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The Week in Green Vehicles
Mike Millikin, 7 Nov 04

Every Sunday, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin gives us an update on the week's sustainable mobility news. Green Car Congress is by far the best resource around for news and analysis covering the ongoing evolution of personal transportation. Take it away, Mike:

Through the green rearview: a look at developments in sustainable mobility over the past week

Hybrids were in the news in many ways this week.

Automakers’s October sales figures rolled in, and hybrids (represented by Toyota, Honda and now Ford with its Escape) had their best month ever, selling almost 10,000 units. (GCC post) Still, that represented only 0.8% of the total volume of light duty vehicles sold—so there is long way to go.

That way, however, may not deliver the magnitude of worldchanging results that people might be hoping for.

The ongoing primary characteristic of the US light duty market is that light trucks and SUVs rule (GCC post). Trucks continue to expand their share of the light duty vehicle market month after month—even in these past months of uncertainty over the oil market. The Big 3 from Detroit sell many more trucks than cars; the top 3 Japanese (Toyota, Honda and Nissan) are more balanced, but overall the market is at about a combined 60 to 40 truck to car ratio, with no signs of a major shift anytime soon.

So what’s an agressive, leading Japanese company that wants to be the number one automaker do? It goes after the truck market. Not just the small, cute truck market. The big truck market.

This week at the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota is displaying its full- (maybe super-) size gasoline hybrid truck prototype, the FTX Concept. First shown at the North American auto show this past January, the FTX combines a coming version of Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive with a large-displacement V8 engine—and delivers, according to Toyota, the fuel economy of a V6.

Designed for the North American market, it highlights the direction Toyota will be taking with its big trucks—trucks that it will be building in its brand-new plant in Texas.

Also this week came more indications that Toyota will be releasing a hybrid version of its best-selling Camry in 2006 (GCC post).

The good news is that hybrid technology is clearly going to penetrate rapidly into the auto industry, at a variety of levels, producing improvements in fuel efficiency ranging from 12% to 50% depending upon the extent of the hybrid support.

From this market perspective, GM, which plans to use a smaller version of the GM-Allison hybrid drive used for diesel-hybrid transit buses in some of its large truck and SUV models, is doing the right thing by applying its hybrid technology to its largest and best selling platforms first.

The problem remains one of the affects of US consumer taste for large vehicles. While it is absolutely a very good thing to be driving a hybrid version of a large truck rather than a conventional version, you’re still going to get comparatively poor gas mileage compared to a smaller vehicle.

Earlier this year, Oak Ridge National Laboratory concluded a study in which it projected hybrid and diesel marketshare in the US through 2012. The results were a bit surprising...and sobering:

Given announced and likely introductions by 2008, hybrids could capture 4-7% and diesels 2-4% of the light-duty market. Based on our best guesses for further introductions, these shares could increase to 10-15% for hybrids and 4-7% for diesels by 2012.

The resulting impacts on fleet average fuel economy would be about +2% in 2008 and +4% in 2012.

That’s not a magic bullet.

A recently released analysis from Ademe, the French environment and energy agency, indicate that over nearly 30 years, the average European car’s fuel consumption has dropped by over 20%, making the cars, on average, almost 50% more fuel efficient than cars in the US.

Average European consumption now approaches 6.5 l/100km, or 43 mpg, compared to the current US average for new cars of 29.3 mpg. That European figure was achieved (1) by the increasing use of diesel and (2) by driving smaller cars. (As a friend of mine from the UK gasped on a recent visit: “This is the land of giant cars!”)

The bottom line is that we need shifts in consumer taste as much as we need splendid new technology from the auto companies. One can hope that the shift will come either out of self interest (high prices) or an understanding of longer term consequences (energy crisis, climate change.) But the shift needs to happen.

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Lately I've been reading "High and Mighty: The dangerous rise of the SUV" by Keith Bradsher.

It's very scary to learn the real reasons why huge SUVs are popular. It's mostly things we already know and suspect, but still.

Tons of informations, fairly detailed reports on the history, creation and dangers of SUVs.

I recommend the book, especially if you can find it at a discount as I did.

Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 7 Nov 04

"One can hope that the shift will come either out of self interest (high prices) or an understanding of longer term consequences (energy crisis, climate change.)"

That's the problem, I think. The /real/ reason that the USA is going to shift to more fuel efficient cars is because 1) oil runs out or 2) oil starts to run out and prices skyrocket. But this isn't sustainable. There needs to be MAJOR societal shift, and it doesn't seem like our culture cares much about it. I don't know how this will be changed, but I hope like hell that we'll be able to do it.

Posted by: nile on 7 Nov 04

Before proclaiming the suv the detroyer of worlds remember for alot of people out there right now an suv is in fact a step up fuel eff wise from what it replaces.

Several people I know have recently replaced either full sized trucks or vans with large suvs with the result that not only is fuel econ up ALOT in some cases 300-400% greater milage per gallon. But the suv polluted far less and carried MORE and did more for them then what they had had before.

And it was nice and comfy to ride around in too.

So they still go camping every other week now fitting EVERYTHING sept the quad bikes into the suv and hauling those behind in a little trailer. Now instead of 2 cars and a pickup they just have to take that one suv.

And my other friends still go boating every month carting a massive boat behind a packed suv instead of as before taking a van and a pickup truck. Even hualing the boat and the people and the camping gear and the fishing gear and food and and and the suv sure gets better gas milage then the van much less the van and pickup.

Then there is the wield guy across the street. Used to own a full sized pickup and a sedan.. Now he owns an suv and every weekend I see him pack half his home into it and go off somewhere. I dont ask him whats up but I do know hes alot happier now doing whatever it is the guy does and he seems to be doing alot more of it.

Then of course there is kerry... a yuppish guy down the street and around the corner. Used to own a massive pickup tho I never saw him USE it for much. He now owns a massive suv. To him its just a bling thing im sure.. but then I never actauly see him drive much anyway and I hear his "old" pickup sold with only 2500 miles on it. I hear hes looking to buy a new hummer next year and hes got a fancy for hybrids because he thinks they sound cool and blingy... He hopes to get one down the line after the hummer gets "old".

Hes a nice guy and as he doesnt realy drive much it doesnt matter. To him and many others cars are fassion not transport. Just as they buy 50k boats that sit in the dock 99% of the time and buy million dollar homes they almost never live in.... Hes a nice guy he just likes toys and has no need for a real car or a real home or a real boat or real anything for that matter. I just wish he was into puters then I could sponge off him when he upgraded...:(

Posted by: wintermane on 8 Nov 04



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