The New Lexus on the Road

LEXUS
LEXUS

It has been five generations of ES sedans since its unveiling back in 1989, with over a million still being driven on the roads. Now, the newest Lexus ES, the ES 300h now has a hybrid powertrain and was recently unveiled at the New York Auto Show last April.

The first orders of the vehicle would be accepted starting August 2012.

The Lexus 300h has an EPA combined fuel economy rating of forty miles per gallon, with a seamless delivery of 200 horsepower from the four cylinder Atkinson engine. It is a dual overhead cam 16 valve with variable valve timing with intelligence or VVT-i. It further has an electronically controlled sequential fuel injection (SFI) for its front wheel drive engine with electronically controlled continuously variable transmission.

The frame is a unitized steel body with front MacPherson strut-type independent suspension and rear dual link MacPherson strut-type independent suspension. Furthermore, it has a four wheel power assisted disc brake system with ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist, Traction Control, and Vehicle Stability Control. The vehicle can accelerate between zero to sixty mph in 8.1 seconds with a top speed of 112 mph.

The price would be unveiled just before its release date and is viewed as the top reason for the acceptance or rejection of the model. According to Brian A. Smith, Vice President of Marketing for Lexus, “The premium levied on the buyers of the hybrid, versus the non-hybrid ES 350 would be the lowest in our line up.”

There are subtle differences between the ES 350 and its hybrid counterpart. These include a rear spoiler on the down low and exhaust pipes hidden differentiate the hybrid version. The 300h has a drag coefficient of 0.27 and is designed to have a thrusting prow and deeply embedded fog lights between two tiered “spindle grilles” that makes the Lexus different from other models.

For the interiors, there is squared and angular look reminiscent of 1980’s interiors, a disappointing look for the luxury brand. What is original though is the use of optional bamboo wood accents which works best with the environmental sustainability view of the hybrid. This vehicle has been certified in California as a super ultra low emissions vehicle.

For passenger space, the front and rear accommodations are comfortable, but hybrids lose three cubic feet of trunk space because of the 1.6 kilowatt hour nickel metal hydride battery pack.

The car has a dash mounted selector to change from throttle to steering response while in Sport mode. The selector also changes to hybrid power according to the tachometer response, with the Eco mode emphasizing fuel economy while the EV mode allows for a maximum distance of 1.5 miles, when running under 25 mph.

The 2013 ES model has a standard seven inch display screen with its known Display Zone, with an analog clock and other Lexus only accents and styling. The lower half of the dashboard is the Operations Zone, where the HVAC system and its Enform infotainment system, with the three modes and the push button EV mode.

New Cars Introduced In Detroit

electric motor
electric motor

There are three new cars that have wowed the visitors, kibitzers and participants in the ongoing Detroit Motor Show. These electric vehicles are from Lexus, the prime Toyota brand, Volvo, the Swedish car giant and BMW, the German carmaker.

The Lexus LF-LC concept is a rapid departure from the conservative models of the previous years. This is a two plus two seater hybrid sports coupe designed by Calty Studio of Toyota. While many say that the concept would just remain a concept and not a commercial vehicle, the design is consistent with the design development done under the CT and GS. This vehicle liberates the concept of a sports coupe to push the performance, style and technology boundaries not only for Lexus but for the industry as well. The price is $375,000 and it has a front engine rear drive hybrid power train named the Advanced Lexus Hybrid Drive.

The Volvo XC60 Plug-In Hybrid is a reworked version of the highly successful family sedan. This Volvo design has a plug-in version of the V60 wagon sold throughout Europe. A gas version electric hybrid would be available by 2015 in the United States. According to Stefan Jacoby, CEO of Volvo Cars, he viewed that plug-in hybrids had greater market advantages over the all-electrics. He did say that it would take some time for the market share of electric vehicles to become significant. The XC60 has a 280 horsepower turbo charged four-cylinder engine that shares duties with a seventy horsepower electric motor. It claims to run from zero to sixty in just 5.8 seconds. With just electric power, the range is 35 miles while with the gas engine, the electric equivalent of over 100 miles to the gallon can travel over 600 miles to a full tank of gas.

The BMW ActiveHybrid 5 and Active Hybrid 3 were unveiled last Jan 9, 2012 and are in reality higher mileage hybrid models of the company’s top selling sport sedans. The ActiveHybrid 5 would be sold all across America by June and the ActiveHybrid 3 would become available by the fall season. The 5 series has a combined mileage of 28 miles to the gallon while the 3 Series runs 37 miles to the gallon. The hybrid vehicles would run on turbocharged 300 horsepower engine with six cylinders in addition to a 55 horsepower electric motor. The cars have eight speed automatic gearboxes and have start stop functions to avoid idling when at full stop. The ActiveHybrid 5 would cost $61,845 including delivery charges, $8700 more expensive than the conventional 535i. These hybrids are much more practical vehicles compared to the i8 plug in hybrid still to be built. Overall, there’s not much to distinguish the hybrids from their conventional cars.

The New York Auto Show of 2011

movingtousaIMAGE
movingtousaIMAGE

It is without doubt the year of the electric car. It has shown up in Frankfurt and now in New York, it clearly has stolen the show. Last year, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt were launched to a lot of fanfare. This year, three more pure electric cars would be hitting the showrooms throughout the world. Major automakers and start up companies are jockeying for position in this increasingly lucrative market. This year’s show has also highlighted the following announcements:

Nissan North America Chairman, Carlos Tavares, has announced that the first Nissan all-electric vehicle to the United States with a faster charger. This would cut charging time from seven to four hours using a 240-volt level 2 charging station.

Mitsubishi on the other hand stated that its MiEV would cost $27,990 before taxes. With the current federal tax rebate, the price would fall to $20,490. Mitsubishi North America President Yoichi Yozokawa has said that the company would unveil more plug-ins until 2015.

