Toyota Prius: King of Green or Earth Killer?

Harmony with Earth... or destroying it?

Harmony with Earth... or destroying it?

Anyone who’s considering a Toyota Prius might want to remember this quote from Jack Lifton, an independent commodities consultant and strategic metals expert, who calls the Prius “the biggest user of rare earths of any object in the world.”

That’s a mighty big claim, and if it’s true, it means the Prius, billed as one of the most eco-friendly cars in the world, is actually eating away our planet’s stores of rare metals.

The reason for the Prius’ hunger for rare commodities are its batteries and motor magnets.

According to Leftlane,

each Prius uses about 2.2 lbs. of neodymium and each battery uses 22-33 lbs. of lanthanum, figures that will inevitably double as Toyota seeks to boost the Prius’ fuel efficiency.

Neodymium, terbium, dysprosium, and lanthanum are all considered rare earth metals, and all are being depleted, quickly, by popular hybrids like the Prius, Honda Insight, and Ford Escape Hybrid.

Yes, hybrid vehicles decrease our use of fossil fuels and reduce tailpipe emissions. However, how “green” they actually are is an issue that needs some serious debate.

I’m thinking fuel-efficient four-cylinder gas or diesel engines are actually much healthier for Earth.

Are hybrid cars like the Prius “green,” even though they deplete Earth’s rare metals? Do you even care?


Green Update–>BMW Will Steal the 2009 Frankfurt Show


We thought it would be worthwhile to give you a weekly update on what’s happening in the world of green cars—by which we mean hybrids, diesels (bio- and others), electrics of various stripes—all energy-efficient vehicles, in other words. So your humble correspondent has taken on the daunting task of providing news, resources, websites, and commentary in an area which right now is just exploding.

The big news this week has to be the spectacular plug-in hybrid 2+2 BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept, powered by a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbodiesel and twin electric motors. One motor, placed between the engine and transmission, couples with a second that drives the front wheels. Net output is 356 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. The company claims 0-62 mph in 4.8 seconds and 62.6 combined mpg. We claim to be impressed.

The only U.S. car we can compare it to is the Volt, which is like comparing a hog to a racehorse. Both cars will use lithium polymer battery systems, but BMW’s is lighter and more efficient, recharging on 220-volt current in just 2.5 hours. There’s a good discussion here of the technology involved.

Unlike the Volt, which is designed to give its full performance from the electric drive system, the BMW concept gets its full capability from the blended power delivery. The concept is able to run about 31 miles on electricity alone and complete the NEDC test procedure on electricity. The efficiency of the diesel engine means that the 6.6 gallon tank can propel the car another 400 miles. The electrical energy consumption of the concept is 28.16 kWh/100 miles which compares to the claimed 25 kWh/100 miles for the Volt.

Not only is it gorgeous (though you can bet a production version won’t look quite like this), but the car represents a kind of engineering prowess that we just don’t seem able to master here in the U.S. With a few exceptions, the Asians and Europeans are clearly beating us to the punch.

The most viable green car prototypes developing here seem to be coming from Tesla and Fisker. The former company claims that its Model S (right) electric sedan in one year will use three new battery packs to give it a range of 300 miles before recharge. Present batteries give 165 and 230 miles of range. The Model S will become real, we hope, for $57,400 (and a $7,500 federal tax credit) in late 2011. But there’s a whole lot of “iffiness” with this car.

Fisker’s Karma (right) will cost anywhere from $87,900 to $104,000, depending on model, and seems to be in some ways further along than the Tesla S. Henrik Fisker told Autopia he wants to build 100,000 cars a year and has ambitious plans to do so. The car was recently seen at the Rolex Monterey Historic Races and did one lap. Stepping out, Henrik! The Karma seems like basically Volt technology in a much more attractive package.

Other News from Abroad

Chinese automaker BYD says it will bring an all-electric EV sedan to the U.S. next year. The car will cost around $40,000, seat five, and have a 250-mile range. Warren Buffet is an investor.

