Ths should put you all right (well the intelligent ones)
IN THIS ISSUE:
Supreme Court Decision The quest for cleaner cars got a big boost on April
2, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that global warming
pollution from automobiles can be regulated under the federal Clean Air Act.
The EPA now is legally responsible for setting limits on greenhouse gases
emitted from cars. That's huge.
Prius Sales Take Off The Toyota Prius hit another all-time monthly high in
March, selling 19,156 units. To put this in perspective, Prius sales in
March exceeded the sales volume of entire brands such as Subaru, Mercury,
Shattering Myth of Hybrid Premium A new survey shows the Prius was not only
the hybrid vehicle owners' most desired vehicle, it was cheaper than other
cars on their shopping list.
Test Drive: Nissan Altima Hybrid I spent one week driving the Altima hybrid
and meeting with Camry hybrid owners to study the differences between the
two vehicles. The Altima won on performance and style, but lost on overall
quality and dashboard displays.
Who Killed the Hybrid Pickup? Trucks make up more than half of the new
vehicle market in the United States. So why isn't there a hybrid pickup?
Well there was, kinda sorta, for a short time.
The Cars America Needs When auto economist Walter McManus commented that the
cars Americans would like Detroit automakers to make differ fundamentally
from those that GM likes to make, it evoked a sad reply from the son of a
UAW auto worker.
Wimpy Hamburger Syndrome A few weeks ago, there was an historic and unlikely
meeting between GM's Bob Lutz and the Union of Concerned Scientists' David
Friedman. Minds were not changed; however, the fact that it happened at all
Interview: Bricklin is Back - With a Plug-In I recently spoke with
automotive maverick Malcolm Bricklin, who is planning a luxury plug-in
hybrid that gets 100 mpg with a Chinese- built lithium ion battery.
Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts, The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision
declaring that global warming pollution is a pollutant under the Clean Air
Act is a significant yank on an unraveling sweater that continues to leave
the auto industry more exposed to changing public sentiment about cars and
climate change. Record-breaking sales of the Prius tugged further on that
thread. Will the auto industry respond? What new hybrid products are being
introduced? What brilliant new plans are being hatched? In this issue, we do
our best to capture this pivotal moment in hybrid history. Enjoy.
The EPA, In and Out of the Hot Seat
The quest for cleaner cars got a big boost on April 2, when the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that global warming pollution from automobiles can be regulated
under the Clean Air Act. The significance of this cannot be overestimated.
"The debate over global warming has ended," said Joe Mendelson, legal
director of the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA). The
decision establishes carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping gases as
"air pollution" under the Clean Air Act.
Despite enthusiasm from environmental organizations, the Supreme Court's
decision doesn't actually set new car standards. However, it does remove a
key legal question that has been hanging over national and state-based
greenhouse gas standards. It also presses Congress to enact a national cap
on carbon emissions that might trigger big changes in car technology.
Environmental groups cheered the decision for three reasons, according to
John DeCicco, senior fellow at Environmental Defense. "It compels (the) EPA
to start addressing global warming, it opens the door for state policies
such as California's greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars to get past
court challenges they face, and it puts added pressure on the U.S. Congress
to enact national climate protection legislation sooner rather than later,"
*** The decision puts the EPA back under fire, just a few weeks after it
announced overdue plans to create more accurate mileage ratings for cars and
trucks. The new standards will get closer to reality by factoring in higher
speeds, stop-and-go driving, more aggressive acceleration, use of air
conditioning and driving in colder temperatures. Hybrids' fuel economy is
likely to get a haircut of up to 30% for city driving and 20% for highway.
Reactions from visitors to HybridCars.com were mostly positive. Alex wrote,
"I give praise to the EPA for finally being realistic in their testing. Now
the car companies can no longer hide how inefficient all of our vehicles
are." Bob reminded everybody that "unfortunately this change will have no
effect on the mileage values used by automakers to comply with CAFE
Prius Sales Go Bonkers
HybridCars.com and R.L. Polk continue to closely monitor and report on
hybrid sales and trends through our Hybrid Market Dashboard. We reported
that the Toyota Prius hit another all-time high, selling 19,156 units in
March, a 57% increase over February. Put into perspective, consider that
more Priuses were sold in March than that of entire nameplates such as
Subaru, Mercury, and Cadillac. Camry Hybrid sales also hit a record level,
rising 54% from February to 5,144 units. Even the Highlander Hybrid had
respectable sales of 2,501 units, 32% above February levels. With these
results, Toyota seems well-positioned to meet its target of increasing North
American hybrid sales by 50% over 2006 levels.
As mentioned in the February dashboard, the rise in Toyota hybrid sales is
due partly to the company's marketing efforts. In addition to its
advertising campaign for the Prius, Toyota offered discounted financing on
both the Prius and the Highlander Hybrid and, in some areas, also had dealer
incentives in place (as much as $400/unit on the Prius, and $2000 on the
Highlander Hybrid). Sales also were buoyed by rising gas prices, as well as
a general uptick in vehicle sales this month. As a result, all hybrid models
showed sales gains over February's numbers.
