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Toyota has told its dealers that it will use the Prius name on other hybrids in its lineup.  This was disclosed in a meeting of Toyota executives and its 60 largest US dealers last week.  They said Prius will not become a sub-brand like Scion, but the name will be attached to other hybrids in an undisclosed manner.  There are at least a couple of ways they could accomplish this, with varying degrees of intelligence.  It has been suggested that they might follow the lead of Oldsmobile in the 1980s, which seemed intent on badging every vehicle as a “Cutlass” – Cutlass, Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Calais, etc.  In this method, we would have Prius, Prius Highlander (or “Prius SUV”), Prius Camry (or “Prius Sedan”), etc.  This would defeat the whole point of using the Prius name, which Toyota dealer Earl Stewart said, ““The Highlander hybrid and Camry hybrid do OK, but calling it ‘Synergy Drive’ never resonated with consumers,” Stewart says. “But they can make hay on the Prius name. It’s a magic name. If somebody says ‘I drive a Prius,’ everybody knows what he means.”  If they use the Prius name as a separate group of vehicles in the showroom, like in the above examples, the name Prius will lose its cache and its meaning, killing the very advantage they hoped to leverage.

If, on the other hand, they use the name “Prius” as a branding of its hybrid system (which is presently called “Hybrid Synergy Drive”), that might work.  In this method, we would have a Camry Prius, Highlander Prius, etc.  It might sound like the same thing, after all, all I did was to switch the words around.  However, no matter how they brand these vehicles, customers will know that it’s a Highlander or a Camry.  Calling it anything else will only insult their intelligence.  Keeping the model name first and using “Prius” as a descriptive term which brands the hybrid system makes sense.

Which way will Toyota go?  No way to tell – they haven’t even confirmed this new direction publicly yet.  At times, it seems that Toyota is bent on becoming the 21st century’s GM – too big for its own good and making bad decisions.  You would think that Toyota’s management is too smart for that, but we also thought GM’s was too smart 40 years ago.

That’s what I think – how about you?

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Chevy Volt Gets 230 MPG??

12th August 2009

Chevrolet announced yesterday that the upcoming Volt will achieve 230 MPG in the city, easily beating the Toyota Prius’ lame 50 MPG.  Chevy boss Brent Dewar was overheard saying, “nah-nah-nah…nah-nah…nah”  If nothing else, the announcement generated a lot of attention from the media.  At least 2 major networks, CNN and NBC, featured the story on the nightly news last night.  Both seemed very skeptical of the claim, which is based on preliminary EPA testing procedures for so-called extended range electric vehicles (EREV).  I read a little about the procedure and how it works.  Maybe I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but it seems to translate as, “Trust us.  We plugged in a few numbers into a computer, and it gave us 230.  Woo-hoo!”

Basically, the fact that the Volt uses only grid-supplied electricity for the first 40 miles of use makes the EPA come up with a “miles per gallon equivalent” which it then combines with the fuel economy when it is using gasoline as the “range-extender.” That calculation is what resulted in the 230 city MPG.  EPA numbers are always a bit nebulous, but in this case, I think they are especially so.  In a “normal” car, you might be able to achieve the EPA numbers with conservative driving.  In this case, you have no chance, because apparently, 80% of us will never use any gas (if they plug it in every day).  What’s their economy, ∞?  And how, really, do you average ∞ with another number for the drivers who do use some gas?  These questions – and many others – will be answered in the next episode of Soap.

All of this is just preliminary, as the final numbers will depend on actual EPA testing closer to launch next year.  But if the 230 is real (and by “real” I mean what will show up on the label, not what you will actually get), it will certainly set the Volt apart from the rest of the crowd.  As NBC’s reporter pointed out last night, 230 is about 10 times the average car today.  It’s an eye-popping number that will get Chevy and GM a lot of attention.


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Amid all the doom and gloom in Detroit, and all of the hoopla surrounding Toyota’s hybrid program (you would think that “Toyota” is Japanese for “hybrid”), Ford quietly announced that it has produced its 100,000th hybrid SUV.  Ford launched the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrids five years ago and the vehicles remain the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the market.  Today, the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV and Mercury Mariner Hybrid SUV deliver 34 mpg city driving, 31 mpg highway.  This makes them the most fuel-efficient hybrid SUVs available, beating the Toyota Highlander (27 city / 25 highway) by several miles per gallon on the EPA list.

