Features

Hybrid highway

"Hybrid highway" Continued...

Issue: "Salting Hollywood," Sept. 3, 2005

Dave Hermance, Toyota's executive engineer for advanced technology vehicles, said Toyota discourages this sort of experimentation. He says hacking into the Prius and rewiring it will void part of the warranty. "You can be quite confident of that," Mr. Hermance said. "They'll end up getting what they deserve. We ought not have to warrant people hacking into the system."

He says other factors make the Prius a poor candidate for a plugged-in vehicle. In its electric-only mode, the engine can't handle speed of more than 35 mph. Much faster without the gas engine started, he says, and "the transmission will blow up."

Tinkerers with CalCars like Mr. Gremban hope they can prove the viability of plugged-in hybrids without waiting for car manufacturers to do it for them. "That's a different discussion," Mr. Hermance said. "But the reality is that today, any battery that can get you 20 miles-if you want to store enough energy to go 20 miles, you're talking about a very expensive battery that will have limited life." Just like batteries in laptops and cell phones, the charging and discharging of large battery packs in cars would shorten the battery system's lifespan. "And then you would have a huge replacement cost," he said. "Today's economics say we can't make a business case out of it. But we'll keep monitoring the technology."

Today's hybrids

Toyota Prius II

cost: $21,000; $25,000-$30,000 nicely equipped
mpg: 47.9
engine: 1.5L 4 cylinder / 110 hp

The Prius is the most well-known hybrid, but getting one can be hard. Long waiting lists have kept some buyers waiting for months. Could it be the hottest hatchback ever?

Honda Accord Hybrid

cost: $30,000
mpg: 29.9
engine: 3L V6 / 255 hp

No one can call this Accord frumpy. It's the fastest family sedan on the market. It burns rubber without burning too much of the ozone layer.

Honda Civic Hybrid

cost: $20,000
mpg: 44.9
engine: 1.3L 4 cyl. / 93 hp

The economy of a hybrid without the disorientation of learning how to drive a Prius. Comes in a manual transmission which scores even better in fuel efficiency.

Honda Insight

cost: $19,000
mpg: 56.0
engine: 1L 3 cyl. / 71 hp

Cessna is to jumbo jet as Insight is to a typical American SUV. Even so, reviewers said Insight had enough get-up-and-go to get on the freeway. And the standard transmission version nets 65.2 mpg.

Ford Escape Hybrid (2-wheel drive)

cost: $27,400
mpg: 30.2
engine: 2.3L 4 cylinder

Last year, the Escape was all the rave. But low output (Ford only produced 20,000) and disappointing efficiency (many owners have reported low 20s for MPG) mean Toyota and Lexus have stolen Ford's thunder in the hybrid SUV market.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid (2-wheel drive)

cost: $33,000
mpg: 25.0
engine: 3.3L V6 / 268 hp

The hybrid assist makes the Highlander quicker than its gas-only counterpart. Lexus' RX 400h hybrid is basically the same hybrid engine in a different wrapper (and $10,000 extra cost).

Gas mileage estimates according to GreenHybrid.com's database of nearly 1,000 hybrid owners logging fuel efficiency over more than 10 million miles. As the hybrid community is fond of saying, your mileage may vary.

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