Electric Car and Hybrid Car Sales will Triple in Next Six Years

Electric Car and Hybrid Car Sales will Triple in Next Six Years

Nissan LEAF batteryBy John Addison (1/23/12)

Pike Research’s John Gartner forecasts that global sales of hybrid and electric cars will grow from 995,000 in 2011 to 2,870,000 in 2017. Half the hybrid cars and all of the EVs will use lithium battery packs by 2017. In fact, the latest hybrid cars from Ford, Buick, Honda, Hyundai and Kai use lithium batteries not nickel-metal hydride (NiMH). In six years, cars with advanced batteries will triple and lithium automotive battery packs will grow over 100 fold. The forecast is only for light-duty passenger vehicles and does not include 16 million cars expected by 2015 to be start-stop vehicles (SSV).

Pike Research’s optimism was shared by others at Infocast’s 10X Advanced Battery meeting which I attended to hear presentations from Pike Research, other research groups, battery makers, auto makers, and venture capitalists.

John Gartner forecasts that automotive lithium battery revenue will grow from $2 billion in 2011 to $14.6 billion in 2017. Because battery-electric vehicles (BEV) use much larger packs than hybrid-electric (HEV), 2017 BEV revenue will be $10.8 billion, PHEV will be 3.2 billion, and HEV will be 0.6 billion.

Volt IIHS Front TestSafety research continues. Much progress has been made in preventing lithium thermal runaways. In a crash test, the lithium battery in a Chevrolet Volt caught fire days after the crash. There have been no reported fires of actual owners including those involved in crashes. In contrast, there were over 180,000 fires in U.S. gasoline cars last year. The electric car alarmists continue to use their iPhones, Droids, iPads, and notebook computers that all use lithium batteries and do get dropped. We are not seeing a big demand for gasoline-powered smart phones.

Automotive lithium packs, including packaging, power electronics and thermal management, are forecast to drop from $752 per kilowatt hour (kWh) today to $523/kWh by 2017. At Clean Fleet Report, we speculate that automakers such as Tesla and Ford are already in that $500/kW ballpark today. Some are likely to reach $300/kW by 2020. Improved cell chemistry, hybrid car demand, and manufacturing volume will drive prices lower.

Will lithium batteries be a bubble like solar?

Solar cells are over 100 times cheaper than in the 1970s. We will not see such price drops for lithium, but prices will keep falling. Solar price drops in 2011 were great for homeowners and business that bought solar power, but the drops put several companies out of business. Solyndra met Darwin.

By 2017 it is possible that market share competition will lead to excess capacity and falling prices. Should that happen, packs would cost less than $500/kW. At the 10X meeting, patent attorney Matt Prater pointed out that Samsung, Panasonic, LG Chem, Toyota and Sony are leading in battery patents. The battle for market share is certain to be intense. Battery advancements for the automotive market will benefit stationary power and consumer electronics and vice versa.

Lithium is not the only game in town. Automakers continue to heavily use lead-acid batteries including improved chemistry for SSV. Many automakers, such as Toyota, continue to favor NiMH for hybrids for safety and cost reasons. Most electric cars use lithium batteries to supply the powertrain and lead-acid to support auxiliaries.

In this decade, lithium-ion is likely to dominate in electric and hybrid cars. The next decade is up in the air. Battery and automakers are actively researching solid-state batteries, magnesium, lithium-air and other metal air. General Motors is a stockholder in SAKTI3, which is making significant progress with solid-state technology that will lower battery size and cost. Toyota is actively researching magnesium, which is 24x cheaper than lithium and has better volumetric capacity. IBM and others are actively researching metal air batteries that could improve storage 10X with lithium-air. David Biello of Scientific American discusses alternatives such as flow batteries at Txchnologist.

Fuel cells are already commercialized in buses and forklifts. Several automakers plan to commercialize fuel-cell cars, crossovers, and SUVs in 2015 for fleets and consumers. This week I drove the Toyota FCHV, a Highlander SUV that uses a hydrogen fuel cell to extend the electric range to over 300 miles. The fuel cell works with the NiMH battery to supply electricity to the electric motor. I also drove the Mercedes B-Class F-CELL that extends electric range to 240 miles by utilizing a hydrogen fuel cell that works with its lii-ion battery. Both cars drove as smoothly and quietly as my Nissan LEAF.

