Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars in May 2013

Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars in May 2013

 

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2013 Prius – King of the MPG Hill

The automotive year 2013 appears to be hitting its stride, setting sales marks that will mark it as a good year, one that showed the resilience of the industry and the market. A footnote to the year will be sales of high MPG cars as the industry climbs back to pre-recession sales numbers in the U.S. The models that consumers turn to for good fuel economy are hybrids, diesels and plug-in vehicles of two types (pure electrics and plug-in hybrids). Except for diesels, which appear to be in a lull awaiting some new models, the hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electrics are outpacing a strong overall market.

A couple models are becoming established as the leaders in their categories while the overall mix of the top 10 best sellers has shifted month-to-month. The bottom line is that consumers have a great variety of powertrains, vehicle configurations and fuel choices and they are making those choices. Other than the basic Prius model, which has been on the market for more than a dozen years and retains its well-deserved image as the poster child of high-MPG, the variety of vehicles that end up on the best seller list as impressive as their fuel economy numbers.

The snapshot of May’s sales finds what are now becoming the usual suspects continuing to dominate the market (though the order shifts month-to-month). The same ten vehicles that are the best-sellers this month are also the best sellers for the first five months of the year.

The big sales news for high-MPG cars is that the segments appear to be gaining momentum. Toyota, the hybrid leader, has made it clear they expect sales of their high-mileage models to increase for the year even though they got off to a slow start.  With new models being introduced from Audi and Chevrolet and more coming from Jeep, Ram and Mazda, diesel will certainly pick up its numbers. Plug-in cars continue to tear it up in the marketplace, posting triple digit increases compared to last year.

Next month we’ll be able to look back over a half-year’s sales and confirm what we’re already seeing –the available models for high-MPG cars are increasing and have taken hold among consumers. Check out the tally at this point: Consumers can choose among about 40 hybrid models, 15 diesels and a dozen plug-ins. As sales continue to move up, it’s clear that buyers are not intimidated by the variety of choice.    Compared to this month last year, hybrid sales are up 14 percent (and 16 percent for the first five months of the year; diesels are up 11 percent for the month but down 5 percent for the year so far; and the stars, plug-ins, are up 8.6 percent for the month but a whopping 125 percent for the year (albeit against a start-up year where they posted small numbers).

Details on sales for the month of May follow. Parenthetically, we have noted the sales order of the models looking at the first five month of the year.

1. Toyota Prius – 15,330 – (1. for the first five months of the year) Prius sales went up this month even though there are no serious challengers in the high-MPG world. Prius now has its sights on establishing itself among the conventional models.

2. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 4,265 – (2) The Camry’s hybrid version saw sales pick up compared to a year ago, helping to keep Toyota in a dominant position in hybrid sales.

3. Toyota Prius c – 3,782 – (4) The “baby” Prius continues to attract entry-level hybrid seekers. This smallest, least expensive hybrid in the Toyota lineup had a great month.

4. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 3,752 – (5) The clean diesel standard-bearer had a good month, landing as it has consistently during the year in the top 5 high-MPG models.

5. Toyota Prius V – 3,732 – (6) The Prius “wagon” has a good month as Toyota took the top four spots in this survey.

6. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 3,335 – (3) The flagship of fuel economy at Ford is mounting a challenge to the segment leading Camry and even though it had a down month, leads the two Prius models that finished above it this month.

7. Ford C-Max Hybrid – 3,261 – (7) Ford’s hybrid “wagon,” along with the Prius V, demonstrates that there is a clear demand for more versatility along with good fuel economy.

8. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 2,797 – (8) The Jetta’s “big brother” continues to hold a solid second place spot in the clean diesel market, giving VW the domination in the diesel market similar to Toyota’s with hybrids.

9. Nissan Leaf – 2,138 – (10) The top-selling pure electric continues to have a good year with lower prices spurring more sales.

10. Tesla Model S – 2,000 – (9) Tesla’s pure electric has estimated sales numbers, but overall has been a strong seller this year as production appears to be moving along at a solid pace and the cars are becoming a more common sight in Silicon Valley.

Bubbling below the Top 10 are several models that help boost hybrid sales. The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid, Chevy Malibu Hybrid and Lexus CT 200h Hybrid don’t rack up big numbers, but they add to the strength of the segment. The Chevy Volt has had up and down sales months but also appears to be heading to a solid sales year.

