gm and ford are looking for the more perfect technology to save fuel while toyota and honda are willing and able to serve up new technoloogies right now. It doesn’t matter that the hybrid is not the be all to end all. What is more important that at 44mpg consumer reports said it is far and away the best real world gas saver and has a top reliability rating to boot. Compare that to the typical straight gas small car with about 25pmg real world milege and you get some idea just how far ahead toyota really is. Further, who do you trust to take us to the next level in high mpg cars toyota or gm and ford? While the domestics talk the others are building more and more of their less than perfect gas savers ie prius and gaining valuable experience for future new technologies.Gm just brought out a whole line (gmt900) of 12 mpg trucks and suv’s to save the day. But with $3.00 to $4.00 per gallon gas prices who do you think the public will turn to for the latest in good fuel efficient transportation? Did anyone ever question how inefficient ethenol is to produce? how unlikely hydrogen stations will spring up everywhere, and the cost of that fuel. Saying hydrogen is part of water and easy and cheap to get in it’s pure form is lunacy. Those are todays options.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    One of the reasons for disdain of hybrids is the special perks they enjoy around here in California. I frequently walk to work and thus consume less gasoline than any hybrid… Why can’t I get a tax break for buying sneakers and for buying a house near work?

  • avatar
    philbailey

    As a garage owner, I can’t wait for these hybrids to age a little more.

    Compared with my usual business, I’m going to make a bloody fortune on maintaining these suckers. And boy, will they be bargains when they’re really second hand.

    “Good evening sir, good price, all it needs is a set of batteries and a new electric motor”!

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    philbailey-We’ve already established that the Prius’s battery will last 200,000 miles or more. It’s one of the most reliable cars on the road. Heck, one of the reasons it’s so reliable is because it’s moving parts are used less due to the electric motor taking over (IE, the gas engine is taxed less because the electric engine is used, the brakes are taxed less due to regenerative braking, etc.).

    So, the amount of work you get will be less, not more, once hybrids are more common. Sorry.

  • avatar
    IGB

    Glen-

    Your Prius stops from 70mph in 184 feet.

    My personal Anti-Prius (Magnum SRT8) stops in 170 feet.

    Not only would that kid have heard me coming but neither of us would have wasted a drop of adrenaline over the incident. Good brakes are good brakes, fancy or not.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    IGB,

    Never mind the additional fifteen-foot safety cushion. The sight of a Magnum SRT-8 bearing down on you at 55 mph would most certainly incite the wasting of bodily fluids. Or, more likely, solids.

    A bit of trivia: the Kia Rio5 SX stops from 70 mph in only 165 feet, supporting the proponents of simple, lightweight, (relatively) de-contented compacts.

  • avatar
    dean

    Paul N. wonders in his article why it took a century for hybrid technology to go mainstream. Except his answer was wrong. It had little to do with batteries, and everything to do with the fact that oil (and gasoline) have been dirt cheap for almost the entire automobile era.

    It is the same reason suburbs exist, and the same reason many suburbs have no sidewalks (what kind of loser would want to walk? Besides, there’s nothing within walking distance anyway).

    While hybrids aren’t currently the be-all and end-all, I do appreciate the buyers simply because they chose to put their money where their mouth was. Too often companies don’t see a market for technologically advanced, but economically challenged products, so they choose not to make them. Toyota chose to make the Prius, and environmentally conscious buyers chose to vote with their wallets and support it, even though most would be far better off with a Civic or a Corolla.

  • avatar

    chuckgoolsbee:
    My ONLY complaint about Hybrids is the way their drivers seem to almost universally drive at some arbitrary speed about 5% slower than everyone else around them… no matter where they are or how many other cars are stacked up behind, unable to get around them. They are like miniature RVs everywhere they go, except they NEVER use the slow vehicle pull-outs like the occasional RV does out here in the western states.

