Ask The Best And Brightest: Whither Hybrids?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
ask the best and brightest whither hybrids

Reported sales of hybrid cars were down by ten percent in 2008, according to Green Car Congress, who keep track of these things. Keep in mind that 2008 was the year that saw $4+ gas, $7k Geo Metros and a general wave of related hysteria. On the other hand, gas has also become quite cheap in the last few months, and hybrid sales are undeniably falling off a cliff. December hybrid sales are down 42.7 percent year-on-year, as Priora pile up on lots and Americans re-learn how to save money. But is the hybrid downturn a sign of a dying fad, or a temporary blip? There’s a strong argument to be made that the hybrid price premium will be a tough sell in weak economic times, but if another oil shock comes that premium could look like chump change. But this is not just a question of predicting the oil market. If any of us could really do that, we’d be doing the backstroke in a Scrooge McDuck-sized vault of ducats, not discussing the auto industry. Toyota thinks that they can whittle the hybrid powertrain premium down to a mere $1,500 over normal ICEs, but then they built the hybrid bandwagon nearly single-handedly. Meanwhile, Honda is attacking the Prius on price point with the Insight, and Ford is going after the Camry on patriotism with its Fusion hybrid. But will this competition saturate a still-niche market and destroy profitability? After all, hybrids still only make up 2.4 percent of the US market, causing some to call hybrids a dying fad. Or will hybrid technology eventually become ubiquitous, rewarding those who made early investments in it?

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  • PeteMoran PeteMoran on Jan 07, 2009

    @ CarnotCycle No doubt there are solutions as in the examples you provide but at what cost in weight and service interval. I believe the M1 Abrams has an engine exchange program under way specifically to address durability issues and economy. One of the features of the M1 is the ability swap the engine very quickly (I think that's right). In aircraft the engine RPM is lower than most people think. The General Electric F110 has an RPM limit of 10,000rpm and it's a BIG unit yes, but clearly there are trade-offs in ultimate turning radius for fighter aircraft that you can't have with a car. Small turbines would be very high RPM. I can't find it right now, but there was a company with an example turbine-electric powerplant but I'm fairly sure it was DOA.

  • CarnotCycle CarnotCycle on Jan 07, 2009
    In aircraft the engine RPM is lower than most people think. The General Electric F110 has an RPM limit of 10,000rpm and it’s a BIG unit yes, but clearly there are trade-offs in ultimate turning radius for fighter aircraft that you can’t have with a car. The actual compressor RPM is a multiple of that although I forget exact limits (~40,000RPM, I think). The RPM limit on the F110 you refer to is the fan RPM. All modern turbofans and most turbojets are dual-spooled. Compact turbines used in RC airplanes have single-spool combined centrifugal-axial setups that spin at 100,000 RPM. The limits associated with RPM in these engines is related to the speed of sound at the tips of the blades, kinda like cavitation with a boat's prop in the water limits RPM. And yes Abrams motors are on for replacement and depot maintenance, but remember these are vehicles being operated in the most punishing of environments (talk about "urban driving" in Baghdad and 120 degree desert dust-cloud wafting) for years on end in a combat environment. Not bad given the circumstances, really.

  • PeteMoran PeteMoran on Jan 07, 2009

    @ CarnotCycle (Sorry - off topic). Those small RC engines are amazing. A friend has a 10hp marine gas turbine that he says weighs about 20lbs in one of his (bigger) RC models (he's a nutter though).

  • ZoomZoom ZoomZoom on Jan 07, 2009
    factotum : I’d like to know what the hell we’re going to do with all of the batteries. This argument again? We’re going to recycle them. Just like we do with all the batteries in non-hybrid cars. Thanks for sticking up for the TRUTH, Factotum. The battery fear, created by those who don't understand the system (and don't care to learn) is really getting ridiculous; and I say this after having had my Prius for nearly 5 years now. People are just QUIVVERING in fear over the batteries and the high voltage. Sheesh. Bytor : Toyotas HSD replaces the conventional transmission with an orbital gear (and the hybrid electrical motors), that has to be a significant savings. Correct, there is no transmission in the Prius. The HSD consists of a planetary gearset that fits in the palm of your hand. Once the system has been finessed enough, you can probably ditch the normal starter (if not gone already) and starter battery. Already gone. The Toyota system consists of two "motor/generators". MG1 is the smaller motor/generator. When being a motor, he is responsible for starting the ICE. The computer allows the ICE to free-spin (no fuel/air and no compression). MG1 spins the ICE up to 1000 RPM. With no compression resistance, this takes less than a second. Once the ICE is up to speed, the computer lights the fire. When being a generator, MG1 is converting "extra" engine torque (up to 28% I think) into electricity for storage into the battery pack. MG2 is the bigger motor/generator. This one, when being a motor, provides drive assist. It's also capable of moving the car without assistance from the gasoline engine. When being a generator, MG2 provides braking resistance, and converts rotational energy (from the drive wheel(s)) into electrical energy for storage into the battery. One additional note: In addition to savings of transmission work (because one does not exist in the Prius), there's also less wear-and-tear of the braking system (see my MG2 notes above). There are Prius taxi cabs that have gone over 120,000 miles or more without needing brake work. Hard stops do use the brakes, but normal driving use them less.