Hyundai is making 2,000 Tucson FCV. The hydrogen fuel cells in these SUVs integrate an ultracapacitor into the fuel cell. More future cars may integrate ultracapacitors with advanced batteries and fuel cells. Different energy storage technology can complement – fuel cells have more energy density, capacitors more power density, and lithium batteries are in the middle of the two. Fuel cells complement li-ion batteries to extend car range. In automobiles, the long-term threats to li-ion batteries are solid-state, magnesium, and metal air.

The top 10 electric cars all use lithium-ion batteries to free drivers from stopping at gas stations. As electric and hybrid car competition intensifies, Nissan, GM, Toyota, and Ford are in a race to sell the most vehicles with lithium batteries. In 2013, at least one of these automakers will sell over 100,000 cars with lithium battery packs. In the future, advancements in cell chemistry and manufacturing volume will allow more hybrids to achieve over 40 miles per gallon, extend the range of electric cars, and make these advanced cars affordable for millions.

From Sedans to SUVs, 2012, Year of the Electric Car?

From Sedans to SUVs, 2012, Year of the Electric Car?

2012 will see the introduction of a myriad of plug-in electric vehicles: sports cars, an SUV, compacts, hatchbacks, sub-compacts, and sedans.  Over the next several years, up to 40 plug-in models will be introduced.  Later this week, the California Air Resources Board will vote on improvements to strengthen the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle program that will provide automakers with the long-term certainty necessary to ensure this proliferation of vehicle choice continues.  Soon, there will be a zero emission vehicle to fit every lifestyle, budget, need, and desire.

Americans have already bought 17,000 Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts.  Not bad for the first year.  When Toyota and Honda first introduced hybrid technology in the United States in the form of the now ubiquitous Prius and Insight, their combined first year sales were 9,350.  In truth, the Leaf and Volt represent the first widely available forms of two types of plug-in technology.  The Leaf is a full battery electric vehicle with a range of between 60 and 100 miles, well in excess of the average American’s daily driving needs.  The Volt is a plug-in hybrid that goes 40 miles in all electric mode, before becoming an efficient gasoline hybrid you can drive as far as you’d like.  2012 will see the introduction of many more full battery electrics and plug-in hybrids. Here are a few, broken down by vehicle type:

Luxury/Performance

  • Tesla Model S: a full battery electric sedan that promises to seat five adults plus two kids, fit a surfboard inside, go up to 300 miles on a charge, and accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds (performance model).

  • Fisker Karma a plug-in hybrid with dual electric motors that send 403 horses and 959 lb-ft of torque to its 22 inch wheels.

  • BMW Active E: a full battery electric version of the BMW one series sports sedan.

Hatchbacks & Sedans

  • Prius Plug-in: a plug-in version of Toyota’s iconic Prius that forgoes a large battery to save on cost and weight, but with enough all-electric range for average trips, and gas-sipping efficiency for longer distances.

 

  • Coda: a ground-up, full battery electric midsize sedan with a 150 mile range and a body by Pininfarina.

  • Ford Focus Electric: a full battery electric version of the sporty Focus hatchback that will compete with the Leaf.

  • Ford Fusion Energi: a plug-in hybrid midsize sedan that Ford hopes will be the most efficient on the market with a predicted 100 miles-per-gallon equivalent

Sub-Compact

  • Honda Fit EV: a full battery electric version of the versatile car that has been on Car and Driver’s Ten Best Cars list for the last six years running.

  • Mitsubishi i: a full battery electric that boasts of the lowest sticker price of any currently available plug-in and the best EPA fuel economy rating of any car at 112 miles-per-gallon-equivalent.

SUVs & Minivans

  • Toyota RAV4: a larger, more advanced re-incarnation of the all-electric SUV which enthusiasts have been driving since the 1990s.

  • Ford C-Max Energi: a plug-in hybrid that is technically a minivan because of its sliding doors and third row of seats, but with visual lines that will not be confused with the Dodge Caravan’s of yesteryear.

