Posted on January 11th, 2010 No comments
Straight from Toyota to you…
DETROIT, January 11, 2010—Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A, Inc., today unveiled the FT-CH dedicated hybrid concept at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. The FT-CH is a concept that would address Toyota’s stated strategy to offer a wider variety of conventional hybrid choices to its customers, as it begins to introduce plug-in hybrids (PHVs) and battery electrics (BEVs) in model year 2012, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCHVs) in 2015 in global markets. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on April 30th, 2009 No comments
Straight from KBB to you…
2010 Toyota Prius | 50 mpg (51 city, 48 highway)
2010 Honda Insight | 41 mpg (40 city, 43 highway)
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid | 39 mpg (41 city, 36 highway)
2009 VW Jetta SportWagen TDI | 34 mpg (30 city, 41 hwy)
2009 MINI Cooper | 32 mpg (28 city, 37 highway)
2009 Ford Escape Hybrid | 32 mpg (34 city, 31 highway)
2009 Honda Fit | 31 mpg (28 city, 34 highway)
2009 BMW 335d | 27 mpg (23 city/36 highway)
2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | 26 mpg (27 city, 25 highway)
2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid | 21 mpg (21 city, 22 hwy)
Posted on March 12th, 2009 No comments
Exactly what will Toyota build at the Blue Springs, Mississippi plant whose construction is now on hold due to the current economic situation.
Bloomberg reports that Toyota may be reconsidering building the Prius there and could easily switch the plant to another vehicle (exterior construction is about 90% done, the interior remains empty).
“It’s conceivable that something else could go potentially in there,” Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, told reporters in Washington yesterday. “It was originally designed for Highlander, then switched to Prius. “That decision can still be moved around.”
Later, a spokesman for Toyota said that they still intend to build the Prius at Blue Springs.
Either way, for the sake of the workers in the area, I hope they build something there.
Posted on December 29th, 2008 No comments
Kelley Blue Book, the leading provider of new- and used-vehicle information, today announces the most-researched new cars of 2008 on the company’s top-rated Web site, www.kbb.com. The year 2008 marks the third consecutive year that Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com saw greater than 140 million unique visitors, with more than half of all online vehicle shoppers visiting kbb.com. Because kbb.com is one of the most trafficked automotive research sites, visitation to specific vehicles has become a leading indicator of sales patterns for manufacturers.
Kbb.com’s Most-Researched New Vehicles of 2008
1. Honda Civic
2. Honda Accord
3. Toyota Camry
4. Toyota Corolla
5. Nissan Altima
6. Honda CR-V
7. Toyota Prius
8. Toyota Highlander
9. Toyota RAV4
11. Toyota Yaris
12. Ford Escape
13. Honda Odyssey
14. Honda Pilot
15. Honda Fit
16. Ford Mustang
17. Chevrolet Malibu
18. Toyota Sienna
19. MINI Cooper
20. Volkswagen Jetta
“The site traffic on Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com demonstrates what is on the
minds of today’s new-car shoppers, especially when examining the
most-researched new-vehicles of 2008,” said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial
director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book and kbb.com.
“Continued interest in Honda and Toyota, Chevrolet’s home-run Malibu redesign
and an increase in visits to more fuel-efficient, economical vehicles is an
accurate reflection of the marketplace in 2008.”
Posted on December 9th, 2008 No comments
Not so hot
Prius can be found on area lots
BY JIM CARROLL
Six months ago, buyers couldn’t even find a Toyota Prius to test drive. If they wanted one, they put their name on a list and waited.
The cars are not so hard to find now.
Toyota’s Prius hybrid was arguably the hottest item on car lots when gas was more than $4 a gallon.
Honda, Ford and GM hybrids were also selling, but the Prius seemed to be the toughest to get.
Now that gas is less than $2 a gallon and the economy has soured, buyers can walk on the lot and kick the tires on a Prius almost anywhere.
“We have three or four of them here now,” said Mike Hilling, sales manager at Superior Toyota of Erie.
“Before it was on an order basis. Now, vehicles are readily available,” said Allison Palmiero Brady, general manager at Palmiero Toyota/Scion in Meadville.
