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September 11, 2008

Honda Insight, Chevy Volt: The future of electric vehicles is -almost- here

2011_honda_insight At the upcoming Paris Motor Show, Honda will debut its long-awaited Insight Concept, a vehicle which heralds the return of a dedicated hybrid to Honda's model lineup. Remember the original little two-seat electric Insight that was sold from 2000 to 2006? Well, this new four-door Insight Concept jumpstarts a new phase of Honda's hybrid strategy by offering a practical and flexible five-seat family car that promises ample space for both passenger and cargo as well as low emissions and excellent fuel economy.

The Insight Concept is the culmination of over 20 years of hybrid development and more than 35 years of low-impact gasoline engine development from Honda. The new Insight is expected to go on sale sometime in 2009 for the 2010 model year, and Honda is planning for worldwide sales of 200,000 units a year with 100,000 to be sold in the U.S. market alone. Recent comments by Honda hint that it could be priced as low as $18,500. Where do I sign up to get in line?

This iteration of the Insight will be powered by a smaller, lighter--and less-expensive--version of the Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system currently found in the Civic. A smaller pack of nickel-metal-hydride batteries will be stored under the trunk floor. (Honda says lithium-ion batteries aren't yet a viable option.) According to Yahoo Autos, Honda claims the new hybrid could possible achieve 60 mpg, but that is on the higher-yield Euro cycle.

Takeo Fukui, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. CEO, announced,  "This new Insight will break new ground as an affordable hybrid within the reach of customers who want great fuel economy and great value." Honda says the new Insight Concept shares styling cues with its green sibling, the Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle -- It looks quite a bit like the existing Toyota Prius, dontcha think?

2010_chevrolet_volt_copy Meanwhile, production photos of the upcoming 2010 Chevy Volt were published this week at The Car Connection after they were accidentally posted - for all of 12 minutes -- on Chevrolet's Media site. General Motors will be officially unveiling the production model at next week's company Centennial Celebration.

Since its introduction at the Detroit Auto Show, the Chevrolet Volt concept sedan - powered by GM's E-Flex electric propulsion system - has energized electric car enthusiasts in the United States and abroad with its potential to greatly reduce commuter's trips to the gas station, as well as its potential to greatly reduce CO 2 emissions. This battery-powered, four-passenger extended-range electric vehicle promises 40 miles of electric drive range, but can go much farther thanks to a gas/E85 FlexFuel on-board engine which can create additional electricity to extend the vehicle's range.

GM has made considerable progress in taking the Volt from its concept car roots to a full a production reality, and has been promised to begin rolling off assembly lines earlier than initial November 2010 release date.

The massive fan in GM's aero lab wind tunnel has been cranked up to full blast as designers and engineers work to fine-tune the vehicle's aerodynamics - a critical piece among a range of targets necessary for moving the vehicle to a final production decision. The Volt design team has been working diligently with engineering, aerodynamicists, and other scientists to develop an energy efficient Chevrolet Volt by optimizing its aerodynamics.

Meanwhile, engineers at GM's battery test facilities are using a new computer algorithm to accelerate durability testing of the advanced lithium-ion batteries developed to power the vehicle. The program duplicates real-life vehicle speed and cargo-carrying conditions, and is running around the clock charging and discharging power from the prototype batteries to compress 10 years of comprehensive battery testing into the Volt's brisk development schedule.

Toyota_prius_pluginhybrid Additionally, early this year, Toyota (which currently leads the world's automakers in sales of hybrid-electric vehicles), announced that it would build its first plug-in hybrid by 2010. According to the New York Times, Toyota is developing a new hybrid-electric car specifically for its Lexus division as well as another new hybrid for the Toyota brand. Both of these vehicles are scheduled to debut in just a few months at the 2009 Detroit Auto show.

These vehicles represent the new future of hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles -- and pave the way to reducing our dependence on gasoline. What do you think?

Jodydevere_webs300_4431 Jody DeVere

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