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Turbo Diesels Take on Hybrids

By John Addison (6/17/08). Last week, I test drove of the new Volkswagen Jetta TDI Diesel. It accelerated on to the freeway faster than my Toyota Prius. Driving freeways and stop-go city, I wondered which would be the bigger seller, the new European turbodiesels or the Japanese Hybrids.

For Detroit, May was the cruelest month, as they were outsold by Asia for the first time. Fuel economy is in; gas guzzling is being punished. General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler combined for a record low market share of 44.4 percent, compared with 48.1 percent for 10 Asian brands, according to the Autodata Corporation, the industry statistics firm. Toyota and Honda continued to gain market share. In the months ahead, Detroit will also lose share to the new fuel efficient diesels from Europe where diesel vehicles outsell gasoline alternatives.

The VW Jetta TDI Diesel has an EPA rated mileage on 41 mpg highway and 30 city with a 6-speed stick; 40/29 with an automatic. With 140 horsepower, the Jetta has plenty of performance. The diesel Jetta has a combined EPA rating of 33, compared with 25 for its gasoline cousin. In other words, diesel delivers over 30 percent better mileage, making a real difference to the pocket book even with diesel fuel’s higher prices, and to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Over 1.5 million Toyota Priuses are now on the road. The 2008 Priuses has an EPA rated mileage of 48 city and 45 highway. Notice that this hybrid with regenerative braking actually gets better mileage in stop and go than on freeways where there is added wind resistance. The Prius computer automatically disengages the engine most of the time when stopped and going slowly, making it more quiet than diesels. The Prius has a bit more passenger room than the Jetta. Both have the same trunk space.

Using both an electric motor and an engine, the Prius has always delivered more performance than I’ve needed, whether accelerating on a freeway or climbing a steep and icy mountain road. With its powerful electric motor, the Prius has plenty of torque and good acceleration.

Honda is not happy with Toyota’s success in selling four hybrids for everyone that Honda has sold. In John Murphy’s interview with Honda about their green image, Honda CEO Mr. Fukui stated that “Honda’s image was better but has evened out with [Toyota] because of the strong image of one single model, the Prius, which Honda feels is a problem. Next year, we will come up with a dedicated hybrid vehicle. We feel this model will have to overwhelm and overtake Prius.” It is rumored that the new Honda hybrid will be priced well under $20,000 and reach a broader market. Wall Street Journal Interview

In the next two years, Honda is also likely to bring diesels to the U.S. including the Acura, the Odyssey minivan, and the CR-V SUV,.

In the USA, many prefer SUVs to sedans. SUVs have more cargo space. Some can seat more than five people, but not the more fuel efficient SUVs. They ride higher. Some drivers feel safer, although sedans like the Prius and Jetta score better than some SUVs in front and rear collisions and are loaded with air bags and advanced vehicle controls.

The Ford Escape Hybrid is the most fuel efficient SUV on the market with an EPA rating of 34 mpg highway and 30 city. The VW Tiguan is a somewhat comparable compact SUV, but less fuel efficient with 26 mpg highway and 19 city using a six-speed shift; and only 24/18 with an automatic. The Tiguan is a light-duty vehicle that is roomy with 95 cubic feet for passengers and 24 for cargo. Drop the back seat and you have 56 for cargo.

The new VW Jetta Sportswagen offers many SUV lovers with an appealing alternative. It achieves the same mileage as the Jetta sedan of 41 mpg highway and 30 city with a 6-speed stick; 40/29 with an automatic. With 33 cargo cubic feet, it beats SUVs like the Escape and Tiguan. Drop the back seat and you have 67 cubic feet. Watch VW take market share from SUVs that get half the miles per gallon of this new turbo diesel.

The Prius, Jetta, Jetta Sportswagen, Tiguan and Escape all seat five people. All have ways to accommodate a fair amount of cargo when the back seat is dropped. The four-door sedans offer much better fuel economy. In the new era of $4 per gallon gas prices, sedans are gaining market share at the expense of SUVs and light trucks, like the once best selling Ford F150.

For those who enjoy both performance and luxury, Mercedes and BMW have new turbo diesel cars with about 30% better fuel economy than their gasoline counterparts. Last summer when I was treated to test drives of the Mercedes E320 Bluetec and the BMW 535D. I was impressed with the quiet, smooth, performance of these larger sedans and with the roomy luxurious experience. Mercedes and BMW are also bringing concept hybrid diesels to auto shows.

