Green Update–>Audi, Tata, Capstone, Lexus…and the Visionaries

2011 Audi A8

Audi has shown a redesigned A8 in Miami Beach (well, why not?), which to me looks remarkably like the Ford 500 (roofline especially) of a few years ago. What is it about Audi styling that frequently calls to mind bad cars from the past? Anyway, a hybrid version for the car is “in the works,” according to Rupert Stadler, chairman of the board of management for Audi AG.

The new car has grown in size but gained 13-22 percent in fuel efficiency compared with the present A8. Two very efficient diesels are available in Europe, but the hybrid version will likely use a gasoline-electric powertrain, said Herr Stadler. When it comes to America in late 2010, the non-hybrid car will have a 327-hp, 4.0-liter gas burner. Why the company doesn’t push those good, efficient diesels here is not a mystery, but it is sad.

Tata NanoAt the other end of the cost scale comes news that a Tata Nano Hybrid is in the works. Chairman Ratan Tata told the Korean press that such a car will be produced, though he didn’t say what kind of hybrid or when it might arrive or how much it would cost. The report from Autosavant further says, “It is believed that Tata has also developed several Nano EV test mules recently, with an eye towards offering an electric version of the Nano.”

Capstone CMT-380Now, we must admit that we dig the Capstone CMT-380, to be first unveiled at the L.A. Show This is purely an experimental hybrid sports car, using “an electric power train with a range-extending diesel-fueled microturbine,” according to CNET. The car is not for sale but is designed to show off the benefits of using small gas turbines (this one generates 30 kw) in conjunction with a lithium polymer battery pack. The turbine has very low emissions and will move the car to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. The CMT-380 is built on a kit car platform and can run fully electric for 80 miles, after which the microturbine takes over for an additional 500 miles.

Lexus LS 600hThe new Lexus LS 600h Hybrid is now available for $108,800. It looks just like the gas-powered version, and the big news is not the car, which is pretty similar to what it has been, but the new price. This is the top-of-the-line Lexus, now featuring the Prius’s ECO mode boost for efficiency, and you can read about all the goodies it has in the press release. Why anyone would pay this kind of money for a car this plain simply escapes me. At least the competing Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid looks good.

The auto world needs fewer LS-600h’s and more people who can help visualize and bring about a green future. Warren Buffett, no wide-eyed revolutionary, recently made the comment that all cars on the road will be electric in 20 years. I’m not sure he meant that literally, but his business as an investor is, in large part, forecasting.

Shai Agassi on RenaultAnother, maybe more wide-eyed, visionary is Shai Agassi, who has partnered with Carlos Ghosn and Renault to build cars with removable batteries. His firm, Better Place, is based in Silicon Valley but is on the move around the world. It buys green energy and sets up charge point stations to switch out and recharge batteries. The guy, apparently, is not a nut and has a lot of serious money and politicians behind him. More power, so to speak, to him.

Any other recent green-car news you’re excited about? What do you think of Shai Agassi and Better Place?

—jgoods

1 Comment

  1. Cannot understand this preference for hybrids over diesel engine. Modern turbo diesels are clean burning incredibly fuel efficient and offer greater performance and fuel economy over hybrids not to mention they are simpler to make cheaper to make and GREENER also much lighter which aids fuel economy performance and handling.

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