    Often Prius drivers (I don’t know if others are similarly equipped) are trying to maximize their mileage. It gets to be a game with them. Kitman from Automobile mag found this compelling, and a friend of a friend who used to be a very aggressive driver got a prius and got over his aggression because he was sucked into maximizing mileage. Personally, I think driving courteously means being aware of the people behind you, and doing whatever you can to avoid holding them up. Especially when the roads are crowded.

  • avatar

    The guy who sold me my ’77 Corolla 1200cc 5-speed (one of the then future Iraq weapons inspectors) told me it had gotten 50 mpg until his brother borrowed it and towed a trailer without telling him. I thijnk my best was 39, but that woudl have been at 55mph. The thing only weighed almost 2k lbs.

  • avatar

    jl1280:
    Is it 40% or 50% of all trips are less than 5 miles. What about just taking the bus or transit (remember those modes?) or just do as I have done for years. It’s called a bicycle. The best hybrid yet invented. My leg power coupled with free air.

    I rode a bike for years and years. Durijng the ’80s, I averaged 3600 miles/year, about 3000 of that commuting and local recreation, the rest trips. When I bought a house in ’88, I deliberately chose a neighborhood that put most of what I did withhin about 6-7 miles. But at 53, I consider myself at least somewhat lucky never to have had a really serious mishap, although I did have one that left me slightly hobbled for six months. But I live farther away from stuff now, I feel less immortal these days, and time often dictates use of a car rather than a bike. As for transit, it’s usually a time suck compared to driving, or even a bicycle, unless you live in Manhattan or Paris.

  • avatar

    I don’t think that composites or aluminum are necessary as a well designed steel car can weigh less than 3000 lbs. Actually, they may be necessary if you want a light-weight car while retaining the luxuries that we all expect new cars to have available (nav, instant A/C and heating, heated/electric seats, materials to reduce NVH, “soft touch” interior materials, etc).

    My old ’93 Saturn weighed about 2450. Plenty of room for four passengers. I don’t understnd why cars have to weigh as much as they do today. The only thing that weighs as little as the saturn now is the Miata

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    dean: not true: in the two energy crises we have already been through (73-75)& (81-82), oil was expensive (inflation adjusted) and there was lots of pessimism about finding more. There was as much or more concern about fuel efficency than today. In Europe, gas has always been expensive.

    GM has shown electric and fuel cell concepts for decades, but they never worked adequately because of battery limitations. That’s whats allowing it to change now.

    Toyota would not have built the Prius had it not been for the NiMh batteries that were the new thing at the time.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    David, Isnt it funny that GM is giving up the plastic skin idea when they need it the most ?

    As far as the “Holy Grail of batteries” is concerned, I’m reminded of the cold fusion fiasco of the 90’s.

  • avatar
    nino

    I personally feel that the hybrid hype has hurt the drive toward more efficient vehicles. Since hybrids have become the media darlings of efficiency, manufacturers of large SUVs are developing hybrid technology for them for the future instead of dropping in efficient Diesels in them today.

    I’m also in the camp that says cars are too heavy and don’t need 250+ horsepower to sit idle during rush hour. Unfortunately, hybrid development money is taking away from this aspect of automotive design as well.

  • avatar
    nino

    And I don’t understand the tightening up of Diesel emissions in the US when the Diesel fleet is insignificant. After all, there were no additional enviromental regulations implemented to cover hybrids and their batteries.

  • avatar
    Johnson

    As a side note, several automakers for decades have toyed with the idea of “hybrids”, including both Toyota and GM. Toyota was simply the first to bring to market a production hybrid vehicle.

  • avatar
    Johnson

    Paul Niedermeyer, what I meant was that in the Synergy Drive, it *does not have* to be an ICE in there. It can be a hydrogen fuel cell being called upon to provide propulsion.

