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Friday, January 16, 2004
Hybrid car race heats up for Big 3 as fuel cells are further down road
By Daniel Howes / The Detroit News


Given all the yammering from auto executives the past two weeks, you’d be forgiven for missing the predictions that hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles may not be an affordable reality until 2020 or later.

For some of this town’s auto bosses, that’s just fine because the sober assessments from mega-suppliers Delphi Corp. in Troy and Germany’s Robert Bosch GmbH amount to a clash between technological reality and their corporate hype — and technology is winning.

If you wonder why Detroit’s automakers are muting talk of fuel cells and jumping on the gasoline-electric hybrid bandwagon in hopes of closing the gap with Toyota, this is it. Or why Volkswagen AG cut a bio-diesel fuel deal with agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland and Mercedes-Benz is pushing its diesel engines inside the United States again.

Fuel cells may, indeed, be the auto industry’s Holy Grail, a squeaky clean powertrain that would give gearheads the power and torque they crave and environmentalists the total victory they demand. Remember, though, that no one has ever found the Holy Grail.

That’s not to say affordable fuel-cell vehicles won’t be a reality around here before the city of Detroit pays off its bonds on a new convention center. They probably will be, so long as prices, buyers and technology converge.

But the years between now and then are enough, the diligence of Toyota’s hybrid vehicle program (under a 26-year veteran of General Motors Corp.) is impressive enough and the public-relations payoff is big enough to force the hybrid push in Detroit and the diesels-to-America campaign in Germany.

“The path appears to be that there will be a hybrid powertrain option in all high-volume vehicles” from Toyota and Lexus, says Dave Hermance, Toyota’s executive engineer for environmental engineering. “It will take years to get there.

(Full story here)
 

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A pity - GM is doing so well with new product and quality, now the Greenies and Media will focus on big bad GM "ignoring" the Hybrid car thing and getting into the game too little, too late.

To be fair, though, I don't see Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Volkswagen rushing to market with hybrids. But GM is a market leader and will take a PR hit every year it goes without a hybrid passenger vehicle of some kind.
 

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Hybrids are a band-aid, not a solution. Hydrogen engines and fuel cells are where the future really is, and I'd rather see money dumped into that than into stop-gap hybrids. That's not to say that it isn't nice to see some hybrids becoming available that aren't uglier than my *** crack, but just so the big three keep it in perspective and don't start abandoning the future in exchange for good PR from Greenpeace and the like.
 

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I predict that someday folks are going to wake up and realize that hybrids are a fraud. Did you all realize that the Toyota Prius, the new one, carries a $4000 battery? And the battery has to be replaced in . . . Toyota says 8 years. My cell phone battery, which I understand uses the same technology, starts suffering badly diminished capacity within a few months. 8 years, Toyota? I bet a 6 month old Prius will feel noticably soggier than a new one. And a couple year old one will barely get out of its own way.

And run the numbers: OK, if the battery lasts 8 years, then maybe the fuel savings will balance out. But if that spendy battery has to be replaced much sooner than that, you're in the hole big time.

And for those greenies who whine that the net is less pollution, think about where batteries come from. Yes, they come from energy sucking (fossil energy sucking, in all likelyhood) metal mining, refining and fabricating processes. I'd bet the amount of energy that goes into making the battery looks a lot like the amount the car eventually "saves.

(An aside: I just looked at Car and Driver's recent test of the nwe Prius. EPA says 51/59 mpg. C&D only managed 42. Conventional cars C&D tests tend to equal or better EPA ratings. Do we suspect maybe Toyota has optimized the Prius for the EPA test?)

It's a damned shame that fashion is sending the automakers down this expensive dead end road.
 

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Hybrids are NOT a band-aid...they're a stepping stone. Hydrogen engines could be produced today, but where would you fuel it? Electric cars can be built today (GM, Honda, Toyota, Ford, Fiat, PSA, and Chrysler have all done it), but do you know who long it takes to recharge one? Hybrids are the stepping stone between ICEs and fuel cells.

Hybrid vehicles allow vehicle manufacturers to develop better and better electric motor technology which will transfer directly to fuel cells when they're ready...and the infrastructure is established. Current fuel cell vehicles are very good and, with better technology developed in parallel with hybrids, they'll get better by 2020 (about the time you'll be able to buy a fuel cell car.