The Japanese are not idle. Nissan’s Leaf, as tgriffith told us, is promised for the U.S. in 2010. Honda, it was reported, has committed to selling electric vehicles in the U.S. “early in the next decade,” which is surely the loosest of commitments, but they will have an enormous market here. Last week there was noise about some kind of minicar coming by 2015.

Finally, we learned that the German government plans to put $705 million into electric vehicle technology, and you can bet that will be the tip of the iceberg. Besides BMW, Volkswagen aims to have its first all-electric cars on the market in 2013. The lesson in all this? Where is the U.S.?

How are we going to play catch-up to the rest of the world in creating outstanding electric car technology? Give us your thoughts.


For a Monday: the “Thank You Wave” and Bikini Car Washes (with Video!)

If you've never seen one, a Thank You Wave looks something likes this

If you've never seen one, a Thank You Wave looks something likes this

I’ve driven in just about all of the West Coast’s big cities, and there are two things that readily stand out:

Very few drivers know about the Thank You Wave. All cities have bikini car washes (even Seattle).

I live in a midsize city and share the road with about a half-million other people. The majority of them are good drivers, though we have our share of the too-slow-in-the-fast-lane folks. Still, we’re a courteous bunch, and if I slow down to let someone change lanes in front of me or pause at a green light to let a fellow driver out of a driveway, my good deed is usually acknowledged with a Thank You Wave.

Sometimes it’s just a slight raise of the fingers off the steering wheel, sometimes it’s nothing more than a quick nod, sometimes it’s an all-out double-handed wave fest.

Whatever form it takes, the Thank You Wave makes me feel good.

Drive in Los Angeles or Seattle or San Francisco, though, where millions of other drivers are pounding the pavement, and the Thank You Wave is non-existent. It seems drivers only acknowledge other drivers with their middle fingers. Give a Thank You Wave and you’ll get looked at like you’re an overly excited foreigner.

I’m wondering if my city is the exception and Thank You Waves are as rare in other parts of the country (or the world) as on the American West Coast.

One thing that isn’t rare in any city I’ve driven in is the bikini car wash. Of course, they are always promoting some kind of event or product, but I don’t care, because I like bikinis.

In Hollywood last week, a free bikini car wash was offered for owners of hybrid cars by Watch the video below, and you’ll see shameless promotion of eco-friendly car wash products, but you’ll also see girls in bikinis holding those products and washing cars.

The only thing more exciting than that would be getting a Thank You Wave in Los Angeles.

Do people in your city give Thank You Waves? Do you like bikini car washes?


Best and Worst of Re-Badging: GM Sinks, VW and Chrysler Soar

Routan: Can you see the Caravan hidden inside?

Routan: Can you see the Caravan hidden inside?

Back in 2008, Chrysler and Nissan announced plans to help each other out by swapping some vehicle designs.

Now those plans are canceled, mostly because Fiat now owns Chrysler and doesn’t need Nissan to provide fuel-efficient small autos. It’s too bad, really, because Nissan’s contribution to Chrysler might have been branded as a Dodge Hornet. That could’ve been cool! 

Chrysler would have given Nissan a truck based on the Dodge Ram Pickup to replace the aging Nissan Titan.

Even though none of this will actually happen, it got me thinking about some of the best (and a couple of the worst) results of this common platform-sharing practice. Here are some of my favorite examples:

Suzuki Equator (Nissan Frontier)

Suzuki was getting sick of seeing its popular ATVs and motorcycles getting lugged around by non-Suzuki vehicles. So the company commissioned Nissan to rebadge its Frontier pickup with some new sheet metal. The result? A solid entry in the compact truck market and a Suzuki to tow people’s Suzukis.

Pontiac Vibe (Toyota Matrix)

Getting Toyota to build a car for General Motors is equivalent to getting the Pittsburgh Steelers to play football for Mississippi Valley State. It’s a can’t-lose situation, and GM scored big with the versatile and reliable Vibe, which was copied from the Toyota Matrix. Pick one up and watch it last forever.  

