by Zach McDonald: HybridCars.com
According to a recent report by What Car, Audi has plans to release a small plug-in hybrid boasting fuel efficiency in the neighborhood of 1 liter per 100 km—or roughly 235 mpg. Audi’s head of research and development, Wolfgang Durheimer, told What Car that although the car hasn’t yet been confirmed for production, it’s one of several new plans for high-efficiency vehicles he has been trying to institute since taking over his post in September.
The vehicle would be built around the carmaker’s A1 platform, but would likely be fine-tuned for optimal aerodynamics and outfitted with ultra-lightweight materials. The conceptual and technological underpinnings of the car are based around parent company Volkswagen’s “one-liter” program, which has been experimenting with vehicles capable of hitting the vaunted efficiency mark for more than a decade.
Confirmed for release in Europe for 2014, the Volkswagen XL1 will be the first “one-liter” production vehicle ever sold. A prototype of the two-seat XL1 was photographed testing in March sporting a set of gullwing doors. The car draws its power from a two-cylinder turbo-diesel engine paired with a 27-hp motor attached to a small lithium ion battery pack. The car will be tuned to switch between electric and gas-electric modes depending upon use to ensure maximum efficiency. Audi’s version of the vehicle would likely carry a very similar configuration.
Despite the range of measures geared at optimizing efficiency, Audi’s attempt at a one-liter would remain true to the carmaker’s luxury standards. “I’m not talking about a car with a lot of deficiencies and things lacking, but a car that delivers everything that a car needs to deliver to the customer, in terms of seat space, climate conditions and comfort,” said Durheimer to What Car.
It’s still not known how much the VW XL1 will cost when it hits the market next year, but given the cost of high strength, light-weight materials, it figures to be very expensive for a two-seat car. An Audi version of the vehicle would likely add a significant luxury premium to whatever the XL1 costs. Neither car would be expected to post earth-shattering sales numbers, and at this point it’s a relative long shot that either are headed to the U.S. market.
Still, Volkswagen and Audi are further demonstrating their commitment to high-efficiency vehicles through a wide range of drivetrain configurations headed to different markets around the world. After establishing a reputation for clean diesel TDI vehicles in the 2000s, both Volkswagen and Audi have lagged somewhat in releasing battery powered hybrids or plug-ins. Now, with multiple plug-in concepts headed to market and in test fleets, it’s beginning to look like the Volkswagen Group’s answer to fuel economy will be “all of the above.”
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
Fisker announced this week it had completed a successful round of fundraising worth more than $100 million dollars, bringing total financing for the company to more than $1.2 billion. The new influx of private capital was necessary for the carmaker to move forward with its second model, the Atlantic sedan, which will reportedly be priced between $50,000 and $60,000.
Following a path similar to that of Tesla, Fisker hopes to work its way toward building increasingly affordable cars as its production volumes increase. Currently, it’s unknown where the Atlantic will be built or where the remaining money to begin production will come from.
As recently as last year, the carmaker had planned to use the bulk of its $528 million Department of Energy loan to outfit a former GM factory in Delaware and begin production on the Atlantic. However, the DOE withheld $359 million of that loan money after Fisker failed to meet some of the loan’s requirements.
Though the setback delayed the release of the Atlantic somewhat, Fisker has spent the better part of the last year focused on the rollout of its current model, the Karma sports sedan. In addition, the carmaker garnered praise this summer for the hiring of its new CEO, Tony Posawatz, the former GM executive responsible for overseeing the Volt program.
Posawatz said recently that the company would announce production details for the Atlantic in December—including a timeline and manufacturing site. The company has also said that the original proposed Delaware site remains in consideration. “The intent and plan is to utilize that Delaware facility and build cars there in the future,” Posawatz said, as reported by Bloomberg.
The CEO also said his company resolved its DOE loan requirement issues and hopes to draw the remaining $359 million of the loan. The carmaker is currently exploring partnerships with other OEMs as it seeks to work toward an IPO stock offering down the line.
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
For the first time ever, a hybrid has won the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, which took place last weekend at the famed Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. A pair of Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro cars finished in first and second place, and two diesel-powered Audi R18s finished third and fifth.
To win at Le Mans requires a rare mix of speed, handling and fuel economy, making it an ideal stage for hybrids to break into premier motorsports. For more than a decade, Audi has dominated the race- winning 11 of the last 13 contests-and the last six of those wins have come with the help of the carmaker’s diesel TDI technology. But this year, for the first time, the rules were changed to allow hybrids to compete for the top prize, which opened the door for Toyota to bring its market-leading gas-electric technology to the race, with a chance to break Audi’s iron grip on the event.
