During the summer and fall of 2008, when gas prices rose to more than $4 per gallon and some regions experienced fuel shortages, things started to change dramatically in the auto industry. There's no doubt that the steady rise in fuel costs scarred our automotive psyches. Couple that with a deepening recession, and that was enough to cause many drivers to hold back on a new car purchase.
As new car buyers seemed to vanish and as drivers began spending less on gasoline, auto executives appeared to be scrambling for a better image. Some are now touting plug-in hybrid cars as the next step in fuel-efficient technology.
While people are currently impressed by hybrid models that average more than 40 or 50 miles per gallon (17 or 21.3 kilometers per liter), plug-in hybrids may soon be able to offer drivers triple-digit fuel economy. With several new models coming to a dealership near you, we thought we'd take a look at a few upcoming plug-in hybrids.
Toyota Prius Plug-in
The Toyota Prius is already one of the most popular and recognizable hybrid cars on the market. In early 2009, the company reached its first major milestone, claiming to have sold its one-millionth hybrid in the United States, and sales of the third-generation Prius looked to be a positive note among dismal global car sales.
So many Prius enthusiasts were excited to learn that Toyota planned to introduce a plug-in version of the ubiquitous hybrid. Toyota hasn't released much information about the Prius plug-in hybrid just yet, but we do know it will be modeled after the recent third generation Prius and feature a lithium-ion battery pack. And it may be a while before we see a mass-produced version of the car, too -- by the end of 2009, Toyota will have leased 200 of the initial versions of the plug-in hybrid to fleet customers in Japan, 150 vehicles in the United States and an undisclosed amount in Europe.
While Toyota has honed its hybrids for years, Chevy is just beginning to catch up; read the next page to learn about the U.S. automaker's attempt at plug-in hybrid technology.
As General Motors -- parent company of several automotive brands including Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC -- comes out of bankruptcy, the company is looking to cut back on one program after another. Previous GM-owned brands like Saturn and, most notably, Hummer were dropped or sold in order to keep the company a manageable size.
One project that Chevrolet is moving forward with, however, is the much labored-over Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that marks a significant step away from gasoline-only vehicles for the company. Reports from the automotive press say that the Volt will have an electric motor with a 40-mile (64.4-kilometer) range coupled with a small internal-combustion engine.
The Volt isn't without controversy -- along with engineering difficulties and political scuffles, the U.S. government's auto industry task force has worried that the Volt may be too expensive at a proposed $40,000 to make a difference with American drivers. There's also concern about the plug-in hybrid's release date getting shuffled around; however, GM claims the Volt should be ready for production by late 2010.
Volkswagen Golf Twin Drive
German automaker Volkswagen has experimented with several car models that use diesel and hybrid powertrains, two technologies that have taken a long time for American drivers to grow accustomed to. Now, however, Volkswagen is working on a new concept that will marry diesel and hybrid technologies together into one design, a plug-in hybrid called the Golf Twin Drive.
This technology, combining a 122-horsepower diesel engine and an 82-horsepower electric motor, will debut inside a typical Golf model design. Volkswagen also plans to work with electronics company Sanyo to develop lithium-ion batteries, which should give the Golf Twin Drive an all-electric range of about 31 miles (49.9 kilometers). Expect to see fleet models emerging sometime in 2010, with potential mass-production to follow.
If the previous plug-in hybrids weren't fancy enough for you, it might help to take a look at a more luxurious model: the Fisker Karma, a full-size luxury sedan plug-in hybrid with an expected list price of $87,900. The company is currently taking pre-orders for the car, which it expects to deliver in 2010.
Similar to the Chevy Volt, the Karma uses a lithium-ion battery pack that provides a 50-mile (80.5-kilometer) all-electric driving range before a 260-horsepower Ecotec engine kicks in for a total driving range of 300 miles (482.8 kilometers). Two electric motors can push the plug-in hybrid from zero to 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour) in about six seconds and achieve a top speed of 125 miles per hour (201.2 kilometers per hour). The whole powertrain comprises what Fisker calls Q-DRIVE, which it claims can give drivers efficiency greater than 100 miles per gallon (42.5 kilometers per liter).
Although the names may have changed, anticipation for Aptera's line of all electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles hasn't decreased. Originally categorized under the Typ-1 name, the new models are now identified under the Aptera 2 Series: Aptera 2e for the electric vehicle, Aptera 2h for the plug-in hybrid.
If the sleek, three-wheeled design of Aptera's plug-in hybrid model wasn't eye-catching enough, the projected fuel economy should cause a double-take -- the company expects it to achieve 300 miles per gallon (127.5 kilometers per liter). Drivers can either charge the 2h on a standard 110-volt outlet or fill up at a typical gas station. While the 2e is scheduled to come out in 2009, those interested in the 2h will have to wait a little longer, as Aptera will release that model in 2010.
For more information about hybrid cars and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
Looking for a list of plug-in hybrid car models? Check out this list of plug-in hybrid cars at HowStuffWorks.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Aptera.com. "Aptera - Reservations." (July 27, 2009) https://www.aptera.com/reserve.php
- Erbe, Bonnie. "Hybrid car sales down with price of gas -- are Americans so short-sighted?" U.S. News and World Report. April 21, 2009. (July 27, 2009) http://www.usnews.com/blogs/erbe/2009/04/21/hybrid-car-sales-down-with-price-of-gas--are-americans-so-short-sighted-.html
- Motavalli, Jim. "Toyota's third-gen Prius a sales bright spot." BNET.com. June 29, 2009. (July 27, 2009) http://industry.bnet.com/auto/10001803/toyotas-third-gen-prius-a-sales-bright-spot/
- Neff, John. "VS to fleet test Twin Drive Golf plug-in hybrid concept in 2010." Autoblog.com. June 26, 2008. (July 27, 2009) http://www.autoblog.com/2008/06/26/vw-to-fleet-test-twin-drive-golf-plug-in-hybrid-concept-in-2010/
- Norris, Floyd. "Auto sales down? Again?" The New York Times. Feb. 27, 2009. (July 27, 2009) http://norris.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/27/auto-sales-down-again/
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- Squatriglia, Chuck. "Plug-in Prius coming this year." Wired.com. June 5, 2009. (July 27, 2009) http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/06/plug-in-prius/
- Squatriglia, Chuck. "VW Rolls Out a Backward Hybrid." Wired.com. June 26, 2008. (July 27, 2009) http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/06/vw-rolls-out-a/
- U.S. News and World Report. "2010 Chevrolet Volt reviews, pictures and prices." (July 27, 2009) http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/Chevrolet_Volt/
- Wojdyla, Ben. "Fisker Karma gets a starting price of $87,900, we get first front shot of Tesla-killer." Jalopnik.com. Dec. 8, 2008. (July 27, 2009) http://jalopnik.com/5101490/fisker-karma-gets-a-starting-price-of-87900-we-get-first-front-shot-of-tesla+killer