Electric Car & Scooter, Green Racing, Plug-in Hybrids+How YOU Can Go Green!

APRIL 21, 2008 autoweek.com ®

Earth Day 2008

20 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008


Oil tankers sailing from the

OPEC states to America filled

with $100 barrels of petroleum

are doing what decades of

screeching environmentalists

failed to do, bringing the virtues of fuel

economy and efficiency home to consumers

in the world’s biggest, richest car market.

Sales of big personal-use trucks are sagging,

and those of small cars are booming

again. To be sure, environmental urges,

particularly rising social awareness about

the issue of climate change, play a role in

consumer attitudes, but it’s hard to argue

with economics as a motivator.

If we define the green segment as those

people willing to pay more—not just those

who say they’d like a cleaner, more efficient

car if it didn’t cost them any coin, convenience

or comfort—the truly committed

environmentalist sector amounts to the

same 3 to 5 percent of the market as it did 10

or 20 years ago. (That’s about the same size

as the enthusiast sector, defined as those

willing to pay more for performance, by the

way.) The greens find more options today,

though, now that their interests align with

pocketbook issues and even those patriotic

visions of increasing the nation’s independence

from foreign sources of energy.

Economics propels not just the consumer

but governments and business as well.

Initiatives that were deemed good ideas

but went nowhere before have a sense of

urgency about them now, whether you’re

talking about cleaning up your industrial

processes or raising fuel-economy standards.

Price volatility in the oil sector opens

the door for venture capitalists who see

opportunity today where the prospects

for alternative fuels just didn’t pencil out

when oil went for $30 a barrel. Government

incentives to pursue these ideas grow more


On the following pages, you’ll read about

alternatives to traditional gasoline-fueled

cars, not just because it means less carbon

emissions or leaving a lighter footprint on

this good earth but because that’s where

the market is going. You’ll read about

smaller cars, plug-in hybrids, even SUVs

that go farther on a buck without surrendering

any of the utility and comfort. You’ll also

read about people and companies that

mean to tackle the issues head-on and

come out on the other side at a profit.

Perhaps one day soon, we can stop blaming

the car for every environmental woe

and train our spotlights on the many other

human activities that consume energy and

dirty our resources of air, water and soil.

Perhaps. If the marketplace embraces

enough alternatives to gasoline, however,

economics tells us that there are two predictable

consequences: The upward pressure

on oil prices will ease, at least a little,

and the existing supply will last longer. Both

apply, even as global demand grows, because

alternatives fill the gaps worldwide.

Whatever is coming next will emerge

only after a period of fits and starts and hiccups,

so when you read in your daily paper

or on the Internet that the “only answer” is

plug-ins, or electrics, or diesel, or hydrogen,

nuclear, wind or solar power, remember

that economic incentives drive those who

promote one alternative over the others,

and embrace an era in which those competitive

claims are made to prove themselves.

They don’t have to prove themselves to

pandering politicians or puritanical selfappointed

guardians of the planet. They

have to prove themselves to the consumer.

To you, who will set the priorities, balancing

your interest in efficiency and environmental

issues against affordability and

convenience, just as you’ve always done

with other forms of automotive performance.

Happy Earth Day. c








pictured here

might be a

harbinger of

exciting things

to come. Or it

might be Detroit’s equivalent

of a spit-soaked finger held up

in the air. Either way, it’s a

slick, engaging little car.

Meet the Ford Fiesta,

known previously as the

Verve concept. Bound for U.S.

showrooms by 2010, the

Fiesta nameplate has been a

mainstay in Europe for 34

years. It’s called B-class within

the auto industry, or just a

B-car: smaller than traditional

subcompacts such as the

Toyota Corolla, the Honda

Civic and the Ford Focus

(those are C-class) and generally,

though not necessarily,

less expensive to buy. We

know B-cars by the Mini

Cooper and, more recently, the

Honda Fit. Even the Detroit

Three are betting Americans

will get to know them more

intimately, in far greater numbers,

over the next 10 years.

It’s part prognostication,

part wish. In Detroit, there’s

a realization that gasoline

prices will continue their up-

ward trend, sometimes precipitously,

and a notion that

“green thinking” will figure

more substantially in the

American outlook. There’s

also the cold, hard reality of a

40 percent increase in corporate

average fuel economy, rising

steadily to 35 mpg by 2020.

That’s why Chevy will

launch a revamped, Koreanbuilt

Aveo this summer,

and it’s why Chrysler is

dancing with China’s Chery

Automobile Co., in a two-step

expected to bring B-cars to

Dodge showrooms within two

years. It’s why Ford will re-

introduce the Fiesta name in

the United States, with a pullout-all-the-stops


scheme to back it up.

“The timing is right to

match consumer preferences,”

says John Felice, general

manager of Ford marketing.

“Some of that is a desire for

better fuel economy, some a

green attitude, some the

strength of the car. We think

there’s a convergence, and a

movement toward [smaller

cars]. We’ve got an outstanding

car available, so it’s a great


There’s evidence that Ford

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 21


is correct. Sales of Mini, Fit,

Aveo, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio

and Nissan Versa (by dimensions

more of a C-car) increased

30 percent in 2007,

and they’ve increased another

60 percent in the first two

months of 2008. Yet B-cars

still make up less than 4 percent

of the U.S. car and lighttruck

market, no matter how

you cut the segments. The

odds are that they’ll be anything

but a fairly small niche

over the next several years.

For starters, Americans

have yet to shake their general

distaste for hatchbacks (one

reason Ford is developing a

four-door Fiesta sedan aimed

at the States). While B-cars

tend to be good fun to drive,

our preference for automatics

works against that. Further,

familiar small C-cars such as

the Corolla, the Focus and the

Chevy Cobalt tend to sell

here on price. The price drop

to smaller B-cars isn’t significant

enough, nor is the

mileage improvement big

22 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008

enough, to overcome perceptions

of cramped interiors or

limited utility.

Some analysts say gas will

have to reach $4.50 a gallon

before B-cars get significant

mainstream traction. George

Peterson, president of the

research firm AutoPacific,

notes that while car buyers

express increasing anger over

the price of gas, their vehicular

purchases are slow to reflect

it. AutoPacific’s surveys

include a standard question

that asks if bigger is better.

Respondents still overwhelmingly

say yes.

“In our culture, [B-cars] say

you don’t care about cars or

what you drive, or you can’t

afford anything better,” says

Peterson. “The Mini has sort

of broken that mold, and the

Fit has developed a rabid following.

The Fiesta could do the

same thing in a bigger way.”

Many of us remember the

original Fiesta, the first U.S.

B-car, launched here in 1978

during the era of oil embar-

goes. That German-built Ford

came with air conditioning

(not offered elsewhere) and a

U.S.-specific 1.6-liter four

from the larger Escort. Seven

generations and 12 million

global sales later, the Fiesta is

coming back.

The Verve sedan shown

at this year’s Detroit show

should be a spitting image of

our Fiesta. Dimensionally, it’s

about a foot shorter than a Fit,

on a slightly longer wheelbase

and two feet shorter than a

Versa hatchback. Yet Ford

promises an inordinate

amount of high-strength,

boron- and dual-phase steel in

the Fiesta unibody, compared

with its international competitors.

The company claims

the Fiesta will be the strongest,

most rigid car in its class yet

lighter than the previous generation

and the competition.

Often lauded as one of the

more dynamically pleasing

cars in its category, the Fiesta

will retain its familiar frontstrut,

rear-twist-beam suspen-

sion. Ford isn’t talking about

powertrains for the States, but

the likely choice is the most

powerful of five engines

offered in Europe: a new

1.6-liter, 115-hp gasoline four

with variable intake valve


Ford also promises biggercar

safety and convenience,

with features such as knee

airbags, full stability control,

keyless start and Sync-style

voice commands with

Bluetooth. Still, the Fiesta’s

big pitch likely will be standout

styling and a high-quality

cabin. The cell-phone-like

center stack in the Verve

concept carries over to the

production Fiesta, which was

shown at Geneva in March.

In short, Ford hopes the

Fiesta will generate something

little cars rarely have in

the States: appeal. Appeal, if

not lust, is the first requisite

of what industry analysts call

an image compact.

Image compacts are almost

the antithesis of small car as

commodity. The first one

might have been the original

Beetle, at least in some corners.

The first Rabbit GTi fit

the mold, as do the more recently

introduced New Beetle

and PT Cruiser. All appealed

to some beyond their smallcar

utility. Toyota’s Prius, for

example, probably appeals for

the image it creates as much

as for its hybrid technology.

The current king of image

compacts, at least among

enthusiasts, is the Mini.

Buyers care less that these

cars are inexpensive or economical

to operate and more

that they want the car.

“The Mini has shown you

can give little cars a premium

brand,” says Jim Hall, managing

partner at the industry

analysis firm 2953 Analytics.

“B-cars will have to build a

similar impact on a broader

scale if sales are going to grow

here substantially. They’ll

need a tremendous amount of

character, either through dynamics

or styling. Buyers expect

a payback beyond good

mileage or the entry price.”

Ford’s marketing boss contends

that the Fiesta is there.

“The feedback from [the

Detroit show] was overwhelmingly

good—the look,

the craftsmanship inside,”

Felice says. “Everything

seemed to strike a positive

chord, and we know what this

car does dynamically. We see

Fiesta as a vehicle to aspire to,

rather than a vehicle people

have to buy for the fuel economy

or the price.”

Of course, the unidentified

element behind this could-be

wave of little cars is new

CAFE legislation. A bill

signed by President Bush in

December 2007 raises a manufacturer’s

fleet average at

least 40 percent by 2020, to 35

mpg. It also gives the federal

bureaucracy more teeth to

enforce—and raise—the standard

without legislative intervention.

While car companies

still will be able to buy their

way out with a gas-guzzler tax,

that will be more difficult than

it has been in the last three

decades. Those companies

will have to demonstrate that

they made a genuine effort to

meet the standard and failed.

The new CAFE is anything

but a slam-dunk. And for all

the talk of plug-in hybrids,

E85 and other alternative

fuels, petroleum will remain

the backbone of personal

transportation at least

through 2020. No carmaker

wants to be forced to manage

its mix or to try to manipulate

the market based on its production

capacity or to raise

the price of less fuel-efficient

vehicles to the point where no

one buys them.

