Hi everyone, I hope your February wasn’t too frigid. Things have certainly heated up online with clean cars and global warming, and so too has the work—and the debate—over plug-in hybrid technology. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
UCS National Field Organizer &
In this issue:
Well, it’s been quite a run recently in “the blogosphere” when it comes to global warming and cleaner vehicles. As you might have seen on HybridBlog, I asked folks to head over to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Flow of the River” blog and voice their feelings over Administrator Johnson’s rejection of the waiver states need to implement the clean car standards. I must say I was extremely impressed with the results. More than 700 people took the time to make heartfelt and eloquent comments about the need for sound science to guide EPA policymaking, and the contribution our vehicles must make to fight global warming. (Their blog averages about a dozen comments a post, as a comparison.)
I was really excited to see us making our point loud and clear—so clear that the effort was covered by US News & World Report. But what excited me most was that Marcus Peacock, Deputy Administrator of the EPA and author of “Flow of the River,” actually posted a response on our own HybridBlog! This endeavor was not just seen by the media, but truly heard by decision makers. News continues to surface about the depth of dissatisfaction EPA staff have for Administrator Johnson’s ill-advised decision. Let’s hope that this public outcry will help EPA leaders actually listen.
But, speaking of blogs, cars, and global warming pollution, EPA executives aren’t the only ones taking their fair share of online criticism. General Motors Vice President Bob Lutz recently made a questionable marketing move when he said:
Global warming is a “total crock of ****.” He went on to say, “I’m a skeptic, not a denier. Having said that, my opinion doesn’t matter. (With the battery-driven Volt), I’m motivated more by the desire to replace imported oil than by the CO2 (argument).”
And, as if he were still living in the year 2001 before the hybrid market had established itself, Lutz took on the Prius, saying that they “make no economic sense.”
Lutz then went to his own blog, the “GM Fastlane” and defended his comments, though he in no way retracted them. Many of the comments on his blog were from disappointed consumers as well as a number of climate change contrarians. Given General Motors is part of the 27-corporation U.S. Climate Action Partnership, having your number two executive announce and defend his doubts about the existence of climate change does cast a bit of a pall on the good faith of their efforts—not to mention the resolve of any GM engineers that might hope to use their expertise to be part of a climate solution.
I’d like to point out that Lutz’ comments are in stark contrast to Toyota engineer Bill Reinert, who in this Seattle Times feature spoke of the need, and the struggle, that engineers have to show the value of cleaner cars to risk-adverse corporate executives. While corporate culture has started to shift with the success of the hybrid market, and Toyota took a licking with its planned push of larger, gas-thirsty vehicles, consumers are going to have to keep up the pressure to help engineers like Reinert who are trying to put clean vehicle technologies to work.
As we found out with our EPA blogging effort, posting blog comments on corporate and government sites is a burgeoning new tool activists and consumers have for making their opinions known. The personal, interactive, and public nature of blogs make them particularly salient. If you want to try your hand with blog comments, here are a few tips to help you along:
It’s easy: On most blogs, very little is needed to register to post your comment, and your personal information is kept from public view in almost every case.
Keep it clean: Angry and frustrated? That’s fine, but resist use of profanity or name-calling—“flaming” as it’s known on the Web. Many of these blogs are moderated, and there’s no need to give the administrator an excuse to reject your comment.
Personalize it: Whether it’s two sentences or 200, make sure you express why this issue means so much to you, be it as a scientist, a consumer, a parent, or an environmentalist.
Check in and respond: It’s certainly not a must, but often other people will respond to your comments, be it in agreement or disagreement. If you have the time and interest, responding to those comments will help reinforce your point or rebut other arguments.
Bring your friends: One comment is great, but a series of comments building on each other is even better. Tell your friends about the blog, your comments, and encourage them to join in.
Many clean vehicle enthusiasts are excited by the idea of driving a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that achieves anywhere from 70 to 100 miles per gallon and can be recharged for just pennies per unit of energy. Plug-ins seemingly offer the “best of both worlds”—combining the extended range of a gasoline powered vehicle with the lower emissions and oil consumption of an electric vehicle.
The potential benefits of the widespread use of plug-in hybrids rest on the source of electricity and the vehicle’s characteristics. Therefore, plug-in hybrid vehicles cannot be seen in a vacuum as a “silver bullet” solution. Consumer behavior—when and how often people recharge their vehicles and how driving habits change as a result of lower fuel costs—will also influence the net benefits.
Studies indicate that when you look at overall electricity use, plug-ins may be quite the energy bargain—therefore, the potential of plug-ins to help clean up our vehicles is intriguing. Indeed, whatever its long-term future, plug-in hybrid technology provides a near-term opportunity to push the leading-edge of advanced vehicle technology into the showroom. Market tests are already moving forward, such as the city of Seattle's plug-in hybrid recharging tests to see what the net effects of off-peak battery recharging might be.
Of course, the widespread production and acceptance of plug-ins is predicated on the ability to overcome significant obstacles related to production costs and battery technology. Our very own Senior Engineer, Jim Kliesch recently participated in a panel discussion on the future of plug-ins. Jim and the other panelists agreed that the battery remains a considerable technical barrier to the commercialization of plug-ins. The plug-in battery must provide both sustained energy for extended electric-only range and quick bursts of energy for acceleration. In addition, it needs to be compact, lightweight, and have a reasonable 10-15 year lifespan—all at a smart price. As Jim Kliesch reported,
“Battery expert Jack Deppe, from Deppe Consulting, characterized the batteries as making progress on durability, but that challenges remain, especially in terms of cost and safety. With respect to the cost challenges, he thought we may see short range plug-ins (in the neighborhood of 10 miles) sooner than longer range (40-mile) plug-ins, though even low-range plug-ins still face battery cost-related hurdles. That said, he commended GM on their aggressive pursuit of the 40-mile Volt.”
