Hybrid Cars

Hybrid Cars

I recently saw a round table discussion show on the Speed Channel. The participants were auto industry insiders and representatives from the big 3 auto makers. The discussion moved to hybrid electric technology. Participants all seemed to attack to head of R&D from GM. They all seemed upset that GM has not made significant progress to introduce a tiny hybrid electric car. They all pointed to the Toyota Prius as the ideal vehicle.

The GM representative held his ground. GM’s hybrid program has focused on the other end of the market. They are focusing on large vehicles that use the most fuel.

GM has produced a revolutionary hybrid electric bus. It has an ultra clean burning diesel motor that charges an electric fuel cell and motor that powers the Allison transmission. The city bus has a 60% fuel savings over a conventional bus.

According to GM:

“If the 13,000 transit buses in service in the nine largest U.S. cities were replaced with buses featuring hybrid technology, the U.S. would use nearly 40 million fewer gallons of diesel fuel each year. That’s the equivalent fuel savings of 584,000 small hybrid cars.”

GM plans to produce pickup trucks with the same technology as well as non-hybrid fuel saving technology like “Displacement on Demand”.

according to GM:

“Displacement on Demand saves fuel by using only half of the engine’s cylinders during most normal driving conditions. When loads are light, the control system automatically closes both intake and exhaust valves for half of the cylinders, cutting off their air and fuel supply. The valves are reopened to provide all-cylinder operation when the driver needs it for brisk acceleration or for hauling heavy loads.”

These innovations can produce real fuel savings for the types of vehicles that use the most fuel.

The Toyota Prius is a neat car. The geek in me has to admire the technology. Using brake friction to charge the batteries is brilliant. 50-70 MPG for city driving is very impressive. But without the hybrid technology, the car would still get 35-40 MPG.

Why is the car so efficient? It is basically a beer can car with a rubber band motor. It is your standard econobox. Like most Americans, I view econobox cars as impractical.

I am 6′ 6″ tall, and weight 250lbs. I hunt, fish, and buy large items at Lowe’s and Sam’s Club. Hybrid cars and sheets of plywood don’t mix. You can’t pull a trailer or boat. Forget about taking it through the mud hole on the farm. Everyday driving for someone my size would require a shoehorn just to get in a hybrid car.

Hybrid cars may be perfect for a Green Party bumper sticker. However, until they are made bigger, safer, and more powerful, they will not appeal to most Americans.