Which brings us back to

B-cars. As auto companies

ponder their prospects under

new U.S. CAFE rules (sweating

at least a little), how can

they overlook an option that’s

well developed and in demand

just about everywhere else in

the world?

To that end, and our bene-

fit, carmakers will sweeten

the pot, with more vehicles

based on a B-class footprint

that add interior volume, performance

and appeal. Beyond

the new, stretched Mini

Clubman, BMW is developing

a Mini-based crossover in the

mold of its X3. Volkswagen

America CEO Stefan Jacoby

says his company is considering

a range of B-class VWs for

North America, starting at

about $13,000 dollars and

powered by a turbocharged

1.4-liter four.

Even smaller A-class cars

can’t be far behind. The Smart

car is here, and GM has raised

the prospect of an A-car for

the United States based on its

Beat concept.

Moving up from the small

end, analysts expect B-carsized,

direct-injected turbo

engines (1.2 to 1.4 liters) in

larger cars such as the Civic,

the Cobalt and the Saturn

Astra. Those at the Detroit

show saw Audi’s dieselpowered

R8 supercar and

heard executives talking

about full-size, four-cylinder

pickups and SUVs.

Enthusiasts may bemoan

the politics of CAFE or the

effect the environmental

movement has on their

lifestyle, but the prospects

are interesting. And remembering

that the original Fiesta

lasted only three model years

in the States, we can be sure

that many of these prospects

will fail.

“The possibilities are

fascinating,” says analyst

Hall. “We are heading into

the decade of big changes,

big introductions and big

mistakes.” c




The Mini, the Aveo and the Fit

(along with the Toyota Yaris, the

Kia Rio and the Nissan Versa) saw

sales rise 30 percent in 2007.


APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 23






TO 50 MPG?

1992 HONDA




2074 lb

Five-speed manual,

1.5-liter VTEC-E, 92 hp, 97 lb-ft

0-60 MPH: 9.5 sec


48/55 mpg city/highway, 51 mpg combined


39/49 mpg city/highway, 43 mpg combined

WHEELBASE: 101.3 in

TRACK (FRONT/REAR): 58/58 in

LENGTH: 160.2

WIDTH: 66.9 in

HEIGHT: 50.7 in



HEADROOM (FRONT/REAR): 38.6./36.6 in

LEGROOM (FRONT/REAR): 42.5/30.5 in


49.3/52.1 in

HIP ROOM (FRONT/REAR): 49.9/44.6 in

CARGO VOLUME: 13.3 cu ft

FUEL: 11.9 gal


Driver-only airbag; manual windows, locks;

power steering; A/C; fog lights; AM/FM audio

(all as dealer-installed options); 175/70R-13


NHTSA CRASH TEST (30-mph front crash,

driver/passenger): 3/3 stars out of five

24 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008


According to www.fueleconomy.gov,

the Honda Civic Hybrid has the

highest EPA combined mileage for a

2008 small car, at 42 mpg. (The 46-mpg

Toyota Prius is classified as a midsize car.)

Past champions in the federal fuel-economy

derby have posted combined figures in the

50s. What happened?

First, the EPA revised its system for 2008,

adjusting the numbers to reflect real-world

mileage better. The same Civic Hybrid was

rated at 50 mpg for ’07. But that’s not all. In

the early ’90s, the mpg top dog was the

three-cylinder Geo Metro, a 1650-pound,

three-cylinder, 1.0-liter shoebox rated at

more than 52 mpg. Even using 2008

methodology, it matches the Prius at 46

mpg. The closest thing to a Metro in ’08 is

the 1807-pound, 1.0-liter Smart Fortwo,

rated at a mere 36 mpg.

With oil at more than $100 a barrel,

how can this be? It’s because of weight,

added to all vehicles over the past 20 years,

primarily because of ever-stiffening safety

standards and consumer demand for more

creature comforts.

To illustrate, we chose two hatchbacks

from Honda, a company long

recognized for its eco-efficient

ethos. Even during the SUV boom

and horsepower race of the ’90s, Honda

didn’t offer a megatruck or even a V8. Still,

its cars kept growing, to the point where the

“tiny” Honda Fit, released last year, was

about the same size as a 1988 Civic. The

first Civic after that, the new-for-1992 Civic

VX with an economy-minded VTEC-E

engine, was longer and wider than the Fit

(but with less interior volume) and would

earn an EPA rating of 43 mpg today (its

sticker boasted 51 mpg in ’92). The Fit is

rated at 31 mpg. It also gets 17 hp more

from a like-size engine and goes from 0 to

60 mph 0.2 second faster despite an extra

358 pounds. Yes, the Fit is 17 percent

heavier than the ’92 Civic VX.

One reason: In 1998, NHTSA’s sidecrash

safety rule demanded stiffer structure.

The Fit also performs much better (five

stars) than the VX (three stars) in head-on

collisions. It has dual front, side and sidecurtain

airbags, whereas the ’92 VX had a

single sack for the driver. The VX pioneered

power brakes for the Civic; the Fit adds

ABS. And the VX was Spartan, with handcrank

windows, manual locks, and so on.

The Fit has standard A/C, power everything,

a four-speaker audio system and more.

Mass snowballs. Add enough speaker

magnets and airbags, and you’ll need

bigger wheels, beefier springs and stouter


Does Smart foreshadow a reversal in this

trend? At the New York show, Honda revealed

its 2009 Fit. The most-used adjective

in the news was “bigger.” —KEVIN A. WILSON



2432 lb

Five-speed manual,

1.5-liter VTEC, 109 hp, 105 lb-ft

0-60 MPH: 9.3 sec (AW test)

EPA RATING: 28/34 mpg city/highway,

31 mpg combined

AW OBSERVED: 34.3 mpg

WHEELBASE: 96.5 in

TRACK (FRONT/REAR): 57.3/57.1 in

LENGTH: 157.4 in

WIDTH: 66.2 in

HEIGHT: 60.0 in



HEADROOM (FRONT/REAR): 40.6/38.6 in

LEGROOM (FRONT/REAR): 41.9/33.7 in


52.8/50.6 in

HIP ROOM (FRONT/REAR): 51.2/51.0 in


21.3/41.9 cu ft

FUEL: 10.8 gal


Dual front airbags, dual side and side-curtain

airbags; power locks; power windows;

tilt steering column; power brakes with ABS;

A/C; 160-watt AM/FM/CD with four speakers;

power-folding side mirrors; 165/65R-14 tires

NHTSA CRASH TEST (35-mph front/

38.5-mph side): 5/5 stars front for driver/front

passenger, 5/3 stars side for driver/rear


APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 25


a neighborhood electric

vehicle the same way

you’d approach a typical

gasoline-powered, fully

functioning car. NEVs are meant to fill a

gap in the transportation chain for clean

city vehicles. (NEV is a federal category

for electric cars that don’t exceed 25

mph. Big carmakers are likely to use

them to help meet coming zero-emissionsvehicle

requirements.) They are nowhere

near as solid, sturdy or safe as even the

flimsiest Fiat. However, they are—and

this one, in particular, is—well north of

the golf-cart category.

ZENN stands for “zero emission, no

noise,” and that’s pretty much what you

get, as long as you figure electricity off

the grid as zero emissions. The ZENN

EV seats two people and can haul 13

cubic feet of luggage in something that is

far more substantial than the golf-cartlike

GEM e4 we wrote about four years

ago (“A Glimpse of Future Past,” AW,

June 28, 2004).

The ZENN is a three-door hatchback

26 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008


(“fully enclosed!”) with an

aluminum spaceframe covered

in plastic body panels.

An AC electric motor spins

the front wheels. With all of

its torque available at 0 rpm,

the ZENN, like many electric

conveyances, launches

from stops with squealing


The problem after launch

is that federally mandated 25mph

NEV speed limit. Most

customers make the (technically

illegal) software change

to increase top speed to 35

mph and thus increase their chances of

coping in urban traffic. Our test car had

no such software assistance, and we

found ourselves regularly ducking out of

traffic and crawling along curbs to avoid

everything else coming up behind us.

Nothing goes 25 mph in Los Angeles, no

matter what the posted speed limit says.

ZENN lists its range as either 35

miles or 30 to 50 miles, depending on

where you read it. We found that to be a






Three-phase AC

motor, 5.69 kW,

43 lb-ft; fwd






1280 or 1350 lb

(depending on

ZENN source)

0-60 MPH: Never



bit of a stretch. We traveled

11 miles from home

to EV Motors in Glendale

and used well more than

half the indicated charge.

Power comes from six

12-volt lead-acid glass-mat

batteries. The brushless

AC motor makes 7.5 hp,

which, on paper, doesn’t

seem like enough to move

the 1280-pound car around,

but it behaved better than

most gasoline-powered

cars off the line and across

the intersection. It was

just after that where the ZENN faltered.

The car bounced and wallowed more

than a typical Toyota Corolla or Honda

Civic, and the very skinny 13-inch

wheels and tires were easily overwhelmed.

But you adapt your driving

style accordingly. The four-wheel discs,

along with regenerative braking, meant

that slowing was a little choppy.

Inside, the ZENN is much more like a

real car than the GEM. The doors, dash,

seats and instrumentation were far

better and more carlike than those in

the GEM, which we described as

being “like a really well-engineered”

port-a-potty. Our test ZENN had the

optional power cloth sunroof ($1,195)

and stereo ($195) and the standard

power windows, heater and defroster.

We didn’t have the $2,200 electric air

conditioning. Base price is $15,995.

ZENN knows it can’t market this

car the same way you’d market a

Pontiac or a BMW.

“This is a car for the urban pioneer,”

said ZENN regional sales

director Bill Williams. “The urban

pioneer is a young college grad with a

job who needs to wear a suit to work

yet lives in and around this downtown

core center.”

There are now 34 dealers in and

around downtown core centers,

including the pioneering guys at

www.environmentalmotors.com in

Glendale, California, where we got

this car. To find your ZENN, visit

www.zenncars.com. c




A two-wheel

ZEV for one



will be the pigeons >> we remember most.

Oh, the pigeons. But we’ll

get to them in a minute. First,

the joys of bicycling.

Urban commuting by

bicycle is good for everyone.

It’s good for the city you live

in, because it keeps cars off

the streets. It’s good for your

bank account, because you

save gas. And it’s good for

your health, assuming you

don’t get squashed like a

bug by some moron driving a

vehicle while also talking on

a cell phone.

