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More Volt Sales: Bad News for GM, Good News for Used Shoppers

September 11th, 2012

2012 Chevrolet Volt

You might think that the good people over at General Motors would love to read a news story that begins with this sentence:

General Motors sold a record number of Chevrolet Volt sedans in August.

That’s really good news for the maker of the slow-selling $40,000 electric car, right?

Well, yes, it is, but there’s a huge problem with those increased sales numbers.

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Green Update: Hypercar Hybrids from Porsche and Ferrari

May 15th, 2012

Design study for the F70

We have written about the incredible Porsche 918 hybrid before, with details here and here. Now, 918 Spyder prototypes have been spotted testing, looking a little like the old 917 race cars (see pix here).

The 918 will produce some 770 hp from a V8 and “two independent electric motors, one on the front and one in the drive line, acting on the rear wheels.” All this with decent fuel economy. Production is expected by the end of 2013, so you have time to save up the $850K it will cost.

The new Ferrari F70 is expected to replace the Enzo and may come to market around the same time as the 918, according to Automotive News. The F70 will probably cost more than the Porsche, but has some amazing technology, which we will illustrate below.

Why are these companies building such monster cars?

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Green Update: New Toyota RAV4 EV for Sale, with Some Restrictions

May 8th, 2012

Toyota RAV4 EV, front-quarter view

The 2013 RAV4 EV is a pretty nice car. With Tesla-made battery and powertrain, it gives you good power, a 100-mile range, classy interior and equipment, and plenty of room. Read here a short version of its features.

However, there are a few—let us call them—restrictions. The biggest is price: a whopping $50,610, including destination charge and not including Federal and California tax rebates, which can knock off $10 grand. A very mid-level car with a luxury pricetag.

The second restriction is that it’s available in only four California regions: Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles/Orange County and San Diego. The company expects to sell a mere 2,600 over three years.

The third restriction is that this is clearly a so-called “compliance car,” built to sell only in small numbers to satisfy California’s zero-emissions requirements. The law essentially requires that in order to sell cars in the state, a carmaker has to build at least some few ZEVs.

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Green Update: Obese Cars… and Obese Drivers

May 1st, 2012

Overweight driver

The subject of obesity is often a very sensitive one. I have a close relative who is enormous and who gets very upset if you mention diets, exercise or heart conditions.

Imagine how fat car owners feel. If they think about it, they might realize that cars have gotten very much bigger and heavier over the years, in part to accommodate them.

One study now reveals the astonishing costs of getting fat:

U.S. hospitals are ripping out wall-mounted toilets and replacing them with floor models to better support obese patients. The Federal Transit Administration wants buses to be tested for the impact of heavier riders on steering and braking. Cars are burning nearly a billion gallons of gasoline more a year than if passengers weighed what they did in 1960.

A billion gallons a year? That comes from a 2006 study on obesity and driving habits. Since then, the obesity problem has gotten much worse, now affecting over one-third of all U.S. adults, so you know it’s way more than a billion gallons.

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Green Update: Two Interesting Hondas at Beijing

April 24th, 2012

Honda Concept S minivan

Beijing is right now the most important auto show in the world, because it links carmakers and the buying public to the most important auto market in the world. GM plans to open 600 dealerships in China this year.

The show is also significant for giving companies like Honda, whose fortunes have declined, a chance to show off concepts that may lead the way back.

The company brought an interesting Concept S hybrid minivan (above), whose name signifies, Honda says, “stylish,” “smart” and “surprise.” I guess that’s better than “slow,” “stinky” and “shoddy.”

This is a sharp-looking minivan design in which Honda finally seems to have gotten a good basic shape without screwing up the details (except for the front driving lights and some kind of jet-exhaust rear reflector things under the well-designed taillights). The car will debut in China next year, then go global.

I think it is designed to give the Prius V some real competition. Good pix can be found here.

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Green Update: There’s Gas… and Then There’s Gas

April 17th, 2012

CNG-powered Ram pickup

We’ve heard a lot about the natural gas revolution lately—you know, the immense resources of gas just waiting to be fracked out of places like Pennsylvania and Western Canada, not to mention parts of China, Europe and Central Asia.

There are literally trillions of cubic feet of the stuff locked away in rocks under the surface in the U.S. alone. However, the extraction and environmental costs will be huge. It’s the same deal with shale oil, which requires much refining.

With gasoline prices heading north of $5 a gallon, Americans (at least some) will continue to trade in their SUV swizzlers and vans for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. And they will be driving less. So oil imports will be reduced—a trend already happening—and so will greenhouse gas emissions, slightly.

