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American Car Companies Discover Hybrids!
Where have they been keeping William Clay Ford all these years? Locked in a supply closet in the executive washroom at Ford? Here’s an editorial from the IHT. They plan to increase the production of hybrids ten-fold by 2010? I’m sorry, is that the Ford Insight I’ve been parking behind my neighbors’ Ford Prius?

William Clay Ford Jr., the chairman and chief executive of Ford and great-grandson of its founder, has announced that the company intends to increase the production of hybrid cars ten-fold by 2010, to a quarter of a million annually. That's good news, especially with gasoline prices going berserk and the globe getting ever warmer.
Increase production ten-fold? From what, two?
For those who may not have heard of hybrid cars yet, these are vehicles powered by a combination of gasoline and electric engines, with sophisticated computers that seamlessly meld the two, making for sizeable fuel savings. In a word, Prius. That's the brilliant Toyota hybrid sedan that has stunned the car world with its popularity since it went on sale in Japan in 1997, and in the United States in 2000. The Prius looks to clear 100,000 sales in the United States this year, and Toyota hopes that by 2010, a quarter of all the cars it sells in America, or about 600,000 cars, will be hybrids. So this was hardly a Model T moment at Ford; it was more like playing catch-up to the Japanese, again.

Still, it is good that the car industry, and especially the American one, is taking a serious look at making cars that burn less fossil fuel. Initial efforts in the 1990s focused on all-electric cars. That proved a costly failure; the cars had a relatively short range and required long hours of recharging.

Enter the hybrids. Honda was first to bring one to the U.S. market, in 1999, with its little two-door Insight, whose EPA ratings of 61 miles pergallon in the city and 70 on the highway were a sensation. Toyota followed in 2000 with the Prius, Honda brought in a Civic hybrid, and the race was on. If the Insight and Prius had a sci-fi look to them, today's hybrid models already include stock luxury sedans and sport utility vehicles.

My Honda Insight looks like something out of Tom Swift. It did, when it came out, in the late 1990s, and it still does today, and that's just how I like it. Yooohooo, Ford...Chrysler...G.M.?

Posted by aalkon at September 27, 2005 4:38 PM

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Just a warning: Toyota was stymied at one time because its battery manufacturer, Toshiba, couldn't meet demand.

A main propulsion battery is tremendously harder to make reliable than the starter battery that you are used to. Quality controls are absurdly higher, and the cost per ampere-hour is far above that of the familiar DieHard. The construction of most batteries involves an obscenely large quantity of poisonous metals, which must be controlled as they are mined, refined and shaped into galvanic cells; then, when their efficiency drops after a few thousand charge/discharge cycles, they must be recycled or reconditioned with the same rigorous and expensive controls in place.

If you dump your Insight in the river, the water plant will be able to tell it's there by the lead in their intake. The hybrid's not a cure-all, even as it gives temporary relief from higher fuel prices - and it is not a reason to feel as if one has done something for the environment until one studies what will happen to a million power cells in five years.

Posted by: Radwaste at September 27, 2005 8:06 PM

There were stories a few months ago about cops & firemen (etc) badly injured during rescue ops because they didn't know the hybrid was still ready to electrocute them... The car was stopped and the motor was quiet, but the circuits were on.

This is not to belittle the owners of these things... Amy HAS done something worthwhile, if only by declining to buy an SUV. Nothing makes development happen like developers thinking they can an$wer a market need.

I cast my first for for President for John Anderson in 1980 because he promised to tax gasoline an extra $1 a gallon. Imagine what it would take to chasten the soccer moms at this point!

Posted by: Crid at September 28, 2005 2:29 AM

Rad, I assure you, if my little female non-math-oriented brain could find it within itself to engineer an old Mercedes into a bio-dieselmobile, I would have. This is the best I can do. As is using at the grocery store, and trying to run and get small items (as in, in track shoes) rather than driving.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 28, 2005 12:24 PM

And I appreciate those efforts - for every such effort really does help. For some time now, I have been pointing out that no person alive will see the gallon of gas they burn again. It's not renewable. Yet I am still anxious for people to figure out that driving for the hell of it, because they are bored with where they are, is just plain stupid.

Posted by: Radwaste at September 28, 2005 3:14 PM

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