Car sales have plunged across the board for all automakers, but local dealers say they don’t believe people have given up on the hybrids.
“When gas was $4 a gallon, (hybrids) were a lot more popular,” Hilling said. “But we are still selling them. I’m working on deals on Priuses and also on (hybrid) Highlanders and Camrys.”
Deals on Priuses were rare in the days of $4 gas. Customers paid full sticker price locally, and some big-city dealers were reported to be marking up models by $2,000 or more.
Those days might be gone, but Hilling said hybrids are here to stay. After all, hybrids are a key part of the case Detroit automakers are making to Congress to get financial help from the government.
He has another reason to be bullish on the Prius, which starts at about $22,000, and other hybrids.
“I think even though gas prices have fallen, people don’t believe it is going to be a long-term drop in prices,” Hilling said.
But gas mileage isn’t the only reason people buy hybrids, Brady said. Some are interested in the environmental benefits of the cleaner hybrids.
Toyota’s leadership certainly believes in them. The company is building a new plant in Mississippi to make more Priuses, and the 2010 models are due out by summer.
“I have already taken three orders on those,” Hilling said.
JIM CARROLL can be reached at (814) 724-1716, 870-1727 or by e-mail.
Posted on November 20th, 2008 No comments
Who woulda thunk it?
Honda’s and Toyota’s 2009 model year vehicles earned top honors in an annual projection of U.S. used car prices, Kelly Blue Book said Wednesday.
The annual Best Resale Value Awards picked the Toyota Tacoma as the compact pickup that would best retain its resale value five years from now. The best full-sized pickup was the Toyota Tundra. The 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid was picked as the best value among hybrid crossovers, based on its projected resale value, Kelly Blue Book said.
Best value in the crossover category went to Honda’s CR-V. Honda was given top honors in the hybrid car category for the Honda Civic Hybrid and in the van category for the Honda Odyssey.
The annual award excludes cars with suggested retail prices above $60,000, except in luxury car categories.
For luxury crossovers, Kelly Blue Book choose the BMW X5. The Audi Q7 Quattro was chosen best luxury SUV, while the Audi A5 was named the best luxury car.
Posted on October 29th, 2008 No comments
This is the very definition of “green washing”.
Chrysler ends hybrid adventure before it can begin
The ailing automaker is closing the plant where its yet-to-be-seen hybrid SUVs were supposedly built.
By Ken Bensinger
Before it even started selling them, Chrysler is spiking its hybrids.
The troubled automaker said Tuesday that it would discontinue production of its Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen hybrid sport utility vehicles at year-end, when the company shuts down the Delaware plant that makes the two trucks. Chrysler is closing the plant because sales of the non-hybrid versions of the SUVs have been selling poorly. Through September, the company has sold 35,020 of the vehicles, a 40% drop from the 57,979 it sold a year ago.
The move will leave Chrysler without an alternative powertrain model for at least a year and probably longer. No other models are in line to get hybridized, though last month Chrysler unveiled two plug-in hybrids and a pure electric car, saying it would produce one of the models — either a Jeep Wrangler, a Chrysler Town & Country or a two-seat sports car — by late 2010.
The irony of the plant closure is that the long-awaited hybrids, Chrysler’s first foray into alternative powertrains, haven’t even hit dealership lots. After months of promotions and promises, they simply are nowhere to be found.
The company has said it has 3,000 orders for the hybrid models nationwide. Yet Chrysler’s sales report for September makes no mention of hybrids, while sales figures published by Autodata Corp. show none have sold. Dealer inventory searches on the Dodge and Chrysler websites revealed none in major metropolitan areas known to be hybrid hotbeds, including Seattle, San Francisco and L.A.
Calls to local dealers were no more fruitful. A salesman at Glendale Dodge said he soon expected to take delivery of three Dodge Durango hybrids. He said there was no waiting list for the vehicles. A salesman at Alhambra Chrysler Jeep Dodge said he was “not even sure when to expect the first one.”
The closure of the Newark, Del., plant was announced late last week amid news that Chrysler was laying off up to 25% of its salaried workforce.
