by Zach McDonald: HybridCars.com
Last year, Subaru announced a new directive with the goal of cutting its lineup’s overall emissions by 30 percent within 5 years. Dubbed “Motion V,” the plan called for technological cooperation with Toyota and the release of a hybrid variant of one existing model in 2013.
Since that announcement, Subaru has been tight-lipped about which model would its first gas-electric powertrain. Early reports speculated that it might be the Legacy mid-size sedan or possibly the newly-remade Impreza, which is currently the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the Subaru lineup. Lately, the most likely candidate has been considered to be the Forester crossover (which is built on the Impreza platform.)
While we may not yet know the model name of Subaru’s first hybrid, what we do know is the car will carry a proprietary gas-electric system designed in-house, as opposed to leased from another company like Toyota. That development is important, not only because it will help to keep down costs for the car, but because it indicates a commitment on the part of Subaru to continue to develop and aggressively market hybrids in the future.
While it has become the norm for every carmaker to offer at least one hybrid or electric model in its lineup, many of these cars are considered “halo” or “compliance” cars, helping their manufacturers to “green” their images or meet regulatory requirements without ever being intended to seriously compete in the market. A common thread among these vehicles is that they often involve leased hybrid technology, but Subaru’s decision to use its own system shows that gas-electrics are likely to play a major role in the Motion V strategy.
The most recent clue we have as to what Subaru’s hybrid technology might encompass came in 2009, when the company debuted its Hybrid Tourer concept at the Tokyo Motor Show. That car carried a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine alongside an electric motor providing 13 horsepower of assist. Power for the motor was provided by a small lithium ion battery pack.
Subaru’s commitment to lowering emissions won’t just be limited to hybrids of course—all new or redesigned models in the lineup are expected to feature significant gains in fuel economy. But to many devoted Subaru drivers who have been calling a hybrid option for years, 2013 can’t come soon enough.
by Zach McDonald: HybridCars.com
The 2012 Consumer Reports Annual Auto Reliability Survey has again found hybrid and electric vehicles to outperform their peers in predicted overall reliability. Toyota models in particular fared well, with the Prius, Prius V and Prius Plug-in all receiving positive ratings in the report, and the Scion nameplate taking the honors for most reliable brand. The new Prius c compact hybrid was the top-scoring model overall.
The ratings are derived from assessing carmaker and model data dating back as far as ten years, and encompassing more than 1.2 million cars and trucks. As reported on the NYTimes.com Wheels blog, Consumer Reports testers say that hybrids have outgrown battery-related reliability fears, and are now considered to be among the safest investments on the road.
“We’ve got Priuses out there with 200,000 miles on them and 12 years in service,” said director of automotive testing, Jake Fischer. “So the whole thing about the sky falling and the $10,000 battery [replacement cost] hasn’t happened.”
Indeed, one of the early fears about hybrids was that their nickel-metal hydride battery packs would lose capacity or fail early in the life of the vehicle, bringing on thousands of dollars in replacement costs that could outstrip any gas savings versus conventional ICEs. To this day, some consumers still site battery reliability fears as one of their primary reasons for not considering a hybrid, even as hybrids continually perform well in resale value and reliability tallies.
Of all of the hybrid and plug-in cars Consumer Reports reviewed for the survey, all but one received a better-than-average rating.
The Chevy Volt, Nissan LEAF and Prius Plug-in were all awarded positive marks, though Fischer admitted that it’s still not yet known how the lithium ion battery packs found in plug-ins will hold up over the long term. This summer, Nissan dealt with fallout from an apparent range-loss phenomenon in parts of the Southwest, where heat was considered the likely culprit in dozens of reported cases of battery degradation.
Though the issue generated some bad press for Nissan, it was mostly limited to areas of extremely high heat like Phoenix, and affected just a small fraction of a percent of the total LEAFs Nissan has sold in the United States. On the whole, there is little evidence to suggest that plug-in vehicle batteries won’t live up to their expectations, but as with hybrids, it will be years before they will be able to truly prove themselves to the public.
Furthermore, there are some decided reliability advantages to driving a fully-electric vehicle like the LEAF or Toyota Rav4 EV. One of the primary contributors to engine trouble in a vehicle is the build-up of deposits of “engine gunk,” which results from the burning of hydrocarbons. With no gasoline to burn, EVs need fewer tune-ups and are expected to be significantly less subject to break downs that their ICE counterparts. Provided that their lithium ion battery packs hold up to years of charging, EVs could soon prove to be the most reliable cars on the road.
by Zach McDonald: HybridCars.com
Volkswagen has announced pricing for its forthcoming Jetta hybrid, which is scheduled to be released later this year. The car will come in four trim levels, with the base model carrying a price tag of $24,995 plus a $795 destination charge. The Jetta Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient model in the Jetta lineup, which also features the Jetta TDI (coming in at $22,990 to start,) and the base model 4-door sedan (which starts at $15,515.)