As my colleague Simon Mui explains, if the California Air Resources Board keeps the Zero Emission Vehicle program strong, one in six cars in showrooms in 2025 will have the ability to drive emission and oil free.  Clear direction from state officials provides automakers the certainty needed to make long-term investments in the next generation of zero emission technologies.  With increased investment, comes increased consumer choice.  If one of the plug-in vehicles featured above doesn’t fit your needs, you won’t have to wait long for one that does.

100,000 Electric Car Sales in U.S. in 2012

100,000 Electric Car Sales in U.S. in 2012

SAP SV Forum Electric Cars ChargingBy John Addison (updated 1/27/12; original 1/20/12)

Gartner, the largest technology market research firm, presented a scenario for 100,000 electric car sales in 2012 in the United States. Yesterday, I took in the presentation at the SV Forum and then talked with Thilo Koslowski, Vice President of Gartner’s Automotive and Vehicle Practice. He acknowledged that 100,000 is quite a jump from the 18,000 sold in 2011 which included 9,674 Nissan LEAFs, 7,671 Chevrolet Volts, and 655 other plug-in cars.

A week after this article was originally published, Mr. Koslowski sent a clarifying email, ” The 100,000 unit number isn’t our formal forecast.  The number is what you arrive at based on manufacturers’ plans/expectations for 2012.  I believe this number is rather ambitious and actual new EV and plug-in vehicle sales for 2012 will probably be around 40,000 to 60,000 vehicles.”

In 2011, Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown affected everyone’s supply chain. The recession left most cautious about spending $30,000, $40,000, or more for unproven vehicles. Although some 280,000-gasoline cars catch fire in the U.S. annually, fires in some Volt test crashes lead to safety concerns. It was only mid-year that the Nissan LEAF received the top five-star safety rating from NHTSA.

Clean Fleet Report considers 100,000 to be a good forecast for U.S. EV sales in 2012. Nissan is manufacturing 50,000 LEAFs this year, then greatly expanding production next year with a new Tennessee plant. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is betting billions on electric vehicles and lithium batteries. GM has expanded manufacturing for global sales of 65,000 electric cars. At the SV Forum, Byron Shaw, who manages the Advanced Technology Office for GM in Silicon Valley, discussed GM sales of two plug-in hybrids in 2012 – the Chevrolet Volt, which he drives and the Opel Ampera in Europe and GM 2012 sales of a pure battery-electric Chevrolet Spark.. The new Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid has also been on display at auto shows.

Electric Cars with Lowest Prices

Electric city cars will also fuel sales in 2012. The Mitsubishi I has a starting price of only $29,120 – $6,000 less than the LEAF. Toyota will enter the electric city car competition with the Scion IQ Electric. The Honda Fit Electric is no for sale. Car rental and car sharing providers are adding over 1,000 electric cars to their fleet. Car2Go already has 300 Smart Electric Drive Cars on the streets of San Diego in daily use.

Ford’s customer choice strategy will also attract more mainstream car buyers. The new Ford Fusion is available as an efficient EcoBoost engine or as a hybrid with better mileage than any midsized sedan or as a plug-in hybrid that allows many trips to use zero gasoline. The Ford Focus is also available as a pure battery-electric. The new crossover SUV Ford C-MAX is also available as a plug-in hybrid.

Toyota knows how to sell millions of hybrids. The new Prius Plug-in Hybrid looks and drives just like the best selling Prius. The new Toyota RAV4 EV is a pure battery-electric that looks like the popular RAV4 SUV. In 2012 and 2013, Toyota leverage its hybrid brand into plug-in cars.

One hundred thousand electric car sales in 2012 is less than one percent of the 13.4 million U.S. vehicle sales forecasted by Gartner.

It is difficult to forecast which will have greater sales, pure battery electric or plug-in hybrid. With early enthusiasts, the battery-electric LEAF is the winner. The SV Forum was hosted at SAP that has 16 charge points and at least 20 employees EV drivers at its Silicon Valley office. LEAFs outnumbered Volts in visitor parking for the forum. The typical U.S. household has two cars. My wife and I share a Nissan LEAF and a hybrid. In 8 months, range has never been an issue. If one of us is driving over 60 miles we take the hybrid. As we progress from early enthusiasts to early adopters, however, the plug-in hybrid may win by eliminating range anxiety. Most compacts and city cars may be electric; most larger cars, crossovers, and SUVs may be plug-in hybrid.