Chrysler charges a significant premium for the hybrid versions of the mid-size SUV models. The Durango, with a base price of $45,340, comes at a 59% premium over the non-hybrid Durango, while the Aspen hybrid, at $45,570, is 30% more expensive than the traditional drivetrain Aspen.
That’s a considerably higher hybrid premium than found elsewhere in the market, a cost that is partially explained by the fact that, lacking its own hybrid technology, Chrysler buys it from General Motors Corp.
Toyota’s Highlander hybrid, for example, costs $34,700, 25% above what a non-hybrid version costs. And although the Ford Escape hybrid carries a 45% premium above the non-hybrid version, at $29,305 it’s still $16,000 cheaper than the Durango.
According to Chrysler, the Durango hybrid is rated at 19 mpg in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway, compared with 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway for the non-hybrid version. The company’s site indicates that the Aspen is not yet EPA rated, but the company says it gets 20 mpg city/22 highway.
Overall, sales of hybrid SUVs are down 11.5% through September compared with last year and light truck and SUV sales are down 20.6%.
With none available anywhere, Chrysler has an enticing offer for would-be buyers: The company is offering $1,000 cash back on either one.
Bensinger is a Times staff writer.
Posted on October 26th, 2008 No comments
If you’ve ever been to New York and especially if you’ve been there for business, you know town cars. Maybe you had one at your disposal (I did on two of my trips there). They are, as the article details, the mainstay of New York business car service work. They’re ubiquitous. I had not realized that the new regulations are affecting the town cars which gives me some insight into the pushback against the changes which, I would add, I still support. Sure, a Prius isn’t as swank a town car but you know what, it’s big enough for one person and a briefcase.
ROWS of Lincoln Town Cars idling at the curbside, a scene as socially suspect as the old X-rated Times Square, will soon begin disappearing from New York City streets.
Ambitious city fuel economy rules, written to curb the thirst of black cars, will steadily sideline the big V-8 powered sedans that corporate New York has relied on for decades. The rules particularly threaten the future of the Lincoln Town Car, workhorse of a fleet that the Taxi and Limousine Commission numbers at roughly 10,000 vehicles.
Black cars are essentially small-scale limousines that serve mainly business customers who pay with vouchers or credit cards rather than cash. Under a plan introduced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg last winter, new black cars that enter service beginning Jan. 1 must carry a fuel economy rating of at least 25 miles a gallon in the Environmental Protection Agency’s city test cycle; the requirement steps up to 30 m.p.g. a year later. A 25-m.p.g. rule took effect for New York’s 13,000 yellow taxis in October.
According to the city, the black cars, taxis and an additional 25,000 local car service vehicles produce 1 percent of the city’s total carbon dioxide emissions, and 4 percent of its transportation emissions. Doubling the mileage of that entire fleet, the goal by 2017, would cut the emissions by half.
There’s only one problem: no new full-size sedan comes close to 25 m.p.g., let alone 30 m.p.g., in city driving. The Lexus LS 600h L, the only large hybrid luxury sedan, is rated at just 20 m.p.g. in the city. It costs more than $100,000, a price that makes it a non-starter for independent drivers who are used to paying $15,000 to $25,000 for a used Town Car or $40,000 for a new one.
Still, with fleet operators and drivers being hammered by wild swings in fuel prices, the mileage rules provide a powerful incentive for switching to smaller hybrid sedans and crossovers that comply with the new regulations.
The possibilities include Ford’s Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrids, crossovers that are rated at an exceptional 34 m.p.g. in town. Ford is promoting the Mariner as a greener alternative to the Town Car; it costs about $31,000 with a livery package that includes black-leather upholstery and a GPS navigation system. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid utility wagon and its luxury sibling, the Lexus RX 400h, can achieve 27 m.p.g. in the city — enough to sneak past the first-year 25-m.p.g. requirement — and would cost drivers $40,000 to $50,000.
Among midsize sedans, the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima hybrids ace the standards at a respective 33- and 35-m.p.g. in city driving, and each costs about $30,000 with options. The Toyota Prius sips the least fuel, at 45 m.p.g. in the city, though some black-car drivers say the Prius is too small and bare-bones to step in for a Town Car.