Posted June 27, 2013 (compiled with Hybridcars.com & Automotive News information as reported by manufacturers)

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2013 Fiat 500e Road Test

2013 Fiat 500e Road Test

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Fiat 500e Combines Style & Performance

Ed. note: Up-front, we’ll apologize Meredith Willson and anyone who’s ever performed in The Music Man.

It’s all about fun with a capital “F” and that stands for Fiat. And that rhymes with nothing that relates to electric cars. But more importantly it does not stand for any of that bad old stuff that Fiat used to stand for. The Fiat 500e is flat-out the most fun of the pack of electric cars that I have driven over the past two decades. It’s got the sportiness of the original EV1 with a hip Italian package.

Yes, it’s a limited vehicle, as is its gasoline-powered cousin. Ostensibly a four-passenger vehicle, the two-door Fiat 500 with either an electric or gas powertrain is really a two-passenger vehicle with some space for small people or children in the rear, particularly with average-size American males in front. Also, it really is a city car. The combination of the Fiat’s short wheelbase and American freeways full of big rigs and expansion joints is not something to be enjoyed long-term. Of course, the 500e solves that by offering an approximate 100-mile range (less at highway speeds, of course) to keep you from having to test your endurance in that environment.

The 500e’s natural habitat is the city. That is where the fun begins. The zippy and aerodynamic car gets low center of gravity created by its 24 kWh liquid-cooled/heated lithium-ion battery pack, which is located in the middle of the car to enhance its handling. As was disclosed recently, the 500e was largely engineered by Fiat’s supplier, Robert Bosch. The company tailored a suspension with increased spring rates and unique front-strut and rear-shock tuning. The 16.3:1 electronic power steering is responsive, delivering a feeling more akin to the Abarth performance version of the 500 than its tamer standard trim. Some of that performance has to be attributed to the torquey 111 hp (83 kW) electric motor that drives the front wheels.

Fiat doesn’t shy away from quirkiness and there’s plenty here, not all of it as charming as the hard-charging performance. the push-bottom transmission is one. It doesn’t hamper the operation of the car, but it is definitely not a typical set up.

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Fiat 500e’s plug is in back

Fiat (and Chrysler) CEO Sergio Marchionne is famous for repeatedly complaining that his company would lose about $10,000 on each 500e sold. With that kind of attitude, the presumption among the automotive media was that the car would end up a weak representative designed to cut corners on cost rather than on the track. How wrong they were, as evidenced by the report above. But some evidence of cost-saving is evident. The connection for charging was placed in a location that allowed Fiat to keep the same basic body configuration as the gas version–behind the fuel filler door. The problem with that is most chargers are located and vehicles are designed for a charging port in the front of the vehicle. That’s leads to situations where you have to back the 500e into a charging spot. Not a problem, given its short wheelbase and tight steering, but a complication that shouldn’t have been necessary. Then there’s the key start. This was the first electric car I’ve been in that required a key inserted to start operation. With many gas-only and hybrids going keyless, it seemed like another shortcut.

The flipside of all of the complaints about the cost of making the vehicle is Fiat is retailing the vehicle for $32,500 (delivered price including destination charge) and offering discounted leases at $199/month. The lease puts it in line with competition from Nissan, Ford and Chevy.

Around town, as I’ve noted, the 500e is a blast. The range is long enough that most short runs won’t cause any stress. Or it may be that because the drive is so much fun, you forget to focus on range issues. Of course, being such a fun drive also means there’s a temptation is to use it hard and extend its use whenever possible. So looking for charging spots becomes part of the daily drive. On a typical day I left with 42 miles of range and decided to see what an hour of charging would do. After an hour it showed a 60-mile range, but that dropped quickly to 53 miles after a block or two. Just another bump on the road of getting used to living with an electric car. The good news with the 500e is however far you go or whatever direction you point it, you’re heading for a fun ride.

2013 Fiat 500e, fiat, 500e, electric car

2013 Fiat 500e

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Toyota’s RAV4 EV – First Drive

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2013 Toyota RAV4 EV: First Drive

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV: First Drive

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2013 Toyota RAV4 EV

Toyota’s 2013 RAV4 EV is the automaker’s second go round of converting its small gasoline powered sport utility to an electric vehicle. From 1997 to 2003, 1,484 RAV4 EVs were leased or sold. Of those, Toyota says approximately 449 are still on the road.

