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Batteries/Automotive/Hybrid Sales page 051027
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Two new full hybrids- a luxury Lexus and an ever-popular Ford Escape SUV motivate niche buyers

Having  a ‘made the grade’ image and being part of the ‘in group’  are seemingly   imbedded goals for many  Americans who are new car buyers and have the resources for discretionary spending.  Purchasing a  hybrid  Lexus or Escape can be beneficial in accomplishing these goals as well as intuitively making a statement that the owners are interested in creating a cleaner environment while utilizing less gasoline.

The 2006 model RX 400h Lexus (shown in the lower right) delivers a combined horsepower of 268, matching the performance  of a V8-powered luxury SUV while delivering a combined EPA fuel economy rating of 29 m.p.g..  The Luxus Hybrid System lets the vehicle operate on either electricity, gasoline or a combination of both.   Lexus hybrid technology is an important  first  in  luxury hybrid vehicles. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) as stated on the Lexus website is $49,185.

A simple diagram (above the Lexus vehicle on the front cover) describes  the regenerative braking system, a necessity for every hybrid.  Regenerative braking is an advanced feature that allows each electric motor to act as a generator when coasting or braking.  Thus,  the kinetic energy that would normally be lost during the vehicle’s deceleration can be converted into energy   and   sent  to the battery pack for storage. The regenerative braking system is especially effective during driving, where repeated stopping is common.   With regenerative braking, these batteries never require external charging  because recharging is  generated internally.   This regenerative feature  definitely  allows the Lexus hybrid to be the  luxury in-town vehicle. (Photo of the Lexus and the block diagram of the regrerative braking system are courtesy of Lexus press site on the web.)

Individuals  purchasing (not leasing) this vehicle in 2005 will receive  up to a $2,000  clean-burning fuel  deduction from the IRS.  Sales of this vehicle began in April and Toyota forecasts that approximately 25,000 will be sold this year.

With the new hybrid Escape by Ford (shown in the upper left photo) ,the  ever-popular SUV can now be purchased along with its environmental and gas-saving image   However, the price tag will note a premium of about $7,000 when compared to a four-wheel drive Escape XLS which has a V-6 conventional gasoline engine.  Depending on conditions in city driving and the terrain (flat or hilly), gas mileage will range between 28 m.p.g. and 38 m.p.g.  

Suggested MSRP for the basic hybrid Escape is $26,830.

Beneath the photo of the Escape hybrid is its sealed Nickel-metal hydride battery pack which is rated at 330 Volts.  Its function  is to store electrical energy for starting the gasoline engine and for added boosts in acceleration performance. As with many of the other Nickel-metal hydride  battery packs found in other hybrids by other manufacturers,  there is a limited warrantee of at least 8 years/100,000 miles.  

The Escape is also eligible for the ‘up to $2,000’ tax deduction by the IRS.  However, one monetary item not currently  in the hybrid’s  favor is the $2,000 rebate that is currently given through June by  Ford for the conventional (nonhybrid) Escape.(Photos of the Escape and battery pack are courrtesy of Ford’s website.) +  

A report, “Hybrid Vehicle Registrations Increase 81 Percent in 2004,” accentuates the positive. New vehicle registrations  totaled 83,153, an 81 % increase over 2003. In looking  back only four years, the sales in 2000 were only 7,781; this translates into   960 % increase for hybrids. Leading the celebration was Toyota  Motor Company where  sales  sales held  64% of the market last year. (Report by R.L. Polk & Co., 04/25/05. For more details, see http://www.polk.com/news/releases/2005_0425,asp.)   

Microsoft Excel ChartWith 38 hybrid models ( 17 cars and 21 trucks) expected to be on sale in 2011,   there will be more choices and competition among the automakers.  (Information is courtesy of J.D. Power and Associates-LMC Automotive Forecasting Services, “The Hybrid-Electric Vehicle Outlook,” 02/03/05) +
Microsoft Excel Chart

The “euphoria” for escalating sales figures is not yet over, Toyota Motor has sold 22,880 Prius vehicles during January, February and March of 2005, according to Autodata Corp., and  expects to produce 100,000 Prius models for the North American market this year.  