In 2004, Ford introduced the world to the first hybrid SUV – the Ford Escape Hybrid – by taking a record-breaking trek through the congested streets of Manhattan, where the vehicle exceeded all expectations, driving 37 straight hours and 576 miles on a single tank of gas.  In 2005, it became the first hybrid vehicle to be used as a taxi in the U.S. The Escape Hybrid taxis were first introduced in San Francisco, and soon after, in New York City. There are now 250 Escape Hybrids providing taxi service in San Francisco and 1,400 in New York City.

This month, a San Francisco Escape Hybrid cab fleet accumulated 300,000 miles with no major mechanical problems. It is a true demonstration of the durability and reliability of the vehicles. Compared with conventional cabs, those 300,000 miles translate into a savings of approximately 5,000 gallons of gas or 100,000 pounds of carbon emissions.


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Every year for 15 years, Ward’s Auto has published its 10 Best Engines list.  Considered the most prestigious award for powertrain excellence, the 10 Best Engines award is highly coveted by automakers.  The criteria include many objective and subjective factors.  They all must be available in a regular production model priced no higher than $54,000 by early 2009.  There were 32 nominees this year.  2008 winners and any all-new or significantly changed engines are eligible.  Lest you think Ward’s only includes high-powered, sports car engines, this year’s list is highly diversified, with engines of every major type and geography represented.

The list includes engines from German (4), US (3), Japanese (2) and Korean (1) automakers.  The engines have 4-cylinders (3), 6-cylinders (5) and 8-cylinders (2) and are powered by gas (7), Diesel (2) and hybrid (1) power.  They use natural aspiration (6) and turbo (4), but no supercharging.  All of the gas engines, regardless of size, have highway MPG of 25-28 – the Diesels and hybrid are higher.  5 winners are repeats from last year and 5 are new on this year’s list.

The engines have a huge range of horsepower (140 – 376) and an even larger torque range of 136 – 425 lb.-ft.  Specific output, or horsepower per liter, is considered a measure of how well the engineers have wrung power out of the engine.  A few years ago, 60-70 hp/L was considered excellent.  The lowest figure on this year’s list (61) is the one hybrid, whose horsepower figure does not include the extra power provided by the battery.  The highest non-turbo is 87.  The turbos range from 70 – 106.

Enough of the stats!  Here are the winners this year:

Manufacturer

Vehicle Tested

Size & Type

Horsepower

Torque

HP/L

Hwy MPG

Audi

A4 Avant

2.0L Turbo I-4

211

258

106

28

BMW

135i

3.0L Turbo I-6

300

300

100

25

BMW

335d

3.0L Turbodiesel I-6

265

425

88

36

Chrysler

Dodge Challenger

5.7L Hemi V-8

376

410

66

25

Ford

Escape Hybrid

2.5L I-4 Hybrid

155

136

61

31

GM

Cadillac CTS

3.6L Direct Injection V-6

304

273

84

26

Honda

Accord Coupe

3.5L V-6

271

251

77

25

Hyundai

Genesis

4.6L V-8

375

333

82

25

Toyota

Lexus IS350

3.5L V-6

306

277

87

25

Volkswagen

Jetta TDI

2.0L Turbodiesel I-4

140

236

70

40

If you’re lucky enough to drive one of these cars, make sure you appreciate the hard work and skill of the engineers who designed and built your engine.  After all, the engine is the heart and soul of any good car or truck.


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It’s really turning into the pickup season.  Ford just introduced a new version of the F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the US for a million years; Chevrolet just announced pricing for the Silverado Hybrid; and Dodge just introduced the new Ram pickup.  It’s like Christmas for truck buyers.

2009 Dodge Ram Laramie

2009 Dodge Ram Laramie

The 2009 Dodge Ram came out first, sporting a new, more sophisticated look and a host of new features.  The new look that hits you first (maybe literally, but I hope not) is the grille.  It has a forward-leaning top edge, similar to the Dodge Charger.  Other exterior changes are even more subtle, but give the big pickup a more aggressive and larger appearance.  If you’re not into studying the details, you will not even notice the difference.  The Ram also (finally!) has a true crew cab configuration.  They’ve been getting by for a few years with a crew cab wanna-be called the quad cab.  It has 4 front-hinged doors, but the rear doors are smaller than a true crew cab’s, so the addition of the crew cab will certainly be welcomed by dealers and customers.  The most interesting and innovative, though, is the RamBox cargo management system (available on the crew cab) includes weatherproof, lockable, illuminated and drainable storage bins built into bed rails.  RamBox bins hold up to 10 cases of 12-ounce “beverages”.