By the end of the decade, according to several at the conference, the fuel cell may prove to be the better way to extend the range of an electric vehicle. They see the most fuel cell vehicle progress in Japan and Germany. GM, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes and others continue fuel cell vehicle development. Hyundai is building 2,000 Tuscon ix FCEV.

Challenges for 1,000,000 Electric Cars by 2015

According to a new report from Pike Research, around 410,000 PEVs will be sold between 2011 and 2015 in the United States, and cumulative U.S. sales will not reach the 1 million mark until 2018. Nevertheless, PEV sales are expected to ramp up strongly in the second half of this decade.  Global PEV sales are expected to surpass 1 million vehicles per year in 2017 and, by 2020, worldwide sales volumes will reach 1.7 million units annually forecasts Pike.

Manufactures will certainly have the capacity to build a million electric cars by 2015. Renault-Nissan and GM are investing billions in plants in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Battery giants like LG Chem, Panasonic, and Samsung are also investing billions. The real question is will U.S. buyers have purchased or leased a million battery-electric and plug-in hybrids by the end of 2015.

Gartner’s Koslowski sees two big challenges. First, can the automakers create brands and marketing campaigns that make these vehicles compelling buys. Second, can automakers and battery giants continue to drive down the cost of lithium batteries or storage alternatives? Most buyers will not pay a premium for a hybrid or electric. Then again, millions each year buy premium cars, SUVs and trucks.  When drivers want a vehicle, millions convince themselves that one over $30K is right for them.

Thilo Koslowski sees 5 to 8 percent of all vehicles being battery-powered by 2020 and 20 to 30 percent by 2030. Urban markets are most promising, but many city dwellers do not have access to garages for charging. The political and media influence of oil giants could slow adoption in some countries. High oil prices could speed adoption. Since Europe and Asia have less appetite to subsidize gasoline prices, they could soon be bigger markets for EVs.

By the end of the decade, millions of electric cars are likely to be on the road. Exciting customer experiences, falling cost of ownership, and the price of alternatives will determine how many millions.

Ford Fusion Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid for Best Sedan MPG

Ford Fusion Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid for Best Sedan MPG

Ford Fusion Hybrid best MPGBy John Addison (1/16/12)

The new Ford Fusion gives car owners unprecedented choice in powertrains and fuel economy. The Ford Fusion can be offered with an efficient EcoBoost engine or as a hybrid with better mileage than any midsized sedan or as a plug-in hybrid that allows many trips to use zero gasoline.

Classic styling, smooth driving, and excellent fuel economy come together in this new five-passenger midsized sedan. Market research revealed that 2 out of 3 U.S. shoppers, before buying, consider a midsized sedan, SUV, or liftback. One out of three buy a midsized sedan, according to Ford. The stakes are high. Safety and reliability perceptions are always a factor.

Ford saw Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sales decline starting when oil prices went over $100 per barrel, accelerate during the Great Recession, and take another hit during Japan’s earthquake and Thailand mudslide disasters. A shift from sedans to liftbacks and SUVs, both with more cargo flexibility, has been another factor. Fuel economy and car lifetime operating costs are important to many buyers.

The new Fusion Hybrid offers a breakthrough 47 miles per gallon (mpg) city and 44-mpg highway. The overall 46-mpg is 4 mpg better than the new Toyota Camry Hybrid. The Fusion has a plug-in hybrid option, the Camry currently does not, but Clean Fleet Report predicts that one will be announced this year. Long term, Ford threatens to leapfrog Toyota’s hybrid leadership with a broad offering of pure battery-electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and hybrids. Unlike Toyota, all 2013 Ford hybrids will use lithium batteries while Toyota primarily stays with nickel metal hydride batteries.

