Over the last several months, I have been clipping interesting articles from the newspapers and magazines I read. Almost every day I read the San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and New York Times. I have filed these clippings under the following categories:

  • China (because it is of great interest to me)
  • Space and oceans
  • Global warming
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Telephony
  • Terrorism
  • Conventional warfare
  • Environment and green tech
  • Management issues (legislation, legal, whistle blowers)
  • Policy issues (such as energy industry and nuclear policy)
  • Corporate finance (including energy policy)
  • Homeland security
  • Cars
  • High tech including information technology

First, Cars…

My impression is that the U.S. car companies produce around half the cars sold in the country. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are still the only major U.S. manufacturers. These companies are still having great difficulty competing with foreign brands because of their union contracts, which impose heavy pension burdens on them. Under the circumstances, this calls for real innovation on the part of the automakers — especially in mass producing cars that use less gas, diesel, ethanol, and possibly electricity (even that is not free). Keeping that in mind, and just for the fun of it, I have especially focused on articles on progress toward satisfying our national goals for energy independence.

Then, Hybrid Cars…

Hybrid cars (which combine electric motors with a fossil fuel-burning engine) have been around for a long time. More than 100 years ago — in 1899 — a young Austrian engineer by the name of Dr Ferdinand Porsche designed and built the first hybrid car. And, on November 23, 1905, an American engineer by the name of H. Piper filed a patent application for a hybrid gasoline engine-electric motor powertrain. Another, more recent attempt, was made by Petro-Electric Motors in about 1962. The company developed a hybrid system which was installed in a Buick Skylark sedan, replacing its standard engine with a Wankel (rotary) gas engine and eight lead-acid batteries. The Environmental Protection Agency initially supported the project, but eventually cut off funding in the mid-’70s.

It wasn’t until the Toyota Prius was released that the hybrid car finally caught on with the public. A number of major automobile manufacturers now have active and successful research programs. Since it’s U.S. introduction in 2000,Toyota has today sold more than 150,000 Prius cars — which retail for a price of about $22,000 — in this country. Several other auto manufacturers have jumped on the hybrid bandwagon, including Ford, GM, and others. Some models are available now, and more will be out in the next year or two. Some but not all hybrids qualify for U.S. income tax credits, and some states give special incentives to buyers of hybrids, including allowing them to drive solo in high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

My impression is that there is a financial break-even point for hybrid vehicles which varies from 3-18 years, and you’ll spend as much or more than $100,000 to park on of these cars in your driveway. Like a lot of new technology, we must continue our efforts to develop this technology, but the solutions will take time.

I was amazed at the amount of information on hybrids available on the Internet. Reading it gave me a gut feeling that this is the right direction for the future of automobiles. I think I will learn by doing, and buy a hybrid (American, of course).

I’m curious what you think about hybrids — have you bought one? An issue is safety for the smaller hybrids. Some of my friends who own them don’t drive them on the freeway. I know you will respond to this post by telling me that all the hybrid parts are made in China or Japan. I’m continuing to collect information on hybrids as a hobby and will report my findings.

By the way…

I’ve heard some comments from people who say they’re not reading this blog because they think I’m not writing the articles. However, I do write them. The process is straightforward: I write the article, and then Peter Economy checks it for typos. Finally, MA makes sure it’s not going to offend too many people and then we post it. Of course, some controversy is good for a blog, so in the future I will be venturing my opinion on more controversial subjects.

– Bob

9 Responses to “Cars, Hybrid Cars, and Yes, It’s Really Me”

  1. 1 Rebecca Grant

    Bob: I bought a Honda Insight 4 years ago and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy driving it and more so, filling up for about $25. As far as the safety concern, I tell people that I refuse to live my life fearing SUVs or any other behemoths on the freeways. I’m not sure why the American car manufacturers would be willing to invest in smaller, more fuel efficient cars when there is still such a demand for SUVs. To answer the major questions I’m asked, “No, I don’t have to plug it in,” and “Yes, it accelerates quite nicely up hills.” The bad news is that they quit making them. Here’s the blurb from Wikipedia:
    The Honda Insight was a two-seater hybrid automobile manufactured by the Japanese automaker Honda. It was the first mass-produced hybrid automobile sold in the United States, introduced in 1999 and at its height achieved nearly 70 miles per gallon (3.4 L per 100 km). (In Japan, the first generation of the Toyota Prius was launched in 1997.) According to the EPA, the 5-speed manual transmission variant of the Insight was the most fuel-efficient mass-produced automobile sold in the United States.1 The Insight also features low emissions: the California Air Resources Board gave the 5-speed model a ULEV rating, and the CVT model earned a SULEV rating. (The 5-speed’s lean-burn ability is a trade-off which increases efficiency at the expense of slightly higher NOx emissions.)

  2. 2 Dan Martinez

    In my main line of work as an urban forester it is not practical for me to use a hybrid motor vehicle. But it might be illuminating to see whether or not the net effect of my driving 8 mile-per-gallon Chevy trucks is to reduce energy consumption. Factor in the wood that gets used for heating, thereby reducing the electricity and petroleum that otherwise would be used for that purpose, and the other benefits that accrue to a community as a result of urban forest maintenance. From this we see that the problem of energy usage is complex and not solvable by everyone running around in a Prius. Also, it would be interesting to know whether or not Prius drivers motor around more than they otherwise would because they think that they are saving the world by driving a ‘green’ car.

    My secondary line of work is as a SAIC consulting employee, and lots of simulation studies have been done by me. Maybe we’ll be able to apply the lessons learned in my work ( albeit in a very different category of science ) to the matter of satisfying personal transportation needs vis-a-vis environmentalism.