With a basic design that dates to the ’70s, the Lincoln Town Car is built on a heavy steel frame, akin to old-school S.U.V.’s — one reason for its city fuel economy rating of 16 m.p.g. But the things that make Lincoln a dinosaur also make it a favorite of drivers and fleet operators: the Town Car is a simple, spacious and durable tank that’s inexpensive to buy and repair. Drivers say they routinely put 250,000 miles or more on a Town Car in brutal city driving before having to rebuild its V-8 engine or its transmission.
“You can buy a Town Car even with 100,000 miles on it and it will run forever if you do the maintenance,” said Salah Eldamarany, a driver with Legends Limo and Car Service in Brooklyn.
Black-car drivers say that while some customers are supportive of hybrids and would sacrifice some room or amenities to ride in one, others would not be satisfied if a Town Car stand-in was not as luxurious and roomy.
“Customers might not complain about gas prices, but they will complain if three people and their luggage can’t fit,” said Nassim Salaymeh, who also drives for the Legends service.
John Acierno, president of the city’s largest black-car company, Executive Transportation Group, has already switched about 10 percent of his 1,750-car fleet to hybrids. With Town Cars achieving a dispiriting 12 m.p.g. in real-world use, hybrid adopters are saving from $125 to $175 a week in fuel, Mr. Acierno said — enough to offset the higher purchase price of the hybrids.
Part of those savings is a result of hybrids’ shutting down their gas engines when stopped, making them ideal for the lurching and crawling pace of New York streets. He has calculated that when his fleet is fully converted, the company will save 2.8 million gallons of gas each year — more than $8 million at current pump prices — and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32,000 tons a year.
Some drivers have expressed reservations over the hybrids’ durability and safety. Mr. Acierno acknowledges that while drivers can be wary of switching, those who do become the best advertisements for hybrids.
Mr. Acierno is hopeful that the industry will develop more models that meet both economy rules and the needs of customers. Currently, his dispatchers avoid sending smaller hybrid models on airport runs to pick up multiple passengers and luggage.
Matthew W. Daus, chairman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, called hybrids the latest example of natural selection in the evolution of black cars.
“Both drivers and corporate passengers appreciate the hybrid effect of less fuel costs and an enhanced corporate image for environmentally responsible clients,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
For operators who are not ready to get rid of their Lincolns, the city plan includes a phase-in retirement period. Essentially, six-year-old Town Cars will be steadily removed from service, with virtually the entire fleet converted to the 30-m.p.g. standard after 2013. Operators who license a new 2009 Town Car before Jan. 1 will be able to operate it the longest, for five years, before it is forced to retire. Several drivers said that they and colleagues are rushing to buy Town Cars before the January deadline to delay the switch as long as possible.
Doug Walczak, a limousine and livery manager for the Ford Motor Company, said that some loyal Town Car owners are leery of new technology. “It’s a challenge, because hybrids don’t have that long, proven history of durability in commercial applications,” Mr. Walczak said.
As the Town Car fades, Mr. Walczak said that Ford remains committed to its profitable black-car business. The company has pledged to continue building Town Cars through 2011 at its plant in St. Thomas, Ontario. Yet Mr. Walczak acknowledged that the clock is ticking on the venerable Lincoln.
“The writing is on the wall, and the world is changing,” he said.
Posted on October 20th, 2008 No comments
Will a Tax Break On Hybrids Skid to a Stop?
By Erica Garman
Living in LoCo is Erica Garman’s blog devoted to all things interesting in Loudoun County. You can find it athttp://www.loudounextra.com. This column of highlights from the blog appears in this space every Sunday.
Five years ago, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors enacted a personal property tax of a penny per $100 of assessed value on hybrid cars to encourage the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles and to support clean-climate initiatives. Owners of conventional cars pay a tax of $4.20 per $100 of assessed value.
Several board members say that the time has come to revisit the tax break for hybrids. At the board’s Sept. 2 meeting, Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) proposed exploring the option of raising the rate for hybrids to $1. His motion passed.
Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) agreed with Burton.