The new turbo diesels are not your diesels of the past. They are quiet. I could smell no emissions. Emissions are far lower than those of the previous decade, meeting the tough new 50 state requirements including using ultra-low sulfur diesel.

Forget putting B100 biodiesel in these new engines with common rail and very high pressure injection. Don’t think about home brewed vegetable oil or recycled restaurant grease. Even B20 voids the warranty in the U.S., although not in Europe where biodiesel quality is better. B5 is the limit in the U.S. Biodiesel’s Future

For the moment gasoline hybrids give most people better fuel economy than the new turbo diesels in the U.S. The diesel hybrids being developed by VW, Audi, Mercedes, and BMW could change the game. Most significant are diesel plug-in hybrids. The VW Golf TDI Hybrid concept is demonstrating 69 mpg. The full-hybrid supports an all-electric mode.

Volkswagen is serious about hybrids and electric drive systems. In announcing a new lithium-ion venture with Sanyo, Prof. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of the Volkswagen Group stated that VW’s future “will be directed more strongly at making electrically powered automobiles alongside ones driven by more efficient combustion engines.” Volkswagen’s Audi is also demonstrating a plug-in hybrid concept Quattro.

Toyota is well aware of the success of diesel in Europe. Toyota is developing an advanced diesel engine in both the Tundra and Sequoia. Toyota plans to expand its use of hybrids in a wide-range of vehicles. Currently Toyota is constrained by trying to increase battery manufacturing enough to meet its current exploding demand for hybrids. Toyota also plans a plug-in hybrid by the end of 2010.

General Motors does not intend to watch Asia and European rivals take all its market share. In late 2010, it plans to offer both gasoline and diesel plug-in hybrids that will give the average driver over 100 miles per gallon. In the USA it will introduce the Chevy Volt gasoline plug-in hybrid. In Europe, GM will sell a diesel plug-in hybrid under the Opel brand.

Are there other offerings of hybrids, diesels, and other fuel efficient alternatives? Yes. A good starting point to compare vehicles is at the EPA’s Fuel Economy site.

Different people need different types of vehicles. Hybrids benefit everyone who spends part of their driving in cities and/or stop-go traffic. The new turbo diesels tend to get thirty percent better performance than their gasoline counterparts. Two long-term trends are converging – the expanded use of more fuel-efficient diesel engines and the expanded use of electric drive systems for hybrids, plug-in hybrids and for electric vehicles.

Cleaner vehicles, however, are not the whole solution. When gasoline hit $4 per gallon, Marcia and Christian convinced a car dealer to take their two vehicles as trade-in, including a large SUV, for one more fuel efficient SUV. Living and working in a city, only one vehicle was needed because both could use public transportation and car pool with friends. They save over $5,000 per year by sharing one vehicle. Now that is a real solution to save at the pump and help all of us by saving emissions.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

Electric Cars for 2010

By John Addison (6/4/08). With oil prices rocketing past $130 per barrel, a growing number of vehicle makers are planning to offer electric vehicles by 2010. Zero gasoline will be used.

Over 40,000 electric vehicles (EV) are currently used in the United States. Most are used in fleet applications, from maintenance to checking parking meters; these EVs are mostly limited to 25 mph speed and 20 mile range. A growing number of fleet EVs, however, are early trails of a new generation of freeway-speed EVs that will be available to the mass consumer market in 2010.

Mitsubishi is on target to sell its electric vehicle in the U.S. in 2010. The i-EV is a friendly looking sub-compact which easily handles freeway speeds. It’s expected 100 mile-plus range per charge will meet the needs of urban dwellers and most in suburbia. The drive system uses three permanent magnetic synchronous motors which receive power from a 16kWh lithium battery stack. Tokyo Electric Power is currently testing ten i-EV

Nissan’s and Renault’s famous CEO, Carlos Ghosn, plans to be selling electric vehicles in the U.S. market in 2010. He anticipates more cities following London’s model of expensive congestion fees, with fee exemptions and preferred parking for zero-emission vehicles. In many markets, Nissan will offer electric vehicles with permanently installed lithium batteries that will be trickle charged. Nissan owns 51% of Automotive Energy Supply Corporation, which plans to be producing lithium batteries for 10,000 vehicles annually by 2010. Plant expansion has begun to produce lithium batteries for 60,000 electric vehicles annually.