    By Toyota’s *own* words and admission, their Hybrid system can be adapted to fuel cells, diesel engines, or any other form of propulsion. In a broad sense, Toyota believes hybrid technology is not simply transitional, but a permanent part of future vehicles.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    Why do we say it’s enivro nuts who buy the hybrids. Do the math on a prius if you do 20mpg and the prius gets 44mpg your fuel costs go down by 1/2; at $3.00 per gallon you could pay for the thing (extra cost of it) in maybe three years. If gas goes higher or you can only get it because it’s rationed the prius is priceless as you can keep going when everyone else is at home high and dry. The hybrid only makes no sense if you believe we will get back under $2.00 per gallon and stay there with unlimited quantities available. Want to take a poll on that?

  • avatar
    noley

    dolo54…
    You state that no one has saved money by buying a hybrid, but that’s exactly what people are looking to do. If the cars were sold without extra dealer gouging it would be a lot easier to break even or come out ahead.

    I really don’t have a problem with them, I’m just waiting until one that’s fun to drive comes along. We tend to keep cars a long time in our household, so maybe by the time we’re ready to move on a more driver oriented hybrid will be available.

    The real benefit of hybrids, of course, is not to the owner. It’s in lower CO emissions. But then we’d get a similar result if everyone drove 4 cylinder cars, and we got gas guzzling SUVs and pick-ups off the road. No one needs those beasts as their commuting car. Or for a whole lot else, when you come down to it.

    On the other hand, commercial airliners are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. Want to reduce CO emissions? Reduce air travel.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    John wrote: “Not only does the hybrid vehicle itself get good mileage, but every vehicle trapped behind the hyrid gets better mileage too.”

    So how does this square with my comments about zipping up to speed and leaving most of the lardus-maximumus SUVs behind, John?

    Here’s a link about the next gen Prius. 113mpg Imperial = about 90 mpg US, by the way.

    http://www.autobloggreen.com/2006/12/11/next-gen-prius-to-get-lithium-ion-battery-and-113-mpg/

    Then there’s this. I haven’t time to dig out multiple examples of these stories over the last few months, so you’ll just have to believe me when I was genuine when I posted my comments about the next-gen Prius.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2005/11/17/toyota-developing-cheaper-hybrids/

  • avatar
    adehus

    Glenn A:

    “So how does this square with my comments about zipping up to speed and leaving most of the lardus-maximumus SUVs behind, John?”

    John’s comment doesn’t square with your comment- it square with reality. Most of us realize that hybrids can be quite quick, but we also realize that hybrid owners will often drive in such a manner as to absolutely maximize fuel efficiency.

    Which means they drive slowly!

  • avatar
    John

    Glenn wrote: So how does this square with my comments about zipping up to speed and leaving most of the lardus-maximumus SUVs behind, John?

    Glenn,

    My post was an attempt at humor. I was caricaturing certain of my wife’s traits that I can easily imagine in other Prius drivers. “Frugal” and “Anal retentive” come to mind, and now, “Humorless”.

    As far as your driving technique, as long as you continue your brisk acceleration up to the prevailing speed, no one can complain.

    John

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Glenn A: How many times do I have to refute your wonderfully sunny optimism about the Prius III? Did you actually read the comments on the AutoBlog Green posting. Here’s the lowdown:

    The Japanese version of the EPA test is much slower and cars get much higher ratings. The current Prius tests at 84 mpg on that test. Yes, on that test, Toyota expects to get 94 mpg. Unfortunately, that’s only a 12% improvement!!

    Toyota has said repeatedly that they’re shooting for a 20% improvement for Prius III. They may not even make that. It’s a very ambitious goal. So I repeat: given that the current Prius gets about 42 mpg, then the Prius III will get maybe 50 mpg. Please, Glenn, know your facts before you keep posting misinformation. This site is thetruthaboutcars.

    The other posting is from 2005, and is very vague. Yes, Toyota is planning more hybrids, including mild (cheaper) versions. But there is nothing in that posting that affirms your earlier claim of Prius’ hybrid premium cost being reduced by 50%.