Ford is now in a race with the Renault-Nissan Alliance to be first to sell 100,000 cars in one year with lithium batteries and electric motors. Either or both will achieve this in 2013. In the process they are driving down the cost of lithium batteries, electric motors, and advanced power electronics, making hybrid and electric cars more affordable.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid

Arriving this fall, Fusion Energi is anticipated to deliver more than 100 MPGe, a mile per gallon equivalency metric for electrified vehicles. This is 8 MPGe more than the Chevrolet Volt and 13 MPGe more than the projected efficiency of the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid model. Many Volt owners tell me that in real world driving their first 40 miles are electric mode before the gasoline engine engages.

The Fusion Energi is expected to deliver 20 to 30 miles in electric mode, provided the driver stays below 62 miles per hour. The average American drives 4 trips daily with 40-miles per total. City streets and stop-go freeway are much of that driving. The Energi will support Level One and Level Two charging. Go fast, or use most of the lithium battery storage and the Energi drives like a hybrid with its electric motor and 2 liter, 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine working together. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT) helps fuel economy.

We will learn more about electric range, motor and battery specs as Ford starts sales in Fall 2012. Sales will start shortly after sales of the Ford Focus Electric and the Ford C-Max Plug-in Hybrid crossover. Ford is expected to make battery packs but use different cell chemistry for pure-electrics, plug-in hybrids and hybrids. Compact Power, a subsidiary of LG Chem, will supply the lithium-ion tri-metal cells and packs for the 2013 Ford Focus Electric.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford Fusion Hybrid interiorThe Fusion Hybrid – 2010 North American Car of the Year – continues to innovate with new lithium-ion batteries that save 50 percent battery weight, 30 percent size, and generate more power than previous nickel-metal hydride batteries, while raising maximum speed under electric-only power from 47 mph to 62 mph before the engine engages allowing much greater speed. Even with a smaller battery-pack, however, the Hybrid and Energi only offer 12 cubic-feet of trunk space. The non-hybrid fusion is over 15 and the back seat can be lowered for much more cargo.

Fusion Hybrid also features an all-new 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, significantly downsized from the previous 2.5-liter unit while maintaining performance standards. This innovative powertrain is anticipated to deliver best-in-class fuel economy of 47 mpg in city driving and 44 mpg on the highway.

Fusion Hybrid fuel economy stands to outperform the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid by 4 mpg city and 5 mpg highway and the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid by 12 mpg and 4 mpg, respectively. The Fusion Hybrid is one of the top 10 hybrid cars.

2012 Fusion Achieves 32 MPG and Optional AWD

Fusion brings the broadest selection of fuel-efficient powertrains in the midsize car segment. It offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid alternatives, a pair of EcoBoost™ four-cylinder engines, a normally aspirated four-cylinder engine, an automatic start stop system to shut off the engine at stationary idle, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (AWD) applications, and a choice between automatic and manually shifted six-speed transmissions.

The 1.6-liter EcoBoost outperforms many larger 6-cylinder engines with non-hybrid fuel efficiency of 26 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, 32 mpg combined. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine – paired with a paddle-shifted six-speed SelectShift Automatic™ transmission, available 19-inch wheels and tires, and all-wheel drive with the ability to send additional torque to the rear – is the Fusion performance option.

Safety Technology and Telematics

The all-new Fusion offers an unprecedented portfolio of driver assistance and convenience technologies based on sensors, cameras and radar that enable the car to see and respond. Fusion can help drivers maintain proper lane position, adjust vehicle speed to changing traffic conditions, identify suitable parking spaces and help park, even aiding drivers backing out of parking space where visibility is obstructed. Specific technologies include:

  •     Lane Keeping System: 3 elements to help a driver maintain proper lane position. Using a small, forward-facing camera behind the inside rearview mirror, the system “looks” down the road, monitoring lane lines to determine that the car is on course. The system will alert a driver if drowsiness or erratic lane-keeping is detected. The second element warns a driver with a steering wheel vibration if the Fusion drifts too close to lane markings. Finally, lane keeping aid will actually apply pressure on the steering to help bring the car back into proper lane position.
  •     Adaptive cruise control: Using forward-looking radar, this system “looks” down the road when activated, slowing the Fusion when slower traffic is detected ahead. Adaptive cruise control enables collision warning with brake support to help slow the car if the potential of a crash is detected.
  •     Active park assist: Employing sensors, this technology can identify a suitable parallel parking space, calculate the trajectory and steer the car to properly position it within the spot. All a driver need do is operate accelerator and brake pedals.
  •     Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®) with cross-traffic alert: Sensors in both Fusion rear quarter-panels are able to detect traffic in a driver’s blind spot, providing both audible and visual warnings if traffic – unseen by the driver – is detected. BLIS technology enables cross-traffic alert, warning the driver of oncoming traffic when backing out of a parking space with obstructed views.

