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Archive for the ‘hybrid cars’ Category

Just an update for those who have assured me that the Prius “would never last” or “would blow up” or whatever.

138,000 miles and counting, doubters, and finally I have had to put on new brakes.  Remember the regenerative braking?  All that stopping power has just gone into the generator.  Hence, the pads don’t get used until about 15 MPH.  also, some people have told me that the battery would start failing long before now and my mileage would tank.  Right now, in 70-degree Minnesota weather (what’s passing for summer this year), I’m showing 52.4 MPG pretty consistently in my normal driving cycle.  That’s even better than my motorcycle.

So, as the sticker in my back window shows, “Eat My Voltage.”

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If anybody wonders if the hybrid power-regeneration process actually works, here’s some proof.

When you hit the brakes, my Prius turns the electric motor into a generator, and returns the generated power to the battery. As you increase the pedal pressure, it simply increases the field voltage in the now-generator, thus generating more electricity and concomitantly creating more drag. Only if you absolutely jam the brakes on, or reach a relatively low speed (say, about 10 MPH), will it actually engage the hydraulic brakes to stop the car.

Therefore, it should be that your normal braking system is relatively lightly used, especially if you are a relatively careful driver, and the wear on your brake pads should be low.

Having now almost 110,000 miles on my original pads, I went in a week ago to have a brake shop check them out, since I last looked at them about 40,000 miles ago, I figured that they must be almost shot by now. Well, to my surprise, and very much so to that of the brake shop, they found I had by wear-depth almost 50% of my pad life left. So, somewhere around 220,000 miles, I should start thinking about replacing my brakes — for the first time.

Now you’re saying, so what? Brakes are cheap, replacing them is not such a big deal, why do you care? Well, it’s just an index of how much power is really generated over the course of 100,000 miles — power that’s put right back in the battery to use in getting up to speed again, power that is in a normal car just lost as heat. Not such a big deal, but multiply that by 200,000,000 cars and you have the potential for a bunch of savings.

Perhaps that’s one of the keys to all this new focus on conservation: each one of us does a little, but it adds up. Raising the CAFE mileage standards by two MPG doesn’t sound like much, until you multiply it by all the nation’s cars, and then you have ship after ship after ship not coming to our shores with crude oil.

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Be sure to see my earlier posts on this subject, in the category “hybrid cars.”

Within many segments of the US business community there is a strong undercurrent of distrust of anything smacking of a coherent national energy policy, even as we are increasingly threatened by all manner of energy-related problems in everything from hydrocarbons to electric generation and transmission infrastructure. As many of these people continue to raise the cry, “socialized medicine!” as a bogeyman to prevent children being covered by medical insurance, they seem to want to raise the cry “socialized energy!” at any discussion of energy policy.

So in that line I wasn’t surprised when the official organ of the business community, the Wall Street Journal, came out recently (October 29, 2007) with an article “The Economics of Hybrids,” pointing out somberly that “for most US consumers, they’re still a money-losing proposition.” Basically, they figure out by comparing models of hybrid / non-hybrid cars and trucks, factor in the bizarre US tax credit for hybrids, and derive a “hybrid premium” for each model, and then, with some assumptions of average mileage, cost of gas, determine how many years of driving would be required to pay back the “hybrid premium.” This is, of course, a pretty questionable analysis.

By their calculation, the American cars average a payout period of about 4.3 years, and the foreign ones (mainly Toyota and Honda) average a breakeven after around 14 years — the Prius I drive is colossally the worst at a whopping 17.9 years. So, by their calculation, hybrids are worthless to the average consumer. So the, I guess, hopefully you won’t be tempted to buy one, or if you dumb enough to do so, buy an American one.

So here’s my take on all this. Any economic calculation is heavily influenced by the input parameters, and I would point out that:

  • The US tax credit system penalizes firms that make lots of hybrids by cutting out the credit after 60,000 total hybrid cars produced, thus shafting Toyota and Lexus by making their cars about $1,300 to $2,000 more expensive.
  • The WSJ assumes 15,000 miles per year — I average about twice that in my cars.
  • They assume a gas price of $2.79 / gallon, we are now averaging about $3.11 / gallon, and rising.
  • They assume 46 MPG for the Prius, actually I average over 50, and the new Prius is better than this.
  • In the case of the Prius, they compare it to the Corolla, a considerably less-well-equipped car than the Prius; a more comparable car would be the Camry, which is only about $200 more than the Prius.

So, ignoring taxes, at at my actual driving rate and assuming the actual gas cost, my payback time for the Prius vs. the Camry is a whopping 1.6 months, not 18 years (vs. the Corolla) as they state.

Finally, two key points to think about. First the tax credit — this scheme is pretty nuts. They’ll give a little credit to encourage you to buy a hybrid, but it currently has the effect of encouraging you to buy one from somebody who only makes a few of them, so that they haven’t gone over the 60,000-car limit. This rewards US manufacturers to just have a few hybrids in the stable, but not really push them as if they mattered. Either we should reward hybrid purchases, nor not, but not have this perverse incentive to “only make a few.”