Batteries are expensive in electric and hybrid cars, but you don't deplete them like you do your cell phone.

The last Prius I drove, I, too, got well under the tested fuel economy. You think Toyota's the only company who targets the EPA tests? Why is it that so many vehicles on the market get 18 mpg? You don't think these cars are calibrated to meet EPA tests almost exclusively?
 

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The hybrid powertrain is a bunch of crap. Modern cars produce tiny fractions of the emissions that cars even only a decade ago produced. The greenies just don't understand that they would have to drive their car for years to put out the same emissions a factory produces in a day. They need to grow up and stop whining. Good ol' gas is plentiful and cheap, and the only reason it doesn't cost a dime a gallon is completely artificial--price controls enforced not only by OPEC but by many others. I find it hilarious the supposed Free-Market loving Republicans seem to never have a problem with that :rolleyes:

And the emissions "problem," as small as it is and getting even smaller--(LS2's should have better emissions, the new Ford Focus PZEV, etc.) There is already a solution, it's called ethanol.
 

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Banzai:

Chill out, man. The "greenies" aren't only concentrating on vehicles. EVERYONE (you, me, the "greenies," the industry) knows that factories pollute FAR MORE than cars. The problem is that it sounds (from a politician's perspective) anti-business to clean factories too much. These factories compete with third world factories where our cars compete with other cars on our roads...they all have the same regulations. It's just easier (politically speaking) to clean cars than factories. I would love to see a giant cat on the stacks of factories.

Cars currently pollute about 1% of what they did in 1970. It's amazing how clean cars have become. I've heard it said that if a person tried to kill themselves by running their car in a locked garage, a modern car would run out of gas before the person would die.

It doesn't mean we can't keep cleaning car (and truck) emissions.

Hybrid powertrains aren't "a bunch of crap." You fail to see the performance potential. If you use emissions and fuel economy regulations as a limit, hybrid powertrains can push the performance envelope while staying within the law. In normal driving, you don't need more power than a small engine can provide. In those times when you do need more power, a good hybrid powertrain can provide it. But why waste the fuel (and money) by using more power than you need to, say park your car...drive to the grocery store...idle at the bank...

I, for one, would rather spend my money on things I can enjoy. More performance for each gallon of gas would be a start.
 

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Originally posted by Hudson@Jan 21 2004, 10:15 AM
I, for one, would rather spend my money on things I can enjoy. More performance for each gallon of gas would be a start.
Yes, and many of us enjoy spending our money on fast, powerful, loud, polluting gas-guzzling V8 engines. Performance per gallon of gas is nice and all, but it ain't scalable within reasonable price points. Sure, if you could get 150hp/gallon/100miles, that'd be nice. But 150hp isn't terribly quick unless you weigh under 1800lbs. To get 300hp/gallon/100miles, you need a heck of a lot more engineering work, bigger batteries (which oh by the way add rediculous weight), and you hit a much higher price point - the point at which one must decide between a Corvette that would own the theoretical SC2 (squeaky clean sports car) in every respect but fuel economy and the vehicle that tries to be a jack of all trades, but fails miserably.

You want to save money, you but yourself a very lightweight 4cyl engine. Buying a hybrid isn't about saving money in the long term, it's about making a statement. By the time the fuel savings have added up to equal the extra expense of the vehicle, it'll be time to replace the batteries, and there's another few grand down the tubes.

Hybrids are a band-aid. While developing them might lead to some innovation and development of technology needed for hydrogen engines, I do not believe that the extra money spent will benefit anyone but the PR folks in the end.
 

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Most people seem to misunderstand what hydrogen is and what the implications are to moving towards it as a fuel for transportation.

Yes, hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. It also is, as someone once said, a "marrying molecule" - it likes to attach itself to other elements. Isolating hydrogen requires an input of energy, so hydrogen is best though of a energy storage medium rather than an engery souce itself.

The advantage of this is that a number of renewable energy sources (say wind or solar) don't provide energy in a way that fits demand, nor are they viable energy sources for transportation. Hydrogen provides a convienient way to "store" and transport that energy, though converting solar power to electricity and using that electricity to create hydrogen from water involves losses along the way.