    Glenn: whenever and wherever you post this misinformation, I’m going to be there to refute it. We’ve been playing this game for a long time. Do you really want to keep it up?

  • avatar
    allen5h

    bfg9k: That study assumed that the Prius would be scrapped when its batteries crapped out (est. 100k miles) due to the high replacement cost. This is similar to people ditching a regular car if it needs a new $3000 transmission at 100k miles. Therefore, the study assumed 1/2 the lifetime for a Prius compared with a regular gas engine car.

    Actually, the lithium batteries do not crap out at any given mileage. This is the biggest single misconception that people have about hybrids. It is a gradual decline in charge/discharge performance, slowly pissing away whatever economic advantage the hybrid drivetrain may start out with when brand new.

    Here is a video worth watching about the dangers of lithium batteries when subjected to mechanical shock:

    http://tinyurl.com/39hobo

    Still want to buy a Prius? Or how would you like to be an emergency first responder having to pull people out of a Prius wreck with these firebombs waiting to go off?

    *********************************************

    Points from the article:

    Improvements in CO and other emissions are easier to deal with at the power plant source than in each car.

    It is not quite this simple. So much of our watersheds are now so polluted to the point that (the more responsible state govts) are now telling women and children not to eat the fresh water fish. Why? Heavy metal contamination (mercury, lithium, cadmium, etc…) from burning coal. Reducing CO is not the costliest part of cleaning up the power plant emissions. Some of these larger power plant operators are now asking for greater CO emissions regulation, (presumably so that the smaller operators will have to pay the same amount as well, but that is another story); but nobody is lining up asking for tighter standards for better mercury and other heavy metals scrubbing technologies. (Read extremely expensive, much more so than just reducing CO.) The more coal we burn, the more heavy metals contaminaton we get; regardless if the CO is reduced.

    Despite its success, Toyota’s Synergy Drive has generally been seen as a transitional technology.

    So hybrids, as we know them to be today, are nothing more than a transitional technology, until what? Until we get more explosive cars, and even more heavy metals in the grains we eat? And if people where more educated about these two dangers, would they have even made these purchases that have given Toyota this small measure of (mainstream) success? And meanwhile, more people continue to buy more and more of these full hybrids (Prious, Civic), in spite of these two major drawbacks.

    To sum up: “…many of those green-leaning initial hybrid buyers have been wealthy and well educated—in other words, the consumers who are least affected by high gas prices.”

    If the well educated, well-off wanted to save the planet then they would do more for the survival of our species if they simply where to drive a dang FIT. (5 spd EPA 33/38).

  • avatar
    rtz

    So you want a magic battery to save the day? How about this?

    http://www.europositron.com/en/img/theoretic.gif
    http://www.europositron.com/

    Or this?

    http://www.fireflyenergy.com/

    Or this…..

    http://www.steorn.com/

    Did you ever see this?

    http://www.scaled.com/projects/gmcar.html

    And whatever became of this?

    http://neasia.nikkeibp.com/topstory/000881

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    johnson, allen5h: I can’t fully address all of your comments, but..

    Regarding Toyota’s “transitional technology”: The current Synergy Drive is a transmission that is fed by the two inputs of electric motor and ICE. You can’t feed a fuel cell into it – fuel cells only generate electricity, no torque or horesepower.

    So what I mean by “transitional”, is that when Toyota goes to fuel cells, it will have to adopt a serial hybrid layout, like the Volt. There is simply no way around it. And Toyota knows this and will be perfectly able to do so. But at that stage, the existing Synergy Drive becomes irrelevant.

    Toyota may still chose to labe a future fuel cell powered serial hybrid “Synergy Drive”, but it will be a serial hybrid, not a parallel hybrid like now.

    That’s where the “Synergy” name comes from – it implies two power sources; not one like a serial hybrid.

    allen5h: regarding li-ion cells losing their capacity. It’s true that this will happen; it’s intrinsic. But that may happen very slowly over a long time. It doesn’t mean the benefits disappear; they diminish slightly over a long time.

