Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hybrid Technology for Trucks, Too

While we've all been focused on getting better gas mileage out of the cars we drive, or trading in the guzzler in the driveway for a green, fuel efficient hybrid, the automotive industry has been quietly and successfully turning out hybrid trucks.

Take Volvo. Garbage trucks aren't necessarily newsworthy, but Volvos's first hybrid refuse truck most definitely is. The truck division of the Swedish carmaker is taking an important step towards commercial use of hybrid technology for heavy vehicles by launching two hybrid refuse trucks that are being tested in regular daily operations, on refuse collection runs in the cities of Renova and Ragn-Sells.

Hybrid busses have been working the roads in cities around the world, including in my own hometown New York City. But this hybrid garbage truck is a first. "This is the last stage in the evaluation of our hybrid solution ahead of production launch," said Staffan Jufors, president and CEO of the Volvo Truck Corporation, launching the test drive. "Since we presented our first concept vehicle in 2006, we have seen considerably heightened market interest in this technology. What makes our solution unique is that it is sufficiently powerful to drive heavy vehicles, and more cost-effective than all other current alternatives. It is these characteristics that determine whether a hybrid can be commercially viable."

The phenomenal rise in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel in the last 12 months makes seals the deal, Mr. Jufors. That's why you also announced that Volvo will start producing hybrid trucks in 2009.

Volvo's hybrid solution combines a diesel engine with an electric motor, with the electric motor being used for moving off from standstill and for acceleration up to 20 km/h. At higher speeds, the diesel engine is activated. Just so you know -- Mercedes-Benz is studying diesel hybrids for passenger cars. Volvo already has the technology ready for trucks -- but I haven't heard anything about whether they are studying this alternative fuel possibility for passenger cars, too.

The hybrid refuse trucks are expected to use up to 20 percent less fuel and cut carbon dioxide emissions by a similar amount. Also, trucks can run the compactor off an extra battery pack that is charged when the truck is parked overnight. And that, my friends, further reduces emissions -- to a grand total of as much as 30 percent over conventional gas-powered trucks.

Electric power has the added advantage of being entirely exhaust-free and virtually noise-free. That's another important consideration for refuse collection trucks that usually operate early in the morning, waking up the neighbors. Eventually, Volvo plans to make hybrid trucks for long-haul and construction work.

What do you know -- a green garbage truck. What will they think of next!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Buy? Lease? New or Certified Pre-Owned?

The astronomical rise in gas prices over the last year has us all rethinking what we drive – and how often. If you are wondering whether to buy or lease your next automobile, there's lots to consider before you sign on that proverbial dotted line -- including whether your new great drive is one of the new '09 models arriving in dealer showrooms now, an new '08 left-over, or a certified pre-owned.

That's the the opening paragraph of an informative article in the current issue of Pink Magazine. Read it -- I wrote it. September/October issue, on newsstands now.

By the way -- did you know that women influence 85 percent of all vehicle purchases.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oprah's Classic Cars at Pebble Beach

The fabled and fabulous Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is this weekend, August 16 and 17, in Moterey, California. It's the place to be if you love vintage and classic cars -- which I do -- and have a couple of million dollars burning a hole in hour pocket -- which I do not. Some of the cars on display this year are owned by Oprah Winfrey.

Look at them quick, before they are sold. Three vehicles from Oprah's private collection are being auctioned by Gooding & Company, to benefit the Leadership Academy for Girls, her school in South Africa. Being auctioned are:
  • Her 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing -- pictured here. It was owned originally owned by the DuPont family. This is the sexy icon sports car that everybody wants, including me.

  • A 1988 Rolls-Royce Corniche II Convertible, which was a gift to Oprah from her long-time friend, actor John Travolta. Since he's also a pilot, and even though Rolls-Royce makes jet engines, maybe the Corniche just isn't fast enough for him.

