Tag Archives: GM

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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Why I Won’t Buy Saturn Again

I have a 2003 Saturn Ion 3. When I bought it in 2004 it was a demo model with about 4,000 km on it. That the salesperson changed three times before I bought it should have been an indicator to me where Saturn was headed, and it seems to be…out of the world.

The dealership then closed. I had a VIP membership for lifetime free oil changes but had to go to the Morrey dealerships for that; Morrey Nissan in Burnaby. But the car was on warranty and I had to go to a Saturn dealership for any warranty work, in Richmond. I live in Vancouver and work in New Westminster.

Under warranty, I took the car in four times because the back passenger door didn’t seal correctly and was most noticeable at high speeds. Four times and they never did fix it correctly. Now, if I open the door I have to push the loose molding back into place before shutting the door to minimize the air blowing through.

Under warranty, I took the car in at least four times because it would idle high when the weather was cold. It would not start this way but after I’d driven it even a few minutes it would idle high when stopped at lights. If I shut off the car, it would reset. It only happened when cold, which told me that there was something wrong with the idle or throttle and cold weather caused it to freeze or stick. I took a small automotive course in high school and have enough of a logical mind that I can figure out basic mechanical. Somehow though, mechanics can’t seem to use a brain to figure out car problems now unless they plug it into a computer.

So I drove the car in one day and didn’t shut it off and lo and behold they could find the problem. It was fixed but then the weather turned warm and I couldn’t test it until the fall when it was cold again. And guess what, problem not fixed. Oh and the car, no longer under warranty and the part isn’t working right and I was told the part has no warranty. So why would I bother to fix the part again, knowing that if it blows it’s still not under any warranty and that I can keep paying and paying for the same part? That’s what the service people told me.

Now my car was at about 70,000 km when the fan in the car stopped working. I could get heat but no fan to blow it around. But of course it wasn’t the fan itself that wasn’t working. It was the computer component and would cost over $600 to fix. On top of that, I made an appointment and had to wait over four hours for them to check the car. Then they charged me $60 for telling me it would cost $600. The car’s warranty ended at 60,000 km.

I contacted Saturn/GM Canada and their generous offer was to go 50/50 on the fan part. That’s it. Nothing on the other things they never managed to fix. And basically they’re saying, well we won’t make money on this part but we won’t go out of the way to satisfy you.

Although the service guys were nice and friendly at Lansdowne Saturn in Richmond, the service wasn’t that great and one day, while waiting in Richmond to get picked up and taken back to my car, it took them over an hour. I was no more than ten minutes away. One service guy condescended to me in explaining that the car might just be idling high because it was cold. As if I’m not aware of the difference between a cold idle and a stuck throttle.

So, this is why I won’t buy Saturn again. Poor service, poor repair record, a very short warranty and no customer satisfaction from Saturn Canada.

Of the car itself, its mileage was okay, it has a huge blind spot for turning corners, the visors only work if you’re six feet tall. I loved the adjustable heat vents that could blow right on my hands. The door locks are stupidly designed and the pockets on the side doors are smaller than any map, should you want to store them there. But a car under warranty comes part and parcel with the dealership and I wasn’t convinced that with Saturn’s lagging sales that I’ll ever buy another Saturn again.

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