Fusion is designed with customer safety in mind. Engineers increased its body strength by 10 percent, using more high-strength steels such as boron, and added dual first-row knee airbags and adaptive front airbags that vent and tether to conform to a specific occupant’s size, position and seatbelt usage.

The Fusion safety team targeted top-of-the-line ratings in each public domain safety benchmark, including National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ratings, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick and top ratings in world markets where the car will be sold.

The new Fusion offers the latest iteration of Ford’s SYNC® communications and entertainment system, which enables voice-activated communication through a driver’s mobile phone and interaction with the car’s audio system. Fusion also offers the latest version of MyFord Touch®, allowing a driver to interact with vehicle systems through voice control, touch screen, or conventional button.

Both SYNC and MyFord Touch – powered by SYNC – help reduce the potential for driver distraction through voice-controlled functionality, allowing drivers to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

Lincoln MKZ Concept with New Hybrid and AWD Options

The improved hybrid drive system is likely to improve mileage in a future Lincoln MKZ. On display at the Auto Show is the new Lincoln MZK Concept that can use multiple powertrain options including hybrid drive with FWD or AWD.

The Lincoln MKZ Concept’s four-seat interior is open, warm and inviting. “The front graphic is repeated in the dramatic sweep of the instrument panel, helping tie the interior to the exterior. These flowing forms create a comfortable and functional interior that particularly appeals to the younger, more diverse customers we are targeting,” said Wolff.

Innovative interior features include push-button transmission gear selection, an open, tiered center console and liquid crystal instrumentation. The reconfigurable 10.1-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD positioned ahead of the driver operates with the latest version of MyLincoln Touch™ as does the nearly flush-mounted center 8-inch LCD touch screen.

Responsibly harvested poplar wood, aluminum in bright and satin finishes as well as leather help create a sculptural, luxurious and comfortable interior space. Champagne-colored leather seats with dark taupe accents feature a champagne perforation pattern, so-called because the perforations on the seat backs conjure the image of champagne bubbles rising from the bottom of a glass.

 

Ford Motor has taken customer choice to a new level by reinventing the popular midsized sedan with powertrain options including efficient EcoBoost engine or 46 mpg hybrid drive system or plug-in hybrid drive system. The Lincoln MKZ adds to customer choice with a premium sedan. With customer choice Ford also maximizes utilization of the same manufacturing line with most parts common to all versions. With its growing offering of electrified vehicles and volume manufacturing, Ford is lowering the cost of lithium battery packs, electric motors, and electric powertrains.

Kia Optima Hybrid Car Test Drive and Review

Kia Optima Hybrid Car Test Drive and Review

Kia Optima Test DriveBy John Addison (1/9/12)

It’s an ideal California day for this test drive of the Kia Optima Hybrid. As the day warms, we will be able to open the sunroof, even though it is January. The sky is so clear that we can see the Farallon Islands 26 miles from shore. The drive will combine city streets, freeway acceleration, hill climbing, and navigating curves over steep cliffs descending to the ocean. It will be interesting to compare this to my test drives of other midsized hybrids including the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid.

I have driven this Optima Hybrid a few times during the week. My wife joins me on this drive. As we approach the car we admire the distinctive styling, the butterfly shaped grill, and the black roof contrasting with the satin metal body. I easily sit because the drivers seat has automatically slide back for added room. When I touch the start button the driver’s seat returns to the position of my previous drive – nice touch. My wife and I both enjoy the wide comfortable seats. The Optima Hybrid is a four-door, five-passenger, midsize sedan. Three can sit in the backseat, or the armrest can be lowered giving added comfort for two.