  • There's also a 1997 Aston Martin DB7 Volante, like the ones James Bond drives in the movies.

It's not just Oprah's cars on the auction block. There's a collection vintage Bugattis, owned by Dr. Peter and Susan Williamson, which is generally regarded to be the world's finest collection of these legendary sports cars and racecars. There's a dozen of them on the auction block, expected to bring in $15 million. Do the math -- that's more than one million dollars per car. Most of the proceeds will benefit the Dartmouth Medical School. The annual Pebble Beach event raises some $10 million for charity.

Some 100 other cars are on the auction block, too. They include --

  • the legendary 1959 Ferrari 250 GT ‘California’ Spider
  • the acclaimed 1934 Triumph Dolomite 8C 2400 Super-Charged Grand Sport
  • a rare 1938 ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Alfa Romeo 6C
  • the original 1914 Stutz Series E Bearcat

Oh, I wish I had the money and a garage big enough to hold these vintage, classic beauties. Great drives, each and every one.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hydrogen Cars Drive Across USA

It's called Hydrogen Road Tour '08. A fleet of these alternative fuel vehicles, a combination of concept cars and production models from several manufacturers, are driving from Portland, Maine to Los Angeles to prove that hydrogen powered cars are an important part of the future.

The 4,000 mile, coast-to-coast tour is taking twelve days, and includes more than 30 stops, finishing in Santa Monica on Saturday, August 23. Perhaps the most important of these stops is in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the Senators and Congressmen who should see and be impressed with these vehicles that use no gasoline whatsoever -- those legislators won't be there. They are all on vacation with their families, or busy raising money for their re-election campaigns.

The hydrogen road rally is a partnership of the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation, the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the National Hydrogen Association and a group of seven automobile manufacturers and hydrogen fuel providers.

Vehicles included models running on hydrogen fuel cells only, hydrogen-electric hybrids, and BMW's liquid hydrogen and gas bi-fuel model, a combo of sedans and SUVs. The collection also includes a combo of gas-powered production models retro-fitted to hydrogen, and prototypes designed from the ground up to be non-gasoline powered. BTW -- the initials FCEV mean it's a fuel cell/ elecrtic. From these manufacturers --
  • BMW 7 Series Hydrogen
  • Mercedes-Benz F-Cell
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Honda FCX Clarity
  • Hyundai Tucson FCEV
  • Kia Sportage EX FCEV
  • Volkswagen Hy-Motion Tiguan FCEV
  • Nissan X-Trail FCV
BMW is the only manufacturer with a hydrogen-powered luxury sedan that is already in production and available to consumers. It's the spectacular 7 Series Hydrogen, which switches seamlessly between hydrogen power and regular gasoline at the flip of a switch. I test drove it recently, and it performs equally well either way. Some 100 of these vehicles are being tested in Europe and the US by regular consumers and what the marketing industry calls 'opinion leaders'.

Honda's FCX Clarity sedan also is being road-tested by a combination of ordinary consumers and opinion leaders including celebrity and environmentalist Jamie Lee Curtis.

Volkswagen is participating with its concept HyMotion Tiguan, and will be providing daily updates and photos from the historic trip on a dedicated VW Hydrogen Tour website. Take a look. You can be sure I will be checking in periodically.

Hydrogen is not the entire answer to reducing dependency on foreign oil, but it certainly is part of the answer, along with hybrids, plug-in hybrids and compressed natural gas, or CNG.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

International Driver's License Scams

It's great to rent a car overseas and drive yourself. Not so great if you are driving with an illegal international driving permit, called an IDP. So beware of buying a fraudulent license, especially over the internet.

There are only two organizations in the United States which can issue a proper, legal IDP to drivers holding a license issued by one of the 50 US states. One is the AAA, the other is the American Automobile Touring Alliance. That's it. Just those two. Anybody else offering to sell you an international driver permit is a scam and a fraud, and if you're stopped by a foreign police officer with one of these make-believe permits, you could spend the rest of your vacation in a foreign jail.