This time around, rather than develop the electric RAV4 on its own, Toyota joined forces with upstart Silicon Valley electric carmaker Tesla Motors in a collaboration to develop and engineer the latest all-electric RAV4.

Toyota was responsible for the vehicle’s design, ride and handling, safety systems and it’s human-machine interface. Tesla supplies the RAV’s electric drivetrain, including the battery and electric motor, which it shares with Tesla’s base Model S luxury sedan.

Developed in a remarkably short 22 months, production is completed at the RAV4’s plant in Ontario, Canada.

Based on the 2012 RAV4 – not the all-new 2013 model – Toyota says only 2,600 units will be made, with production ending at the end of 2014.

The battery-powered RAV4 is available for sale only through select dealers in California’s major metro market areas of Los Angeles, Orange County, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento.

With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $49,800 plus $845 destination charges, RAV4 EV customers have the option of a purchase or lease program. The vehicle is eligible for a $7,500 Federal Tax Credit and qualifies for California’s $2,500 rebate through the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program as well as that state’s white sticker program, allowing a single occupant to drive in HOV lanes.

Tesla Produced Powertrain

Deviating from Toyota’s custom of employing synchronous permanent-magnet motors in their hybrid powertrains, Tesla supplied an AC induction motor. The 115-kilowatt motor’s peak output is 154 horsepower with torque output selectable by the driver.

In Normal Mode, the motor’s generated torque is 218 pounds feet and sends the electric RAV4 from zero-to-60 mph in 8.6 seconds with a top speed of 85 mph. When needed, the Sport Mode increases the torque to 273 pounds feet, decreasing the time to reach 60 mph to 7.0 seconds and increasing top speed to 100 mph.

Power from the motor is directed to the front wheels through a fixed-gear open-differential transaxle with a gear ratio of 9.73.

Located beneath the floor pan under the rear seats, the RAV4’s battery pack is a 386-volt lithium-ion pack embodying around 4,500 cells similar to those used in laptop computers. Rated at 41.8 kilowatt hours of usable energy at full charge, maximum power output is 129 kW.

The liquid cooled battery pack’s 41.8 kWh capacity is nearly double that of competitive EVs ‑ Honda’s Fit EV is equipped with a 20-kWh battery, the Ford Focus Electric employs a 23-kWh unit and the Nissan Leaf uses one that is 24-kWh.

Unlike other electrics, the RAV4 EV features two charging modes, Normal and Extended. Normal charges the battery to 35 kWh providing the vehicle with an EPA-estimated average driving range rating of 92 miles. If a driver needs more driving range, the Extended mode charges the battery to its full capacity of 41.8 KWh and extends the range to 113 miles.

For the window sticker, the EPA requires averaging the two, showing 103-mile range. Comparatively, the Focus EV has an EPA average range of 76 miles, the Leaf 75 miles. While Standard charging provides less driving miles, it does extend the life of the battery. However, regardless of the mix of charging modes, including Extended charging only, spokesperson Mario Apodaca said the battery is covered with an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

With such a large battery pack, funneling electricity to the car at 110 volts takes 44 hours for Standard mode and 52 hours for Extended mode. But thanks to a 10 kW onboard charger, using a level two 40-amp, 240-volt home charging unit reduces charging to five hours for Normal mode and six hours for Extended. That’s on par with the Leaf’s six to seven hours but more than the four hours for the Focus.

Toyota deserves a gold star for the additional driving miles from the Extended charge mode, but earns a demerit for not providing a quick-charge port.

Maximizing Battery Efficiency

 Apodaca said the development team made trips of up to 145 miles without running out of electrons. Obviously they used a judicious right foot, but engineers also devised ways to maximize the battery’s efficiency.

Toyota and Tesla collaborated in engineering the electric crossover’s regenerative braking system to minimize kinetic energy loss during slowing and stopping. The results of this cooperative regenerative braking are increased driving range by up to 20 percent.

Since regen braking cannot effectively stop a vehicle under hard braking, a conventional hydraulic system takes care of that task.