This being the Earth Day

issue, where we explore

alternative modes of transportation,

the bicycle seemed

only natural. We called Trek,

which makes bicycles for

seven-time Tour de France

winner Lance Armstrong. If

Trek is good enough for him,

it is good enough for us. We

told them the plan: Instead of

driving some gas-guzzling,

ozone-depleting car on our

regular 22-mile commute to

the L.A. office, how about a


Trek (www.trekbikes.com)

recommended the $1,700

Portland, an urban commuter.

Trek makes the 58-centimeter

aluminum frame, and, as with

cars, various suppliers provide

the rest. Shimano makes the

three-gear front and 11-gear

rear sprockets (33 speeds!)

and both the front and rear

derailleurs. Front and rear

mechanical disc brakes are

made by Avid, and Bontrager

makes the rest.

The wheels have only 24

spokes, and the tires are way

skinny. The front forks are

carbon fiber and are supposed

to absorb shocks well.

While this bike is set up

for riding back and forth to

work through city traffic,

suggesting a certain comfort

level, it erred on the side of

mechanical efficiency. Each

crank of the crank felt as if it

got you twice as far as your

average strand cruiser,

regardless of gearing. Going

to this from the fat-tired

mountain bike with front and

rear suspension that we normally

ride was a cosmic leap.

A better urban commuter, at

least for Los Angeles, might


have been a hard-tailed

mountain bike. The front

suspension soaks up bumps,

and the fixed rear transfers

cranking power to the

ground. Who knows?

Or maybe the L.A. streets

are just much worse than

anywhere else in the world.

It was pretty jarring over

most of the roads, and we

would have traded off a little

give for a little of that

efficiency. Or maybe you

get used to it.

Trek has you covered,

whatever your needs. So do

any number of bike makers.

There is a bike out there

that is perfect for your

commuting needs; technology

has come a long way

since the Schwinn Orange

Crate you rode in 1965.

But pigeons have not.

Barreling down Third

Street in Los Angeles, flatout

in top gear, a city bus

the size of an apartment

building bearing down on

our rear wheel, a curb to

the right, a cavalcade of

faceless ’80s sedans to the

left, there was nowhere to

go. And suddenly, there they

were—the pigeons, what

seemed like hundreds of

them, maybe thousands,

feeding on some wretched

dreck dumped into the

street and obscured by their

gluttonous frenzy. A few took

flight in time to escape. We

raised a forearm to protect

our face, and some whapped

off that. But some didn’t

even get off the deck.

Thump thump, came the

sickening sounds.

We couldn’t stop, or the

next thump thump would

have been us under the bus.

By the time we were finally

able to look back, two blocks

away, a large lady waiting for

another bus was kicking the

carcasses into the gutter.

Oh, the horror . . . the

horror . . .

But the bike was nice! c

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 27



now starting to

embrace the idea

of B-segment cars

such as the Honda Fit, the

Nissan Versa and the Toyota

Yaris. Is it ready for the K

segment, which is smaller

still? It might be, if the K’s are

as practical as this one and

powered by electricity.

Mitsubishi showed the

electric-powered i MiEV at

New York, following its debut

at the Tokyo show last fall.

The “i” is for the name of the

gasoline-powered version of

this car already sold in Japan.

The other letters stand for

“Mitsubishi innovative electric

vehicle.” In Japan, K-segment

cars are usually powered by

660-cc or smaller gasoline engines

and are meant to squeeze

the absolute most efficiency

28 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008

i Mi, BABY!




out of commuting and, at

$13,000 to start for the gas

version in Japan, purchasing.

The i MiEV goes beyond that,

squeezing even more efficiency

out of the dinky car with

an electric drivetrain.

A pack of 88 lithium-ion

batteries beneath the rear seat

sends 330 volts to a 470kilowatt


synchronous motor driving

the rear wheels. The car didn’t

have to be modified structurally

to accommodate the

new drivetrain or the batteries.

Gasoline and electric versions

are both rated at 63 hp.

It takes 12 to 15 hours to

recharge with a skinny 110volt

plug, seven to eight hours

with 220. But the i MiEV we

saw was ready for an industrial

208 three-phase, 50-kilowatt

quick charge that would take

just 30 minutes. While most


ON SALE: Not yet


$25,000 (est)


electric motor; rwd,

one gear

0-60 MPH: N/A


homes won’t have that, fleet

operators certainly would.

Plus, if you’re supposed to be

recharging it overnight during

off-peak hours anyway, then

110 or 220 could do the job.

Top speed is limited to 81

mph, though in theory, it

could hit 100 mph. We maxed

it out on the freeway near

Mitsubishi’s U.S. headquarters

in Cypress, California. The

i MiEV accelerated briskly

from stops, too, as electric

vehicles are wont to do, since

they have all of their torque

available at 0 rpm. Traction

control kept the drive wheels

from squealing.

We drove an i MiEV on a

10-mile loop that included

freeway and suburban streets.

It kept up with any and all

traffic the whole way. The car

had plenty of room for four

six-foot-tall adults—two more

than would fit into the Smart

Fortwo. The inside felt just

as roomy as anyone would

need in a car. There was even

luggage space in the back.

Heating and air conditioning

are all electric, too.

We could have kept going

up to the car’s 70-to-80-mile

range if we’d wanted. Or

if they’d have let us. As it

was, the car was going to be

whisked back to Japan as soon

as we returned to Mitsubishi’s


We also got to drive the

660-cc gasoline version, which

performed admirably given its

displacement, although we

preferred the electric version.

If you’re going to be funky, go

all the way.

So the question is, will the

i MiEV go all the way to

America? The answer: Not

in this form. Japanese fleet

customers will get electric

i’s starting next year, and

Japanese individuals can buy

them the year after that. For

us, there are “no plans,”

though Mitsubishi officially

will begin evaluating that

question this fall. It’s not

likely that the car’s configuration

would pass our crash-test

standards. So a U.S. i MiEV

would have to come around

on the next product cycle,

which won’t be until 2011

or later.

Given all that, what would

it cost? The sticker price in

Japan—without incentives—

is as high as $45,000; with

incentives, that drops to

$25,000. Maybe we’ll have

incentives in 2011? But you

also have to consider that

the cost of a cheap overnight

recharge is 10 percent of the

cost of a tank of gas, more

or less.

The problem is getting

people to see it that way, that

they’ll save big bucks over the

long run and save the Earth at

the same time.

Now, that would be marketing.



For now, GM says its much-anticipated

Volt is on target for a 2010 launch



General Motors has

until the end of 2010

to meet its goal of bringing

the highly anticipated, muchhyped

Chevrolet Volt electric

car to market.

A setback in the development

of the battery packs—the

primary concern—could still

throw the project off schedule.

But for the moment, the

automaker is adamant that

its most significant vehicle in

years is on schedule.

“It is the No. 1 priority that

we have,” says Frank Weber,

executive in charge of the car.

The most recent milestone

is installation of lithium-ion battery

packs in test-mule Volts—

they look like older-model

Chevy Malibus outfitted with

GM’s E-Flex technology—

undergoing proving-ground

road tests now. E-Flex should

allow the Volt to travel 40

miles on electricity alone

before the batteries must be

recharged by an onboard generator

powered by a gasoline

engine (potential diesel or fuelcell

versions would come

later). The Volt is expected to

have a range of 400 miles.

Earlier mules, using older nickelmetal-hydride

cells and with

battery-only range of only one

mile, have been in testing

since last fall.

This new testing stage will

take about six months, GM

says, before the company can

move on to the next phase of

development. The design is

largely complete, but a driveable

Volt prototype likely won’t

be ready until mid-2009.

The design has changed

significantly since the concept

was unveiled amid great fanfare

at the 2007 Detroit show.

The front end has been rounded

slightly to improve crashimpact

safety and to accommodate

an enlarged engine

compartment. The roof has

been raised slightly for passengers,

and the company

claims it can accommodate

six-foot-two adults comfortably.

It is based on GM’s

global compact-car chassis,

called Delta, which also will

spawn conventional cars.

The exterior appearance is

nearly finalized. One challenge

has been making the car

sleeker, and engineers are

working at all hours in GM’s

cavelike wind tunnel to improve

the drag—critical to achieve

the 40-mile electric range.

Aerodynamic drag accounts

for about 20 percent of the energy

consumed by an average

vehicle. The original concept

performed poorly in the wind

tunnel, but GM says it has

since reduced drag 30 percent.

Even with the changes,

the car is expected to bear a

resemblance to the concept

Volt, which attracted attention

for its eye-catching looks, says

Bob Boniface, the car’s design

director. In February 2006, he

got the initial orders from GM

car chief Bob Lutz to start

sketching out ideas.

“All of those pieces that

were important to the show

car are still there. . . . If you see

a car on the road, you’ll know

it’s the Volt,” Boniface says.

The interior design, also

nearly finished, is similar to the

inside of the new Malibu, and

the dual-cockpit setting appears

to take styling cues from early-

1960s Corvettes. It will seat

four, and designers say it could

have ambient lighting, a feature

on some of GM’s upper-market

vehicles. In keeping with the

Volt’s green mantra, the headliner

and carpet are expected to

be made from recyclable materials,

and seat foam will come

from a soy-based derivative.

The T-shaped lithium-ion

battery pack will be positioned

in the center tunnel of the car,

under the rear seats. The pack

is about six feet long and

weighs more than 375 pounds.

Offsetting the battery’s weight

is a smaller-than-average fuel

tank. One concern engineers

must address is that commuters

might be able to run

the Volt on electricity alone for

months on end, while gasoline

sits unused in the tank. Gas

doesn’t age well in such circumstances,

yet the engine

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 29



Resources Board’s recent vote

to require plug-in hybrids in

the state by 2012, a decision likely to be

followed by as many as 12 other states,

this little corner of the green-car world

is about to take off. Here are two companies

ready to fly.

Plug-In Conversions of Poway, California,

makes the already efficient Toyota

Prius into an even more efficient plug-in

hybrid, one of which we got to drive.

The company has converted five Priuses

since last June, with orders for 25 more.

“It’s a pretty critical thing,” said CEO

Kim Adelman. “It just has to be done.”

Plug-In Conversions adds an extra

nickel-metal-hydride battery pack to

the Prius and offers as much as 100 mpg

for the first 50 miles of driving (discounting

the energy used to generate the electricity,

which is typical of these claims).