“The incentive is no longer necessary,” Miller said. “Although I’m a big proponent of the technology, the harsh reality is that we’re giving tax breaks to drivers of luxury hybrid SUVs that get fewer miles per gallon than fuel-efficient cars.”
Miller said he thinks that rather than eliminating the tax incentive, the board should “move it forward” and focus on the next technology by giving owners of all-electric vehicles a tax cut.
Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac) expressed her displeasure with Burton’s motion, citing an article she had read recently.
“It said that 80 percent of people choose hybrids for the fuel economy and the tax benefits,” she said. “Please don’t cut this initiative.”
Environmentalists say that more hybrids on the road would decrease our dependence on foreign oil, conserve resources, reduce air pollution and mitigate global climate change. My husband and I purchased a hybrid Toyota Highlander a few years back for those very reasons. The tax incentive certainly helped sway our decision, but more importantly, we wanted to support hybrid technology and send a message with our wallet that clean technology is important to us.
It’s true, as Miller mentioned, that our hybrid gets about the same miles per gallon as a conventional midsize sedan — not the most fuel-efficient car on the road, by any means. But as a frequent carpooler, I need a vehicle that seats four or five children legally, which is something we can’t do with a Prius.
You can read the entire story at the link above.
Posted on October 10th, 2008 No comments
This appears to be some very bad politics on the part of Toyota. That this is a press release from Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade says a lot given their current fight against laws mandating switching over to hybrids in New York.
Automakers Warn Against Using Hybrids as Taxicabs
PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Safety Questions Left Unanswered, Responsibility Shifted Around
Two of the world’s largest automakers, Toyota and Honda, have issued outright warnings against using their hybrid passenger vehicles as commercial taxicabs. In addition, Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Nissan, have refused to certify the crashworthiness of their hybrid New York City taxicabs as modified with mandatory partitions. Instead, the automakers shift that responsibility to the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), which shift it to the federal government — which does not require automakers to crash test vehicles modified with the hard, bulletproof taxi partitions.
In late 2007, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) mandated that all new taxis, the vast majority of which are required to have partitions, be hybrids or other vehicles that achieve 25 miles-per-gallon, disallowing the purpose-built stretch Ford Crown Victoria taxicab. The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade has mounted a legal challenge, citing a 2008 engineer’s report that finds hybrids to be unsafe and unfit as New York City taxicabs. The mandate has been delayed and awaits a federal court ruling expected later this month.
On August 29, 2008, Richard D. Emery, an attorney for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, wrote to automakers including Nissan, Toyota, Ford, Honda, General Motors and Volkswagen requesting that they certify that their hybrids or alternative fuel vehicles are manufacturer-approved to be used as taxicabs and safe when modified with partitions and other TLC requirements.
In a September 19th 2008 response to Mr. Emery, a spokesman for Honda said “Honda vehicles are not sold or recommended for use as taxicabs.” However, in a July 16, 2008 industry notice informing taxi owners which vehicles they can purchase for taxi use, the TLC lists the Honda Civic Hybrid as one of nine approved vehicles for taxi use.
Another automaker, Toyota, the largest manufacturer of hybrids in the world, has not responded to Mr. Emery. However, a Toyota spokesman told the New York Times on April 27, 2008, that “our engineers are nervous about it because they were not designed for commercial use.” According to the article, “Toyota did not help convert cars into taxis because they were not intended to be driven so heavily.” Still, in the July 16, 2008 TLC industry notice, the TLC lists 3 Toyotas, the Prius, Highlander and Camry on its approved vehicle list — 1/3 of all approved vehicles. Several Toyotas remain in service as New York City taxicabs.
Nissan, which claims to be committing up to 200 Altima Hybrid taxicabs per month, refers Mr. Emery to a July 23, 2008 TLC letter that claims the partitions do not hinder side curtain airbag deployment. Nissan offers no crash test results on Altimas that are modified with partitions and concludes its response by stating: “If you have an underlying concern with the mandate to use fuel efficient vehicles, this situation is a result of New York policies, not Nissan’s actions.”