Volkswagan Routan (Dodge Grand Caravan)

The Grand Caravan/Town & Country minivans are easily the best vehicles Chrysler builds. For whatever reason, Chrysler is a minivan king, so V-dub was smart to commission the company to build the new Routan minivan. While Chrysler wouldn’t add its popular (and patented) Stow n’ Go or Swivel n’ Go seating to the Routan package, the rest is Chrysler-engineered and VW-tuned minivan perfection. If there is such a thing as “minivan perfection.”

Of course, there have been some bad examples of platform sharing too…

Jaguar X-Type (Ford Mondeo)

Ugh. While the end result was pretty, the car itself didn’t even come close to competing with the BMW 3 Series as an entry-level luxury performance sedan. It wasn’t reliable, it wasn’t fast, and it handled like a Ford. Thank goodness Jag came to its senses and discontinued this afterthought of a vehicle.

Saab 9-7X (Chevy Trailblazer)

General Motors has a way of removing the “cool” factor from whatever it touches. Saabs had a quirky Swedish personality before GM swooped in, but with the 9-7X, Saab officially became re-branded Chevrolet. Why pay a premium for a Chevy Trailblazer? Here’s to hoping Koenigsegg brings the Sweden back to Saab.

Do you have a favorite (or least favorite) re-branded vehicle?


Your Video About Saving Gas Could Win $5,000

The ultimate gas-saving strategy

The ultimate gas-saving strategy

A group called the Alliance to Save Energy has paired up with NASCAR and the Indy Racing League to sponsor a clever contest. They invite anyone to submit a two-minute video that illustrates one or more of the Drive Smarter Challenge campaign’s gas- and money-saving tips. They’ve got dozens of these, ranging from turning off the air conditioning to curbing your road rage.

Gas prices are creeping up again. But you know lots of reasons to save energy. If you need some prodding, here is a list of six. Now get smart and create a clever video about how to do it.

The first 80 people who submit valid entries (mention that you saw this story on CarGurus) will receive a $25 ExxonMobil Gift Card and a Car Care Council Car Care Guide. Entrants will also be eligible for some really cool prizes. Contest judges will select the finalists, and the public will vote for the winners.

Grand Prize: $5,000 Second Prize: Choose between one VIP NASCAR Race Package (two tickets and two garage/pit passes to a NASCAR race event) OR one VIP Indy Racing League Package (two tickets and two garage/pit lane passes to an Indy race event, plus a ride in a specially modified Indy car driven by a pro driver) Third Prize: Whichever second-prize package hasn’t been chosen Fourth Prize: A set of 4 Michelin Energy Saver All Season Tires (or comparable tires for the winner’s vehicle), a one-year AAA membership, and two Silver Spoke League of American Bicyclists memberships.

Send a copy of your video submission to so we can feature the best contest entries!


GM: Embarrased to Show Its Name in Public?


Look at nearly any 2006 or newer GM vehicle, from the lowly Chevy Aveo to the monstrous Hummer H2, and you’ll see one thing in common: GM’s Mark of Excellence.

After you stop laughing I’ll explain myself.

The Mark of Excellence isn’t some unseen quality built into every vehicle. No, GM doesn’t have one of those. The Mark of Excellence is the tiny rectangular silver GM badge placed near the front fender of vehicles built by the General. Maybe you’ve never even noticed it, but look at the above picture, and then you’ll start seeing them everywhere.  

The point of the mark was to create a link between GM’s brands, connecting Chevy, GMC, Buick, Cadillac, Saab, Hummer, Pontiac, and Saturn under GM’s corporate umbrella.

Turns out all it takes is a little government money and a thing called bankruptcy to sour the GM name in the eyes of the public.

Now it looks like even GM doesn’t want to admit to being GM, because starting with the 2010 model year, the Mark of Excellence will no longer grace its vehicles. GM spokesman Terry Rhadigan said to the Detroit News,

We are just really focused on the four core brands and this provided us with another opportunity to make sure they were at the forefront.

What Terry meant to say was, “Nobody likes GM right now. Even we’re hanging our heads and trying to make sure we’re not associated with ourselves.”

So much for the corporate umbrella.