Depending on the pack size, it can go 24

miles on battery power alone, too.

The pack sits in the spare-tire well of

the Prius and runs parallel with the

stock battery pack installed by Toyota.

How far you go on batteries alone depends

on how many batteries you buy.

For $8,000, you can go eight miles with

the four-cylinder gas engine shut off the

whole way. For $12,500, you can go 16

miles. For $15,000, it’s 24. Prices will rise

May 1 to $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000.

Those are reasonable, if you think about

it the way plug-in enthusiasts do. “People

spend $20,000 on options for a BMW,”

Adelman said.

There are drawbacks: Plug-In Conversions

does not yet convert first-generation

Priuses; the battery-only mode only

works up to 34 mph; it adds between

30 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008

must be able to run promptly

and well on demand after such

long fallow periods.

The batteries, though, are

the key. Keeping large packs of

lithium-ion cells cool and stable

is a big challenge. GM intends

to make the pack last 10 years

or 150,000 miles and must

cram its testing of the expected

life cycle into the next two years.

It’s cycling the batteries, discharging

and recharging them

on test machinery 24/7, aiming

to complete 162,000 miles of

testing (200 miles a day) before

production. It’s also cranking

up the heat in test labs to

hasten the aging process to

the equivalent of 10 years. The

field of potential suppliers has

been narrowed to two finalists,

and both versions are undergoing

side-by-side testing.

At a recent press preview of

the Volt’s progress, GM execs






150 and 330 pounds to the car; and the

conversion in our test car was not

hooked up because of a software glitch,

though we were able to drive it on battery

power alone for a short demo.

Next we visited Energy CS in

Monrovia, California, which has been

converting everything from Priuses to

diesel locomotives to more efficient

electricity for four years. So far, it’s

made 16 Priuses into plug-in hybrids.

For its conversions, Energy CS takes

out the Toyota battery pack, replaces it

with Saphion lithium-ion cells, adds a

second Saphion lithium-ion pack in the

spare-tire well and runs it all together

for better mileage and lower emissions.

were brimming with confidence

that the car is on track for

2010, while acknowledging

that hurdles remain. A reminder

of this is displayed yards away

from a Malibu test mule outfitted

with E-Flex: a shiny red EV1.

As Roland Matthe, E-Flex

engineering group manager,

put it, “It’s not a done deal.

This project is not normal in

regard to risk in the automotive

industry.” c

We drove the company mule on a

short suburban loop up and down a

steep hill on battery power alone and

found that it did, indeed, hum right

along. Pure EVs usually expend more

kilowatts and are often quicker off

the line than plug-ins, but this one

nonetheless can go 20 miles in electriconly


Energy CS conversions are for fleets

only. While company president Peter

Nortman said he is open to the possibility

of retail sales someday, he is realistic

about that market. He worked for U.S.

Electricar in the early ’90s making

electric conversions and learned a lot

about what a retail customer wants—

mainly a car completely ready for the

market. His and other converters will

be ready soon, he said, but he doesn’t

want to open sales until then.

And as with others in the field, it’s

more than just a business to him.

“Long-term, as a society and as an

organism on the planet, we have to

figure out how to survive,” he said. “In

terms of the auto industry surviving, it

has to make more efficient cars.” c













of sincerity, that the greenest car ever sold is the Rolls-

Royce Silver Shadow. Of 38,000 Silver Shadow variants

built between 1965 and 1980, some 90 percent are still

registered and roadworthy.

By this measure of greenness, Aston Martins and Ferraris probably

run a close second, though it’s a safe bet that more of those have

been wrecked. As counterpoint to these enduring automobiles, the

National Automobile Dealers Association reports that 12 million

cars and trucks were scrapped in the United States in 2006.

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 35


“Scrapped” in this context covers a

range of possibilities, from systematically

recycled to submerged in country ponds.

In a thoughtful debate on environmental

impact, few will hold fast to the notion

that a Silver Shadow is the greenest car.

But the point is taken. With attention

focused on sexy propulsion sources, considerations

such as manufacturing, duty

cycle and disposal get lost in the roar.

Does anyone really know what the most

ecologically friendly car is?

Science can only guide us, and often

the science gets buried under hype from

all corners with something to sell.

“There’s been a sincere effort to give

consumers a rationale for comparing the

eco-performance of vehicles,” says Shruti

Vaidyanathan, principal vehicle analyst at

the American Council for an Energy

Efficient Economy (ACEEE). “There’s also

a lot of hard sell that isn’t based on good

policy or science, and there are gray areas

in measuring eco-performance. The ends

of the life cycle are among the biggest.”

Gasoline-electric hybrids—particularly

the Toyota Prius—have quickly become

poster children for various environmental

advocates. But there’s plenty of evidence

that hybrids aren’t the greenest vehicles

to build. One European think tank recently

suggested that hybrids and their marketing

schemes are actually impediments to

genuinely sustainable green automotive


For 11 years, ACEEE has published its

Green Book, which ranks vehicles according

to a green score, tabulated using “a

singular measure that incorporates fuel

economy, health-related pollution impacts,

global-warming emissions” and other environmental

factors. The greenest vehicle

for 2008? It isn’t the Prius but a Honda

Civic, and it’s not the Civic Hybrid,

either. For the fifth consecutive year,

ACEEE’s greenest car is the Civic GX,

powered by compressed natural gas


That’s partly because CNG is one of

the simplest of all hydrocarbons, leaving

less CO2 for each unit of heat released

during combustion. So the Civic GX can

burn considerably more fuel (by energy

content) than a Prius and still generate

less of the greenhouse gas. Again, however,

operating emissions are only part of

the equation. As an example, consider


In the green-fuel scheme, there’s no

obvious drawback to hydrogen, and

36 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008

Honda has begun leasing its FCX Clarity

hydrogen-fuel-cell sedan to carefully

selected customers in California. Yet the

zero-emissions FCX Clarity will absolutely

alter nature’s ecological balance. Exactly

how much isn’t clear, because cradle-tograve

analysis remains the fuzziest component

of green-car evaluation. Today’s

fuel cells require platinum, which means

mining a rare metal and then finding

some means of recycling it.

Hype about benefits, as usual, is

abundant. No one blows a trumpet for the

downsides of their proposed alternative


In the spring of 2007, it was widely

reported that nickel for the nickel-metalhydride

batteries in the Prius is mined

and smelted near Sudbury, Ontario.

Sudbury happens to be known as one of

industry’s great environmental disasters.

For decades, sulfur dioxide released in the

smelting process killed all but the most

acid-tolerant vegetation in the surrounding

countryside, to the point where the

barren, moonlike landscape was used as

a training site for Apollo-program astronauts.

Prius bashers seized the news as an

indication of the car’s true color.

Blaming the Prius for Sudbury’s ecodisaster

is like blaming the Exxon Valdez

incident on a brewery. Damage in the

region resulted from a century of nickel

mining and smelting, and it had largely

been reversed before the first Prius was

built. Picking on the Prius also assumes

that other automobiles don’t contain

nickel, and they all do. If Sudbury has

relevance to the greenness of the Prius, it

rests largely on highlighting cradle-tograve


ACEEE weighs life-cycle impact in its

green score, but the group’s methodology

pointedly notes: “Standardized, modelspecific

data on the environmental

damage of vehicle manufacturing are not

available.” Nor are there “sufficient data

to estimate vehicle-disposal and scrappage

impacts.” Ultimately, the green score

weighs manufacturing and recycling

based on mass. The heavier the car, the

bigger the impact.

Still, it seems fairly obvious that hybrid

and other green-tech automotive production

is more complicated, energy-intensive

and potentially disruptive to the environment.

Toyota allows that its hybrid

production requires more energy than

conventional production, particularly in

materials processing, but counters that

extra energy used in the cradle is dwarfed

by energy saved during the hybrid’s operational


The standard life-cycle-impact assessment

applies a 15/80/5 formula: 15 percent

manufacture, 80 percent operation,

5 percent disposal. The roots of 15/80/5

appear to be academic intuition or a

research hypothesis established in the

1980s as a starting point. In the mid-

1990s, Volvo undertook what it expected

to be a definitive analysis of energy used

to build its cars, from the extraction of

raw material through various levels of

suppliers to final assembly. When the

scope and complexity of making any

reliable assessment became clear, the

company gave up. The 15/80/5 model

hasn’t evolved much since, though recent

studies have challenged its validity.

In 2005, CNW Research (www.cnwmr.

com) published the first of its controversial

“Dust to Dust” Automotive Energy

Reports, which purport to measure “the

energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive

and dispose of a vehicle from initial concept

to scrappage.” This small Oregonbased

company is typically retained by

carmakers for market research, as are

more familiar firms such as J.D. Power,















Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient

Economy (ACEEE)

though CNW says that “Dust to Dust” is

not a funded study. The lengthy report

seems to be based on data available in

libraries or on the Internet, as well as factory

and facility tours. It concludes that

the 15/80/5 formula is way out of whack.

In some instances, most energy consumption

occurs before the vehicle reaches a

consumer’s driveway.

“Dust to Dust” ultimately converts a

vehicle’s energy use into “cost per lifetime

mile.” By CNW’s assessment, the

greenest vehicle available in 2007 was

Toyota’s Scion xB, followed by the Jeep

Wrangler. The Prius ranked 74th, below

Land Rover’s Range Rover and the Aston

Martin DB9.

CNW’s methodology and conclusions

have been challenged by many, most

prominently by environmental groups.

Again, though, there’s a point to be taken:

There’s more to green than mpg.

Subaru’s assembly line in Indiana was

the first automobile factory certified as a

zero-landfill plant, and it’s widely accepted

as one of the cleanest factories in the

world. So, how much does it matter that

the conventional Tribeca SUV built there

suffers in the ACEEE’s green score because

its engine is certified at a slightly higher

emissions level than some others? Ford’s

F-150 pickup, often cast as a dinosaur of

old tech, is built at Ford’s new Rouge

plant, with its sedum-covered roof to filter

rain runoff and convert CO2 through

photosynthesis and solar panels that heat

the water and provide excess energy for

other applications. Estimates rank the

F-150’s supply, assembly and customertransportation

costs among the lowest in

the auto industry and those of the Prius

among the highest.