And then of course, what about these hybrids? Except for Toyota and Honda, nobody has a hybrid that gets more than 30 MPG, which is nuts. The Prius gives me regularly 50 – 55 MPG, and these are the cars we should be encouraging people to buy. Just having a hybrid drive means nothing much if you don’t get some significant mileage to show for it. It can be done, the Prius does it.

But of course, if you don’t believe in a national energy policy, if you don’t believe we have a problem being dependent on Middle-eastern oil supplies, or that rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are a problem, all this is irrelevant!

Dream on!

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See my own previous posts on my experience with my hybrid Toyota Prius.

A new study conducted by the R. L. Polk Company and released by the Minneapolis Star Tribune documents what is pretty obvious if you keep your eyes open on the roads lately — not only are there more gas-saving motorcycles and scooters out there, but there are a LOT more hybrid cars. The Midwest leads the nation’s regions in sales growth, and I’m proud to say that Minnesota leads the Midwest. In fact, we are second in the nation only to California: for the first seven months of 2007 versus the same time in 2006, California’s sales of hybrid cars increased over 150%, while ours here increased 98%. The nationwide average was around 55%.

Back in 2000, when my Father bought our family’s first Prius, there were only 115 of them sold in the state. In 2006, there were nearly 3,800 sold. Now that’s not a huge absolute number, I grant you. But every bit of sanity helps — every bit of gas saved is that much we are less in thrall to the kings and dictators in the Middle East. And the curve of the graph, rising at about a 70 degree angle, is nothing but good. And even more to the point, the sales winner in the Midwest in absolute numbers is Michigan, the home range of the crop of dinosaurs known as the Big 3. Is it any wonder they’re struggling to stay alive? Get with it, guys!

Separately, JD Power and Associates notes that only about 2.3% of vehicles nationwide are hybrids, and many of those (especially the SUVs among them) are optimized for power, not mileage, so although they are “hybrids” in the power train, they aren’t doing nearly as much good as they could. Again, not a huge number, but as gas prices inexorably increase and if continuing political disruption in the Middle East disrupts our oil supply and leads to rationing, the preference of the public for more rational vehicles will show itself.

And of course public policy can influence this. One reason California has so many hybrids is that a number of cities provide access to express lanes, preferred or no-charge parking, and other perks to hybrid owners. This can work here, too, and (to our tax-obsessed state government) note that these perks have essentially no tax or spending impact. Ditto for motorcycles, which I note already enjoy considerable preferences in road access and parking leniency.

So, get with it. Sell your Hummer or SUV, and buy a motorcycle and a Prius, go heavy-green all the way.

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It’s been slightly over a year since I wrote my first post on my Toyota Prius, and I’m now right at 100,000 miles on the clock, so I thought I’d write a quick update on my experience. Interestingly enough, that post is one of the most popular posts I’ve written, and accounts for about 30% of the accesses to my archived posts, mainly from links from Google. So obviously it’s a popular subject with lots of people.

So, here’s where I am:

  1. For the last 450 miles on my consumption monitor, I am averaging 52.4 MPG in my normal driving cycle, which would be classified by the EPA as “mixed suburban.” It’s in the high 80s to low 90s here in Minneapolis, so this should be the peak of my mileage, and last year during these hot spells, when the battery chemistry is most active, based on past experience I would be expecting to be getting about 55 MPG or so, therefore my mileage appears to have declined by 2.5 MPG, or about 4.5%. this is probably due to wear in both the gas engine and the battery.
  2. Due to both my careful driving style, and the regenerative braking on the Prius, I am still on the original brakes. All that deceleration has been used to charge the battery rather than just heat up the brakes!

In the maintenance department:

  1. I have given it only the recommended maintenance, nothing fancy, mainly oil changes at Rapid Oil. I’m using a synthetic blend since this helps an older engine seal at the rings and the valve stems, but that’s all, no other additives or gizmos.
  2. There was a recall on the starting battery, a 7.5-volt gem (my only real irritation with the car). The battery was free but the hold-down was changed (and has been changed in later production models, and they charged me to replace it, which I thought was dumb, but then anybody who puts a 7-volt battery in anything but a flashlight can’t be trusted to manage the hold-down, I guess.
  3. The only significant maintenance item has been a failure in some part of the driving battery management circuit. I left the car for a long weekend when went to the lake, and during that time it somehow managed to discharge itself to zero. Interestingly, the gas engine is not able to cold-charge the 240-volt driving battery, and when it detected what was up it simply refused to run. I had it towed in and they replaced the offending circuit board, but then had to bring the driving battery back from the dead, which takes a special charger of which there is only one in the region — and fortunately they had it at one of their other dealers, so I was soon back on the road.

So that’s it. The car’s still steaming along, the core of my car pool, looking toward 200,000 miles. Still regularly gets better mileage even than my Harley. I have no complaints and in fact I would buy another one in a minute.

To the various people who told me it would never last in daily use, HA! To the automotive writers and pundits who said that it’ll never really get that kind of mileage in real life, HO! As the sticker in my back window says,

EAT MY VOLTAGE.

 

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