    Obviously, mechanical challenges will have to be dealt with. Tesla and Toyota, as well as Phoenix and others using li-ion cells are all making progress. It’s is still a young technology. The ICE took awhile to sort out too.

    The issue with CO treatment at the source is a very complex and political one. I did not have the time to go into it in the article. Simply put: it can be done (sequestration of CO at the source), and a lot of research is going on. But like most cO issues, it will ultimately be an issue of political will. I won’t attempt to take that on in this venue.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    Okie-dokie, fair enough Paul Niedermeyer. I declare an even outcome to our debate on emissions, since the CO emissions thing, and the heavy metals thing, are very political, very complex, and very costly. This may not be the proper forum to debate such convoluted issues.

    I understand what you are saying about the parallel delivery of mechanical power to the driven wheels by Toyota’s existing “synergy” (TM) hybrid. Railroad electromotives (these are actually hybrid power plants) deliver their power serially because of its undeniably superior efficiency. Clearly, serial hybrids will be the technological “holy grail” of small passenger vehicle hybrids, if they are to survive in the marketplace. But until then, I do not feel comfortable with the hybrid technology in use today.

  • avatar

    allen5h: Railroad electromotives (these are actually hybrid power plants) deliver their power serially because of its undeniably superior efficiency.

    It’s not because electric drives are more efficient per se, but because electric motors and electric power transmission are more suited to high-power traction jobs. They can give high torque, even at zero RPM). Imagine the clutch, gearbox etc required to reliably handle 5000+ HP and massive torque. An equivalent electric drive is just more suitable and more reliable.

    Cheers

    Malcolm

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Malcom: well said. The Germans used a hydraulic-mechanical drive for their diesel locos in the 60’s and 70’s; the US RR’s tried them; they were a bit more efficient, but too maintanence intensive.

  • avatar
    Glenn

    Paul, good debate is great and I appreciate you a lot, enjoy your posts. I don’t mind you keeping me on my toes. I guess we’ll wait and see what the 2009 Prius brings us and then one of us can buy say “whoops”. I’m not trying to be too optimistic or misinform. As I mentioned, I didn’t have time today at work to dig out all the notations I’ve read over the past year or so about the next-gen Prius. Much of it may be hype (?). I actually find it difficult to believe a 30-40 real world MPG improvement will result – UNLESS the car is plug-in. Then you’ll be saying “whoops”, not me, eh?

    On the other side of the coin, who out of all of us would have expected Prius II to have 10% better real world mileage than first gen cars; be the same price; have better performance (about 2 seconds faster to 60 mph); and be a mid-sized car instead of sub-compact? I sure wasn’t.

    Paul, if I were a betting man I’d let Robert hold the promise of a beer from you if the Prius III gets nets at least 80 mpg on the new combined EPA cycle and I owe one to you if I’m higher than the mark, but alas, I neither bet nor drink!

    BTW you hit the nail on the head about HSD being incapable of being used with fuel cells. Fuel cell cars likewise are not adaptable from Honda’s IMA system. Fuel cell cars are in fact fully electric motorcars, with a fuel cell AND traction battery (to make up for the non-immediacy of the fuel cell for sudden acceleration, and to have “someplace” to store kinetic energy when slowing or stopping).

    I read something on Toyota’s Prius HSD website about how Prius is actually more efficient well-to-wheels than the then current best fuel cell hydrogen technology, hopefully if you wish to find that link you’ll see I am not exagerating.

    Personally, I think fully electric cars are the way to go, and bypass the so-called hydrogen economy for what is now loosely being called the electron economy.

    Perhaps in the medium-short term (say next 10-15 years) electric cars will become feasible as second cars, while increasing oil prices brings hybrids into the mainstream as prime cars (since electric cars generally aren’t practical for long trips).

