Tag: Hybrid cars

Hybrids and EVs Score Big in Consumer Reports Reliability Survey

October 31, 2012 lacarguy HybridCars.com Tags: , , , , , , , 0 Comments

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.

Consumers Say Fuel Economy is the Most Important Factor in a New Car, But How Much Can You Really Save Driving a Hybrid?

May 25, 2012 lacarguy HybridCars.com Tags: , , , , , 1 Comment

by Zach McDonald: HybridCars.com

A new study released this week by Consumer Reports has found that a full 37 percent of new car buyers look to fuel efficiency as the leading factor in determining which model of car they will buy. According to the publication and consumer advocacy group, two thirds of those surveyed said that they expected their next car will get better mileage than the one they currently own, and a surprising 73 percent of respondents said that they plan to consider alternative-fuel models like a hybrid or flex-fuel vehicle. An even higher number of consumers (81 percent) said that they would be willing to pay extra for a more efficient vehicle if they could recover the extra money in fuel savings. Ninety percent said that cutting down on fuel costs was the most important factor in their decision to seek better fuel economy.

The study comes at a time when fuel prices have fallen off slightly from April highs that neared $3.90 per gallon, but with gasoline still averaging $3.62 per gallon in the U.S., and prices holding steady above $3.00 per gallon for the last year and a half, the data indicates that consumers seem to be adapting the longterm propect that gasoline may never be cheap again.

For the nearly three quarters of drivers who might consider buying an alternative fuel vehicle, the Energy Department last week released a new tool on its FuelEconomy.gov website to help consumers determine exactly how much they can save by choosing a hybrid for their next vehicle. While consumers can already use the website to compare estimated fuel costs of new cars to the average vehicle, the new hybrid-only tool allows for a much more exact estimate of how long it will take a gas-electric vehicle to pay for itself versus a gas-only counterpart. By matching up 19 different hybrid models to their non-hybrid platform-mates, the comparison engine reveals that the true extra cost of owning a hybrid might not be as much as you think.

As GreenCarReports points out, most hybrids come with a more standard options than the base-level, gas-only sedans they often compete with. As a result, a car like the Toyota Prius starts higher than other sedans, but to purchase a similar equipped non-hybrid would usually require climbing up several trim levels, adding a significant extra cost to the vehicle.

For the average driver, the quickest hybrid cost recovery periods belong to the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid (2.1 years,) the Chevy Malibu Eco (2.2 years,) the Toyota Camry Hybrid (2.7 years,) and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid (3.4 years.) Of course, dedicated hybrids like the Prius aren’t included in the tool because they have no gas-only equivalents, but the site does help to demystify the cost equation involved of owning a hybrid.

Toyota Boosts Expected Prius Plug-in Efficiency Rating

February 6, 2012 lacarguy HybridCars.com Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

by Zack McDonald HybridCars.com

Toyota has upgraded its expectations for the 2012 Prius Plug-in’s official fuel economy rating, ahead of the vehicle’s March 2012 launch.

According to Toyota Division Group vice-president, Bob Carter, the 2012 Prius Plug-in returns 95 miles-per-gallon-equivalent (MPGe) in electric-only mode, and 50 mpg in hybrid mode. That’s a decent bump over Toyota’s previously announced numbers of 49 MPGe in electric-only mode and 49 MPG in hybrid mode. The revised figures were announced by Carter at a Toyota Prius C launch event in California this week.

At 95 MPGe, the 2012 Prius Plug-in essentially matches the rating of the 2012 Chevy Volt. For the 2012 model year, the EPA revised the Volt’s fuel economy ratings, increasing its electric mode rating from 93 to 94 MPGe.
The nearly identical efficiency ratings of the Prius Plug-in and Volt will inevitably lead to comparisons between the two leading plug-in hybrids—despite the vehicles’ divergent technology approaches, style, passenger and cargo space, and driving feel.

The 2012 Prius Plug-in Hybrid offers 15 miles of electric-only range at speeds of up to 62 miles per hour. The Chevy Volt is always powered via electric motor, though it uses a gasoline engine to recharge its battery pack after an EPA-estimated 35 miles. Due to its Electric Advanced Technology Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicle (eAT-PZEV) status, the Prius Plug-in qualifies for California’s carpool lane access—a perk now granted to the 2012 Chevy Volt as well.

To some, the most striking difference between the Volt and Prius Plug-in Hybrid might seem to be the sticker price. Starting at $32,760, Toyota’s Prius Plug-in Hybrid is significantly less expensive than the $39,995 Chevy Volt. However, the Volt qualifies for the full $7,500 federal tax credit, while the Prius Plug-in is only eligible for $2,500. The difference between these tax incentives brings the final purchase price nearly to parity.