By 2012, Ghosn plans to have a Renault-Nissan alliance offering a wide range of electric vehicles in many major markets, charging ahead of all competition. Economist Article

In Israel and Denmark, Renault and Nissan will partner with Project Better Place. to sell electric vehicles without batteries. Project Better Place will lease batteries that can be quickly exchanged at many locations. The exchange will take no longer than a traditional gasoline fill-up, appealing to motorists needing extended range. The battery lease will cost a fraction of what most now spend on gasoline.

Popular in Europe, Think will bring its electric vehicle to the U.S. Think city reaches a top speed of 65 miles per hour and can drive up to 110 miles on a single charge. Think city meets all European and US federal motor vehicle safety requirements. At the Geneva Motorshow earlier this year, Think announced a strategic partnership with energy giant General Electric, also an investor in Think. By 2011 look for a larger TH!NK Ox. Think has also established partnerships in the US with battery suppliers A123 and EnerDel. Think has established a U.S. headquarters and will begin sales in the U.S. before 2010. A123 Technology Review Article

In 2009, the smart ev may be available in the U.S. The cars 70/70 specs are appealing for city drivers: 70 mile range, 70 mile per hour freeway speed. Daimler’s smart ev is in trail in the UK with the Energy Saving Trust, Islington and Coventry Councils, Lloyds Pharmacy, EDF Energy, BT, and other fleets. To achieve a range of 72 miles, it is using the Zebra sodium-nickel-chloride battery which has caused maintenance difficulties in some U.S. fleets.

The cityZENN is planned for a top speed of 80 mph and a range of 250 miles. Powered by EEStor barium-titanate ceramic ultracapacitors, the cityZENN will be rechargeable in less than 5 minutes! Venture capitalists are betting that stealth EEStor is real. On Friday, May 30, ZENN Motor Company announced that it had raised another $15 million dollars.

Most major auto makers continue to believe that most U.S. customers will insist on ranges exceeding 250 miles and a national infrastructure of fuel refilling (or recharging) in five minutes. Even as GM announces factory closings and plummeting sales, CEO Richard Wagner states that GM is committed to bring the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt to market by the end of 2010. If it can deliver at under $30,000, the vehicle will offer tough competition to some of the smaller EV players.

As Toyota solidifies its number one global market share leadership, it also remains on target to deliver a plug-in hybrid to the U.S. market by the end of 2010. It is likely to have an all-electric range of 40 miles and a gasoline range 10X that amount. Watch Toyota use an expanded line of hybrid vehicles to unset GM, making Toyota the market leader is the U.S.

May rained on every auto maker’s parade in the U.S., except Honda, which set sales records with its fuel efficient Civic. Honda is passing Chrysler to become the #4 seller in the U.S. Honda is rumored to be bringing a new hybrid to the U.S. next year priced in the mid-teens. This will give hybrids a big boost in market share from the current 3% of total vehicle sales.

While I was giving a speech at the Fuel Cell 2008 , Honda announced that it would lease 200 Clarity FCX hydrogen fuel cell cars for $600 per month, including maintenance. In June, it will start selecting from 50,000 who have expressed interest in the 270-mile range four-door sedan. The FCX Clarity is aerodynamic and beautifully styled. Honda’s new hybrid is likely to have a similar body style.

Some critics have dismissed electric vehicles as golf carts for retirees and sport car toys for millionaires. These critics have missed a fundamental market shift that started with the success of hybrid-electric cars, light electric vehicles, and with e-scooters. Customer enthusiasm for electric vehicles is the result of many factors:

  • Oil Prices
  • ZEV Cities & Congestion Tax
  • Electronic drive simplifies auto design
  • Vehicle weight reduction with electric accessories and components
  • Reduced maintenance because of few mechanical components
  • GHG Regulation
  • Battery technology advances that reduce cost and weight
  • Increased battery safety
  • Success of hybrid-electrics

At the FRA Renewable Energy Investor Conference (my presentation handouts), I led a panel discussion about electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Major private equity and project finance investors were optimistic in sessions about electric vehicles, solar power, wind power, and carbon trading. Many expressed discouragement in the biofuels sessions, but at the same time saw increased opportunities with bioenergy and bio-methane from landfills.

In a few years, millions will be driving full-featured freeway-speed four-door sedan electric vehicles. Look for a shift away from foreign oil to riding on local renewable energy.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at transportation and energy conferences.