We're getting ready to post our analysis for April sales. Check it out:
Shattering Myth of Hybrid Premium
A new study of 118 Prius drivers, recruited mostly through flyers placed on
their windshields, shatters the conventional wisdom that hybrids do not pay
for themselves. Most of the Prius shoppers wanted an eco-friendly car. But
when asked what kind of car they would have purchased if they had not bought
a hybrid, these shoppers would have purchased a vehicle costing thousands of
dollars more than a Prius. Therefore, the Prius was not only their most
desired vehicle; it was cheaper than other cars on their shopping list.
"This study captured the people that traded down from a luxury vehicle, such
as Audi A6, BMW X3 or Acura TL," said Jonathan Klein, general partner of the
Topline Strategy Group, the Boston-based business and technology strategy
firm which conducted the study. Klein said today's hybrid buyers "could be
considered the second wave of the hybrid market." The first group of hybrid
buyers, considered early adopters, was motivated by a desire to reduce their
environmental impact or buy their fascination with new technology. The
changes in the market reflect a move "from green to practical," according to
What if the hybrid version of a vehicle carried a price tag identical to the
non-hybrid version of the car? Well, take a look at the Saturn Aura Green
Line, the first hybrid that essentially costs no more than its conventional
counterpart. In broad and simple terms, the Aura Green Line, which starts at
$22,695, costs about two grand more than the Aura XE. When you subtract a
$1,300 federal tax credit, you've whittled the premium down to a few hundred
bucks. In exchange, you bump your city mileage from 20-mpg to 28-mpg, and
the highway fuel efficiency from 30-mpg to 35-mpg. Depending on how much you
drive, the fuel savings could erase the cost of the hybrid system within a
few months. From there on out, it's all gravy.
Of course, these accounting gymnastics mean nothing unless the vehicle's
styling, safety, performance and handling are up to snuff. And on these
accounts, the Saturn Aura is scoring very high marks.
Test Drive: Nissan Altima Hybrid
I spent one week driving the Altima Hybrid and meeting with Camry Hybrid
owners to study the differences between the two vehicles. Here are the most
Power & Style: There's no doubt about it. The Altima Hybrid is noticeably
more responsive than the Camry Hybrid. If the extra pep is essential, and
you're willing to sacrifice the ultra-quiet (some call it "numb") ride of
the Camry, then your decision is made.
Interior Quality and Room: After jumping back and forth between the seats of
the Camry and Altima, you definitely feel that the Camry has more space and
a generally more pleasant feel. The high degree of finish on the materials
of the Camry makes it seem like Nissan didn't spend as much money or care on
the Altima interior.
Instrumentation: Half the fun of driving a hybrid is monitoring the fuel
efficiency and flow of energy. Toyota's been in the hybrid game for nearly a
decade, and benefits from its experience in producing hybrid
instrumentation. The Altima's dashboard, on the other hand, made reading the
mpg a guessing game. The one exception, and it's an important one, is the
Altima's backup camera. The Altima's use of overlay guidelines to show
distance from the car and likely distance from the curb beats out the Prius.
The Camry lacks the backup camera entirely.
Who Killed the Hybrid Pickup?
If hybrid technology is going to make any dent in reducing emissions and
saving oil, then pickup trucks cannot be ignored. In 2006, sales of Ford
F-150s, Chevy Silverados and Dodge Rams came in first, second, and fifth
places, respectively, for all light-duty vehicles. When you add sales of
SUVs built on truck chassis, you have more than half of the entire 16
million vehicle market in the United States.
On a microeconomic level, hybrid pickups also make two tons of sense. Pickup
drivers can easily use 1,000 gallons of fuel per year. At $3 per gallon, the
savings from a hybrid system on a pickup would put the most self-righteous
Prius driver to shame.
So why isn't there a hybrid pickup truck? Well, there was, kinda sorta, for
a short time. In late 2004, General Motors launched an ultra-light hybrid
system on the Silverado and Sierra models. The total production run on both
was about 3,000, but it was never entirely clear if or where you could buy
one. Then, in December 2006, GM "quietly dropped the hybrid versions of the
Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups," according to Automotive News.
Before the conspiracy theorists go too far, don't expect a documentary
release of "Who killed the hybrid pickup?" GM phased out the ultra-light
hybrid pickups that produced a 10-15 percent increase in fuel economy to
make room for full hybrid versions of the Silverado and Sierra, which are
expected to get a 25 percent increase in fuel efficiency. The so-called
two-mode hybrid pickups are scheduled to launch in late 2008.
DaimlerChrysler will use the two-mode system in the Dodge Durango and
Chrysler Aspen, also in 2008.
The Cars America Needs
Our friend Walter McManus, an auto economist with the University of
Michigan, wrote a commentary entitled "The Cars America Needs" in his
HybridCars.com column. Here's an excerpt:
"The domestic automakers say there is little more they can do to improve
fuel economy without a technological breakthrough and billions of dollars.
But they invest billions of dollars every year in engine research heretofore
to make vehicles heavier and faster-something my research shows that
American consumers stopped demanding when the price of gas starting going
up. GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz even complained that to improve fuel economy
would consume the "quasi-totality of our investment in engineering
resources." and "You can either spend the money meeting the law or spend the
money to do the cars you'd like to do but you can't do both." The cars
Americans would like Detroit automakers to make-the cars America needs
Detroit automakers to make-apparently differ fundamentally from those that
GM likes to make."