Given their lighter weight and smaller size, lithium ion batteries have emerged as the likely battery chemistry for plug-ins and the likely replacement for the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in today’s hybrid electric vehicles. Numerous companies are developing advanced lithium battery technology that should help automakers produce vehicles with a 10 to 40 mile range. For its part, General Motors has enlisted Johnson Cobasys-A123Systems and LG Chem, among others, to develop the battery cells and packs for its much-hyped short and extended range plug-ins.
Deppe’s acknowledgement of the progress that is being made in advanced battery development is encouraging. It’s no wonder that at least a dozen automakers—both big and small—have entered the plug-in race. The efforts of General Motors and Toyota are probably the most well-known of the big automakers, though the BYD F6e sedan, which is expected in China in late 2008, may be the first mass produced plug-in to enter the global market. General Motors’ plug-ins—a 40 mile electric-only range Chevrolet Volt and a 10 mile electric-only range Saturn Vue—are expected out by 2010. Toyota, which has already begun testing its plug-in prototype in California and Japan, will release its production model to the commercial fleet by 2010. Ford is also testing a plug-in hybrid prototype of its Escape SUV, though no predicted production date has been released.
A number of other start-up automotive groups like Fisker Automotive are marketing different stages of bringing a plug-in hybrid to market, with initial market entry dates set as early as 2009. Indeed, the lure of plug-in hybrids is also helping older, smaller companies such as Belgium’s Imperia try to rejuvenate their market appeal. Although such smaller plug-in ventures may be playing mostly to niche, high-end markets, they are adding to the “ready to roll” sense that has gotten the attention of both consumers and the major automakers.
As you know, UCS isn’t about picking technology winners at the expense of overlooking conventional, off-the-shelf technologies that can reduce oil use and global warming emissions today. The development of plug-ins and other advanced technology vehicles is both necessary and exciting. But, it is important to remember that they represent just one part of a full portfolio of solutions (i.e., low carbon fuels, increased efficiency of conventional conventional, full development of advanced, zero emission vehicle technology, and reduced vehicle miles traveled) needed to truly transform and “green” our transportation sector.
- BMW bringing 4-cylinder SUV to market? The Geneva Auto Show is right around the corner, and performance automaker BMW has introduced a concept SUV generating buzz because it has a smaller gasoline engine. While SUVs, especially “performance” SUVs, feature a V6 or often V8 engine, the X5 Vision diesel-hybrid four-cylinder engine concept is purported to get an impressive 36 miles per gallon, yet still get drivers from 0-60 miles per hour in under nine seconds. For more on this and other BMW hybrids on the horizon, head to the Hybrid News Center.
- Are hybrids recession proof? While high gas prices have consumers still hybrid-hungry, an interesting examination on Jalopnik shows that luxury hybrid brands are indeed taking a hit. Sales of the Ford Escape were up 24.7 percent compared to last January, while the Mercury Mariner was down 10.6 percent over the same period. The Toyota Highlander's sales grew 18.4 percent while the Lexus RX400h dropped by 2.7 percent. The Toyota Prius and Camry both had a great January, increasing 37.1 percent and 33.9 percent, respectively. The Lexus brand GS450h saw a decrease of 61.7 percent. Such statistics should reinforce DCN members’ efforts to demand made for more fuel-efficiency focused hybrid options, like the Estima Hybrid minivan available in Japan.
- Clinton sees hybrids as “green collar” cornerstone: Climbing into a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid at the GM plant in White Marsh Maryland, Senator Hillary Clinton said that advanced technology vehicles and components will help lead a resurgence in the U.S. auto industry, and she as president would help to make that happen. She spoke of her plan to create five million "green-collar" jobs, which includes $2 billion in battery research money for automakers, $10,000 tax credits for purchasers of plug-in hybrids, and $20 billion in low-interest "Green Vehicle Bonds" to help retool old auto plants. She also said that she wants to raise fuel economy standards to 40 mpg by 2020 and 55 mpg by 2030. For more on this story, head to the Hybrid News Center.
Who’s Got Hybrids Now?
As an avid baseball fan, the end of February always makes me think of Spring Training. In honor of that, and as a chance to view some warm vistas for those of us in cool climates (at least for now…), let’s check in on some Grapefruit and Cactus League hybrids:
Those of us in the grips of winter will enjoy this great beach picture from John Hammerstrom of Tavernier, FL. John chose his Honda Insight “because it allows [him] to minimize [his] environmental impact when driving is necessary.”
Another beautiful water view comes from Nancy Greenlees of Odessa, Florida. Her Gen. 1 Prius is coming up on 90,000 miles, and she’s still loving it.
Check out this amazing desert vista from Steve Farley in Tuscon, Arizona. What’s perhaps more impressive is the mileage he’s been getting in his Gen. 2 Prius. With his “very tall family of four” he’s managed to get more than 60 mpg going from Tuscon all the way to Quebec City. Quite a feat!
Andrew Poulos from Scottsdale, Arizona has the new Camry Hybrid, and likes its sporty design and solid performance. Moreover, he says “I average 35 mpg on my commute (with constant AC) and have gotten as much as 40 mpg. My license plate says it all: Less CO2!”
If you own a hybrid or know of anyone who does, please remember to tell them to submit their testimonials today!
That’s it for this month. See you again in the spring!