The interior sports significantly ugraded look and materials.  The most obvious change is the new floor console with the shifter moved from the steering column.  Other interior changes are “store in the floor” storage bins with removable liners, large enough for ten 12-ounce beverages and ice, heated and ventilated front seats (heated rear seats also available), heated steering wheel, live SIRIUS Backseat TV™ and surround-sound audio system.

Under the hood, the new Ram has improved, but carryover engines, including the 3.7L V6, 4.7L V8 and 5.7L Hemi V8.  Both V8s have increased power, torque and fuel economy.

Also just introduced is the new 2009 Chevy Silverado Hybrid pickup.  The starting price is $38,995, including destination charges, but not including the $2200 federal tax credit.  Production will begin in December, arriving in dealerships in “early 2009”, according to Chevrolet.  The Silverado uses GM’s two-mode hybrid system, and delivers 21 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway for the 2WD models.  4WD models get 20 city and highway.  These numbers are 40% better in the city and 25% overall.  The hybrid can still tow up to 6100 lbs and can drive in electric-only mode up to 30mph.  It’s available as a crew cab only.

2009 Ford F-150 XLT

2009 Ford F-150 XLT

The 2009 Ford F-150 is all-new as well.  The new styling mimics the F-150’s big brother, the Super Duty, with the 3 bar chrome grille and headlamps.  It also has the tailgate step bar from the Super Duty.  With 3 cab styles, 4 box options and 7 unique trim levels, the F-150 comes in 35 different configurations.  The new top trim level, the Platinum, was created when the Lincoln Mark LT was cancelled late in the program.  They had already engineered the luxury truck, so why not use it?  Ford claims it maintains its lead as the most capable pickup on the market, delivering towing capability of 11,300 pounds across all cab configurations and payload of 3,030 pounds.  The SuperCrew model has increased interior space due to a 6″ stretch over last year’s model.  The F-150 also benefits from a better sound management package, making it much quieter inside.  Under the hood, the F-150 no longer offers a V6 entry-level engine; the 4.6L 2V V8 is the base engine – but it offers better power for the same fuel economy as the 2008 V6 (14/19).  The next step up is a 3V version of the 4.6L V8, giving more power and better fuel economy than the 2V (15/20).  The top engine is the 5.4L V8, which has more power and torque, with 12% better fuel economy than 2008.  The F-150 also comes with a full complement of safety equipment, including AdvanceTrac® with RSC®; ABS;

2009 F-150 SFE

2009 F-150 SFE

Safety Canopy® side curtain air bags with roll-fold technology for enhanced head protection in rollovers and side impacts; front seat-mounted side air bags; Personal Safety System®; and new seats and restraints.  The F-150 includes many other new features including the box side step, EasyFuel Capless Fuel-Filler System, Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control, trailer sway control, integrated trailer brake control, reverse camera and Ford’s SYNC system.

With all of these new choices, and gas prices down so significantly, maybe these new trucks will be successful for their makers.  With all of the bad news coming out of Detroit and Washington, some good news would be a welcome change.  So drive on down to your local truck dealer – and don’t forget your belt buckle.

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2010 Fusion Sport

2010 Fusion Sport

Ford released details of its new-for 2010 Ford Fusion yesterday, including the picture to the left.  In addition to the bold new styling, the new Fusion (and its friend, the Mercury Milan) will have many powertrain upgrades, including:

  • The new 2.5 liter I-4 engine makes 175 horsepower (14 more than the previous 2.3 liter) and will get at least 2 mpg better than a Camry and 3 mpg better than an Accord.
  • The 3.0 liter V6 is improved too, delivering 19 more horsepower and 23 more lb.-ft. of torque for a total of 240 horsepower and 228 lb.-ft. of torque.
  • The 3.5 liter V6 from the Edge and the Flex joins the Fusion lineup for the first time, powering the Fusion Sport model with a beefy 263 horsepower and 249 lb.-ft. of torque.
  • All automatic versions will include a 6-speed transmission, which gives a 10% boost in fuel economy on the 2.5 liter and a 4-6% gain on the 3.0 liter engine.  No word on whether the manual will still be offered.
  • Other gas-saving upgrades include electric power steering, adaptive spark ignition and aggressive deceleration fuel shut-off.
  • Ford also released some detail about its 2nd-generation hybrid system, which make its debut on the Fusion and Milan early next year.  The system uses a smaller, lighter battery that produces 20 percent more power.  This allows the Fusion to operate in electric mode at speeds of up to 47 mph with a range of more than 700 miles of city driving.  Ford also claims fuel economy wil lbe at leastt 5 mpg better than the Toyota Camry Hybrid.  The 2009 Camry gets 33 city and 34 highway.
  • Hybrid versions get the new SmartGauge™ with EcoGuide, which gives hybrid owners a more-connected, fuel-efficient driving experience by coaching them on how to optimize performance of the 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids.  It uses two LCD screens on either side of the speedo that can be configured to show fuel and battery power levels and average and instant miles-per-gallon. Growing leaves and vines track and reward the driver’s efficiency.  How cute.  You’ll probably want to give your Fusion a great big hug, too.
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Chrysler announced this week that it will close its Newark, Delaware plant 1 full year earlier than it had