Authentic IDPs and Inter-American Driving Permits (IADPs) are official translations of a motorist’s driver’s license, for use when driving in another country. Anyone 18 years or older who presents a valid U.S. driver’s license can get one on at any of the more than 1,100 AAA offices around the country, or by mail following instructions on the AAA website.

An IDP costs just $15 from AAA, $20 from AATA. Anybody charging you more than that should throw up red flags -- it's a tip-off to a rip-off. Some of these scammers are charging hundreds of dollars. One website I checked promises your application will be processed within 12 hours. Terrific. If you go to an AAA office with the proper documents, your legal, $15 application will be issued on the spot, in under one hour.

Plus, you can be sure the AAA won't sell your driver's license information to other scammers who are in the business of identify theft, and cause you years of financial grief.

These on-line permit scams are nothing new. They're just easier now thanks to the internet. The US Federal Trade Commission has been warning us about these scams, and telling the fraudulent marketers their conduct won’t be tolerated.

Drive safe. Drive legal.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hybrid Cars at Beijing Olympics

We've been hearing a lot about the air pollution in Beijing -- bad enough that some Olympic athletes are worried it will affect their performances. So, it is great news that Olympic officials will drive green, hybrid cars during the two-week event.

If you think these hybrid vehicles are from China's next door neighbor, Japan -- the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, or Nissan Altima Hybrid -- you would be wrong. The hybrid technology for these green cars is from Ricardo, an engineering company based in Detroit. The actual powertrain and other technology for these hybrids are being manufactured at Ricardo's factory in England.

The hybrid motors and drive trains are being installed in 50 A5 sedans made by China's own Chery Automotibile Company Ltd. They are being called "Olympics Green Messengers," and are some of China's very first hybrid vehicles. The hybrids will go into full production in China in the months following the Olympic games, all the hope is that the fuel-efficient, eco-friendly Chery A5 Hybrid will become widely and wildly popular in China, just as the Prius has become in the USA.

The first Chinese hybrids are linked to a 1.6 liter gasoline engine with a 5-speed manual transmission. The next model will be a more comprehensive mild hybrid, with a smaller gas engine matched with a larger 151-volt electric motor.

This is just one more example of how necessity is the mother of invention. Here's hoping Ricardo will help auto manufacturers in other countries to speed development of great hybrid drives. Let's consider some possibilities --

India's Tata. Korea's Hyundai. France's Peugeot and Citroen. Italy's Fiat. Spain's Seat. Czech Republic's Skoda.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Top Ten Green Cars of 2008

Who is the greenest of them all? Toyota Prius? Honda Civic Hybrid? Smart for Two? Those are the top three great green drives for 2008 according to Kelley Blue Book, also known as KBB.

The ratings are based on lots more than just fuel efficiency, though. Also comfort, and an important thing called performance, which includes how much oomph they have to keep up with traffic on a steep incline, or corner without feeling like you'll tilt over. And price -- the Honda Fit, pictured here, is just $15,000.

But there are lots more eco-friendly, fuel efficient cars in the great green drives garage. And while the list is dominated by hybrids, there's also a couple of small gas-powered cars, and even one diesel, the new super-clean Mercedes-Benz BLUETEC. Drum roll please --
  • Nissan Altima Hybrid - 34 mpg (35 city, 33 highway)

  • Mini Cooper - 32 mpg (28 city, 37 highway)

  • Ford Escape Hybrid - 32 mpg (34 city, 30 highway)

  • Honda Fit - 31 mpg (28 city, 34 highway)

  • Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC - 26 mpg (23 city/32 hwy)

  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid - 26 mpg (27 city, 25 highway)

  • Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid - 21 mpg (21 city, 22 highway)

This list includes a little of everything when it comes to type -- sedans, SUVs and hatchbacks -- certainly something for everybody in this list of great green drives.