Creating this infrastructure is a huge, expensive undertaking. In fact, this is far more daunting than perfecting fuel cell technologies. Whether it can be done and done profitably will determine whether we are driving fuel cell cars in my lifetime.

Keep in mind that if you are producing hydrogen from "dirty" sources such as coal fired electricity plant, it is no more "green" than if you started powering your car by coal. So, getting this stuff right is paramount if we are to achieve the desired effects.

Hybrids are a much more accessible techology that uses existing infrastructures. They address the fact that IC engines are not particularly efficient unless running at a constant speed and take advantage of the fact that electric motors produce peak torque at stall.

No, the technology is not yet ready to be applied to performance cars. But, remember early emission control technologies also did not look promising - at first. But continued development coupled with improvements in computing technology have created cars with improved emission, fuel economy ... and power. Hybrids are just the next step in that evolution.

Nobody here may want them in their car right now, but remember that in the early 80's many performance enthusiasts were afraid of computer controlled fuel injection systems too. Hard to imagine someone converting an new Vette back to a Holley carb now, though. Wait and see - I predict in 5 - 10 years, you will see somebody (probably Honda) use a hybrid system to get better performance and acceptable fuel economy.
 

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Arguing that the technology isn't there yet is not very logical. Hybrids cannot, under any circumstances, support the worlds' automotive needs for the next hundred years. They still use gasoline. We will run out of oil before the end of this century even if we're all using hybrids. How the hell is that a solution to anything? It's a short-term fix.

Nobody said it was going to be easy, but hydrogen is something we're not going to run out of (and if we manage that, we deserve extinction as a species). A hundred years ago, there wasn't much infrastructure in place for gasoline fueling or distribution. It was easy enough to establish back then, however, because there was no government regulation to be found, so there wasn't much concern about developing safe fueling methods.

Hybrids can certainly have great performance (the new NSX, if built, will apparently be either hybrid or pure electric), but they are far too expensive at those power levels. And even in that case, they still use gasoline, which is not going to be available forever.

Converting our fueling infrastructure to handle hydrogen is a complex issue - do you build storage and processing plants around the country and ship the fuel (presumably in liquid form as it is safer than a gas) to fueling stations? Or do you develop more affordable (relatively speaking) extraction methods allowing hydrogen to be pulled from the air or some other readily available source directly at the fueling stations and stored there in underground tanks? Or perhaps the technology could be small enough and affordable enough to fit individual vehicles with it.
 

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I agree that hybrids are simply a stepping stone to what may well be a hydrogen fuel-cell based future. And certainly, oil will run out and will start getting more expensive once it becomes difficult to find new reserves to meet demand. Experts predict this point - where oil will become more expensive in constant dollars - could happen anytime in the next 5 - 15 years.

But, in the meantime, are you suggesting we simply keep burning gasoline and hope we'll have an alternative ready when the time comes? Certainly efforts now to reduce consumption will buy us all some more time with inexpensive oil while we work on the issues of creating a hydrogen-based economy.

Since fuel cells are not good at delivering instant power, most fuel cell transportation will likely have many of the components of hybrids (regenerative braking to extend range; battery or capacitor energy storage for acceleration). So, developing hybrids now will help automakers move to the initial generation of fuel cell-based vehicles later. Developing hybrids doesn't necessarily steal research and engineering resources away from fuel cell vehicles. Such programs can be complementary.

The cost of hybrids is high now, but some of that cost will come down in volume. Aluminum blocks, disc brakes and multi-valve engines we also once too expensive for the value they provided, but they are commonplace now in even the least expensive cars. It's far more likely that hybrid technologies will become cost competitive in the near-term (say 5 - 10 years) than we will see viable, mass market fuel cell cars in the same timeframe.
 

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Originally posted by awalbert88@Jan 22 2004, 01:11 AM
...To get 300hp/gallon/100miles, you need a heck of a lot more engineering work, bigger batteries (which oh by the way add rediculous weight), and you hit a much higher price point...
A Corvette-priced 400hp hybrid isn't pie-in-the-sky dreaming. It doesn't take a huge amount of batteries to "supercharge" a car with an electric motor. You don't use 400hp all the time...a hybrid drivetrain provides the extra power when it's needed allowing a four-cylinder or six-cylinder gas (or diesel) engine to provide every-day driving power. Again, hybrids aren't a band-aid...they're a stepping stone.