At a September 10th 2008 New York City Council hearing, Ford Motor Company acknowledged that “there is an increased risk for belted occupants to contact the partition in a collision” for “any vehicle with a smaller occupant space than the stretch Crown Victoria” noting that it is “not unique to the Escape Hybrid” which indeed has much smaller occupant space than a stretch Crown Victoria. Ford refused to certify the crashworthiness of Escape Hybrid taxicabs outfitted with partitions, instead shifting responsibility to the TLC which it says “has an important job in making judgments that balance competing benefits and risks involving driver and customer safety in a unique operating environment.”
General Motors also refused to certify the crashworthiness of its Chevy Malibu Hybrid taxicab when modified with a partition or other TLC requirements. In a letter to Mr. Emery dated September 25th, 2008, GM wrote “your client’s concerns about the taxicab partitions required by the TLC should be addressed to the TLC.” GM was silent about the Saturn Vue Hybrid, which also appears on the TLC’s approved vehicle list.
Volkswagen, which produces a clean diesel Jetta that appears on the TLC approved list, was also asked to certify the safety, suitability and crashworthiness of its TLC-approved hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles when modified with partitions and placed into service as taxicabs but, to date, has not responded.
The TLC has confirmed that it does not crash test hybrid taxicabs modified with partitions and says it relies, in large part, on federal testing to assert the safety of hybrid taxicabs. However, it has also been established that there are no federal crash tests for hybrid taxicabs modified with partitions — nor are there front or rear crash tests in unmodified hybrids for adult rear occupants, which comprise the majority of taxi passengers. Hybrid automakers explicitly warn against any modifications to hybrid vehicles in the owner manuals. And indeed, according to automotive engineer C. Bruce Gambardella, partitions in hybrids are a “crude modification” that “changes the entire interior environment and takes us back about a half a century in automotive safety.”
MTBOT is the country’s largest taxi fleet association. It represents 27 yellow medallion taxi fleets in New York City and over 3,500 medallion taxicabs — approximately 25% of the taxi industry. MTBOT members have operated more than 30 different vehicles over several decades including minivans, Compressed Natural Gas vehicles and hybrids. MTBOT advocates on behalf of its members, its 14,000 drivers and the riding public.
Posted on October 10th, 2008 No comments
Toyota Texas Workers Scrub Graffiti as Factory Idles
By Alan Ohnsman
Idled Toyota Motor Corp. assembly- line workers in San Antonio are spending two weeks cleaning city parks, removing graffiti, painting benches and fixing fences instead of building pickup trucks.
Japan’s largest automaker, which counts on the U.S. to absorb 29 percent of vehicle production, is fighting the first annual sales slump in 13 years. With the credit crunch scaring buyers away from showrooms, the Toyota City, Japan-based company suspended truck-assembly operations in Texas and Indiana and cut initial output plans for a new sport-utility vehicle plant in Canada to half the original target.
Toyota said in July it would halt Tundra pickup production in San Antonio and Princeton, Indiana, from late August until mid-November to trim rising inventory of the full-size truck that went on sale last year. The move was a first for the company. Production of large Sequoia SUVs in Indiana also was suspended for the same period.
Workers in Texas and Indiana factories aren’t union members and haven’t been laid off. Toyota reassigned them to training programs and modifying assembly-line procedures to improve ergonomics, said Kelly Dillon, a spokeswoman for the Princeton plant.
While 100 Princeton employees volunteered to take unpaid leave, 140 others were redeployed temporarily to the Georgetown, Kentucky, plant and a Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc. factory in Lafayette that’s run by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., a Toyota affiliate.
Toyota also scaled back plans to make Highlander SUVs at a plant under construction in Mississippi, shifting the vehicle to Indiana. Instead, the Prius hybrid hatchback, now exported from Japan, will be built in Mississippi starting in 2010.
Posted on October 1st, 2008 2 comments
Hybrids trick out, plug in
By Marsha Walton
The owner of Luscious Garage is wondering whether the electric wall outlet will be the “gas tank” of the future.
Drivers of gas-sipping hybrid vehicles are increasingly interested in converting their vehicles from gasoline powered to electric, according to garage owner and lead technician Carolyn Coquillette.