Test Driving the Kia Optima Hybrid

Kia Optima DisplayThe model I’m driving has the Premium Technology Package. The backup camera adds to the safety. The navigation system includes a bigger screen and voice controls. Dual 12-volt adaptors are handy for portable electronics. I use the special adapter for the Apple iPod/Pad/Phone and my playlist and album menus appear on the bigger screen. With a button push, the moonroof for front and backseats opened, letting the filter sunlight stream inside. I select a favorite playlist and away we go.

The car defaults into Eco mode, instead of making you select the mode like other hybrids. Going quite slowly, the Optima Hybrid stays in EV mode, but quickly leaves it. It’s easier to stay in EV mode in a Ford Fusion Hybrid and much easier in a Toyota Camry Hybrid. In city driving, the 2.4L gasoline engine and electric motor work together. The hybrid car battery is a 270V, 5.3Ah, LG Chem lithium polymer battery.

Kia Shift The sedan easily accelerates on the freeway. On an 8 percent grade, the Optima Hybrid accelerated to 80 without working. Electronic steering is responsive as we reach windy curves overlooking dramatic cliffs to the ocean. I pull the shift to the left and power shift down to avoid breaking. For fun, you can shift manually or have the automatic take care of it for you. Our drive is rewarded with an invigorating hike.

Kia Optima SunroofWhen back in the car, I explore other music choices. Unlike some competition, Pandora is only available from mobile devices that can be connected with audio output, USB, or Bluetooth. I USB connect my Droid and settle from a random selection from my MP3 files. The day has warmed so with a single touch I open the sunroof for both front and back seats.

Like other sedan hybrids, the trunk size is a bit small and the back seat does not lower if you want to load lots of cargo such as work projects, school sports, or luggage. There is a pass-thru slot when the backseat armrest is lowered.

The Kia Optima Hybrid has a suggested price of $26,500 plus $750 freight. The model that I drove had an extra $5,000 of options.

Midsized Hybrid Car Comparisons

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is quite similar to the Kia Optima Hybrid, although I think that the Kia’s styling is a bit more distinctive. The Sonata has a 5-star NHTSA rating; the Optima Hybrid is not yet rated. Both have roomy interiors. The Sonata has 11 cubic feet of trunk space to the Optima’s 10. It’s worth comparison-shopping the two cars.

Toyota Camry Hybrid LE achieved much better fuel economy in my test drive. It is rated 43 city mpg, 39 highway and 41 combined versus 37 combined for the Optima Hybrid. It has 13 cubic feet of trunk space to the Optima Hybrid’s 10.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid is available as a conventional hybrid and as the Energi Plug-in Hybrid. The Fusion Hybrid is rated at a record setting 47 mpg city, 44 highway and 46 combined 46 mpg – far better than the 26 mpg of my Optima Hybrid test drive or its 37 mpg rating and far better than the 2012 Fusion Hybrid’s 39 mpg combined. The new Fusion Hybrid will have more interior space than the Optima Hybrid and 15 cubic feet of trunk space. The downside is that you won’t be able to order the Fusion Hybrid until the fall, probably not get delivery until 2013, and pay more than the Optima Hybrid.

Toyota Prius Liftback offers as much interior room as a midsize sedan plus the ability to lower the backseat for much greater cargo. Many prefer the classic look of sedans; others like to proudly display their fuel economy with the Prius look. The Prius will save hundreds each year at the pump and can cost a bit less than midsized hybrid sedans.

Kia Takes Market Share

In 2011, Kia and its sister company Hyundai continued their strong growth, taking market share from Toyota, Honda, Ford and several others. This Kia hybrid is made in Korea and has benefitted from availability at a time when Japanese makers have suffered from the earthquake and nuclear meltdown problems in Japan and floods in Thailand.

The Kia’s 10-year / 100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty will appeal to many. It may well achieve the same top ratings as the similar Sonata Hybrid. Availability, reliability, and safety will appeal to drivers who have had problems with their last Toyota, Honda, Ford, etc.

The Kia Optima Hybrid is a beautifully designed midsized hybrid inside and out.  It has all the electronic goodies that most need. Although its fuel economy is not best in class, it is good. With a 10-year warranty, buyers get good value for their money. Take one for a spin. You’ll enjoy the drive.