Driving Clean: Hybrid Cars Move Up Front

This is the last of the car-related articles that I wrote for Technocopia in 2000. Some things have changed since then and Canada has an electric car, the Zenn car. http://www.zenncars.com/ You can also check out Tesla Motors. http://www.teslamotors.com/

CAR MANUFACTURERS RACE TO BUILD AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY CAR, BUT WHO’S THE REAL WINNER?

With greenhouse gases and tailpipe emissions harming the environment, atmosphere and human health, countries as well as car manufacturers and industry are looking at ways to clean up their act.

Alternate fuels and car prototypes are being tested. Although there are several electric cars available for lease in selected cities, they have not yet caught on. Manufacturers are reluctant to mass produce the expensive electrics which have limited driving range (between fifty and one hundred miles), need at least a three-hour battery recharge, and don’t have the support infrastructure of recharging stations. California has installed many recharging stations but then it is the test bed for electric cars.

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was signed stating that by 2008 all signing countries would lower their emissions. As pollution becomes a problem some countries aren’t waiting. However, a loophole allows countries with lower than standard emissions to sell off their extra emissions to countries that produce more than the allowable amount.

Fuel Economy and Low Emissions
Drivers don’t want to worry about running out of a charge before arriving home. An alternative was needed that increased range but lowered tailpipe emissions. There are government restrictions that already regulate emissions per vehicle. In the search for efficiency and economy, the hybrid gas/electric car was born.

At the forefront of hybrid cars are the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. Toyota’s five-passenger sedan has already sold 28,000 in Japan and will be released in the U.S. this year. The Insight was available as of December 1999. The Chrysler Intrepid ESX2 is a hybrid using electric and diesel. The driving range of these vehicles is farther, the gas tank and engine are smaller, and the emissions, therefore air pollution, are reduced.

The hybrid uses an electric and a gas motor. The electric battery cuts down on fuel consumption and the gas engine keeps the battery recharged, eliminating the need to set up separate recharging stations.

In the Prius “an electric motor and a generator are attached to the transmission. The generator, driven by the car’s 58-horsepower gasoline motor, recharges the 135-pound battery pack, and can provide power for the 40-horsepower electric motor as well.” The Boston Globe(10/07/99) An all-electric vehicle’s battery weighs 1200 pounds so the hybrid’s weight is greatly reduced. Accelerating from a stationary position needs a lot of engine turning power. More efficient for providing torque, the Prius’s electric engine kicks in to supply power to the transaxle and turns the wheels. Once the car is cruising along, the electric engine turns off and the gas engine, more efficient for providing the ongoing energy, turns on. If the electric engine needs to be recharged the generator is used. An onboard computer system constantly monitors and regulates which engine will be most efficient in any circumstance. The transition is smooth and unnoticed by the driver.
The Honda Insight’s system is slightly different. A sophisticated computer also regulates which engine is best for each task. However, the Insight has a gas engine and an electric motor powered by a battery, but no generator. When the Insight hits cruising mode the electric battery is recharged.

Prius and Insight both use regenerative braking. This technique captures energy that is lost in traditional braking systems. When the brake is tapped the electric motor runs in reverse. Not only does this slow the forward momentum of the car, it generates the energy needed to recharge the battery.

The Honda Insight is comparable in size to the Honda Civic but gets eighty-five percent better mileage due to a lighter, aerodynamic body design including a plastic bottom, and a smaller, refined engine no larger than a large motorcycle’s. The dashboard display indicates which system is running and not to shift down—to save on fuel—if the electric is engaged. The two-seater should get about 60-70 mpg and will cost under $20,000 USD.

The Prius will get around 55-60mpg and sell in the low $20,000 USD range. Toyota is reported to be losing money on the Prius because it costs more to produce. However, once it goes into larger mass production the reproduction costs will most likely lower. By the time the Prius goes on sale this year, it is expected to meet California’s super-ultra-low emission standards set to go into effect in 2004.

GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler have joined in research with the US government to develop other hybrid technologies. DaimlerChrysler’s Citdael is still in the test stages and is a cross between a sedan and a SUV. Tom Kizer for DaimlerChrysler said, “If you’re going to improve fuel economy, do it on the vehicles that burn the most fuel. A 20% improvement from hybridization on an SUV saves a lot more fuel than a 20% improvement on a Neon.” Fortune Magazine, Time(10/25/99) SUVs are one of the most popular vehicles in North America today and put out higher emissions than cars. IAnd as I mentioned before some government regulations let them emit more because they were classified as “farm vehicles.”

Government incentives are in place to offset the higher cost for hybrid vehicles. Until the hybrids are mass produced on a much larger scale they will continue to be pricier. What price is greater to pay, a car that continues to destroy the environment and our health or one that costs a little more out of pocket yet gives cleaner air and more miles to the gallon? Gas prices will climb as we run out of fossil fuel and it is fuel economy that will save us more in the long run.

For more information:

Honda Insight www.honda2000.com/insight/homepage.html
Toyota Prius www.toyota.com
Chevrotlet Volt http://www.chevrolet.com/electriccar/
Zipcars (Vancouver) http://www.zipcar.com/ 

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4 Comments

Filed under cars, consumer affairs, Culture, environment

4 responses to “Driving Clean: Hybrid Cars Move Up Front

  1. Kerry bradshaw

    Thank you for the update from this piece written in 2000. It’s always interesting to see what’s been realized and what never met the mark. Toyota was of course taking losses on the “new” Prius but like many products, starting up will definitely mean a period of being in the red with something innovative, which the Prius was in 1999/2000. It’s also nice to see I wasn’t told to go back to my knitting this time and truth be told, I can change a tire better than knit a scarf. 🙂 Colleen

    The Prius is woefully inadequate. It also gets nowhere NEAR 60 MPG – try 35 to 45 if you’re lucky (Govt claims 45/47). Nor does it cost in the low $20K range – bare bones is over $23K and with reasonable options, comes close to $30K.
    And Toyota is NOT taking losses, nor can the price be brought down any further – this car is as mass produced a car as Toyota builds. They have produced over 1.5 million Prius. Unfortunately, plain hybrids like this one are practically useless in reducing demand. The upcoming Chevy Volt, on th eother hand, will use only 1/12th the gasoline the Prius uses for commuting and elsewhere, and produce less than 1/15th the emissions. One Chevy Volt will do the work of 12 to 15 Prius vehicles. All of the hybrids in production have had virtually no discernible effect on gasoline demand. They are useless obsolete relics.

  2. I would agree that the hybrids so far are hyped far above what they can actually do. However such is the case when new things mechanical or electronic hit the market. Versions 2,3 and 4 are usually much better.

    The current work on the upcoming electric cars is interesting. Chevy Volt and the Phoenix car will both be great options with 60 mph and a cost in the 30-50,000 range.

    Exactly. Take a look at the Tesla Roadster. It is in that range but really just a luxury car at $109,000. Colleen

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