If 15/80/5 was ever accurate, the ratio

is sure to change as vehicle operation generally

gets cleaner, and the ends will gain

weight. We’ve made leaps in propulsion

technology, but we’ve moved less in other


When do we get a properly designed,

expansive and adequately funded cradleto-grave

study of the automobile’s environmental

impact, untainted by the biases

of either automakers or environmentalists?

If we’re sincere in the desire to make our

beloved car as ecologically friendly as it

can be, we need one. And, as always, we

need perspective and common sense. c

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 37


2008 FORD


MILES: 550


MPG: 28.2

COST: $66.19


12 cents



Diesels, hybrids and flex-fuel will

keep SUVs viable for the future



$4-per-gallon gasoline might have you gasping for air and looking at more fuelefficient

modes of transportation. No question, if you’re using the sport/ute for

one-person commuting, there are options that are easier on the wallet.

38 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008




MILES: 550


MPG: 14.7

COST: $112


20 cents

2008 CHEVY


MILES: 550


MPG: 21.6

COST: $85.60


16 cents

But for many SUV owners, this one

vehicle handles many needs, hauling both

people and cargo, not to mention that you

can take some of them off-road. Plus, you

can tow several tons with a trailer. These

Swiss Army knives of the motoring world

are hard to beat for their overall utility.

Thanks to technology, the new utes on

the market today are not necessarily your

father’s SUVs. True, you’d never bet on a

sport/ute in an economy run against a

B-segment car, but the SUVs of today,

fitted with modern powertrains, return

decent fuel economy. As gasoline prices

have climbed, SUV sales have slowed,

but Americans still love their sport/utes.

To mark the 38th Earth Day, we


rounded up four 2008 sport/utes with five

editors aboard to make a fuel-economy

run. It was similar in spirit to a trip marking

Earth Day two years ago (“Are We

There Yet?” AW, April 24, 2006), but this

time, not only were we seeking fueleconomy

insight, but there was a mission

of firsthand reporting on our energy future.

Our trip took us from Ann Arbor,

Michigan, to Warrenville, Illinois, a

Chicago suburb and home to Coskata. If

you don’t know about Coskata, you’re not

alone. General Motors made headlines at

the Detroit auto show in January, when

CEO Rick Wagoner announced that the

automaker was working with this company

to help bring more ethanol to the market



MILES: 550


MPG: 27.4

COST: $85.50


16 cents

(see page 42). What makes Coskata

unique in the ethanol world is that rather

than use corn to produce the product,

this company uses microorganisms that

literally eat garbage, producing ethanol

as a waste. No, it’s not science fiction.

This road trip was enlightening in

many ways.


If there was a dinosaur in the group, the

Armada was it. The hulking full-size SUV

is powered by a tried-and-true 5.6-liter V8

that makes 317 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque.

The only twist here is that it is flex-fuelcapable

and the only one in the group that

could burn corn-based ethanol. Since we


were going to visit Coskata, an ethanol producer,

it was fitting to drive such a vehicle.

The Armada is a comfortable highway

cruiser with seating for eight. For much of

the trip, the Nissan led the four-vehicle

caravan with the cruise control set at 70

mph, although sometimes the speed crept

higher in an attempt not to be a rolling

chicane along busy Interstate 94.

The Armada’s 28-gallon fuel tank was

nearly empty when we filled it with E85

at a Meijer gas station in Ann Arbor, our

embarkation point. Traveling the 275 miles

to Warrenville, the Armada burned 18.339

gallons, returning 15.0 mpg. On the return

trip, the ute needed 19.008 gallons, for 14.5

mpg. Both numbers were better than the

13-mpg highway figure predicted by the

EPA for running on E85, which by volume

contains less energy than straight gasoline.

The Armada is rated at 9 mpg city/13 mpg

highway on E85 but 12/18 on gasoline.

No surprise here, but of the four vehicles,

the Armada—the biggest and heaviest

on the trip—returned the poorest fuel

economy. The only upside is that E85 sells

for $2.99 a gallon, 30 cents less than the

cheapest unleaded. That’s not enough to

offset the lower energy content of E85—

even with the better-than-predicted mileage

we saw, you’d need a cost difference of 15

percent or better (45 cents in this example)

to save money using ethanol.



One surprise on the trip was the fuel

economy delivered by the Chevy Tahoe

Hybrid. With its two-mode hybrid

powertrain, the Tahoe weighs in at 5835

pounds, just a few pounds lighter than the

Armada. But the hybrid system helped

return 21.6 mpg, better than the EPA

figure and good enough that the fuel cost

per mile ran a virtual dead heat with the

more efficient Mercedes diesel running on

more expensive diesel fuel.

The Tahoe Hybrid is distinguished

from mere mortal Tahoes by a different

hood, front and rear fascias and grille. If

that isn’t enough, there are seven different

“Hybrid” badges or stickers on the exterior

to drive the point home and more inside,

lest you forget. (In contrast, the Armada

didn’t have a single external sticker or

badge declaring its flex-fuel ability.)

The Tahoe is powered by an aluminum

small-block V8 making 332 hp and 367

lb-ft of torque. The “two-mode” hybrid

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 39

40 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008





How do the fuel-saving SUVs in our test

compare with their conventional brethren?


TAHOE, 5.3-liter V8, rwd TAHOE HYBRID, rwd

EPA COMBINED: 16.1 mpg EPA COMBINED: 21.4 mpg

PRICE: $44,540 PRICE: $50,490

FUEL COST: 21 cents/mile FUEL COST: 16 cents/mile


FUEL SAVINGS: 5 cents/mile



ML350 ML320 CDI


PRICE: $59,130 PRICE: $60,860

FUEL COST: 21 cents/mile FUEL COST: 20 cents/mile


FUEL SAVINGS: 1 cent/mile




EPA COMBINED: 22.3 mpg EPA COMBINED: 32.1 mpg

PRICE: $22,975 PRICE: $27,110

FUEL COST: 15 cents/mile FUEL COST: 10 cents/mile


FUEL SAVINGS: 5 cents/mile




EPA COMBINED (GASOLINE): 13.8 mpg EPA COMBINED (E85): 10.4 mpg

PRICE: $48,080

FUEL COST (GASOLINE): 24 cents/mile FUEL COST (E85): 29 cents/mile




Notes: Prices are for similarly equipped vehicles. Fuel costs are calculated on the basis of those found in the

accompanying story about the Chicago trip: $2.99/gallon for E85, $3.29/gallon for gasoline, $4.25/gallon for

diesel. Since our test was almost entirely highway miles, the fuel-economy figures used in this graph are the

EPA combined ratings—a figure derived from the city and highway ratings—calculated out to 0.1 mpg (EPA

reports only in whole numbers).

BASE PRICE: $45,425

AS TESTED: $60,860

ENGINE: 3.0-liter dohc V6

POWER: 215 hp @ 3800

TORQUE: 398 lb-ft @ 1400-2800 rpm

DRIVETRAIN: AWD, seven-speed


CURB WEIGHT: 4817 lb


city, 24 highway, 20.3 combined

uses one electric mode during low-speed

driving and another for highway driving.

In low-speed and light-load driving, the

hybrid system can operate with electric

power only, gasoline-engine power only or

any combination of engine and electric

power. For example, fuel consumption

is reduced in heavy stop-and-go traffic

by shutting off the engine and moving

exclusively under electric power.

At higher speeds, the second mode kicks

in. In addition to electric assist, the second

motor integrates with other electronic

controls such as Active Fuel Management,

cam phasing and late-intake valve closure

to allow more efficient engine operation

with electric motors less than half the size

of those in a traditional “one-mode” hybrid

system. At cruise, it deactivates four cylinders,

and the electric motor provides some

assist—as on a slight grade—before full

eight-cylinder engine power returns as

conditions require, such as when passing,

towing or climbing a steep grade.

The result is a full-size, eight-passenger

ute with all of the luxury toys—navigation,

DVD player, power accessories—returning

better than 20 mpg on the highway.



It’s not surprising that German automakers

are leading the charge for clean-burning




BASE PRICE: $25,740

AS TESTED: $29,805

ENGINE: 2.3-liter dohc I4

POWER: 133 hp @ 6000 rpm (gas),

95 kW @ 5000 rpm (electric)

TORQUE: 124 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm


CURB WEIGHT: 3638 lb


city, 30 highway, 32.1 combined

diesels in the United States. Diesels are the

engines of choice for most passenger cars

in Europe, with good reason. Diesels of

today are clean-running and fuel-efficient,

returning on average about 30 percent

better fuel economy than similar-sized

gasoline models.

The ML, powered by a V6 making 215

hp and 398 lb-ft of torque, is one of those

just-right sport/utility vehicles when it

comes to size. It can hold five people comfortably

with gear and maneuvered easily

through Chicago’s rush-hour traffic.

The newly restyled ML is pleasing to

look at, with the exception of the grille

treatment, which had other staffers mistaking

it for a Chrysler at first glance. But

what we were really interested in was the

diesel. Many staffers—and some industry

experts—believe that diesels are the best

means of efficiently using however much

oil we have left. The tradeoffs are beginning

to look better and better as technology


Monster torque and great range are

two diesel attributes nearly everyone

appreciates. In freeway cruising, the diesel

growled along at 2000 revs—right in the

middle of the torque curve—and sipped

just 20.1 gallons, returning 27.4 mpg for

the round trip. It was the only vehicle of

the four to complete the trip without

refueling, although if we had been a bit


BASE PRICE: $50,490

AS TESTED: $51,785

ENGINE: 6.0-liter ohv V8

POWER: 332 hp @ 5100 rpm

TORQUE: 367 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm

DRIVETRAIN: RWD, four-speed


CURB WEIGHT: 5835 lb


city, 22 highway, 21.4 combined

braver, the Tahoe Hybrid likely would

have made it, too.

In fact, the ML’s range is in excess of

700 miles. With Mercedes charging less

than a $2,000 premium for the diesel, this

option is a viable powerplant for a sport/ute.

The downside, of course, is the price of

diesel fuel. At $4.25 per gallon, it’s the

most expensive fuel we burned. And

during the day we were traveling, the price

at the pump jumped a dime per gallon. We

used B20 biodiesel, by the way; it was the

same price as the all-petroleum variety.