The Jetta Hybrid will boast a combined fuel economy of 45 mpg, which is a significant improvement over the combined 34-mpg TDI, and the 28-mpg base model—though both of those cars display better highway mileage than their combined efficiency ratings indicate.
VW says the Jetta hybrid can go from 0-60 in under 9.0 seconds, which means it should outperform all other similarly priced hybrids, including the Prius c, which registers a time of 10.6 seconds in that test. In a stunt at the Bonneville Salt Flats this summer, Volkswagen proclaimed the Jetta Hybrid “the fastest hybrid in the world,” after hitting speeds of more than 185 mph in a modified version of the car. The market version of the Jetta Hybrid, of course, won’t go anywhere near that fast, but it’s still likely to be noticeably sportier than many of its peers.
The base $24,995 trim level will be available by order only, but will come with standard daytime running lights, automatic climate control, Bluetooth accessibility, and 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels. For about $2,000 more, the Hybrid SE edition will carry power reclining front seats, a media interface with an iPod cable, LED taillights, premium touch screen radio, keyless access, and push-button starting.
For $29,325 the Hybrid SEL comes with a power sunroof, heated front seats, and 16-inch aluminum allow wheels. The trim levels top out at $31,180 with the SEL Premium, which offers Bi-Xenon headlights with daytime LED running lamps, 17-inch wheels, and a premium Fender sound system with subwoofer.
Under the hood, all Jetta Hybrids will have a 1.4-liter direct-injected turbocharged engine, supplemented by a 27-horsepower electric motor, for a combined 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.
by Zach McDonald: Hybridcars.com
At the 2012 Paris Motor Show last week, Volkswagen unveiled the seventh generation of its best-selling model, the Golf hatchback. The Golf MkVII is scheduled to hit the market for 2014, offering fuel economy improvements of 18 percent in its basic model and 15 percent in the high-efficiency Golf BlueMotion diesel over its predecessor.
Volkswagen did a total redesign for the generation seven, trimming the car down by about 220 pounds thanks to the light-weighting of numerous components ranging from the seats to the air-conditioner, and increased use of high-strength steel. Fuel economy estimates reflect the European test cycle, but if an 18-percent improvement holds true for the United States edition of the car, the new Golf could manage a combined efficiency of near 40 mpg without the use of hybrid battery system. The MkVII will also grow 2 inches longer and a half-inch wider, while shrinking in height by almost an inch, improving aerodynamics.
The Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion model that debuted at the show this week is the third generation to make its way off of the sketchpad. In 2009, VW unveiled a version of the car built on the MkVI Golf platform that was capable of 62. With the unveiling of the new MkVII platform, the concept was updated to include a variety of efficiency upgrades that will boost overall economy to 73.5 mpg. (Since the BlueMotion is only sold in Europe, both of these numbers are representative of the European test cycle, which is significantly more forgiving than the EPA’s test.)
The BlueMotion combines a clean diesel engine with stop-start and regenerative breaking, and is effectively a diesel hybrid. Diesel hybrids are considered by some to be the most powerful fuel-saving technology outside of plug-in electric vehicles, but have yet to be made available for the American market. Unfortunately for us, Volkswagen said in Paris that it has no plans to bring the latest BlueMotion to the U.S. either.
by Zach McDonald — hybridcars.com
It’s been a little more than two years since Toyota and Tesla shocked the automotive world by announcing their intention to work together on electric vehicles. At the time, the nature and extent of that cooperation were unclear, but just months later we learned that the two companies were hard at work adapting Toyota‘s RAV4 crossover into an EV.
This won’t be the first Toyota RAV4 EV to hit the market, though it will be completely technologically distinct from its predecessor. Released in 1999, the original RAV4 EV is still beloved (and driven) to this day by hundreds of passionate owners. This time around though, the RAV4 plug-in will carry a lithium ion battery pack and strong reminders of Tesla’s DNA.
Toyota has been famously reluctant to build fully-electric vehicles, due mostly to the carmaker’s unease about expensive, limited-range cars that won’t take you 100 miles in between charges. Surprisingly, Tesla feels largely the same way: the most affordable version of its Model S carries a range of 160 miles at highway speeds, more than twice the range of cars like the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus EV.
In a pair of videos recently released by Toyota, engineers from the project tell the story of how the two carmakers came together to build one of the most intriguing vehicles to come along in years.
Both companies played to their own strengths. Tesla took the lead in providing the car’s electric drivetrain and 41.8 kilowatt-hour battery, capable of at least 100 miles of range (though a recent New York Times review found the SUV easily exceeds that number.)