  3. 3 Hugh Kendrick

    Hi Bob,
    I’m a 3 year-owner of a Ford Escape hybrid. I call it my “feel good” car because I put my hand in my pocket less often for gas, and when I do fill up, the cost is less than our previous SUV (also a Ford). And I’m helping reduce US consumption of oil, and its a US product.
    The car drives very well, even Wendy likes it. The front end and steering mechanisms and the suspension make for a wonderful ride–I think Ford has been a leader in these areas for some time. I’ve owned Fords for years, partly because the Ford Scientific Lab sponsored my research at Michigan as well as giving me summer employment! We are in a regular hiking group and the SUV is handy for car-pooling with all those backpacks, boots, hiking poles, etc! And it is a safe car for freeway driving.

    The battery was developed in a joint project with Toyota, and I wish I knew more about it! It is warranted for 8 years, and I expect the materials are pretty exotic. There are published reports that assess the total energy balance over the life of current hybrids that conclude that there is no essential reduction or savings over a comparable gasoline-only car in terms of total energy or fossil fuel consumption (or CO2 emissions)–unless we start generating the electricity used in manufacturing in a different mix than is used today. In other words, from a global warming and man’s ability to sensibly affect it–the latter being very dubious in my opinion–current hybrids are good for your daily expenses once you’ve bought one, but that’s it.
    My scepticism aside, however, I agree with you that hybridization has a place in an integrated energy strategy to reduce the use of foreign oil and to rely on domestic energy sources. Things some of us have argued for decades we should be doing, and regardless of the global warming imprimatur.

    I hope we don’t rush headlong down this path right now, however. A bit like hyping the programme to use corn–a food for goodness sake– to make oil that is at best break-even on a fossil fuel basis even if you are an optimist!

    I expect you’ll hear from many other hybrid owners!

    Best, Hugh

  4. 4 Hil

    Interesting article, Bob. I write a lot about new models of hybrids and electrics. I have addressed the safety issues with the smaller hybrid cars in my blog, and really, they are pretty much the same as other small cars. For people having trouble specifically with the non-touring Prius models, there’s a nifty contraption (available for a discount through http://www.Priuschat.com) called a BT stiffening plate that can help with handling. It’s one of the most popular mods for that car. :)

  5. 5 Dr. Beyster

    Rebecca: I read with interest your blog posting on December 4th. The conclusion from your experiments is that the Honda Insight satisfied all of the specs quite well. This does not surprise me. Considering the extra expense of the car, I’m not sure that it was cost efficient. But at 70 mpg, I would believe it very fuel efficient. If so, why wouldn’t the public be buying them like hotcakes, and why did Honda discontinue making them? Possibly it was its small size, or maybe it was just ahead of its time. We’ll see what the market brings in the future. – Bob

    Dan: Thanks for your note. You seem to have a split personality when it comes to your occupations. I guess your main job is as an urban forester. I am unable to answer your questions about whether Prius owners drive their cars more than drivers of normal cars. My guess is no, due to time constraints. Working for SAIC as a consulting employee in your second line of work, I gather you are an expert on simulation. If you are able to simulate the overall performance of hybrids taking into account all these different factors, please let me know. – Bob

  6. 6 Dr. Beyster

    Hugh: It was nice to hear from you after such a long time. Your experience with hybrids is another confirmation of the merit of this form of transportation. Unfortunately, we both suspect that the hybrid will have maximum utility around towns and not on the highways. — Bob

    Hilary: Thank you for your posting on December 6, 2007. We checked out your outstanding website which informed us of your deep access to the hybrid literature and is somewhat controversial on the ultimate payoff. It looks to me that some major auto companies — both Japanese and American — are making major investments to develop hybrid technology, not just for small cars, but also for larger vehicles. It is like almost any other technology — it will take a while before the economics get settled. At the present time, hybrids may miss the boat economically, but there is reason to believe that in the future, hybrids using green technology will play a significant role. — Bob

  7. 7 Wolfgang Demisch

    Dr Beyster,

    Heartiest congratulations on being selected for the 2008 Horatio Alger Award!

    It is not often that the man reflects more honor on the award than the awards itself confers, but that is the fact here. Still, it is not inappropriate for you to be with people such as Roy Ash, Gordon Moore or Minoru Yamasaki.

    My very best wishes,

    Wolfgang Demisch

  8. 8 Patty Quimpo

    Dr. Beyster,

    Happy New Year and many congratulations at being selected for the 2008 Horatio Alger Award!

    If asked to name a role model that has impacted my life, your name readily comes to mind. For me, you exemplify the very American spirit of perseverance in the face of adversity, in whatever form. Although many things have changed since you roamed the SAIC campus as CEO, the example you lived as founder, chairman and leader continue to be one of the touchstones for me as I continue to strive for betterment in my professional and personal goals. You may not have known it, but many of us junior employees watched and learned and benefited from your leadership.

    Thank you for being such a great role model. And again, congratulations on being selected for such a prestigious award. They couldn’t have chosen a more worthy recipient!

    Patty Quimpo

  9. 9 Dr. Beyster

    Wolfgang: Nice to hear from you after so many years, and I think you must be following my activities on the blog. Happy new year to you, and since you’re still on the SAIC board, we’re expecting you guys to make the stock price perform as we have been used to in past. — Bob

    Patty: I’m flattered by your remarks about my leadership abilities at SAIC and the positive effect on people at all levels. Thank you. — Bob

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