While drivers of conventional gasoline-powered vehicles complain about higher fuel prices, clients of the San Francisco garage are investing big bucks to make their green cars even greener.
That’s being done through plug-in conversions and adding more powerful batteries to currently available gasoline/electric hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius.
“The regular Prius is a gasoline dependent car; it doesn’t get energy from anywhere but the gas tank,” said Coquillette.
“What this [conversion] allows me to do is get energy through an [electric wall] outlet, so [the wall outlet] is like my electric gas tank,” she said.
Coquillette, who has degrees in physics and English, said she gets three or four calls or e-mails a day, asking about the conversion. And, she says, with gas prices at more than $4 per gallon, she expects even more interest.
A lot of the cars that pull in to Luscious Garage are Toyota Prius hybrids, which Coquillette calls, “the Volkswagen Beetle of our times.”
Coquillette showed off the garage’s psychedelically painted Prius, which has undergone the conversion. Watch how Luscious Garage converts hybrid vehicles »
Its original nickel-metal-hydride battery packs have been replaced with lead acid batteries to extend the distance the car can travel on electricity. Coquillette expects to begin conversions to even more efficient lithium batteries soon.
The plug-in conversion costs about $7,500.
“Gas becomes optional,” with this conversion, Coquillette said. “Gas isn’t required to move this car anymore. If you want to drive a really long way, without recharging, yes, gas is required, but it gives you the flexibility of not having to burn gas anymore if you don’t want to. And that’s very liberating,” she said.
The garage itself strives to be green, with much of its power coming from solar panels.
And with gasoline approaching $5 per gallon in the San Francisco Bay area, “plugging in cars make a whole lot of sense right at the pocketbook,” said Korthof, who works for Energy Efficiency Solar.
What kind of people are converting to this conversion?
“We’ve seen such a diverse group of people,” said Coquillette. “We have some people who come in who are entrepreneurs, who are business people, there are some people who are diehard environmentalists, but there are some people who come in, they just want to burn less gas.”
The corporate folks at Toyota don’t have any official position on plug-in conversions. They don’t endorse or discourage it. iReport.com: Show us your first car
But for hybrid owners who demonstrate exuberant efforts to find more energy efficiency, “we really appreciate the fact that the Prius is the vehicle of choice,” said Jana Hartline, environmental communications manager for Toyota.
Hartline said the Prius was not designed with any conversion possibilities in mind, but she said the company welcomes any technology that pushes the envelope on plug-in batteries.
While the nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery will remain the choice for Prius, Camry and Highlander hybrids, Toyota is doing some research and development with lithium ion batteries.
Hartline said Toyota will be using lithium ion batteries in some commercial fleets in late 2009, mostly to learn more about charging behaviors.
Although the current batteries are “durable and reliable,” Hartline said lithium ion batteries pack more energy into a smaller space.
Much more research is needed, she said, about how hybrid owners would use their vehicles. For example, how often and for how long owners would plug in to the electrical grid, or a solar supply.
Also, as more drivers become interested in alternative energy, they will need to learn more about infrastructure.
• Will companies, malls or fast-food joints provide charging stations?
• Will they charge for the charge?
• In what other ways will the energy infrastructure have to change?
While the 2004-2008 Prius is the most popular hybrid conversion, it is also possible on 2005-2008 Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape hybrids.
And, as Coquillette says on the Luscious Garage Web site, “Any car can become a plug-in hybrid, if you have enough money.”
And driven customers don’t seem to be letting cost discourage them from the conversion.
“Customers are not coming to me and saying, ‘I’ll do this if there is a rebate.’ People come to me and say, ‘I want to do this right away,’ ” said Coquillette.
Luscious Garage will soon open a second location for the growing number of really green hybrid owners.
“Hybrid technology is one thing. Then there is plug-in hybrid technology, which is the next step, which genuinely removes your dependence on fossil fuel,” said Coquillette.
However, most U.S. electricity is created from burning fossil fuels — about 70 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency of the Department of Energy. Just under 49 percent comes from coal-burning power plants, about 20 percent from natural gas and about 1½ percent from burning oil.