Toyota was responsible for applying its renowned regenerative breaking technology, which is balanced with the Tesla drive architecture to provide an efficient, responsive ride. Modifying the body and undercarriage of the car to ensure optimal aerodynamics were another challenge, since any drag can greatly diminish an electric vehicle’s range. The RAV4 was given an enhanced spoiler, redesigned front fascia and covered underbody to achieve a coefficient of drag of around 0.3 (about 25 percent better than a standard RAV4.)
Together, Toyota and Tesla have constructed the first lithium ion-powered electric SUV on the market. Though initial production will be limited to just 2600 vehicles, demand for the car should be strong given its unique blend of attributes. If response to the first RAV4 EV is any indication, expect a chorus of calls for Toyota to build more.
by Zach McDonald – HybridCars.com
Anyone who doubts the impact that cleaner vehicles can have on air quality would be wise to take heed of Los Angeles, where a new report from the University of Colorado’s Institute for Environmental Sciences has found pollution from smog-causing chemicals to be down 98 percent since 1960, thanks in part to the emergence of cleaner cars and trucks.
The transformation began in the late 1940s, when Los Angeles established the first air pollution control program in the nation’s history to combat a growing smog problem of unknown origins. After studying the issue, the Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control Program concluded that much of problem stemmed from the growing presence of automobiles in the area, and set out to find ways to make those cars and trucks cleaner.
Over the coming decades, those findings would lead to an array of clean air regulations, as well as technological developments ranging from the catalytic converter to the re-emergence of the electric vehicle. Modern plug-in cars like the Toyota RAV4 EV can in large part be credited to regulations passed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), whose legacy can be traced back to LA’s early efforts to combat smog.
Remarkably enough, LA’s success in curbing smog pollutants has come in the face of drastically increased overall fuel usage. As the county’s population and overall vehicle miles have skyrocketed since the 1960s, so too has the gasoline and diesel required to fuel the expansion. Nevertheless, by passing controls to make the fuels themselves cleaner as well as the engines that burn them, regulators have found ways to improve air quality even as fuel usage has almost tripled over that period.
For Los Angeles, despite the tremendous progress that has been made over the last half century, the battle to curb emissions is nearly as dire today as it was 50 years ago. The city’s air quality still ranks among the lowest of any major urban area in the country, with automobile transportation remaining just critical a part of life in LA as it’s ever been.
The challenge ahead lies in improving the overall efficiency of new vehicles in California. Overall fuel economy in the United States has risen by less than 5 miles per gallon since 1960, which is something CARB has been fighting hard to change. The growing popularity of hybrids like the Toyota Prius will be instrumental in improving air quality over the coming decades, and advocates hope that the next generation of plug-ins will follow in their footsteps.
by: Zach McDonald – HybridCars.com
Last month, Volkswagen invited members of the automotive press to test drive its E-Bugster electric vehicle at the Laguna Seca track in Monterey, California. Since the concept reportedly cost $2 million to build, VW didn’t give the writers free reign with the car, electronically limiting its speed to 18 mph in an attempt to give journalists a taste of the experience without subjecting the prototype to the rigors of a typical test drive. Still, the tests represented the first chance anyone has had to drive car after its unveiling in Detroit earlier this year.
The E-Bugster concept shares most of its technology with the VW eGolf, which Volkswagen deployed in test fleets last year and will release in select markets in late-2013. Cosmetically, the car previews the latest design iteration of the Beetle convertible, which is expected to debut at auto shows later this year. The E-Bugster is powered by an 85-kilowatt electric motor connected to a 28.3 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery (slightly larger than the eGolf’s), and is capable of a peak output of 114 horsepower.
VW says range for the car stands at 110 miles, and that when the drivetrain isn’t governed to remain below 18 mph (as it was in these test drives), it can accelerate from 0-60 in about 10 seconds. Inside the vehicle, test drivers were treated to rather stunning white-on-black styling, likely indicative of the overall look and feel of the forthcoming gas-powered Beetle convertible.
Volkswagen has announced no plans to sell the E-Bugster yet, and if it does, it will likely be a limited-release offering available only in select markets like California (where short-run green vehicles are useful in helping carmakers satisfy state emissions requirements). Still, it’s always positive to see automakers experiment with different electric drivetrain models and configurations―if only as a taste of what a more electrified vehicle market might someday look like.
by Zach McDonald – HybridCars.com
Lexus has announced pricing for the new 2013 ES 300h, a hybrid spin on its ES 350 sedan, which has also been remade for 2013. The 300h will start at $38,850 when the car goes on sale later this year, a $2,750 increase over the non-hybrid ES 350, which starts at $36,100. Lexus says the hybrid premium for the car is the lowest of any gas-electric model the carmaker has ever offered.