The RAV’s climate control system has three modes that allow the driver to select the preferred level of comfort and driving range. Normal mode provides maximum comfort, but draws the most juice, thus reducing range. Eco Low mode dispenses a balance of comfort and extends range by automatically activating the seat heaters if necessary and reducing power consumption of the climate control system up to 18 percent. Eco Hi also automatically activates the seat heaters if needed and further reduces power consumption up to 40 percent compared to Normal. While the results are incremental, using Eco Lo or Eco Hi modes extends driving range.

Also, a remote climate control system lets owners preheat or precool the RAV4 while it is plugged-in, which conserves battery charge and EV range. The system can be programmed by a timer on the navigation display, and can be activated using a smart phone.

Styling

The electrified RAV mimics other contemporary Toyotas, featuring a sleek, aerodynamically efficient profile, recording a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.30 – impressive for a SUV-like contour and a notable improvement over the standard RAV4’s 0.34 Cd.

Contributing to the low Cd number are a new grille and front bumper, more aerodynamic mirrors (sourced from a Korean market car), deeper rear spoiler and underbody cladding. Visually, the font-end changes give a more contemporary, sleek appearance to the RAV4 EV compared with the 2012 edition’s truck-like front.

New lighting isn’t just for looks. Battery power consumption is reduced by using LED low beam projector headlights with halogen projector high beams, LED daytime running lights which dim to parking lights and LED taillights.

Interior

RAV4 EV buyers have a choice of just one trim level with no options. The vehicle is basically a standard RAV4 V-6 with the sport appearance package, meaning no spare tire mounted on the rear hatch.

Slip onto the driver’s seat and the interior looks nearly identical to the gas-powered model — the same seating position, same outward visibility and same bi-level dash layout with upper and lower glove boxes. Immediately noticeable, however, are new digital gauges, a restyled center stack with an eight-inch color LCD touch screen atop, the absence of control knobs and the quirky gear shifter borrowed from the Prius.

Flanking the digital speedometer are two small gauges. The left posts driving range while the right can scroll through screens to show things like trip efficiency, CO2 reduction and a driving coach with an overall driving score. Engaging the Sport mode changes the background color to red from the Normal mode’s blue.

The large touch screen contains audio controls, backup camera, a navigation system that can locate charging stations in its search option and Toyota’s Entune app system. Having to dig into the system for audio settings is somewhat annoying, but at least there’s a volume-control button on the steering wheel.

Front seats, with eco-friendly cloth, are supportive but not excessively firm, with acceptable bolsters and adequate thigh support. A tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and six-way adjustable driver’s seat makes easy work of finding a comfortable driving position.

A relatively high seating position, low cowl and sloping hood provide excellent front visibility, while lengthy side windows eases over-the-shoulder lane checking.

There’s generous room for two rear seat adult passengers, three, not so much. Rear seatbacks recline and the 60/40 split seats slide fore or aft to optimize passenger room or cargo capacity.

Since the battery doesn’t intrude into the cabin, the 37.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row seats is the same as the gas powered model — more than enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries. For more space, a simple flip of a lever folds the rear seat flat to expand cargo room to 73 cubic feet.

If little ones are part of your family, rear seats can accommodate two rear-facing infant-safety seats, two convertible child-safety seats or two booster seats. Latch anchors on the outboard seats are buried in the cushions but are easily reachable. Attaching tether anchors, however, is somewhat cumbersome and requires sliding the seats forward to connect the tethers.

Driving The RAV4 EV

My time with the RAV4 EV was limited to around an hour, but the drive route north of downtown Phoenix was varied enough to walk away with a good grasp of how Toyota’s small electric SUV performs and handles on the road.

When I pushed the blue start button, the RAV4 electric went through a quick and silent system check, “booting up,” Apodaca said – no sounds of a gasoline engine coming to life.

With the familiar Prius style shift lever moved to “D,” the small crossover moved silently through the parking lot. The rack-and-pinion electric power steering felt light, needing only a slight effort to turn. As speed increased, the steering became more weighted and acceptably responsive with more feedback than anticipated.

Short brake-pedal travel took a few miles to get used to. Once I adapted, I found breaking to be smooth without the grabby, jerky feel of some regenerative braking systems. Panic stops produced no surprises and there was no indication when the hydraulic system took charge to safely bring the RAV4 to a halt.

