Monday, January 12, 2009

Hybrids and ecars: Build it, then improve it

If first you build it, then you can improve it.

Toyota's stunningly successful Prius took the hybrid market by storm, and Toyota's making it better by the year.

The Prius was launched with a fuel economy of 41 miles a gallon, then upgraded to 46 miles a gallon, and the company now says its newest version will sip at a rate of 50 miles to the gallon.

(Image: Top: The new Toyota Prius. Credit: Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. Bottom: The new Honda Insight. Credit: American Honda Motor Co. Inc. )

Toyota apparently got the fuel economy improvements in part with lighter parts, including an aluminum hood, removing all belts from the engine compartment (presumably reducing friction losses) and, counterintuitively, putting in a bigger engine that runs at lower RPMs on the highway.

The new car should be out around May 2009.

Meanwhile, the folks at Edmunds are already imagining a 100 mpg Prius (

Honda's benighted Insight came out a little after the Prius, and despite a whopping fuel economy figure in the 60s, it only seated two people, and never sold well.

This year, Honda plans to bring back the Insight name in a hybrid car that seats, ostensibly, five people, like the Prius. (And like the Prius, one assumes, they can't all be big people.) Its fuel economy is listed on the Honda website as 40 to 43.

To this observer, its styling looks a lot more like the Prius than the old Insight. That, one assumes, works as a combination of “don't fix what ain't broke,” and “mimickry as flattery.”

Other car companies are hanging their hats on the next auto technology, which they assume will be electric cars.

Chevy says its Volt will be out in 2010, and Chrysler says it will have some kind of an electric out in 2010 as well, but isn't yet announcing what platform it will use. Ford plans one on the road in 2011. Toyota says it will have its pure electric out in 2012. And there are others in the works.

(On a side note, Yamaha and Honda are planning electric motorcycles in 2010 and 2011 respectively.)

There are lots of electric cars available or in production now, of course, though not all in the United States. For information see this site at

You CAN order an electric car right now, and a really hot one.

Two downsides: it's hugely expensive, and there's a months-long waiting list.

It's the Tesla ecar: The last posted price was $109,000.

Here's a shot of it being safety tested on the ice in Sweden, from the Tesla website.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

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