With the price of oil escalating, more consumers are interested in owning hybrids.  The Union of Concerned Scientists note that market studies indicate that at least 25% to 30% of consumers are interested in a hybrid rather than a conventional vehicle.    Consumers seemingly are beginning to take note that “in 2015, we would cut our national oil use by 2.3 million barrels per day-nearly as much as we currently import from the Persian Gulf -if we increased fuel economy to 49 m.p.g. over the next decade.” (“A New Road,” Hybridcenter.org, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2005)  

Revisiting Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) for fuel savings

In the U.S., 27.2% of all energy is used for transportation, and of that figure, 97 percent   of transportation fuel is oil based.  This  fact does not bode well with higher costs of gasoline/oil and national security issues.  One answer is to  revisit plug-in hybrids - especially for city driving.    

In May, EDrive Systems LLC  demonstrated a gas-optional hybrid   technology with a Toyota Prius which has been “redesigned” with an added feature - a  plug-in  which accepts a charge from  a conventional 3-prong, 110 Volt home electrical outlet.  The company states that  by combining gasoline power with electricity from a home recharge, an EDrive-equipped vehicle can average 100 to 150 m.p.g. for about the first 60 miles of the day, compared to 45-55 m.p.g. for a conventional Prius.  The vehicle can also run in “electric only” mode at neighborhood speeds.  This can result in using only one-half to one-third of the gasoline used by a conventional hybrid. This concept vehicle won the hybrid category in Tour de Sol’s Monte Carlo - Style Rally this month. (Note, the EDrive product is engineered by Energy CS and distributed by Clean-Tech LLC.)  

This “retrofitted” Prius, with a plug-in feature,  has also had a  change in the battery pack.  Rather than using a 1.3 kiloWatt-hour Nickel-metal hydride battery, the  pack is composed of  9-kWh Lithium-ion Saphion(R)  batteries  manufactured by Valence Technology.   Although not yet commercially available, the company hopes to have this ‘affordable retail option’ available to consumers by 2006.  However, retail pricing  will not be in the same range as for  the current  hybrid (Prius).  Due to the higher cost for Lithium-ion and larger-size  batteries for plug-ins, the price will escalate by a few thousand dollars.

Plug-ins (whether pure electric or a hybrid version)   seem be  purported as the perfect town cars for short trips by such groups  as The California Cars Initiative, the Center for Security Policy, The Set Free America coalition and  EPRI (the Electric Power Research Institute).   In fact, for most trips to the grocery store,  the neighborhood  shopping center or  a sporting event at the local school - all trips under 30 miles round trip  could be accomplished by charging up the vehicles’ batteries  the with home-based electricity.

Microsoft Excel ChartAlthough sales are growing ,J.D. Power and Associates expects the hybrid market to top out in 2010 with about 3 percent of the U.S. automobile market.   “Despite the significant growth in  the number of models and annual sales over the next five years, we anticipate hybrid market share to reach a plateau of approximately 3 percent near the end of the decade,” said Anthony Pratt, senior manager of global powertrain forecasting at J.D. Power -LMC.  This is related primarily to the price premium of $3,000 to $4,000 that consumers must pay for a hybrid vehicle, compared with a comparable non-hybrid option, and to competing technologies such as more fuel-efficient gasoline and diesel options that will be available after 2006.”  

There will also be an increase in models being offered.  In 2005, there will be an increase from 8 to 11 models offered.  In 2011, the number should increase to 38 hybrid models - 17 cars and 21 trucks.  

Information is courtesy of J.D. Power and Associates-LMC Automotive Forecasting Services, “The Hybrid-Electric Vehicle Outlook,” 02/03/05

But to date, the concept of plug-ins has not been well-accepted  by the consumer.  However, fleet users have tried them in various locations.  Currently, DaimlerChrysler is building a fleet of 40 PHEV Sprinter delivery vans  in cooperation with EPRI, government agencies and several utilities.  EPRI estimates that there will be a 50% savings in gas mileage.  Other than DaimlerChrysler’s project,  none of the big auto companies have embraced plug-ins for serious commercialization.

In early March, the city of Austin, TX passed a resolution which provides rebates for plug-in vehicles, thus promoting  local business and government agencies to buy these vehicles which improve air quality and reduce costs of driving.  

Hybrids - Status and Expectations

Meanwhile, in the non-plug-in world...

Toyota is heralding its top sales of 22,880 Pruis for Jan.- March. 2005; the company  has positive sales projections  for the newly-introduced Lexus and will soon be introducing  the highlander SUV.