Ultimately, the two vehicles provide two very distinct approaches to reach similar efficiencies. Throw in the Nissan LEAF (which is rated slightly higher at 99 MPGe,) and the forthcoming Ford Fusion electric (which is expected to crack the 100-MPGe barrier,) and it becomes clear that the actual MPGe ratings of the current mass-marketed plug-in vehicles are fairly close to one another. For consumers, choosing the right electric vehicle will most often come down to price, and finding the best range and drivetrain configurations for each individual or family’s lifestyle.

Electric Car Charging Goes Wireless

December 15, 2011 lacarguy HybridCars.com Tags: , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

By Jim Motavalli HybridCars.com

Inductive EV charging—look, ma, no wires!—is gaining momentum, with Daimler testing concepts for the new battery version of the B-Class Mercedes and Nissan actively contemplating making it an option on the 2014 LEAF. Wireless charging leader Evatran will sell wireless kits for the LEAF and Chevy Volt next year, and it’s even hooking up with Sears Home Services to bring its Plugless Power to the masses.

The basic technology is familiar from wireless phone charging and the electric toothbrush. There are a few basic obstacles to creating larger versions for cars: high cost; the 10 percent average energy loss today when transferring power from a floor-mounted transmitter to a car-based receiver; and a start-from-scratch regulatory climate. But there’s no question that wireless charging, which creates a magnetic field to pass an electric charge from one coil to another, is on the ascendancy. It certainly addresses anxiety over having to learn a new way to fill your car up with energy—all you have to do is park, and these automated systems will do the rest for you.

Technology on the Move

It’s far too early to tell if wireless technology will eventually triumph over the wall-mounted home charging system, and no automakers have formally adopted it. “All we have done is shown this technology,” says Nissan’s Steve Oldham. “We haven’t confirmed anything. The stuff that is out there is speculation.” But Popular Mechanics claims that wireless will be an add-on for the luxury Infiniti version of the LEAF in 2014. The Rolls-Royce 102 EX Phantom, which I recently test drove in New York, is also set up to use a wireless charger from HaloIPT.

In the system that Nissan demonstrated, drivers simply align their vehicle over an inductive charging mat. A dashboard-based navigation system uses sensors to guide the rear wheels into place. The touchscreen hosts buttons to start and stop a charging session.

In Alignment

Daimler has teamed up with Conductix-Wampfler on plug-free charging for the Mercedes E-Cell. According to Conductix, one big hurdle is the need for exact alignment between the charger and the vehicle. The signal can travel only six inches or so, so the driver is likely to need an automatic parking system to ensure a good lock-in.

Major auto supplier Delphi and wireless leader WiTricity have their own system under development, using technology invented at MIT. Randy Sumner, a spokesman for Delphi Packard Electrical/Electronic Architecture, told me that automakers have shown considerable interest in wireless charging, which could accompany the second-generation EVs coming out in the 2014-2015 time frame.

Priced Like Navigation?

Wireless chargers have definitely gotten smaller and more efficient. Dave Schatz of WiTricity told me he expects consumer systems to eventually cost no more than car-based GPS navigation. Evatran’s Plugless Power floor-based unit is now the size of a small hubcap, with up to 97 percent efficiency between the charger and the car. It’s also more forgiving of poor alignment. Evatran is testing the system on a fleet of a dozen Chevy Volts. But it’s still far too expensive, at $5,000 for an all-in system in 2012.

The General Electric wall-mount WattStation is now available at Amazon.com for $1,099 (none used yet), so Evatran’s Sears play makes sense. According to co-founder Rebecca Hough, Evatran will make its wireless hardware kit (for the Volt and LEAF) available in 2012 for approximately $2,500, with installation (unpriced so far) extra. The basic installation is for people who are lucky enough to have dedicated 240-volt lines in their garages; the standard install includes that line.

Some regulatory and safety issues have yet to be worked out. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) are set to introduce standards for wireless in the second quarter of next year (fast for SAE), and waiting for that has hindered plans for commercial and public wireless charging. Obviously, you’d want this at Starbucks and the big-box stores, but companies aren’t likely to go ahead without the standards in place.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) issues standards for the strengths of magnetic fields, and Hough says that Evatran has no trouble meeting them. She also says that wireless will incorporate many of the safety provisions built into SAE’s J1772 standard, including safety interconnects and shutoffs.

By the way, claims for inductive charging are somewhat confusing, because there’s a difference between the efficiency measured charger-to-car and the overall system. Evatran boasts an only three percent communications loss, but the overall system is currently at 91 percent. Company engineers think that 93 or 94 percent system efficiency is doable relatively soon, but going beyond 95 percent is a long-term prospect. Would we be happy with a gas station that spilled five percent of the gas on the ground?

