Green Update–>Porsche, Lexus, Volkswagen, Kia, Ford, and Short Takes

We know, we know, it still sounds crazy: the idea of an all-out racing hybrid. Yet the Porsche GT3 R makes weird sense, once you understand it. Designed for Le Mans-type endurance racing, this car has two electric motors powering the front wheels, and a 480-hp boxer six in the rear.

Instead of batteries, there’s a flywheel in the passenger seat area that stores energy from braking and releases it as extra power (up to 160 hp) on demand for acceleration. Or it simply can save on fuel and therefore weight and pit stops over the long haul. The car will debut at Geneva (March) and test at Nurburgring in May.

Also at Geneva, Lexus is going to show its CT 200h compact luxury hybrid which, we hear, “will draw heavily from the LF-Ch concept car” (right) seen at Frankfurt last fall. The U.S. probably won’t get it, but it looks to be a nifty car if we can judge from the video. It’s designed to compete in Europe against the Audi A3 TDI and the BMW 1-Series. Why they don’t bring the car here is a mystery. It’s exactly the kind of new life they need to breathe into the moribund Toyota image.

VW’s Touareg has always been a somewhat under-appreciated SUV, but in seven years (I was surprised to learn) it has sold a half-million worldwide. The new, “heavily reworked” 2011 hybrid version will go up against stiff competition from BMW, Lexus, Cadillac and Benz. What will sell it, VW thinks, is a much-refined interior, restyled exterior, plus a well-designed hybrid system. Buyers can choose among several engine options and two 4WD systems.

We wrote about the Kia Ray concept last week, and it caused a real stir in Chicago, where it appeared in the flesh (right). According to Automoblog, the car was

designed to break away from the current hybrid design trend, which makes everything look awkward. Glance at the Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, or Honda Insight and you’ll see they look very similar in shape; something Kia didn’t want to be a part of. Kia wanted to develop “something that you wouldn’t feel embarrassed driving, but actually feel proud to be seen in.”

On that basis, the car is in fact good-looking and cleverly designed to avoid that hybrid cookie-cutter appearance that does offend a lot of people. Two cheers for Kia; three when they put it in production. There’s a video here with lots of details.

Ford announced a new “Go Green” program for dealers to give them “the opportunity to participate in improving the energy efficiency of their facility and [which] gives them flexibility in making choices that are right for them and their dealership.” If that sounds a little vague and blah-blah, we trust it involves something more than getting the lights turned off at night.

The company is also going to make the Mercury Tracer, a clone of the 2012 Focus (right), presumably to keep the Mercury name alive and give dealers a few more sales opportunities. Coming in 2011, the new Focus is the big Ford story, and one wonders why they still keep resorting to the old rebadging game, particularly when Mercury is selling less than 100,000 units a year.

Short Takes

  • Toyota is announcing its latest hybrid, the Auris HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive), derived from the Corolla. So far, Europe only.
  • GM’s efficient Two Mode hybrid powertrain for trucks will be found in next-generation rear-drive cars like the Cadillac ATS (to come next year).
  • The U.S. Postal Service awarded contracts in California to firms helping to develop a prototype electric postal van for its delivery vans. Constant stopping and starting and low-speed idling would seem to be ideal conditions for an electric vehicle.

Maybe hybrid designs are entering a new phase with cars like the Kia Ray and the Lexus CT 200h. What do you think?

—jgoods

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1 Comment

  1. Inside, the IS C is very much a Lexus, meaning it’s handsomely designed and fitted with high-quality materials. Top up, the well-lined roof doesn’t creak, even when exiting driveways at an angle — a testament to the car’s good structure. Top down, wind noise is hardly noticeable, even without the optional windblocker. The climate control, of note, automatically compensates for ambient top-down air temperature changes by adjusting air flow volume and outlet temperatures. For safety, six airbags are employed in the IS C, including knee airbags for the two front occupants. The rear seats are best suited for shorter folks, who’ll feel a bit pinched together by the car’s thick body sides.

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