Honda is celebrating its April  sales of 5,579 Civic, Insight and Accord hybrids.     Although the Accord was just recently introduced, it commanded one percent of  the market in the first three months of 2005.

Ford is touting its 2,566 Escape hybrid SUVs sold  during the first quarter of 2005 and 1,705 hybrid Escapes in April. (Incidently, Ford also has a Escape Hybrid SUV being sold in the European market; it has a diesel engine with  manual transmission  and has  better fuel economy than the model sold in the U.S. According to Ford’s marketing study, as stated by Englbert Spijker from Ford-Germany at the April 2005 Symposium and Exhibition of EVS 21 in Monaco,  Americans only want the gas powered version with  an automatic  transmission so only that model is sold in the U.S.) Ford’s next hybrid in the U.S. is the   Mercury Mariner which will be debuting possibly this year.  Two more mid-sized sedans are scheduled for 2008.

Meanwhile, Hyundai and Kia are reporting  that they will introducing  the Hyundai Accent and the Kia Rio to the U.S. later in 2006; larger hybrids may be introduced later in 2008 or 2009.  Interestingly, Lee Hyun Soon, a senior executive vice president said, “The number that we ship to the United States will be very few to see the reaction.  I don’t think we can make a profit with hybrids in the United States.”   

General Motors has been bypassing hybrids for the past years, except for a few mild hybrid trucks and some prototype buses.  However, in December of 2004, the company said that they would be developing a gasoline-electric power system along with DamlierChrysler.  Although GM and Toyota have collaborated since 1999 on research directed on alternative fuel systems, Toyota is not transferring hybrid technology to GM.  In a statement made on Mary 11th, Toyota Chairman Hiroshi Okuda said, “As of now, we are not thinking of working together with GM on hybrid vehicles at all.”  (Japan Today, Japan News)   

Nissan and Saturn are working on hybrids but will not have models ready until 2006.


Batteries - Status and Expectations

As in every other battery application, hybrid vehicle batteries are desired with smaller size, less cost and more power.  Sometimes, batteries are noted to be the largest technological hurdle in  making hybrids a more successful category in auto sales.  Honda has estimated that the battery in its hybrid Accord accounts for about 60 percent  of the  $3,300  premium required to create to this  model.   However, progress in cutting costs has been made.  Today’s Nickel-metal hydride battery packs average about $2,000 to $3,000.   When the Prius was first introduced  in 1997, the cost was double.

Only three manufactures are set up for production  of  Nickel-metal hybrid batteries for hybrids.  They are Sanyo Electric and Panasonic in Japan and Cobasys in the U.S.   Batteries seems to be in tight supply; for example,  Toyota delayed the launch of its Lexus  RX 400 hybrid for this reason. Bill Ford Jr. says his company could sell more hybrids if it could get the batteries.

When smaller and more powerful batteries are discussed, Lithium-ion is almost always mentioned.  Although there has been much research and development in this area, there are no commercial vehicles powered by this chemistry.  In fact, John German of American Honda Motor has noted that volume production is 10 years away.

Back to celebrating success

Toyota is celebrating succeess by bringing to the U. S. market a new  hybrid based on the  the ever-popular  Camry model;  production is scheduled to  begin in Kentucky   in 2006.  Toyota sold 420,000 Camrys with internal combusion engines  in the U.S. last year; this mid-sized sedan is the best seller in the U.S. auto market and its hybrid counterpart should appeal to many consumers.

With sales increasing, Toyota, Honda and Ford should sell about 210,000 gasoline-electric hybrids in 2005.


New hybrid registrations are growing in large cities where air quality is a major concern.  In 2004,  Los Angeles reported 10,339 new hybrid registrations while  San Francisco and San Jose had 8,051.  California’s total was 25, 021, which is a growth rate of over 102 percent in one year.  Other states reporting on a large number of new hybrid registrations were: Virginia, Washington, Florida, Maryland, New York and Texas.  (Source - R.L Polk & Co.)

Growth in hybrids is steady.  The doomsayers report that hybrids  represent less than one percent, an insignificant number,   of the 17 million new vehicles sold in 2004, but  each week there is an increasinlg number of testimonials and articles  written in favor of the electric-gasoline drive.  It is because  there is documented growing interest amongst consumers, the major automakers are planning to introduce another dozen new hybrids in  the next three years.                 
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