John Gartner, a senior analyst at Pike Research, says that widespread will take years to roll out. “It’s of interest to most top automakers, many of which have internal programs in development. The consumer market is still years away. There’s still no common SAE standard, and you don’t want vehicles tied to charging docks, and the cost ($500 per car) is too steep to include on vehicles that aren’t going to use it all of the time. The technologies are all pretty different, so unlike cabled charging, some companies would be left out of any standard that is eventually passed. Qualcomm surprisingly is going after the market in a big way with its recent acquisition of HaloIPT.”

Still, wireless is probably here to stay, but it will take time to develop. “Pike Research sees the market growing slowly from 2013 ($26 million globally) to $233 million globally by 2017,” Gartner said. “Fleets that can share charging docks are the mostly likely early adopters.”

The bottom line here is that inductive charging, which appeared to be abandoned from the last generation of EVs, is now looking more and more practical as a long-term solution. Even if wireless does eventually triumph, however, wired charging is still likely to dominate the early EV years simply because the units will be in place and working. But there’s no reason they can’t happily co-exist.

Toyota Plans for Major Hybrid Growth in U.S.

December 9, 2011 lacarguy HybridCars.com, Toyota Tags: , , , , , , , , 2 Comments

by Zack McDonald – HybridCars.com

At last year’s Detroit Motor Show, Toyota vice president for U.S. sales, Bob Carter, offered a bold prediction for the direction his company plans to take in the United States over the next decade―and for the country’s vehicle market in general. “We will end the decade with Prius being the number one nameplate in the industry,” said Carter, predicting that the Prius would soon overtake the Camry as the company’s most popular model in the U.S.

Toyota plans to complete work with Ford on a brand new hybrid system for pickup trucks by the end of next year

Almost a year later, it has become increasingly clear that Toyota’s big talk about hybrids is no greenwash. After almost singlehandedly growing the hybrid market from obscurity in the United States, Toyota now sees hybrids primed to conquer the mainstream―and has no intention of ceding its dominance in the sector.

According to a report in Automotive News, Toyota plans to as much as double the number of hybrids it sells in North America by 2015, to 400,000 vehicles per year. Top executives at the company told the publication that Toyota will seek to greatly expand its manufacturing base here―particularly hybrid drivetrain components―in an effort to reduce its reliance on the Japanese supply chain. Growing the American hybrid market will do a great deal to make that shift possible, and Toyota is in the process of radically expanding its U.S. lineup to include more than a half-dozen hybrid models by the end of next year―with even more reportedly on their way.

“Hybrid technology is a trump card for fuel-economy improvement,” said Toyota global research and development head, Takeshi Uchiyamada, in the article.

Toyota also told Automotive News that it plans to complete work with Ford on a brand new hybrid system for pickup trucks by the end of next year. The first Toyota vehicle to be outfitted with the drivetrain will likely be a hybrid version of the Tundra, the carmaker’s largest and most fuel-thirsty pickup, with a combined rating of just 16 mpg.

Even a few miles-per-gallon improvement in a truck like the Tundra will pay big dividends in terms of its operating cost, which could make the car a hit among the fleets and private businesses that make up a substantial portion of the pickup market. Ford’s F-150 EcoBoost model has led all F-150 models in sales this year―accounting for 40 percent of purchases―thanks to its EPA-rated 22-mpg fuel economy.

By expanding its gas-electric offerings across more and more segments, Toyota will be able to grow production of hybrid components, allowing it to reach the economies of scale necessary to diversify its supply chain in the Americas. For hybrid buyers, the important takeaway is that Americans can expect more models and shorter waiting periods in the coming years, as the gas-electric leader seeks to broaden its hold on the market.

The Prius V Is Here, See It In Action

November 7, 2011 lacarguy Green Auto Technology, High MPG Vehicles, Hybrid Vehicles, Toyota Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

We’ve talked about it for quite some time, and now it’s finally here, the first new model of the Prius line, it’s the Prius V. V is for Versatility! The Prius V has as much cargo capacity as most CUV’s on the market today, yet returns the superior fuel economy you would expect from a Prius. As you may remember we had a chance to drive a Prius V back in June and wrote about it here on the blog.

Now, the Prius V’s are here, and we have them available at both the Toyota Santa Monica and Toyota Hollywood stores! We showed the Prius V off at the AltCar Expo, and we also shot this test drive video for you, have a look.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqteH35POGI?rel=0&hd=1&w=853&h=480]