This weekend marked the first time the Toyota TS030 hybrid had ever competed in an event, and the car had only been testing on the track for five months prior to the Le Mans event. Toyota publicly downplayed its ambitions for 2012, saying it did not expect to win right away. Still, with hybrids expected to carry the day under the new rules changes and Toyota such dominant force in the consumer gas-electric market, some had hoped that the team might be able to at least give Audi a run for its money in this year’s race.
But the two Toyota hybrids were met with some bad fortune early on, with one of the TS030s having to be towed following a severe accident and the other falling back from the front of the pack after damage sustained during a brush with another car. Neither car was able to finish the race.
Still, the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans will go down as an important day for green motorsports. Not only did two diesel hybrids carry the day, but the field included multiple hybrid entrants that were in contention at various points in the race. Indeed, it would seem after this year’s race that entering a hybrid drivetrain is more than just a good public relations move at Le Mans-it may very well be a requirement for having any chance at winning the race.
Consumers Say Fuel Economy is the Most Important Factor in a New Car, But How Much Can You Really Save Driving a Hybrid?
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.
by: Zach McDonald – HybridCars.com
An Australian couple has set a new record for single-tank fuel economy this week, making the more than 1,600-mile trip from Houston, Texas to Sterling, Virginia on just one tank of gas. The duo used an American-built 2012 Volkswagen Passat SE TDI Clean Diesel to set the new mark, beating the old one (also set in a diesel-powered Passat,) by 99.5 miles.
Over the course of their journey, Helen and John Taylor drove 1.626.1 miles, using 19.3 gallons of diesel and averaging more than 84 mpg. Their fuel costs averaged out to less than 5 cents per mile, whereas the average new vehicle currently sold in the U.S. will cost its owner more than three times as much to drive.
The couple used a regular, stock Passat TDI (which is rated at 30 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway, and 36 mpg combined) for their drive, but were able to use so-called “hypermiling” techniques to get even better fuel economy from a car that is already one of the most efficient non-hybrid sedans on the road.
“The Passat TDI was the perfect car for the trip. It offers plenty of interior and cargo space, yet is frugal enough to help us achieve this record,” said John Taylor, in a press release provided by Volkswagen.
Though the Taylors have used a lot of Volkswagen-built diesels for their trips, their mission is about more than just promoting a single vehicle maker’s cars. Last year, they achieved nearly 75 mpg in a Toyota Prius hybrid driving across South Africa, and drove through every U.S. state in a Chevy Cruze Eco at an average of 64 mpg.
In fact, you might say that the couple have turned personal fuel economy into their life’s work. In addition to several record-setting attempts each year, the Taylors teach green-driving seminars through their Australia-based driving school, Fuel Academy. In all, the husband-wife team hold more than 90 world driving records.
by Zach McDonald HybridCars.com
Audi has confirmed that the long-awaited Q5 Hybrid will finally be coming to the United States for 2013, according to a report on Cars.com’s Kicking Tires blog. The compact crossover will be Audi’s first hybrid available for purchase in North America.
Audi’s experiments with hybrids date back to at least 1989, when it showed off the first of three gas-electric “Duo” concepts. But in recent years, the carmaker has had several false starts when it comes to bringing a hybrid model to the United States. First, it was reported in 2008 that a hybrid Q5 would launch alongside the standard model in the U.S. for 2009, but that plan was soon quashed due to falling fuel prices and the carmaker’s dissatisfaction with nickel-metal hydride battery packs. For a while, it looked like Audi had put hybrids on the back burner in favor of it and parent company Volkswagen’s favorite fuel-saving technology, clean diesel.
Why not offer both? Reportedly, Audi’s clean diesel engines perform equally or better than their gas-electric counterparts in European fuel efficiency tests, making the hybrids a tough sell. In the U.S., Audi will remedy this by offering a 3.0L, 6-cylinder diesel Q5 variant and a 4-cylinder hybrid model-the diesel will be tuned for performance and the hybrid for fuel economy.
The Q5 Hybrid will pair the same 211-horsepower, 2.0L, 4-cylinder engine found in the current base model Q5 with a 54-horsepower electric motor, powered by a 1.3 kWh lithium ion battery pack. Combined, the engine and motor output up to 245 horsepower and 354 pounds-feet of torque, accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in just 7 seconds.