2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid

2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid

planned.  The new closing date will be by the end of 2008 instead of 2009.  The plant builds the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen full-size SUVs, and just recently added the hybrid models to the lineup.  A Chrysler spokesman said, “It’s not a sound decision to keep open the plant for the hybrid demand alone.”  He also said the company has no plans to move the production or replace the SUVs in their current form.

This is only a week after they touted the fuel economy and power of the hybrid twins in a press release, saying they achieve “best-in-class fuel economy ratings for a full-size 4×4 SUV.”  The EPA rates the hybrids at 20 city & 22 highway.  They also bragged about the 400 hp Hemi engine and used this line, “Yeah, it’s gotta HEMI® Hybrid. And best-in-class fuel economy, too. ”  They went on to say that the hybrids get better fuel economy in the city (20) than a V6 Honda Accord (19).  The V6 Toyota Camry is also rated at 19 city.

Sounds like a great SUV that everybody would want, right?  Better fuel economy than an Accord and can tow 6000 lb??  Where is the line to get one?  Better get in that line soon, as Chrysler has 3000 orders for the hybrids, and they aren’t sure they’ll be able to build all of them before the plant closes in December.

One gets the impression that events are happening at such a pace in Auburn Hills that they can’t keep up.  I think Chrysler is closing the plant under direction from GM.  The General already has full-size SUVs, thank you, and they come in a hybrid also, by the way.  You probably know that already, don’t you?  What you  might not know is that the hybrid system on the Durango and the Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon/Cadillac Escalade is the same.  No, not similar – the same.  The “2-Mode” hybrid system is the result of a joint effort between GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW.  GM would likely have shut down this plant and cancelled the Durango and Aspen anyway, so they probably told Chrysler to shut it down so they don’t have to.  These products are just part of the massive product overlap between these companies that make this proposed merger/takeover ridiculous and a potential economic disaster for SE Michigan.

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So Exactly What is a Volt?

7th October 2008

By now, you’ve probably heard about the Volt. It’s Chevy’s (hopefully) upcoming “extended range electric vehicle” (EREV). To the average person, this is a hybrid, if you think of a hybrid as a vehicle that runs on battery and “traditional” (gasoline or Diesel) power. SAE (the Society of Automotive Engineers) also classifies it as a hybrid. GM wants you to think of this vehicle otherwise. The difference between the Volt and a hybrid as you know them is largely academic to the average customer. You should think of the Volt as a different kind of hybrid. It still runs on battery and gasoline, like the Escape or Prius, but the Volt will be able to run up to 40 miles on battery alone. Current hybrids can run on battery alone only in low-speed situations and for only a short time (“strong” hybrids from Ford, Toyota and some GM hybrids). Some can’t run on battery alone at all (“mild” hybrids from Honda and the other GM hybrids) – the battery only “helps” the gasoline engine. The strong hybrids improve fuel economy more, but also cost more. Now along comes the Volt, which is even more effective, but will also cost even more. To understand why the Volt is different, you need to understand the others as well.

Mild Hybrids
In a mild hybrid, the battery helps the engine propel the car, thus saving fuel. Regenerative braking charges the battery. This means the car is able to take the car’s kinetic energy, which is usually lost as heat when the car brakes, and use it to charge the battery. Mild hybrids also shut the motor down at a stop, saving more fuel.