In fact, in that same article, Terry said that GM’s research shows people outside the Midwest do not necessarily link a Chevy or Cadillac to GM.

Excuse me? Who is doing the research here, 5-year-olds? That’s dang near insulting, yet indicative of what General Motors thinks of its consumers, I guess.

If you happen to own a vehicle with GM’s Mark of Excellence, there’s advice here on how to remove it from your car. That might be a smart move if you live on the West or East Coast. For you genius Midwesterners, removing the badge won’t help. Everyone will still know you’re driving a GM.

Okay, help prove me right here: Tell me where you live and whether or not you knew Chevy and Cadillac were built by GM. 


Thoughts on Porsche’s Troubles

2010 Porsche Boxster S1

2010 Porsche Boxster S1

We’re going to do a little speculating here. But these thoughts are not blue-sky blah-blah; they are based on what has been reported in the last few days about Porsche. It seems to me that the company may be in big trouble, and here are the reasons.

With Volkswagen planning a full merger with Porsche by 2011, CEO Martin Winterkorn is putting the heat on to get the volume up—big-time. We recently reported that Porsche has been given a well-nigh impossible sales goal of 150,000 cars per year by 2012. With the company presently selling 75,000 cars a year, such a requirement means: a) lowering prices, adding incentives, etc., or b) making some newer, cheaper models for a wider market.

With its debt load reaching close to $9 billion, Porsche will find these alternatives hard to execute. Winterkorn says he wants a new car smaller than the Boxster, a junior Cayenne, and some kind of new Panamera. Maybe he’s talking about the BlueSport roadster (below) for the former, which would be nice.

So our brother/sister bloggers are speculating about zingy new cars, which of course is what Marty wants them to do. But the reality is that Porsche’s (and VW’s) stock is doing badly; there is actually a glut of inventory, with dealers holding more than 100 days’ supply of 911s, Caymans, and Boxsters; and production has been cut back.

The Truth About Cars reported these problems, and its commenters were quick to add their two cents:

As I recall, Porsche almost bought the farm the last time we had a recession of this magnitude (late ’80s, early ’90s). The mortgage brokers, stockbrokers, realtors and other assorted financial hucksters that bought these [cars] are now waiting tables at TGI Fridays.

Others pointed out that Porsche’s cars have been overpriced for years. Another, looking at figures on AutoTrader, found that “Porsche sold just 651 new 911s last month if you total up all the various configurations.” From this to 150,000 units a year??

My son, who is not a financial huckster, owns a 2004 911-C2 and told me he needed two new rear tires, again, at about $300 per. They last only 10-15,000 miles. Then there’s the regular Mobil-1 12-quart oil change that will run you around $200, including filter and labor.

You know the old saw attributed to J.P. Morgan: When asked about the cost of buying a yacht, the financier replied, “If you have to ask, then you probably can’t afford it.” It would be a shame to see Porsche go the way of Morgan’s yacht.

Do you think we’ll see newer, cheaper Porsches? Or devalued, less-expensive Boxsters and Cayennes?


Cars Coming Soon–> Convertibles, V8 Ultra-Muscle and Hot Hatches… Oh My!

Audi RS3 rendering

Audi RS3 rendering

Whoa, baby, we’ve got some cool cars coming to America!

What do you like: convertible muscle cars? You’re covered. A little more horsepower for your Challenger? Check. A small hatch that is affordable and still fun to drive? It can be yours. What about a 340-hp hatchback that’ll scoot to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds? We can only hope.

Chevrolet is readying the popular Camaro with a rag top, according to the boys over at Autoblog. Check out this picture of a group of fresh-off-the-line convertibles sitting at the Holden plant in Australia. Anyone up for buying a 2011 convertible Camaro? Even in the silver/tan color scheme?

Owners of ’08 or ’09 Dodge Challengers now have an option of upgrading to the Classic Design Concepts Group 2 Challenger, a series of options that can raise the horsepower to a stellar 560. Also available are 12.5-inch-wide rear tires, Baer brakes, lowering springs, a custom hood, and more. The full upgrade can bring the cost of an SRT Challenger to over $79K, putting it close to Viper territory. Still though, at that price, it’s dang-near worth it.

