Green Update–>BMW, Fisker, Tesla, and More

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid 7

The new BMW ActiveHybrid 7 was recently spotted by an alert Autoweek reader in Los Angeles. Car and Driver gave it a skeptical first-drive review, suggesting (without saying so exactly) that this is a somewhat ridiculous, redundant car in the BMW lineup.

What makes the ActiveHybrid 7 strange is BMW’s boast that it is the quickest hybrid sedan on the market. If speed is the objective, we’re not sure why a hybrid is the answer. Likewise, if fuel economy is the end goal, tuning the twin-turbo V-8 gas engine for an additional 40 hp and 30 lb-ft of torque seems silly. However, if a 7-series customer believes he needs a car more powerful than the 750i but doesn’t want to step up to the 12-cylinder 760Li—which we think he should—and also wants 15 percent or so better fuel economy, BMW has just the model.

Looking at the many entrants in the rarefied-price stratum of hybrids, the question we finally ask is “Why?” Particularly since the BMW goes head to head with the Lexus LS600h L, available now for at least two years. Why would one spend all that money to get a car that offers minimal performance and fuel economy advantages? To be hybrid hip, I guess.

2010 Fisker Karma SFisker has a different idea. They don’t want to build $110,000 BMW or Lexus-type hybrids but “affordable” plug-ins. We wrote last week that they were in negotiation for the old GM factory in Wilmington, Delaware, where they will reportedly build in three years a “family-oriented plug-in hybrid sedan that will come in at around $40K” after federal tax credits. The Karma S sedan (right) will start at $87,000. CEO Henrik Fisker isn’t all that concerned about engines. He told Autoweek that he “envisions a future where hybrids will get their own niche powerplants, specially tuned to the need of alternative technologies. A hybrid for example, probably doesn’t need to rev to 8,000 rpm.”

Fisker got a very good deal from a Department of Energy grant to buy and refurbish this plant, and that surely will give the company a leg up on the competition. Tesla just received a $29 million tax break from the state of California, which makes that state the likely home for the company’s future production.

Another stimulus, this one for electric car production, has come to Seattle to build a network of more than 2,000 car charging stations. “By December 2010, drivers in Seattle should be able to buy mass-produced, plug-in electrics that create no emissions and run for pennies a mile.” And the state has aggressively pursued not only federal money, which will fund this effort, but also the efforts of many hi-tech businesses that are greening up.

Another reason is that lots of “Generation Y” folks live in the Northwest, and they are partial not only to hybrid powertrains, but also to considering the purchase of Chinese or Indian brands of hybrids. This according to a study by AutoPacific reported in egmCarTech. If they are really hot for hybrids, they would do well to use the Hybrid Payback Calculator, which you can download here. It helps you determine whether the cost of a hybrid is really worth it. You enter in the car’s cost, miles per gallon, price per gallon of gas, and the estimated miles you drive in a month. Clever, eh? Maybe a prospective BMW ActiveHybrid 7 purchaser could use one.

What’s your opinion on high-priced hybrids? Are they worth it—and to whom?

—jgoods

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