There’s a lot to like in the Escape Hybrid,

once you get over some of the vehicle’s

issues regarding its hybrid drivetrain. The

inline four-cylinder makes just 133 hp and

124 lb-ft of torque, helped out by a 95kilowatt

electric motor. Our testers found

it best to keep the radio cranked, or they’d

be nagged by the subtle but annoying

whine/hum/whir of the electronics winding

up and down, during both acceleration

and deceleration. The sound is not unlike

that of an emergency-vehicle siren.

On a positive note, the readouts screaming

“Hybrid at Work” are kept to a minimum.

A small speedometer-like gauge has

a needle that points left toward “charge”

or right toward “assist,” but there’s no

cartoony video-game-type graphic like

BASE PRICE: $45,295

AS TESTED: $48,080

ENGINE: 5.6-liter dohc V8

POWER: 317 hp @ 5200 rpm

TORQUE: 385 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm

DRIVETRAIN: 4WD, five-speed


CURB WEIGHT: 5841 lb


city, 17 highway, 13.8 combined

those in the Toyota Prius or the Chevy

Tahoe Hybrid.

The start/stop mode works fairly consistently,

more predictably, it seems, than in

the Tahoe Hybrid, which often decides to

keep the engine running to maintain cabin

temperature or something. You can definitely

notice the Ford’s engine shutting off

and starting back up, if not exactly by feeling

it, then by hearing it. Maybe “sense” is

a better description: You can sense when

the engine powers off and on—it’s like a

Prius that way, which is logical, since Ford

licenses Toyota technology for this vehicle.

The brakes don’t have an overwhelming

regen feel to them, meaning that they feel

pretty conventional. Actually, most of the

vehicle feels conventional—and in some

ways kind of cheap. For one, the windshield

wipers, front and rear, are among the worst

we’ve ever experienced on a 21st-century


More than any other part of the Escape’s

hybridness, you feel the batteries assisting

the motor when trying to pull away from

a stop in brisk fashion. It feels like turbo


And all of that hybridness, not to mention

its being the smallest, lightest vehicle

in the test, returned the best fuel economy,

needing less than 20 gallons to complete

the 550-mile round trip, for a very respectable

28.2 mpg. c

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 41



any waste—grass, municipal

waste, old tires, wood chips—into

fuel for your car. A company called

Coskata claims it can do this using

a patented bioreactor and anaerobic

microbes found in nature (microbes that,

although they’re not genetically modified,

are patented). Factories using this proprietary

process could produce ethanol for $1

per gallon or less and sell it for twice that

much, Coskata claims.

When ethanol-promoting General

Motors signed on with a “strategic ownership

investment” (large but short of controlling

interest) announced at the Detroit

auto show, Coskata, a 35-employee

company in Warrenville, Illinois, moved

into the limelight. Ever since President

Bush suggested in his 2006 State of the

Union address that we could reduce

dependence on imported oil by getting

ethanol from switch grass or wood chips,

there have been lots of start-ups pursuing

this Rumpelstiltskin-like profit-fromstraw

idea and the federal grants and

tax breaks that go with it.

“Most companies doing cellulosic

ethanol are trying to use enzymes

to digest the sugar out of organic

matter,” says Wes Bolsen, Coskata

42 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008







vice president. “We don’t do it that way.”

The bioreactor first phase is essentially

an update of old-fashioned gasification,

burning the feedstock at up to 4000 degrees

Fahrenheit. Some organic materials can be

gasified at lower temps. One advantage:

Plant fibers also get converted to energy.

Either way, the feedstock is reduced

to ash, which has agricultural uses, and

carbon monoxide, hydrogen and that

nasty greenhouse gas, CO2. Some of the

exhaust might need scrubbing, but most

of these gases are “fed” to anaerobic

bacteria that consume them and emit

ethanol as a waste product.

“It’s kind of like a fish tank. Bacteria

recycle the waste into something beneficial,”

says Bolsen.

Research was done with microbes

floating around in a big tank, but in our

visit to Coskata’s lab and HQ, tucked into

an office park in the western Chicago suburb,

we saw early research toward industrialization,

in which the microbes would

be grown as a slime layer on a dense matrix

in a plastic tube. The water-and-gas

mixture would bubble through these

tubes, and the liquid coming out would

be 3 percent or more ethanol. The ethanol

comes out through distillation and passing

the liquid through a membrane, and

the water is reused. Coskata needs only

one gallon of water per gallon of ethanol,

less than one-sixth of that needed for corn

ethanol. The gasification phase produces

waste heat that makes a Coskata plant an

ideal collocated partner for something

like a paper mill. It’s a continuous process

(you don’t want to starve the microbes) so

you need a reliable supply of feedstock,

but Bolsen says “you could do straw one

week and tires the next.” Once it’s running,

the process takes only two-minutes

to convert feedstock to ethanol.

Unlike many cellulosic ethanol startups,

Coskata doesn’t aim to go into

ethanol production itself. It wants to sell

its processes and colonies of its proprietary

bacteria to bigger companies that

have the massive capital resources to

build cost-intensive production facilities.

“We want to provide the software,

essentially,” says Bolsen. “In our business

model, you’d license the process, and

we’d help you set up your plant. Say it

makes 600,000 gallons a year. You’re

making money selling ethanol and we’re

getting a per-gallon royalty. We’re back at

work in the lab, developing better

processes, more efficient organisms, and

we come back to you and say, ‘We have

version 2.0 now. Buy this upgrade, and

you’ll get 800,000 gallons a year.’”

Besides GM, Coskata’s other industrial

partner is ICM, builder of most cornethanol

plants in America. It also has ties

to several venture-capital firms and educational

and research institutes such as

the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma

State University, Brigham Young

University and Argonne National Labs.

The microbes—Coskata owns rights

to five—were discovered by academic

researchers funded by the company. By

selectively breeding the germs—making

them “thoroughbreds,” Bolsen says—the

company has improved output 100-fold.

If oil companies don’t want to be

involved or block access to their fuel

stations, Bolsen says, there are alternative

distribution channels, “big-box retail

outlets that have fuel pumps, essentially.

They’re eager to have this.”

A 40,000 gallon/year demonstration

plant will be announced on April 24.

Then, a new partner would build a production

plant making millions of gallons

annually. Bolsen says he envisions one

more round of drumming up venture capital

and eventually an IPO. c


of experience in

GM’s new lineup of

full-size hybrid SUVs. Just before

the AW staff took four SUVs to

Chicago (see page 38), a less

scientific but just as important

trip was taken to New York City

to celebrate a daughter’s 16th

birthday. The trip was done in a

GMC Yukon Hybrid.

In terms of over-the-road

comfort and smoothness, it’s

hard to imagine a better car in

which to do the 20-hour round

trip. It averaged more than 18

mpg on the highway, with no

special effort on our part to save

gas by adjusting our driving

techniques. As with the Tahoe

the editors took to Chicago,

there’s no mistaking the hybrid

for lesser Yukons, with its different

hood, grille and front and rear

fascias and the seven—count

’em, seven—hybrid badges and

stickers on the exterior. There’s

another inside, just in case you

didn’t get it, not to mention an

efficiency gauge on the dash

(left of the speedometer) and

one of those elaborate energyuse

graphics available on the

nav screen.

The Yukon is powered by an



To New York and back


aluminum 6.0-liter V8 making

332 hp and 367 lb-ft of torque.

The two-mode arrangement

allows for one mode during lowspeed

driving and another to

assist in extra loads at highway

speeds. It can move using electric

power only, engine power

only or, most frequently, a com-

bination of power sources. Add

in cylinder deactivation, which

cuts the eight cylinders to four at

steady-state cruising, and you

can actually get some decent

mileage ratings in a big brick

that weighs nearly three tons.

In Manhattan, the Yukon

mostly ran around quietly on its


batteries—the truck will do so up

to 32 mph. Acceleration was terrific,

and it was actually fun to zip

in and out of city traffic. The socalled

two-mode system generates

about 300 hp, plenty for

shooting the gaps. The whirring

sounds coming from the electric

motors take some getting used

to—they often resemble a far-off

siren—as do the transmission

shifts, which can feel like a

continuously variable trans.

We filled the Yukon several

times from Detroit to Manhattan

and back and got 18.5, 17.9,

17.3 and 19.1 mpg. No, it’s not

a 40-mpg Toyota Prius, but

those numbers are damn respectable

for a vehicle that will carry

eight. We didn’t quite match the

EPA combined rating of 21 mpg

on the New York run, but our

driving style was such that we

probably wouldn’t have matched

the fuel-economy numbers in a

5.3-liter, 320-hp Yukon, either,

and its combined rating is only

16 mpg, or 14 city/20 highway.

Combine those readings with

the Yukon’s refinement and

smoothness, and it was a fine

choice for a long road trip. At

$53,000, you expect something

special, and the Yukon is that. c

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 43


a decade since General

Motors’ Richard Wagoner

made Larry Burns the

company’s vice president

for research and development and gave him

one standing order: Reinvent the car.

Burns rolled out his answer in 2002: the

Autonomy fuel-cell concept car, describing

a new DNA for automobility involving not

just a new power source—hydrogen—but

total electrification of all systems needed for

steering, braking, climate control and more.

We interviewed Burns in March in his

office in Warren, Michigan, which he has

decorated with photos of the Autonomy and

its successors, the Hy-Wire and the Sequel,

and of the Chevy Equinox-based fuel-cell

demonstrator cars, now being tested by consumers

on the road. The photos are there not

as trophies of past achievements but as daily

reminders of a continuing vision.

“I really believe technology can solve

problems,” says Burns. “We can remove the

car from the environmental equation, and it

will be good business.”

Faith in technology is expected of an engineer,

perhaps especially of one who can

hear only thanks to the technology of the

cochlear implants he got after an infection

left him deaf. Few observers, though, note

the equally competitive fervor that Burns

brings to the car business, the degree to which

he believes in GM as much as in hydrogen.

“Do you know that only 12 percent of the

world’s population owns a car? Incredible,

isn’t it? That means there’s a great market

opportunity, but it’s not one we can take advantage

of doing it the old way. The issue is

that our industry worldwide is 96 percent

dependent on petroleum, and that’s not a

sustainable model for our future. When I say

sustainable, it’s not just about global climate

change, it’s not just about oil availability or

price, it’s about equality of access. Oil will

play a continuing role, but to grow our business

sustainably, we need alternatives, multiple

sources to meet expanding needs.”