Acceleration is quite frisky – really frisky in Sport mode. The go pedal is easy to modulate allowing minimum electricity use during in-town driving yet, providing instant get up and go when necessary.

Ride and handling is similar to the conventional RAV4, meaning it’s close to a typical small car. The all-independent suspension did a commendable job of absorbing bumps and the infrequent Arizona potholes.

The RAV4 EV is certainly no canyon carver, but the placement of the battery lowers the center of gravity allowing even sharp curves to be taken with confidence while exhibiting only slight body roll when pushed hard.

Toyota added sound insulation in the roof, doors and front fenders as well as thicker windshield glass. The result is a serenely quiet cabin with just a touch of wind and tire noise and, on occasion, a slight whine from the electric motor.

And about the driving range?

After going through the system check, the dashboard display lit up showing an estimated range of 119 miles. That was immediately reduced to 92 miles when I selected the climate control’s Normal mode to cool the interior. Hey, the RAV4 had been parked for more than an hour in near 80-degree heat.

After a couple, three minutes the cabin cooled, I switched to Eco Hi and the range increased to 118 miles.

The drive route included a state highway, a four-lane boulevard, residential streets and a cruise through a small town. While the terrain was primarily flat, we did encounter a four or five mile hilly stretch with some very sharp curves.

As the miles went by, the decrease in the estimated driving range stayed very close to the miles driven until I decided to try out the Sport mode, and then it was Whoopee!

Pushing the sport button was transformational. The Mr. Green Jeans personality instantly became a near silent road rocket and before I realized it, we were at 75 mph in a 55 mph zone. Not good. This was the last of the four-day press introduction of the 2013 RAV4 and the local gendarmes were out in force, having already handed out three speeding tickets.

Driving in Sport for six miles knocked driving range down by nearly eight miles but I added some juice along the way by braking more than normal. When we pulled back into the parking lot, the 48.3 run lost just 46 miles of battery range. Apparently, Toyota and Tesla have figured out battery efficiency.

A Compliance Vehicle?

Like the first RAV4 EV this latest edition is indeed produced to comply with California’s ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mandate, a requirement that a certain percentage of vehicles sold in the Golden State must meet.

But the electrified RAV4 is not just a compliance vehicle.

“The Zero Emission Vehicle mandate has been a fact of life in California for over 20 years. It’s nothing new,” said Jana Hartline, environmental communications manger for Toyota.

“We’re committed to meeting our ZEV credit requirements through a combination of plug-in hybrid, pure battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicle sales.

“Do we think electric vehicles will replace the internal combustion engine?  No.  But we do think they are an important part of our portfolio of technologies for the future.”

Toyota is also learning from its alliance with Tesla. While the company would not discuss specific technology based issues, Sheldon Brown, RAV4 EV executive program manager, said that it has been a very useful collaboration.

“In a number of areas from power train control to battery management strategies to HV system architecture, our engineering teams each brought their own experiences and understanding to the table and debated and collaborated to find the best application for the specific issue at hand.”

“In the end,” Brown continued, “it really served as a great gut check – a chance to re-consider some of our traditional practices and determine for ourselves if we need further improvement.”

One of those traditional practices being reconsidered might well be Toyota’s stance that hybrids and plug-in hybrids with small batteries are the best answer to the broad range of consumer needs rather than large battery EVs.

Reinforcing that stance, Toyota’s vice chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada stated in February that, “Because of its shortcomings – driving range, cost and recharging time – the electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most conventional cars.”

Digging deeper, however, it appears that Toyota’s dismissal of EVs is in the context of near term, not long term.

With little fanfare, in 2008 the company formed a research division to develop “revolutionary batteries.” It aims to commercialize solid-state batteries that will be up to four times more powerful than today’s lithium-ion batteries, followed by lithium-air batteries that will be five times as powerful. Those numbers project a driving range of multiple hundreds of miles on a single charge. Unfortunately, these new batteries aren’t expected until around 2020.

Until then, those who are giving serious thoughts about purchasing a battery-powered vehicle for the first time, as well as EV devotees, should seriously consider the RAV4 EV. With its SUV body style it offers an elevated driving position plus, generous space for passengers and cargo.

And, even though my time behind the steering wheel was short, I came away convinced that it delivers the longest driving range of the current crop of EVs. Except the Tesla Model S, of course.

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