  • avatar
    vento97

    Forgot to mention. Regarding battery replacement, CalTrans (our public works entity) uses a fleet of first-generation Priuses as company cars. I’m told that many of these cars are pushing 150K-200K miles, and that none has required a battery replacement.

    Yet.

  • avatar
    nino

    (since electric cars generally aren’t practical for long trips).
    _________________________________________________

    Oh sure they’ll be.

    Would you like to invest in a company that makes really, really, LONG extension cords?

  • avatar
    dean

    Paul: yes the oil shocks sent crude and refined prices to levels that, when adjusted for inflation, haven’t been touched since. But these were relatively short-term events. Had prices stayed at those levels for a longer period we may have seen some type of hybrid technology, although microprocessor capability might have been a limiting factor.

    Yes, petrol in Europe has always been much more expensive. But since most of Europe can fit in the state of Texas, has an extensive passenger rail network, high density housing, and few if any American-style suburbs, it hasn’t been expensive enough to prompt real investment in ultra high-efficiency technologies. As it is, they use diesel much more than we do and they typically drive compact cars with small engines. In other words, they have coped with the high prices.

    While I think cheap oil is the root cause of the slow pace, I won’t quibble that batteries and storage likely had much to do with the rejection of electric power for the ICE. But once gasoline took over, it was cheap oil that kept it in favor.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I second what has been often said: great article, packed with information, concise and unbiased. Thanks, Paul!

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I will third that. As a Prius driver, however; I must refute some a couple of commonly-held notions.

    1) Not “all” Prius drivers drive in the left lane “5%/MPH/whatever” slower than traffic. I do my own fair share of passing, thank you. Passing Hummers is fun. Yeah, just a little…

    2) Not “all” Prius drivers let the cars behind stack up. The only road I do that is on my subdivision entrance, and that’s because there’s a radar cop stationed inside two or three times a week. Courtesy of my HOA payments, of course!

    3) I’m not a “greenie.”

    4) I don’t have any bumper stickers. Okay, I have a “Superman S” on my back window, but it’s really very small, and makes no enviro/politico statement. Blagh!

    5) I love to drive, and I have fun doing it. Yes, even in my Prius.

    6) Red lights cost me more in fuel, time, and money than anything else. I despise red-lights. In fact, I believe that traffic lights should be timed so as to reduce the number of consecutive red lights to an average of UNDER three. Red lights are productivity killers and cost-increasers, much like bureacracy or a tax! A tax on my fuel, my time, and my risk.

    It should be a simple matter to get the ball rolling on basic traffic management. We need to hold our local and state governments accountable. “No” traffic management plan is a failure of responsibility.

    In fact, whenever I hit 3, 4, or more consecutive red-lights, I’m just about to go visit my local politicians and give them a piece of my mind. And then vote against them. Twice, for good measure. :eyeroll: :mad frown:

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Forgot one:

    7) Most drivers should not be allowed to drive. We don’t test for competency like we used to, and I suspect that if we brought it back, we’d probably have to force a significant part of the population to take the bus EVERYWHERE.

    Sorry to say it, but we’re really not competent as it is.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Oh man, please bring back the “edit” feature!

    To clarify: Incompetency reduces efficiency. That increases cost (of fuel, insurance, medical bills, etc).

    Improving competency will help. Reducing or eliminating incompetency from the “pool” of drivers will improve the competent:incompetent ration, which would also help.

  • avatar
    JBU

    The article that Mud posted is right on.

    I’m not a zealot for or against hybrids. If they can produce a tangible savings for me as a car owner while still performing up to a reasonable standard then I’ll eventually buy one.

    However, I think many in the “pious” camp may be overlooking the pollution involved in manufacturing the batteries used by the hybrids (let alone the disposal of these things over time).

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    JBU: That article has been well refuted many times. It refers to damage done in the ’60’s and 70’s. Modern pollution control have long ended these practices.

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