When he began championing hydrogen

and talking sustainability, many industry insiders

dismissed Burns as a quixotic visionary,

doomed to fail in the shark pool that is GM

management. Skeptical environmentalists

still claim it’s all a cynical corporate bluff.

Burns doesn’t come across as any kind of

poker player, least of all a bluffer, but neither

does he seem naive. The GM shark

pool? He’s been swimming in it since 1969.

46 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008




Burns grew up in Waterford, Michigan,

near Pontiac, where his father owned a diner.

The youngest in a large family, he found

there wasn’t much money left when it was

time for college, but he loved cars, so he got

a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering

at General Motors Institute (now Kettering

University), where students alternated

classroom time with working for pay for GM

and suppliers. He got a master’s in engineering

and public policy at the University of

Michigan and a doctorate in civil engineering

from the University of California, Berkeley.

He studied urban planning and transportation,

and while many of his peers focused

on mass transit, Burns kept his eye on the

car. “My thesis was on the virtues of automobility,

why people prefer it, the flexibility

to meet personal schedules and destinations.

For personal mobility, nothing beats a car.”

His GM career began in the same department

he leads today, R&D, but he’s held executive

positions in various divisions in the

fields of product-program management,

quality, production control, industrial engineering

and product and business planning.

“I wasn’t involved in EV1, I was doing production

work in that period, but when people

judge EV1 as a failure, it breaks my heart,”

Burns says. “We learned so much about electric

drive, about controls and batteries, and

it’s expertise we’re still using today. Probably

a third of the people out of 200 or so on the

Volt project have EV1 experience.”

GM had a clear edge on the competition

in electric cars, and Burns says, almost wistfully,

“If we had that hand to play over

today . . . ” before moving on to say that the

EV1 put a largely experimental product in

the hands of regular consumers. “That’s

where Toyota got ahead with Prius; nothing

With no shortage of

idealists who’d like

to reinvent the car,

Larry Burns is in

a position to do it


is as important as getting real products on

the road with real people.

“We built hybrid prototypes back in the

early ’90s, and that evolved into the PNGV

Precept of 1999. But that wasn’t a zeroemissions

vehicle by the California standards—there’s

an example of where regulation

can lead you astray. I personally brought

four hybrid proposals before the board in the

1999-2002 period, and all were rejected. It was

because of the business case. We just didn’t

get the courage to lose money on Gen 1.”

He knows he’s playing catch-up today

and seems energized by scoffing from Toyota

execs about GM’s Volt plug-in hybrid, like a

ballplayer who’s read disparaging words

about his team from an opposing coach.

“If we just copied Prius, we’d stay behind,”

he says. “We could license the technology,

as some have done, and build, say, a hybrid

Vibe at NUMMI, but no one would give us

credit for that. Prius changed the game. Now,

how do we change the game on them?”

That’s what the two-mode hybrid is

about. It’s what the plug-in hybrid is about.

It’s why GM is rolling out a new hybrid

every quarter for the next four years, and it’s

in part what the flex-fuel effort is about.

By 2012, GM says, half of the cars it builds

will be flex-fuel vehicles that can burn E85

or another blended fuel. Burns acknowledges

that the current model—ethanol from corn

distributed over a limited infrastructure—is

neither environmentally nor economically

sound, but he says that GM opted to put the

vehicles out there first as part of a longrange

strategy to influence development of

cellulosic ethanol and a distribution system.

Burns is vice president not only for R&D

but also for product strategy. So the Volt

plug-in (see page 29) isn’t just another hybrid


with a plug—it’s a first-generation electrified

car in which batteries might just as readily

be recharged by a fuel cell as by a small engine.

It uses a lot of traditional hardware

shared with the global compact-car chassis

it’s being co-developed with, so it bears little

resemblance to the Autonomy, but there

are strands of that new DNA throughout.

All of this activity—the hybrids, the battery

research, the investment in ethanol

start-up company Coskata (see page 42)—

moves GM and the industry closer to a fully

electric, fuel-cell-powered car, as Burns sees it.

He even sees the distillation of ethanol as a

step away from a means of generating ample

hydrogen for tomorrow’s vehicles. Coskata,

he notes, already has a lead on microbes

that could produce hydrogen using the same

process it’s developing for ethanol. He reminds

us that the oil industry already

makes a lot of hydrogen, which it uses to

cleanse traditional fuels of sulfur.

“That’s 175 million vehicles’ worth of

hydrogen devoted to keeping gasoline vehicles


Meanwhile, he says “nothing beats biofuels”

when it comes to ensuring a steady

supply of energy in the face of global political

instability. Part of the appeal of Coskata

is that it envisions localized production using

regionally available corn, cellulosic crops,

wood, municipal waste, tires and so on.

Burns has experience and understanding

of something many of his critics don’t fully

grasp: the sheer magnitude and scope of the

car business. Inventors and start-ups can

produce a handful of cars—hundreds, thousands—without

making a blip on the charts.

Putting 100 hydrogen-powered Equinoxes

on the road this year makes good on an earlier

pledge, but the real goal is to make GM

the first company to sell a million such vehicles

into private hands. If you’re GM,

Toyota or another major manufacturer, you

also must meet varying regulatory standards,

and you can’t count on many incentives big

enough to change your business case.

“When we were mapping out the new

DNA for the car, Rick [Wagoner] defined the

challenge properly: It can’t be transformational

if it can’t compete on cost, last

150,000 miles or 10 years (6000 operational

hours) and satisfy the customer with style,

safety, utility and driving experience.”

Now in his late 50s, Burns may no longer

be in charge when that millionth GM fuelcell

car hits the road, but he expects to see it

happen. We don’t think he’s bluffing. c

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 47




think “electric”


“scooter” together,

you think of something

shrink-wrapped, made

in China and bought at a toy

store. Well, the Vectrix is

none of that. It goes 62 mph,

has a claimed range of 68

miles and accelerates faster

than most of the cars around

you at the stoplight. That it is

clean is only a bonus.

Plus, you get all the benefits

of scooterdom: squirt-andshoot

traffic snaking, park-itanywhere

convenience and a

price fit for a college senior

majoring in philosophy. The

Vectrix is powered by a lowmounted,

3.7-kW, 125-volt

NiMH battery pack that recharges

to 80 or 90 percent of

capacity in two hours. Three

hours is usually enough for a

full charge, four if you start

from flat empty. When you

twist the throttle forward to

brake, the regen slows the

bike—you almost never need

the brakes. The batteries make

it pretty heavy for a scooter,

48 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008

so slow-speed maneuvers require

some care, but there’s a

reverse gear (if you twist the

throttle forward at a stop, it

backs up) to help you park it.

We rode a Vectrix all over

the sprawl of traffic-choked

Los Angeles for a week and

came away convinced. Given

the right combination of circumstances,

this could be the

perfect vehicle for someone

wanting to save both the

world and money.

Vectrix claims 0 to 50 mph

(not 60) in 6.8 seconds, and,

using the highly scientific

“One Mississippi, two

Mississippi” method, we

found that about right. With

all of its torque available from

0 rpm, it gets off the line

faster than most cars.

While the price of $11,850

is an awful lot steeper than a

garden-variety toy scooter, this

one is fully freeway-capable.

Riding in the slow lane, hunkered

down behind the windscreen,

we were able to stay

out of trouble and cruise efficiently

at 62. On surface

streets, we about doubled our




Vectrix electric

scooter can discharge

your commute


time efficiency compared

with a car, by either splitting

lanes or zipping off in directions

cars couldn’t go. Parking

was even easier; a scooter will

get you places cars don’t fit.

We pirated juice all over

town. It was surprising how

many electrical

outlets there


are in parking

garages and outside



We never

drained the batteries

all the way,

but we think the

claim of 68 miles

on a charge might

be a little optimistic.

Our regular,


mostly freeway

commute used

about two-thirds

to three-quarters

of a full charge. It was back up

to full within a few hours of

poached electricity from our

building’s parking garage.

The electric power cord is

built right into the underseat


BASE PRICE: $11,850


peak power (7-kW

continuous power),

65 Nm, brushless DC

radial air-gap motor;

rwd, coaxial

integrated rear-wheelmountedplanetarygear



0-50 MPH: 6.8 sec


penny per mile (mfr)

storage and snakes out easily

to reach 110- and 220-volt

outlets. It draws about 15

amps, so just be sure you’re

not plugged into an outlet

that is also powering something

important, or you’ll

blow a fuse. While you can’t

fully recharge in

the time it takes

to order lunch,

you can pour in

enough electrons

that, with similar

topping off

throughout the

day, you can

keep enough

charge in the

batteries so

range won’t be

a problem.


Vectrix has

been doing research

and development

for more

than a decade on this ride but

has been selling scooters in

America for less than a year.

More information, including

dealership locations, is available

at www.vectrix.com. c







not a lot of green? You could do

a lot worse than a Chevrolet

Malibu Hybrid.

It starts with a 2.4-liter, 164-hp, 159-lbft

four-cylinder, teamed with General

Motors’ belt-alternator-starter to produce

what the company calls a mild hybrid. In



The diesel in Honda’s

Civic is smooth and

powerful, and it gets

us excited about a

diesel Acura TSX



parts, the notion of

a “desirable Civic”

usually involves the high-zoot Si

variants of Honda’s small car.

That will change if we get a

diesel-powered Civic like the one

our friends in Europe can buy.

We recently sampled a

European i-CDTi Civic five-door

with Honda’s smooth and quiet

other words, the car won’t zip around

silently on electric power only, but the

electric motor will provide a slight assist

to the gasoline engine under heavy acceleration.

The best fuel-saving

trick is that the hybrid

system lets the gas engine

shut down when the car

stops and promptly restarts

the engine when the brake

is released.

The net effect is an extra

2 mpg in fuel economy—24

city/32 highway—over a

nonhybrid four-cylinder

Malibu, at $1,800 for the

added hybrid hardware.

By V6 and V8 measures,

2.2-liter diesel four. The next generation

of this engine, called

iDTEC, will find its way into the

new Acura TSX next year.

The key parts of this engine

are its super-high-pressure

(23,000 psi) direct fuel injection

and a variable nozzle turbocharger

from Honeywell. That translates

to tons of pulling power at low

rpm and miserly fuel consumption.

