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Green Car of the Year Finalists Revealed

“Green” comes in many forms.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Oct.30, 2018

The 2019 Insight is Honda's third attempt to market a mainstream, entry-level hybrid: an a possible winner of Green Car of the Year.

Not all that long ago, motorists looking for an environmentally friendly vehicle were likely in for a long search, with only a handful of models on the market. These days, it’s becoming a lot easier, as more and more new alternatives come to market, seemingly almost every week.

And that’s convinced the organizers of the annual Green Car of the Year Awards to expand their program this year. “Green comes in many forms,” they explain, noting that this year will bring new awards for the Luxury Green Car of the Year and the Green SUV of the Year.

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The three awards will be handed out at the Los Angeles International Auto Show just a month from now, and could see the jury highlight the wide range of “green” technologies now available to American motorists. (more…)

First Drive: 2016 Toyota Prius

New look, new suspension - great mileage and moderate improvements to ride.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Nov.23, 2015

The top-line Toyota Prius Four Touring model starts at $30,000 plus delivery fees.

In an era when so many cars have a tendency to look alike, the Toyota Prius has been an unabashed, if somewhat geeky, standout. Of course, it’s what’s below the skin that really makes the difference. The Prius was the world’s first hybrid-electric vehicle when it made its debut in Japan in 1997 and, ever since, it has overwhelmingly dominated that segment worldwide.

But times have changed, and the third-generation Toyota Prius has been losing a lot of sales momentum this year. There are several reasons why, perhaps most notably the sharp slide in fuel prices that has reduced demand for all “green” vehicles. But there are other factors, among other things that geeky design and the less than thrilling ride offered by the old Prius.

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And those are issues Toyota has set out to address with the fourth-generation hybrid. The 2016 Toyota Prius gets a complete, top-to-bottom makeover: new skin, a new platform, a new independent rear suspension — and an updated Hybrid Synergy Drive system that delivers as much as 10% better mileage.


PSA Peugeot Citroen Planning to Market Compressed Air Hybrid

Automakers looking for alternatives to batteries.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Jan.28, 2013

A cutaway showing the internal layout of the Peugeot Hybrid-Air system on one of its subcompacts.

If you’ve been to an auto show lately you’re undoubtedly aware of all the new products using batteries, whether conventional hybrids, more advanced plug-ins or state-of-the-art battery-electric vehicles. That said, with all the problems that even the most advanced lithium-ion batteries suffer from it’s no wonder manufacturers are looking for alternatives.

The new fuel cell alliances announced by Toyota and BMW, and by Daimler, Nissan and Ford, show one potentially promising technology. Now, PSA Peugeot Citroen is exploring another. The French automaker is studying a compressed air hybrid system that it might soon offer in one of its subcompact hatchback models.

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Peugeot isn’t the only manufacturer looking at hybrid-air technology. Ford explored the concept for use on some of its bigger truck models. But as a statement from Paris indicates, the European maker is seriously moving ahead on a technology that would skip costly batteries and, it contends, might be able to deliver fuel economy nudging into the 80 mile per gallon range.


First Look: Lexus LF-CC Concept

Can passion and hybrids co-exist?

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Sep.27, 2012

The Lexus LF-CC Concept appears to be very, very close to production-ready.

Lexus has been dropping a number of surprises in recent months – all meant to demonstrate that it’s serious about pumping more “passion” into the brand.

The latest effort, the LF-CC Concept, may be the most aggressive example of that to date, taking the maker’s L Finesse design language to new extremes — with a bold new iteration of the Lexus spindle grille that has become the symbol of the brand’s new direction.

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Likely to return in production form, the Lexus LF-CC is making its formal debut at this year’s Paris Motor Show.  And it also emphasizes that the Japanese brand’s love affair with hybrid technology isn’t cooling down.

The brand’s U.S. boss, Mark Templin, told last month that by mid-decadeLexus will have eight, possibly even nine, gas-electric offerings in its line-up.


Drivers Want – and Will Pay – for More Efficient Cars

Two new studies show growing interest in alternative power.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Sep.13, 2012

Ford will offer both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of its new C-Max "people-mover."

A growing number of Americans are demanding not only more fuel-efficient cars but those that run on cleaner alternatives to gasoline – and they’re willing to pay, according to a pair of new studies.

That could be good news for manufacturers fretting about the cost of meeting the government’s strict new Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, mandates requiring an average 34.5 mpg by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.

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“Cost is a key issue,” especially with more radical alternatives such as electric propulsion, said Phil Murtaugh, the head of California-based Coda, a start-up in the emerging market for electric vehicles.


BMW Is Plugged In – But Not Charged Up – About Battery Cars

Launches new EV car sharing program, but predicts marginal battery car sales.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Aug.22, 2012

San Franciscans can now rent a BMW ActiveE using a smartphone app.