BMW also showcased ActiveE, the second-generation electric car designed from the 1 Series coupe. The company intends to lease 800 units to individuals at $450 per month. This is much more inexpensive compared to the Mini E lease program. The ActiveE’s electric power train would be the basis for the BMW full electric, the carbon fiber i3.

Porsche has taken the hybrid route with its 380 hp Panamera S-Hybrid. The unit costs $95,000 and goes from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds. The model is pegged to be the most efficient Porsche, with a fuel efficiency of 6.8 liters per 100 miles under European standards.

Other announcements include the Lexus LF-Gh hybrid among others. Clearly, the electric car and the hybrid vehicle have made its mark and the future belongs to them.

Hybrid Vehicles have been Around for Hundreds of Years

The hybrid vehicle is something which is starting to catch the attention of worldwide drivers but is often dominated by traditional liquid based fuel vehicles and in later years electric vehicles. However, the hybrid is starting to become more and more recognised and is ultimately seen as the perfect stage by stage transformation from petrol/diesel-based vehicles to fully fledged electric vehicles.

Many people will be surprised to learn that hybrid electric vehicles have been around for over 100 years and have a history which has been very volatile and controversial.

The first hybrid vehicles

When talking about hybrid vehicles today we automatically assume people are talking about four-wheel vehicles as opposed to motorbikes and the like. However, it is worth noting that a hybrid vehicle is a vehicle which has access to 2 different power sources which can include oil-based fuel, hydrogen, compressed air, liquid nitrogen, pedal power, wind power, natural gas, solar, waste heat, coal or radio waves.

There is evidence that the first hybrid motorcycle was available in the 1800s and incorporated any two of a combustion engine, electric motor or good old-fashioned pedal power. While there have been development since the 1800s it is interesting to see, as with the basic design of electric cars, and their history goes back such a long way.

The first really well-known hybrid vehicle was produced in 1901 by Fernando Porsche who released the "Mixte" to the market. Based upon an earlier Porsche design the Mixte actually went on to break several Australian land speed records with the gasoline engine used to power a generator which in turn powered electrical hub motors around the vehicle. At the time the top speed was 50 km/h and the maximum range was 50 km. There have been many more vehicles introduced to the market since then but this is seen by many as a landmark creation.

The thinking behind hybrid vehicles

Even in the early days it was plainly obvious that electric vehicle technology was still at a very early stage and would need some enhancement if it was ever to hit the mass market. By incorporating liquid fuel based vehicles and electric power it was be possible not only to reduce the cost of travel and reduce emissions to the environment but also allow vehicles to travel much further than the early electric only vehicles which were around at the time.

The same idea is still relevant today with hybrid vehicles seen as a halfway house between liquid fuel-based cars and purely electric powered cars. The ability to switch between various powers has extended the travelling distance between charges or refuelling and has proven to be very popular amongst many consumers around the world.

Recent developments in the hybrid electric vehicle market

There have been substantial changes over the last few years with regards to hybrid electric vehicles many of which are now able to incorporate kinetic energy to recharge and improve the life of the electric battery. When used in conjunction with a traditional combustion engine, as suggested above, this offers the ability to significantly increase distances the vehicles can travel between recharges or refuelling.

The introduction of the Toyota Prius in 1997 and the Honda Insight soon after are seen by many as the vehicles which broke the back of the hybrid market. Since 1997 there has been a significant increase in demand with worldwide sales of the Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles now reaching 1.7m vehicles worldwide. Indeed the Honda Insight became the bestselling vehicle in Japan due in April 2009, the first time a hybrid vehicle has attracted such attention, and yet another breakthrough for the sector.

Are hybrid vehicles an alternative to electric vehicles?

This is the question which is on the lips of many consumers and many car manufacturers around the world. If there is sufficient electric technology available today why are we seeing the creation of yet more hybrid vehicles which incorporate both traditional combustion engines and electric power?

While there is no doubt there have been significant developments in electric power over the last decade, we are still nowhere near the production of mass-market electric powered cars which can travel comparable distances to liquid fuel based vehicles. While there are some exceptions to the rule, which we have covered and will cover in the future, many believe that hybrid vehicles offer a useful alternative and a soft sell approach to converting the consumer to electric powered cars.

The U.S. market

Hybrids have been very popular and very common in U.S. market for some time with U.S. drivers looking to do their bit for the environment while maintaining vehicles which offer similar power and similar distances between refuelling, compared to traditional liquid fuel based systems. There have also been some tax incentives for drivers to switch to hybrid vehicles although in the future, if the experts are correct, we will see more and more hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles on the road which could jeopardise some of the potentially lucrative tax incentives.

The bottom line is that with U.S. companies dominating the worldwide car market, along with those in the Far East, it will take a significant shift in demand and manufacturing patterns in the U.S. before electric vehicles themselves can even contemplate taking over from liquid fuel based systems on a worldwide basis. However, as U.S. consumers move more towards the hybrid vehicle we are seeing more and more hybrid models in Europe and the Far East which is good for consumers and beneficial to the environment.

Conclusion

Yet again, despite the fact that hybrid vehicles are more common now than ever before many people will be surprised to learn that these vehicles first began to take shape in the 1800s. Why they have yet to replace purely liquid fuel powered vehicles is a matter of great concern and great debate with many differing views and differing opinions.

There is no doubt that the hybrid vehicle is the ultimate feeder system for the ultimate expansion of the electric car market. Now that U.S. consumer have grasped this concept with both hands it is only a matter of time, as ever, before U.S. trends transfer themselves overseas. How long it will take to transfer worldwide car drivers from liquid fuel based systems to hybrids and then on to electric cars remains to be seen but progress is being made.