Honda’s oil burner is rated



BASE PRICE: $22,790

DRIVETRAIN: 2.4-liter

164-hp, 159-lb-ft I4;

fwd, four-speed


CURB WEIGHT: 3415 lb

0-60 MPH: 10.4 sec


(EPA/AW): 27/24.8 mpg

at only 138 hp at 4000 rpm (with

a 4500-rpm redline) but cranks

250.7 lb-ft of torque at just 2000


There’s no smoke on start-up

but some clatter when cold,

which fades to just a hint of

diesel noise at warm idle. There’s

plenty of seat-compressing thrust

in every one of its six gears—a

great thing for freeway merging

and passing maneuvers.

the Malibu Hybrid is nothing to write

home about. But for a four-cylinder, it accelerates

well from a stop, winds to redline

without gasping or thrashing and

cruises nicely at 80 mph and above. The

ride and handling balance from the

Malibu’s Opel Vectra-based chassis is on

the money, and the hybrid powertrain is

so smooth you won’t notice it—much

more than we could say about more hardware-intensive

and heavy-handed hybrids

such as the discontinued Accord Hybrid.

Of course, it’s a mild system, so the return

at the gas pump isn’t as noticeable,


The interior is first-rate, with a roomy

front and rear. We’d put its quality up

against Volkswagen’s latest, and it is far

better than what Chrysler and Ford are

churning out these days in

their midsizers (Toyota and

Honda, too, for that matter).

The handsome Malibu

is a solid contender in the

midsize-hybrid class, with a

great price that’s $3,000 less

than the Nissan Altima and

Toyota Camry hybrids.

If you want an affordable

sedan that will save you

cabbage down the road, the

Malibu Hybrid is worth

planting in your driveway. c


On the European test cycle,

this car is rated at the equivalent

of 35.6 mpg city/54.7 mpg highway.

Driving around Detroit on a

mixture of freeways and residential

streets, we got 40.5 mpg.

We paid a hefty $4.40 a gallon

for low-sulfur petrodiesel fuel

near a freeway ramp, so we spent

$10.86 for every 100 miles in the

Euro Civic. For a U.S. Civic with

the 1.8-liter engine at an EPA

combined 29 mpg and $3.30 for

gasoline, 100 miles would have

cost $11.38. We saw B20

biodiesel for $4.20 a gallon farther

from the freeway, so our

savings could have been better.

Note to Honda: The Euro

Civic five-door is a serious head

turner. Rarely have we been

quizzed on a U.S. Civic as much

as we were with this car. c

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 49







a couple of laps on an old

airport runway (near the

famed Sebring track in

Florida) in a one-of-a-kind

concept car that would get us fired or

killed—or worse—if we wrecked it.

But driving Audi’s V12 diesel R8 was

a good indicator of what a future with

diesel-powered supercars could be. That

future looks bright.

This is the same car we voted Most

Fun at the Detroit auto show, over the

BMW 1 Series convertible, the Dodge

ZEO concept, the Hummer HX concept

and the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart.

Then Audi painted the concept red for

50 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008

Geneva. The car was given a name, the

R8 TDI Le Mans. All of this fueled speculation

that the car is getting closer to


The Audi is powered by a 6.0-liter V12

common-rail diesel, the first V12 diesel

in a sports car. The engine cranks out

500 hp and an astonishing 737 lb-ft of

torque, the latter figure more than double

that offered by the standard, gasolinefueled

R8—and it all comes between

1750 and 3000 rpm. Audi says the engine

is based on the 5.5-liter, 650-hp powerplant

used in its Le Mans-winning R10

racer. Audi also says its engine already

fulfills the Euro 6 emissions standard

likely to take effect in 2014.

Even though this car is a concept,

driving it was amazingly civilized—

everything worked, nothing fell off, and,

even in concept stage, it was all screwed

together with Audi’s typical attention to


The first thing you notice is how

different it sounds from inside the cockpit,

like the inside of a small jet—air

rushing into the engine bay from the

enlarged side vents and the NACA scoop

in the roof.

We were told to keep it under 50 mph

and that the concept car’s transmission

was from an Audi A4; if the diesel R8

makes the leap to production, a new

transmission will have to be developed.

Audi says there is a 50/50 chance that

it will be built. The V12 powerplant is

ready for production right now—it will

be slipped into Audi’s Q7 SUV. To make

the engine fit into the back of the R8,

engineers had to move the firewall

forward by six inches.

All that’s missing to make the project

a go is the new transmission, and with

that whopping torque, bigger tires and

brakes might be a swell idea, too.

Audi estimates that a production

version of this concept would get 25

mpg, while still making the run from 0

to 60 mph in less than four seconds and

having a top speed of 200 mph.

We’re ready. c










diesel-powered racing sports cars

from Audi and Peugeot remind us

that the list of oil-burning achievements is a

long one. Diesel engines date back to the

19th century, but it took the Depression to

spark real automotive interest. The streamlined

car that British record setter George

Eyston used in the mid-1930s— the AEC (for

Associated Equipment Company) Fuel Oil

Safety Special— is the most stunning-looking

part of that history.

In the spring of 1933, British motorsport

craftsmen L.T. Delaney and Sons reworked a

135-inch-wheelbase Chrysler Imperial chassis

into the first British diesel-powered race

car. It was to be the fastest diesel in the world.

Without racing modifications, the 8.9-liter, sixcylinder

engine—with a 16:1 compression

ratio producing 130 hp—was the same

powerplant used in many London buses.

Other specifications included a seven-bearing

balanced crankshaft and Lockheed hydraulic

brakes with 16-inch drums on disc wheels.

Great fuel economy—about 22 mpg at

100 mph when an Alfa 158 might register

5 mpg—allowed for an undersized fuel tank.

In contrast, the heavy (1414-pound) motor

required extra-strong half-elliptic front springs.

English coachbuilder Vanden Plas constructed

the intriguing two-window sedan

body, with surfaces of weight-saving matteblack

fabric and an airplanelike four-piece

windshield. Inside were pleated-leather seats

and an artistic spray of bright-bezeled Jaeger

instruments. Clip-on body details made the

Special street-legal. It was equally adept at

serious competition or a head-turning amble

along Old Bond Street. The shallow parabolalike

rear fenders were an enigma; when in

place, they blocked opening the rear doors.

In October 1933, the Special made its

debut at Brooklands, setting diesel records

for both the measured mile and the

kilometer—first run counterclockwise, then

clockwise. The best run was a 106.65-mph

kilometer (clockwise), 3 mph faster than the

existing record. English weather limited the

day’s results—heavy rain made the concrete

track so wet that the car’s racing tires had to

be replaced with a nonskid set. A defective

windshield wiper made things worse.

However, the day proved the Special’s highspeed


Follow-up runs began in March 1934 at

Montlhery, France. The Special now had

tubular air intakes (resembling a machine-gun

nest) on top of the hood, a much longer

tapered tail and wire wheels on the front.

Eyston improved his world record, to 115.41

mph, for both the measured mile and the


The Special’s triumphs were fleeting.

Within the year, American drivers—first Dave

Evans, then Wild Bill Cummings—retook the

short-distance titles, raising the mile record

to 125.065 and 137.195 mph, respectively.

In February 1936, Eyston returned the

Special to Montlhery for long-distance runs,

setting a 24-hour diesel record of 94.99 mph

(about 35 mph slower than the 2007 Le

Mans winner).

Despite the Special’s being eclipsed on

the track, none of its successors or competitors

was able to surpass its stylish passengercar

approach to setting speed records. Some

say the Special’s chassis survived World

War II, but its current whereabouts are


Today’s diesel speed record of 350.092

mph, by the “JCB Dieselmax” in August

2006, was set at the Bonneville Salt Flats in

Utah. The Dieselmax inherited the Special’s

flair for making the most of humble components:

Its diesel can be found powering backhoe

loaders. c

APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 51


52 AUTOWEEK APRIL 21, 2008











normally associated with cars or

car repairs. You wouldn’t hear

someone say, “That’s a luscious

torque curve” or “What a luscious shock


But some folks in San Francisco have

changed everything.

Luscious Garage, at 450 Clementina

Street (www.lusciousgarage.com), is an

earth-friendly repair shop that works

almost exclusively on hybrids. From the

moment you step into the garage, you can

tell it’s different from a traditional shop.

The floors are sparkling clean, green

plants hang everywhere, and natural light

streams in from the skylights, filling the

repair bays. The green garage opened

its doors in August 2007 and has been

growing almost too fast for owner and lead

technician Carolyn Coquillette to keep up.

Coquillette isn’t just a green-minded

gearhead, she’s also a scholar. She graduated

with a degree in English and physics

from the University of Michigan, before

taking auto-repair classes.

To keep the garage’s carbon footprint

small, Coquillette uses several techniques.

For parts cleaning, biodiesel is used,

because it’s renewable, easy to exchange

and nontoxic. Cloth rags are used to clean

up shop messes. “The rags can be laundered

off-site,” says Coquillette, “so the

chemicals never get into the water supply.”

To cut down on noise, electric tools

replace pneumatics, although a highefficiency

air compressor is on-site for

filling tires and loosening the occasional

stuck fastener. The cordless electric tools

are recharged at night, cutting down on

daytime energy consumption.

Carolyn Coquillette (below) opened

her garage last year. It services

mostly hybrids in, er, an environment

of green plants and natural light.

Starting an earth-friendly business

involves more than green chemicals,

though; it also requires using less energy

and creating less waste. Insulation and

venting eliminate the need for heating and

cooling the shop, and the technicians use

the Internet to contact customers for

service updates. Work orders and receipts

are e-mailed to customers, reducing paper


Okay, so how did the name Luscious

come about?

“Well, everyone in the shop had an

alias,” says Coquillette. “When I was

getting certified, mine was Luscious. We

tried to brainstorm, to think of a different

name, but nothing we came up with was

better than Luscious Garage.” c






>> These bulbs have

a longer life and use

less energy than

regular bulbs.



>> Just add water to these all-natural,

biodegradable, hypoallergenic, tabletsized

wipes for indoor or outdoor use.



>> Earth-friendly

bags are made

from corn instead

of polyethylene,

for compost,

garbage and

shop mess.





>>Tiles available in countless

colors and patterns

are made from 100

percent recycled rubber.



>> Indoor/outdoor cleaners for glass,

plastics, fabrics and more are biodegradable,

nonflammable and nontoxic.


APRIL 21, 2008 AUTOWEEK 53

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