Looking for something much less expensive but still fairly fun to drive? Suzuki hopes to catch your eye with the 2010 SX4 Sportback. Looking nearly identical to the SX4 Crossover at first glance, the Sportback sits lower to the ground, has 17″ wheels and tires, isn’t offered in AWD, and lacks roof rails. And it has only 410 fewer horsepower than that Group 2 Challenger.

But a six-speed manual tranny, performance shocks, and anti-roll bars should help the SX4 Sportback provide a fun drive while getting 30 miles per gallon. In my mind, the SX4 Crossover and Sportback are further proof that Suzuki is ready to seriously take on the U.S. market.

Finally, we’re nearly beyond words at the thought of the new Audi RS3 (pictured at the top of this story) hitting America. Granted, the odds aren’t great that we’ll see it here, but it’s not out of the question. So for now we can drool over these numbers provided by the good folks at Leftlane:

At the heart of the RS3 will be an Audi TT RS-sourced 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbocharged engine. Tuned to produce 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, the RS3 should be able to easily scoot from 0-60 in about 4.5 seconds, with the electronic nannies kicking in at about 155 mph.

We’ll keep an eye on next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show, where Audi should release more info and prices.

Are there any new car debuts you’re eager to see?


GM’s Sale of Opel to Magna May Fall Apart

Opel Corsa being built at Eisenach

German officials have been steaming, because the GM board and some unnamed “advisers” are recommending the company keep Opel and thereby retain GM’s presence in Europe. Said advisers are also suggesting that the company look for financing from “other European countries” to keep control.

GM would be seeking some $4.3 billion. You can imagine how eager other European countries will be to cough up this money and incur the wrath of the Germans, Canadians, and Russians (all stakeholders)—not to mention the Obama administration, which has so far kept a discreet distance from the furor.

Negotiations to sell Opel to Magna, a Canadian automotive group, have been protracted for months (see our piece from May here) and have involved elaborate deal-making, even including some Russian financing. GM’s turnabout has massively irritated the German unions who threatened “spectacular measures” if the decision went against them. There are 55,000 jobs at stake. And the German government has already provided €1.5 billion in bridge financing and gone far out on a political limb for the deal.

So if the new GM board takes this route—and incidentally goes against CEO Fritz Henderson’s wishes (he has backed the Magna deal)—they will be stirring up a total hornet’s nest in Germany, and maybe elsewhere in Europe. The deal was due to be announced Friday. To try and unwind it now shows that GM’s board really doesn’t know what it’s doing, particularly in areas with big political implications.

Do you think the Obama administration will keep hands off in this highly charged situation, as it claims it will?


Why Cash for Clunkers Could Devastate Auto Sales

The end of Cash for Clunkers

The end of Cash for Clunkers

Cash for Clunkers is over.

More than 625,000 vehicles were sold as a result of the program, so I can’t imagine anyone who wanted to take the government up on its $4,500 offer missed out. Needless to say, the Cash for Clunkers program was hugely successful at luring people into dealerships to buy new cars.

But without the program, what happens next? Who will buy new cars now?

Well, guess what – I have a prediction: Auto sales will languish once again, and dealers will have one heck of a hard winter trying to sell enough cars to keep their heat on. The recovery of the auto industry will probably take even longer than it would have had the government just kept their hands off.

I don’t think Cash for Clunkers actually increased auto sales, I think it condensed auto sales into a single month. Which means the next few months are going to hurt for dealers and auto manufacturers.

Americans just binged on buying cars. The binge made us feel good. It gave us a sugar high of sorts that quickly spread across the country, resulting in even more binging. Now comes the big crash.

The fact that Ford, GM, and Chrysler all increased production of fuel-efficient vehicles made popular by Cash for Clunkers, combined with no more government assistance for consumers, means we’ll soon see an overstock of cars on dealers’ lots with no one to buy them.

Somehow dealers are going to have to lure people into their stores without powerful rebates, and we’ll be right back where we started.

Was Cash for Clunkers worth it?