Using its parallel hybrid system, the Q5 Hybrid can operate in either electric-only or gas mode, and can accelerate up to 62 mph using its motor alone. For a more sustained electric ride, drivers can expect up to 1.8 miles of electric range when maintaining a steady 37-mph speed.
The Q5 Hybrid gets 34 mpg under the forgiving European test cycle, which would likely point to an American fuel economy rating in the neighborhood of 27 mpg. The standard 4-cylinder 2012 Q5 gets 22 mpg combined under EPA testing, and the forthcoming diesel is expected to be about 10 percent less efficient than its hybrid sibling.
Pricing and an official release date have yet to be announced.
by Zack McDonald Hybridcars.com
The Volkswagen Up! small car has been announced winner of the 2012 World Car of the Year at the New York Auto Show last week. The diminutive new vehicle beat out the Porsche 911 and BMW 3 series to take the honor, with judges citing superior innovation and refinement as the chief reasons for its selection.
“The little Volkswagen Up! has altered what we have come to expect from the citycar segment,” wrote the panel.”Of note are the responsive steering, sophisticated suspension setup, new efficient engines and the quality of materials and finish… Never before in this economy segment have owners felt so premium.”
The Up! has received critical acclaim and performed strongly in the market since its release in Europe late last year. Volkswagen says it hasn’t decided whether to bring a version of the car to the United States, where small cars are less common and the Up!’s 60-horsepower engine might not be enough to satisfy consumers. What might be very attractive to drivers here though is the vehicle’s 56 mpg under the forgiving European test cycle (official fuel economy numbers would be somewhat lower in the U.S.)
Volkswagen has shown off nearly a dozen variations on the Up! since its debut as a concept in 2007. Two of those variations are the e-Up! electric vehicle and a plug-in hybrid modeled on VW’s “1-Liter” concept that gets 79 mpg. Other revealed Up! concepts include an outdoor adventure model called the X Up!, a five-door version, a GTI with 25 percent more horsepower, and the Eco Up!, which runs on both gasoline and compressed natural gas.
Why all the concepts? Volkswagen has been committed to developing what it calls its New Small Family (NSF) class for several years, meeting what it thinks will be emerging demand for ultracompact city vehicles in the coming years. Toyota, Fiat, BMW and others are also very interested in this segment, with Toyota having released its Scion iQ and Fiat its 500 in the United States in just the past year. The Volkswagen Group will be gradually rolling out a number NSF platform vehicles across its multiple nameplates, including a possible new Audi e-tron series.
As yet its still unknown how many of these cars will make it to North America, though Fiat has built significant momentum behind its 500 of late and there is evidence that American consumers are “thinking small” once again—always a good sign for the prospects of a diminutive Volkswagen offering in the United States.
by Zack McDonald: HybridCars.com
Slated to debut for 2015, Volkswagen says that its seventh-generation Golf will feature a slew of powertrain options—including a plug-in hybrid version that Auto Express recently rated 5-stars after briefly driving an early prototype. The plug-in hybrid Golf will join the forthcoming 2013 VW Blue E-Motion electric as one of two electric-drive variants on the carmaker’s most popular vehicle.
The prototype plug-in hybrid Golf is based on the currently available Golf platform—not on the Golf VII vehicle—but its powertrain is the same as the one in development for use in production versions of the Golf and other plug-ins. That powertrain features a 1.4-liter TSI turbocharged gasoline engine and an 80-kW electric motor. For the next-generation production version, the powerplants will sit on Volkswagen’s new Modular Transverse Matrix platform (abbreviated MQB in German,) which will allow the company to drop an array of drivetrain configurations into any MQB-based vehicle.
Volkswagen claims the plug-in hybrid Golf will offer up to 30 miles of electric-only range, which is similar to the Chevy Volt. Furthermore, VW notes that its plug-in Golf should be rated at approximately 117 MPGe U.S. (based on European test results) and emits 46 grams per kilometer of CO2.
“On the move, the plug-in Golf is very impressive indeed. Under most driving conditions it’s effectively an electric car—and you really need to press very hard on the throttle for the petrol engine to cut in at all,” according to Auto Express. “In town, it’s fast enough for you to breeze through traffic. Plus, the motor is so powerful, the engine is barely used on high-speed roads.”
Volkswagen expects the Golf Plug-in to be priced similarly to its turbocharged Golf GTI model, which currently starts at just under $24,000. That’s an impressive price point that should make the car competitive with other electric-drive options like the Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt and Ford Focus Electric.
A closer-to-production Golf Plug-in concept is scheduled to be shown at the 2012 Paris Motor Show this September.