Walter's comments elicited this response from a site visitor, Justin Jones:
"As the son of a retired UAW auto worker from Ford, I was taught my duty was
to help support the American worker by buying American made products. This
was especially true when it came to what car I was supposed to buy. The
American auto companies and UAW helped put food on my table and I should
take care of them. And protect the American middle class. But when do we
stop taking care of those who don't take care of themselves or anyone else
anymore? In the 70s during the energy crisis, the American auto companies
did adjust their fuel economy. Today they are helping the oil company's best
interest while hindering the future health and welfare of people and our
planet's global warming illness. For the first time ever I am going to say
I'm sorry to my father when I buy a foreign hybrid car because my priorities
are not the same as the company he spent his life working for. It makes me
Wimpy Hamburger Syndrome
The auto industry is feeling the heat on climate change. How do you know? A
few weeks ago, GM's Bob Lutz opened his door to David Friedman, head of the
Clean Vehicle Research program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The unusual meeting came about after Mr. Lutz, GM's vice-chairman and
product guru, repeated his claims that his company does not have affordable
technology to significantly improve vehicle efficiency. "This is a challenge
I want to put out to people who think they have a solution, and are so much
smarter than we are," Lutz told the Wall Street Journal. "Let them come and
see us. If the technology were readily and easily available, what on earth
would our motive be for withholding it?" So Friedman picked up the phone to
see if Lutz was really interested in hearing about UCS's research into
off-the-shelf technologies that could increase efficiencies and reduce
tailpipe emissions for a few hundred dollars per vehicle.
Lo and behold, Lutz agreed to the meeting. The significance of the meeting
was not the subject matter of the discussion. The importance was that it
occurred at all-opening up more dialogue between GM and environmentalists.
Friedman said, "I don't think I convinced them of anything. And they didn't
GM and other carmakers have unveiled a number of very promising high-
efficiency low-emissions concept vehicles-which lack definitive production
timetables because key components are not yet available. "It's the Wimpy
thing," said Friedman. "You know, I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a
hamburger today. That would be fine if we weren't living in a world where
climate change is a reality, not to mention all sorts of problems associated
with oil dependency."
Friedman said that a follow-up meeting is likely, but could not discuss the
details due to confidentiality. He said, "They're open to taking this
conversation to a next step. That's a good sign. They want to talk."
Bricklin is Back - With a Plug-In
Malcolm Bricklin, the indefatigable auto entrepreneur, has taken his
ambitions to a new level with his latest goal of creating a mass- market,
plug-in hybrid car industry, including: creating his own high- volume
100-mpg luxury vehicle; building a new dedicated component factory in China
to produce lithium batteries and electronic parts for his car and for other
fledgling electric car makers; organizing a chain of exclusive dealerships
placing advanced bulk orders; and engineering a wireless network allowing
service technicians to monitor vehicle performance from a distance.
I spoke with Bricklin in the New York City office of Visionary Vehicles, his
Bradley Berman: Where does China fit into the future of the car business,
both in terms of manufacturing and as a burgeoning market?
Malcolm Bricklin: China will be the biggest home market for cars in the
world. They're building the roads. They're building the factories. They have
the people. To not kill the whole population, they have to dramatically move
into clean [car technology]. Not just environmentally clean, but really good
mileage. We're not talking going from about 26 to 28 mpg. I'm talking about
The only thing that's been keeping electric cars and electric hybrids from
happening is the need for the next-generation in technology, the lithium
battery. Engineers needed to get rid of the "boom" part...where the battery
goes "boom" every once in a while. The engineers put phosphate and a couple
of other things, and the "boom" is gone. But the price is too high.
We are going to invest in the factories necessary to bring the prices down
so our components' costs are in line with conventional cars. So when you get
rid of the engine and the transmission and the rest of the stuff [required
for a conventional car, but not required for a series hybrid], we're about
equal. We're going to make those same components available to other people
who want to be in the electric vehicle business.
BB: You've said that you plan to manufacture Chinese-made plug-in hybrids,
and bring them to the United States by 2009.
MB: The end of 2009.
BB: What are the greatest challenges in making that happen?
MB: Just about everything known to man. Where would you like to start? That
we do the engineering right. That we test it sufficiently. That the battery
factory capacity doesn't produce flaws. That we find ways to check all the
components of the electric system to make damn sure everything goes in
perfectly. That the Chinese pay attention and give us the kind of quality we
demand. That I don't die too soon. That the ships with the cars don't sink
in the sea.
Read the rest of the interview:
WRAP-UP There you have it. Lessons learned from the steady growth of the
hybrid market are coming in very handy, as government officials and auto
industry leaders come to terms with the realities of climate change and oil
dependence. That growth was fueled by consumer demand, showing once again
that a handful of committed citizens can make their voices heard-and their
pocketbook decisions felt-to produce meaningful change. The saga continues.
Happy Driving, Bradley Berman firstname.lastname@example.org
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