Strong Hybrids
Though there are various types, strong hybrids are able to propel the vehicle by battery alone, albeit for short distances and low speeds. The battery also provides extra power when strong acceleration is required. Because the battery is used much more than in the mild hybrid, the strong hybrid improves fuel economy more, but also costs more. Strong hybrids are sometimes known as parallel hybrids, because both propulsion systems work together to propel the vehicle. The battery is charged by regenerative braking, but also by the car’s engine in normal use. Many strong hybrids have the unique trait of higher city fuel economy than highway. How can that be? In stop and go city driving, the battery is doing most of the work, so the improvement in fuel economy is much greater, resulting in better economy in the city. Some strong hybrids are “tuned” for power, rather than fuel economy. In these cases, the battery is used more to provide extra power than to ease the burden of the gas engine. You still get better fuel economy, just not as much.

Plug-in Hybrids
Though none yet exist for sale, a plug-in hybrid is a strong hybrid that you can also charge by plugging it in at home. The advantage is that you don’t need to use fuel to charge the battery; it starts out charged from your home electricity. Several automakers are working on developing plug-in hybrids for sale.

Series Hybrids
Though it is not called a hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt is a series hybrid. This is different from a parallel because instead of the 2 power sources working together, but separately, to propel the vehicle (“in parallel”), they work in-line. Only the battery powers the wheels, and in the Volt, it can do so for 40 miles when fully charged. The gasoline engine serves only to provide additional power to the battery when it runs out of power. It does not provide any propulsion. Because of this major difference from other hybrids, GM wants you (and the EPA) to call the Volt and electric vehicle, because the car really runs on electric only. The gas engine is merely a generator for the battery.

This all brings up a question: how do you measure and rate the fuel economy of a car that might never use any fuel? GM claims that 80% of drivers commute less than the 40-mile electric-only range of the Volt. In theory, they would never need to fill up the tank with gas if they remember to charge the battery every night. GM also claims that the Volt will get up to 50 MPG while the engine is running after the battery is drained. So what’s a poor government agency to do? Is the MPG infinite? 50? Something in between? The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has proposed using an SAE standard from 1999. The worst-case scenario is the battery is dead, so you drive 100% with the gas engine running; the best is fully charged and you never need gas. CARB suggests averaging the 2, so if the worst case were 40 MPG, then the “official” MPG would be 80. This idea has merit, but the 80 MPG in this example is theoretical only. A “real” driver would almost certainly never get the 80 MPG. You could also say that about “regular” cars today, but at least the EPA standard is close in almost all circumstances. You can’t say that about the CARB idea. Have a better idea for GM and the EPA? Send your ideas to The Slandy Report, and we’ll pass them along.

So will the Volt change the auto industry, as some claim? In a word, maybe. If the battery performs as hoped. If it is reliable. If you can really travel 40 miles with no gas. If it isn’t overpriced. If it launches on time. The General has really gone out on a limb with the Volt. I believe it is unprecedented to reveal a car more than 2 years before it is supposed to launch. I believe it is also unprecedented to make such bold, specific claims about a technology that doesn’t even exist yet in a commercially viable form. GM has staked its already shaky reputation on the Volt. If it doesn’t deliver on the claims, it could be a setback from which it cannot recover. Several clichés come to mind, including “You live by the sword, you die by the sword.” For the GM’s sake, I hope the sword is friendly (or really soft material).

Present Hybrids for Sale and Their EPA Fuel Economies (City/Hwy)
Mild Hybrids
Chevrolet Malibu 24/32
Honda Civic 40/45
Saturn Aura 24/32
Saturn Vue 25/32

Strong Hybrids
Cadillac Escalade
Chevrolet Tahoe 21/22 RWD or 20/20 4WD
Chrysler Aspen – TBD
Dodge Durango – TBD
Ford Escape 34/30 FWD or 29/27 AWD
GMC Yukon 21/22 RWD or 20/20 4WD
Mercury Mariner 34/30 FWD or 29/27 AWD
Lexus 600h L 20/22
Lexus RX400h 27/24 FWD or 26/24 AWD
Lexus GS450h 22/25
Mazda Tribute 34/30 FWD or 29/27 AWD
Nissan Altima 35/33
Saturn Vue 2-mode
Toyota Camry 33/34
Toyota Highlander 27/25
Toyota Prius 48/45

Plug-in Hybrids
None

Series Hybrids
None

Future Hybrids
Mild Hybrids
2010 Honda Insight

Strong Hybrids
2009 Saturn Vue “2-mode”
2009 Chevrolet Silverado
2010 Dodge Ram
2009 GMC Sierra
Ford Fusion
Mercury Milan

Plug-in Hybrids
Toyota Prius

Series Hybrids
2011 Chevrolet Volt

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