But gasoline prices are determined on the world oil market, and they will continue to rise as functions of supply, demand, geopolitics and speculation. The biggest factor will surely be rising demand from China, India and other developing countries. One blog claims we presently use three billion gallons of gasoline a day on this earth.

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Green Update: Hybrid Unpopularity Survey Questioned

April 10th, 2012
2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

A somewhat flawed Polk survey shows that only 35 percent of hybrid buyers would buy one again. If you take Toyota Prius owners out of the mix, “hybrid loyalty drops to under 25 percent.”

The survey also reports that hybrid owners are looking to other kinds of vehicles, including higher-tech gasoline-powered cars, to get fuel costs down. Yes, we all know that new 4-cylinder turbo technology has improved. We also know that gas-powered cars cost a lot less than cars with batteries.

If initial cost and return on investment are the only factors, well, of course you won’t buy a hybrid or EV. If gas prices continue to rise, the cost differential will rapidly get smaller and ROI will improve.

Hybrids are also supplemental cars for many people; they fill a different role as second cars. Further, Polk doesn’t say how it measured its “repeat purchases.” Is the current hybrid owner buying another hybrid or replacing the hybrid already owned? As one commenter here (IT guy) put it: “how many people buy two consecutive Honda Fits?”

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Green Update: Fisker Nina, Now Called Atlantic, Breaks Cover

April 3rd, 2012

Fisker Nina/Atlantic

People need to give Fisker a break. We told you last December about the financing debacle, and now, with a new car being announced, most auto writers are bringing it up again, along with the battery problems the Karma has faced.

The Fisker Atlantic (formerly the Nina) will be finally revealed (so far, it’s been mostly photos) in a press conference tonight and then at the New York Auto Show, opening Wednesday. This is to be Fisker’s smaller, half-price Karma (around $50K, we hear, before tax breaks), and will likely be made at the company’s Delaware plant.

The car is slated to use a BMW 2-liter turbo four rather than the GM turbo that the Karma uses for charging. A crossover and a coupe may come later. Look for the car to appear in late 2013. It looks beautiful.

Slamming Fisker is easy; producing an entirely new plug-in hybrid from scratch is not. The company has never failed to come clean about its problems, and while there are no shortage of critics laughing at Fisker’s Green Luxury concept, if it gets the Atlantic right, there will be buyers.

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Green Update: Using Smartphones in Cars

March 27th, 2012

Smartphone in car

The NHTSA is currently trying to figure out how or whether to ban handheld devices like smartphones from use in cars. And the automakers are supporting such a ban or at least some restrictions.

But they are also very concerned that such a ban might force them to redesign their built-in systems. What a shame that would be.

No one should be surprised that a recent British study confirms that smartphone use while driving is much more dangerous than driving drunk. With a test group of 17-24-year-old drivers fooling around on Facebook, their reaction time slowed by about 38 percent. (Blood alcohol at the legal limit slowed reaction time by 12.5 percent.)

They missed “key events,” wandered out of lane, and failed to respond to speed changes by a car in front. About 25 percent of drivers admitted to texting or social networking while driving. I’ll bet it’s more in the U.S.

None of this, in fact, is very surprising. Nor is it surprising that mobile multitasking, as much as some people love it, is clearly addictive and distracting. If you’ve observed how young people operate with these devices, you get the picture.

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Green Update: Why Do EVs Cost So Much?

March 13th, 2012

Tesla battery

The high cost of EVs and most hybrids is owing to the batteries, as most of you know. And 65 percent of Americans simply won’t pay the extra cost of an EV over a gas-powered car.

We did a story last month about Tesla’s “bricked” Roadsters, wherein the cost of replacing the battery (photo above) was claimed by the factory to be about $40,000, or 37 percent of the car’s original cost. For the Volt, I’ve heard a replacement battery cost of anywhere from $8,000 to $13,000.

And there are other associated costs with new technology, including the up-front cost of engineering, tooling, marketing and small production runs. Sure, these get reduced or amortized over time, but in the beginning, not.

Another “opportunity cost” for the buyer may be the government-sponsored tax credit. This could become an automatic add-in to the car’s price—as one of our commenters has claimed (scroll to Randy here). So in fact the federal $7,500 tax credit, in his scenario, goes into the carmaker’s pocket. The buyer gets the rebate but pays $7,500 more for the car. If true, that is a sick scam that ought to be investigated.

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