Tesla S, Fusion Hybrid, Volt, Insight

April 22nd, 2009 by Potato

It’s Earth Day, which means later today the pricing for the 2010 Prius should be released! (For the US, at least).

Some other hybrids (and full electrics!) have cropped up recently with actual models on the way, or promises of real soon now:

The GM Volt has always confused me beyond the ability to blog. The concept itself is quite good: a plug-in hybrid electric car with enough all-electric range to cover the daily commuting needs of most people without needing gas, but with a gas range-extender so no one had to feel trapped or deal with the range limitations of an electric car.

However it was sprung on the world in a way that did not suggest there was ever an intention to build one, until it seemed that the GM head honchos accidentally promised they would. It was still a powerpoint pipedream, without even a prototype or autoshow setpiece cobbled together when they actually started advertising it. One has to wonder at the management of a company that spends money it doesn’t have advertising a product that doesn’t exist. The main goal seemed to be a combination of greenwashing and deflecting attention from the Prius: “Don’t buy a Prius” the subtext said “this will be better and you just have to wait a few more years to get it.”

The goofs continued when the autoshow mockup (in my estimation, likely a half-finished muscle car chassis stolen for the moment of need) had a huge, aggressive engine compartment… for the car with the tiny range-extender motor. The saying was that it did so poorly in the wind-tunnel tests that they might as well have put it in backwards. Now they’re less than a year from their promised introduction, and apparently still need billions of dollars to finish the R&D. That seems like a fairly ridiculous number, and there have been reports that the US government is not interested in continuing to fund the Volt…

Ford, nearly 3 years late, is introducing the Fusion Hybrid. This car is a very close competitor to the Toyota Camry Hybrid (in part because of the convergent evolution of the Toyota and Ford systems), but they’ve tuned it a little more towards fuel economy. The big question in my mind is how they arranged the batteries wrt trunk space, unfortunately that’s the one thing none of the preview articles seems to touch on. In the specs on Ford’s website, the Hybrid has the same 467L trunk as all the other models — I don’t know if that’s a mistake or if they actually managed to make a hybrid sedan without sacrificing trunk space. It’s certainly worth checking to see if it’s true if you’re interested in a Fusion.

Honda is also stepping up the heat by introducing a direct competitor to the Prius with its new Insight. The new Insight has the same aerodynamic & practical hatchback body as the Prius, and the two are a little hard to tell apart from pictures alone. The Insight is a little smaller (but not nearly as small as the old Insight), but it’s also going to be cheaper. Honda’s IMA system isn’t quite as efficient as the Prius, particularly in the city, but real-world tests with the Civic hybrid showed that the gap was perhaps smaller than the government testing suggested. While the Insight will certainly draw a few potential Prius buyers away, I think it might hurt the Civic hybrid sales even more — now Honda loyalists can get a car that’s more efficient with a bigger trunk for less money. Of course, for some looks matter more than practicality, and the Civic hybrid is a “stealth sedan.”

But perhaps the biggest news in alternative fuel cars this last little while has been from Tesla motors: the all-electric startup company has actually built and delivered several of their expensive all-electric 2-seater roadsters. That’s given them the confidence and operating funds to move on to the next stage: an upscale all-electric sedan, known as the Model S. Supposedly the S will be able to seat 5 adults and two children, like station wagons of old, but without an interior shot I’m having trouble seeing how the jump-seats will fit in the hatch. Nonetheless, it’s poised to be a real competitor, with a $50k US price tag, which isn’t out of the ballpark for luxury sedans, and a very generous 300-mile all-electric range. I think that the 17″ touchscreen replacing all of the traditional centre console controls is pretty silly, but it’s got to appeal to someone…

What is perhaps most interesting about the now two models of Tesla is that they’re a small company that managed to make these cars from the ground up, without the benefit of government funding or the cobasys batteries. It just sort of makes you wonder what GM is doing.

Comments are closed.