BMW is plugging into the nascent electric vehicle market.  But that doesn’t mean it’s all that charged up about the technology’s opportunities, especially in the U.S., near-term.

Perhaps the best opportunity to create a market, the maker appears to be betting, is through non-traditional marketing efforts, such as the new DriveNow car-sharing service it has partnered with in San Francisco.

Without significant new incentives, senior BMW executives caution, direct EV sales to consumers will likely remain little more than an asterisk on the sales charts.

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With little fanfare, BMW quietly began letting DriveNow begin renting out its new 3-Series-based ActiveE battery-electric vehicle in late June.  At a growing number of automated locations in the city – with a center coming at San Francisco International Airport – motorists can pick up an ActiveE and use it for as little as a half hour or keep it for several days.


Hybrid Helper: New EPA Website Calculates Fuel Savings, Payback Period

Changing the equation.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on May.18, 2012

The calculator shows most drivers will need 5 years to recover the added cost of the Toyota Prius C.

The recent run-up in fuel prices led to a surge in demand for hybrids like the Toyota Prius, which has been selling at record levels. Yet sales of gas-electric vehicles still lag well behind what proponents keep forecasting, accounting for barely 3% of the overall U.S. new vehicle market.

Why?  Well, that’s a matter of some debate, but for many potential buyers the issue is one of cost.  While there are a few models that carry no premium for their advanced powertrains – such as the Lincoln MKZ – most hybrids are more expensive than comparable models using gas power alone.  In some cases, the premium can be substantial, $5,000 or more.

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And so, while those hybrids might quickly save you money on gas, it can take years to break even on your up-front investment – what industry types call the “payback period.”

Or will it? A new calculator created by the National Transportation Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is designed to make it easy to calculate your fuel savings – and determine the payback period.


Demand Surging for Diesels, Hybrids

Motorists look for cleaner, cheaper options.

by Joseph Szczesny on Apr.18, 2012

Porsche's Cayenne is the latest model to go diesel.

Sales of vehicles that run on something other than gasoline climbed significantly during the first quarter of 2012, with an especially big surge in demand for hybrids and high-mileage diesel products.  The increase mirrors the rapid run-up in the price of gasoline – and has been buoyed by the increased availability of new diesel, battery and other vehicles able to use alternative energy sources.

The Toyota Prius, the world’s best-selling gas-electric model, set an all-time U.S. sales record in March.  And during the first quarter, American hybrid car sales overall increased 37.2%.  The emerging plug-in electric car market saw a sales increase of 323% after a slow and shaky start in 2012. By comparison, the overall automobile market increased 13.4% in 2012, according to new sales information compiled by HybridCars.Com and Baum and Associates.

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“With higher fuel prices, Americans are seeking more fuel efficient cars so it’s understandable that diesel and hybrid cars are showing such impressive sales increases,” said Allen Schaeffer, the Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum.


Fisker to Unveil Third Karma Variant in Frankfurt

Crossover-like model aims to expand appeal of $90,000 plug-in commuter car.

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Aug.05, 2011

Fisker Automotive founder Henrik Fisker with his plug-in hybrid, the $87,900 Karma.

With sales of the new Karma battery car unofficially underway, California battery-car start Fisker Automotive will roll out an additional variant of the costly commuter car at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show.

The sleek combination of a sports car and a plug-in hybrid commuter car is initially being offered in hardtop form, with a convertible version soon to be added to the line.  A third body style, which sources say could be “loosely described” as a crossover vehicle, will follow.

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“It is a new variant and we will be showing it at Frankfurt,” Fisker spokesman Roger Ormischer confirmed to, though he declined to provide more specific details beyond noting, “We will be putting it on sale next year.”


JCI Wants to Divorce Partner

Different directions on battery-car technology.

by Joseph Szczesny on May.19, 2011

JCI and Saft provide battery car technology to makers including Mercedes-Benz, which launched the S400 Blue Hybrid.

Johnson Controls Inc., a leading vendor in electric car technology, is suing to break up its joint venture with Saft, a French battery maker.

“Johnson Controls and Saft have a fundamental disagreement about the future direction and appropriate scope of the joint venture,” said Alex Molinaroli, president of Johnson Controls Power Solutions.

Though perhaps best known for interiors and other conventional automotive components and systems, JCI has aggressively moved into the battery car space, working with makers like Ford on hybrids and even more advanced systems.  Saft has also pushed into what some anticipate to be a critical and fast-expanding automotive niche.

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“The industry is evolving rapidly and the investments needed to achieve market leadership require us to do more than the joint venture has done or can do,” Molinaroli explained, after JCI filed a lawsuit in the Delaware Chancery Court to dissolve the Johnson Controls-Saft joint venture.

The joint venture was formed in 2006 to develop and manufacture lithium-ion automotive battery solutions and lined up major customers, including Mercedes-Benz.