Tone:

From the ONE fuel cell vehicle I've driven (Honda FCX), it provided instant power. Granted, it wasn't a high-performance car but it was every bit as usable as any other car I've driven through Manhattan. It drove just like an electric car, although with a little less power than the GM Impact I drove.
 

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Originally posted by Hudson@Jan 23 2004, 09:06 AM
Tone:

From the ONE fuel cell vehicle I've driven (Honda FCX), it provided instant power. Granted, it wasn't a high-performance car but it was every bit as usable as any other car I've driven through Manhattan. It drove just like an electric car, although with a little less power than the GM Impact I drove.
Hudson,

Interesting - must be cool to have access to vehicles like this! Just curious, I've read that electric motors make peak torque at stall - and can be designed to provide a huge whack of torque.

For it's power, did the fuel cell car you drove feel lively off the line? Do electric motors drop off in torque quickly as revs build? Or do they feel fairly even throughout the range?

I've often wondered if the characteristics of electric motors would allow hybrids to dispense with transmissions. The Prius's set up is complicated enough that I can't tell if the planetary gearbox is there for torque multiplication or simply to shift power between the gas and electric motors. Certainly, if hybrids can get by with a simplier or no transmission (by relying on electric motor's torque characteristics) there might be some cost and weight saving to offset the added cost and weight of the electric components.
 

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I've felt that transmissions should be done away with as soon as possible. When fuel cell vehicles arrive, I'm sure the transmission (as we know it) will be doomed. A CVT is nice, but it still wastes too much power.

The FCX and Impact both had great power throughout the range I drove them. I never had the FCX up to highway speeds for extended times...I was driving through Manhattan. The Impact was more than adequate for all uses, up to and including the 70mph range. Becasue the Impact didn't shift and made relatively little noise, it always surprised me when it was at speed...."I'm doing 65 already?!?!?"
 

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Hydrogen engines could be produced today, but where would you fuel it?
at the nearest water tap maybe?
seems to me that hydrogen on demand generator producing just enough hydro from a tank of water in your car would be the most practical/logical way to go.
no need for any high presure storage tanks.
see;
http://www.milleniumcell.com
and
http://www.xogen.ca/
how about
http://www.powerball.net

Electric cars can be built today (GM, Honda, Toyota, Ford, Fiat, PSA, and Chrysler have all done it), but do you know who long it takes to recharge one?
one hour!
see T-zero at http://www.acpropulsion.com
I think the only reason car comps dont build electrics is b/c big oil corporations and all related companies,would lose all the busines and the whole economy would just stop.
 

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Originally posted by AMcA@Jan 19 2004, 04:51 AM

I predict that someday folks are going to wake up and realize that hybrids are a fraud.  Did you all realize that the Toyota Prius, the new one, carries a $4000 battery?  And the battery has to be replaced in . . . Toyota says 8 years.  My cell phone battery, which I understand uses the same technology, starts suffering badly diminished capacity within a few months.  8 years, Toyota?  I bet a 6 month old Prius will feel noticably soggier than a new one.  And a couple year old one will barely get out of its own way. 

And run the numbers: OK, if the battery lasts 8 years, then maybe the fuel savings will balance out.  But if that spendy battery has to be replaced much sooner than that, you're in the hole big time.
I believe that something called ultracapacitors are whats going to replace the batteries very shortly
http://www.maxwell.com/ultracapacitors/app...sportation.html
 

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If your a gasoline powered , V-8 , V-10, V-whatever fan get one while you can. I try and look at things in a practile way. This country cannot supply it's oil needs. The largest oil deposits are in the most unstable or corrupt countries in the world. I don't see the U.S. public all fired up about using the military (I.E. their sons and daughters) to stabalize these areas of the world or clean out the crimminals who run these countries. Answer, the sooner we get to a Hydrogen powered economy the better off we will all be. Then all the bleepheads with the oil can eat it for breakfast.
 
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