The 300h hybrid carries a EPA-rated combined fuel economy rating of 40 mpg, a 16-mpg improvement over the ES 350. As such, the state of California has certified hybrid as a super-ultra-low-emissions vehicle, which no longer grants you single-occupancy access to the state’s HOV lanes, but should give you the satisfaction of knowing you’re driving one of the cleanest cars on the road. Equipped with an identical drivetrain to that of the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid, the 300h gets 156 horsepower from its 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine, and 44 horsepower from a motor connected to its nickel-metal hydride battery pack, for a total of 200 horses.
In their styling, the ES 300h and ES 350 are difficult to tell apart, though the 300h adds a rear spoiler, hidden a exhaust pipe and the customary hybrid badging. On the inside, the two cars sport the refined look and quality materials that you’d come to expect in a Lexus, including sustainably harvested bamboo wood trim in the hybrid.
Lexus maintains that the ES 300h is not meant to replace the HS 250h, which was discontinued earlier this year due to slumping sales numbers. If that’s the case, it’s a rather happy accident. The two sedans are bound to draw comparisons, though the ES 300h offers more interior space, better fuel economy and more horsepower than the now-departed HS 250h. Overall, the 300h is a better fit in Lexus’ hybrid lineup alongside the sporty CT 200h compact.
The ES 300h hybrid is reportedly scheduled to hit the market next month.
by Zach McDonald – HybridCars.com
Future Golden State electric vehicle owners were given something to cheer about last week, when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) renewed funding to incentivize the purchase of clean cars and trucks in the state to the tune of $27 million. Under the program, buyers of new plug-in vehicles like the Toyota Prius Plug-in, Fisker Karma, Mitsubishi i, and Nissan LEAF are eligible for rebates of between $1,500 and $2,500.
Since 2009, California has doled out more than $21 million in rebates to consumers who purchase new cars that qualify for the state’s Clean Vehicle Rebate program. The money is appropriated under CARB’s Air Quality Improvement Program, a collection of measures designed to reduce emissions from cars, trucks, buses, agricultural work vehicles, and even lawn and garden equipment.
More than 7,500 rebates have been issued during the program’s first three years. So far, it has proved such a success with new car buyers that the state has been twice forced to re-up its allocation. Last summer, CARB voted to reduce the maximum funds available through the CVR―which had originally granted as much as $5,000 to electric vehicle purchasers. Though the maximum rebate was cut in half (to a maximum of $2,500) the money can now go to more early adopters, extending past the initial years of mass-produced EV sales. The most recent allocation will hopefully keep those benefits around for at least another year.
“This unique incentive program makes ultra-clean cars affordable for more Californians, helps slash smog-forming pollution and cuts greenhouse gas emissions” said CARB chairman Mary D. Nichols. For more information on the Clean Vehicle Rebate program and how to qualify for it, visit California’s EnergyCenter.org.
Toyota has announced the development of a new vehicle-to-grid-like setup capable of sharing power between plug-in vehicles like the Prius Plug-in or RAV4 EV, and a home. The vehicle-to-home system (or V2H as the carmaker is calling it,) can cycle energy from an EV or PHEV into the home during periods of outage or to balance out the power load during peak hours of energy usage. The system will begin testing in ten Japanese households by the end of the year.
Toyota says the technology is being developed as part of the “ToyotaCity Low-Carbon Verification Project” it started two years ago, partnering the carmaker with 19 other companies in an effort to help households and cities optimize their energy management, with the overall goal of reduced CO2 emissions. Vehicle-to-home and other energy-balancing systems require a means to build up and store energy during times of lower usage so that it can be used later, when there is more demand and utilities tend to charge more for power. Plug-in vehicle batteries have long been identified as potential sites for this kind of energy storage, and in recent years a wide array of carmakers and charging station manufacturers have announced plans to develop such systems.
In addition to helping utilities avoid strain on the grid (and the environment,) V2H benefits electric vehicle owners in several ways. Most attractively, it helps to lower overall utility costs by diverting peak usage to off-peak hours, when electricity is cheaper. Those savings can help to offset the added cost of an electric vehicle battery pack by providing multiple uses for the pack. During emergency situations or when power is scarce or unavailable, V2H can also allow a plug-in owner to power his or her home for anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending upon the kind of vehicle.
Plug-in hybrids like the Prius Plug-in are particularly useful in this situation, because their engines can act as generators, converting gasoline to much-needed electricity. According to Toyota, a fully charged Prius Plug-in with a full tank of gas can power the average Japanese home for up to 4 days.