The 2014 Chevrolet Volt which uses a plug-in battery and gasoline engine technology to deliver a smooth, quiet and comfortable driving experience that will most likely get you to work and back without buying any gasoline, but then can take you across the USA – all while delivering in excess of 40 mpg.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency spends a good portion of its time and manpower compiling a guide that compares like vehicles’ fuel economy, spaciousness (interior space) and engine technology. The result for 2014 vehicles (cars and trucks) is now available on www.fueleconomy.gov and has a new benchmark – the Top 10 cars in fuel economy all feature a plug. Some are pure electrics and others are plug-in hybrids. The fuel economy numbers are astronomical by historical standards, but are setting the new benchmark for what a modern automobile needs to achieve to be considering a state-of-the-art environmental leader.
Tesla has spurred more serious activity in the high-end of electric cars than has ever been seen. Its success has other automakers bringing new models onto the market and promises to boost attention on EVs the same way high-end sports cars highlight attention on some of their lesser companion models. At any rate, it looks like we’re in for some fun, high-performance, luxury electric cars in the near future.
To sum up the day-long program and paraphrase the philosopher Heraclitus, the only thing constant about the future will be change. The 100-plus year-old auto industry is heading into uncharted territory as it grapples with change inside and out of the vehicle. Electronic technology promises to radically alter the interaction of the driver and vehicle, even as the propulsion technology and fuel shifts to new ground and, in some cases, necessitating new lifestyles. One thing is clear, “Future Cars, Future Technology” will be an ever-changing topic for years to come.
This week saw two of the largest auto companies in the world going two different ways when it comes to pricing their showcase plug-in electric cars. General Motors announced that it would price its extended-range electric Cadillac ELR at $75,995 when it goes on sale in January 2014. In contrast, the same week Toyota announced that it was dropping the price on its 2014 Prius Plug-in, which it considers the epitome of its current offerings. Price drops ranged from $2,000 on the base model to $4,620 on the Advanced version. With the price reduction, the Prius Plug-in now has a starting price before government incentives just north of $30,000.
While price cuts and low lease rates have been moving electric cars like never before, resulting in “sold out” models and tight supplies at some dealerships, there may be a dark side to the deals. When discounts like this happen in the rest of the auto market and residual values drop, the impact on auto companies is clear. Profits on the discounted vehicles drop and the models are often dropped or given a redesign aimed at revitalizing or repositioning them in the eyes of the consumer. For new models, it is often the kiss of death.
To transform the vehicle fleet, you need to work on both ends — accelerating the purchase of cleaner new vehicles and the retirement of old clunkers. The California legislature is sending a package of bills to Governor Brown’s desk that does just that. Taken as a whole, these policies will ensure Californians at all income levels enjoy the environmental, public health, and financial benefits of cleaner, more efficient vehicles.
Diesel and hybrid owners have very different reasons for owning each vehicle. After my back-to-back drives, I will suggest that anyone considering a Jetta hybrid for its environmental statement also add the diesel to your shopping list.
The hybrid gets better fuel economy, rides smoother, is quieter and fun to drive, especially when the Boost mode kicks-in. But the diesel engines of 2013 burn clean, are smoke-free, get very good fuel economy and offer a torque/acceleration experience found on more expensive cars.
So which to buy? You will have to run the numbers of an approximate $2,000 base price premium for the hybrid against the number of miles you drive and of course, your personal needs. If you drive mostly in the city or with significant freeway stop-and-go traffic, then making the hybrid investment may well be worth your while. If you do mostly open freeway driving, then the diesel will deliver mpg in the high 40 range, which is oh so great.
August was a high-water mark for some of the pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids, stoking hopes that these alternatives were starting to gain traction in the market. The year 2013 is two-thirds over and auto industry sales overall are doing quite well (up 14 percent compared to July 2013, up 17 percent compared to August 2012 and up 9.6 percent over the year-to-date compared to last year). The record sales this month by the Passat TDI, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf show that high mileage vehicles are definitely high on consumers’ shopping lists. More models continue to come onto the market, broadening consumer choices and adding to the ongoing discussion of fuel economy.
If you believe performance, luxury and fuel economy is an oxymoron, then you haven’t driven Infiniti’s 2013 M35h. The h is for hybrid… and horsepower. And it may be the first of many Infiniti hybrids.
After a week with the ILX Hybrid, we swapped it for the ILX Premium—think of it as a more refined and luxurious Honda Civic Si that costs just $300 more than the Hybrid. At Clean Fleet Report we’re about hybrid cars, plug-in cars, pure electric cars and alternative fuel vehicles —mostly. We are also driving enthusiasts, and when the opportunity presents itself, we never say no to test driving a car that dishes out lots of Wahoos!
In a step back towards its roots, Acura, Honda’s luxury division, is once again offering a less-is-more entry luxury compact car. Slotted below the TSX, the 2013 Acura ILX is somewhat reminiscent of the 1986-2001 Integra, but outfitted with more luxury. This time around Honda’s entry-level car will come with some environmental credentials and therefore deserves a review in Clean Fleet Report.
Consumers interested in plug-in cars got more good news this month as the Mercedes-built Smart and Chevy Volt both joined the recent moves to drop prices on their models. The Smart dropped lease prices to $139/month, substantially below much of the competition, and GM lowered the 2014 Chevy Volt price by $5,000.
Since the beginning the RX hybrid has been in the top ten hybrid sales column and was the most popular hybrid sport utility in 2012. For 2013 Lexus has given both the gasoline and hybrid RX models a refresh. With an EPA combined fuel economy of 30 mpg — 32 city/28 highway — the RX 450h front drive model is the most fuel-efficient sport utility on the road. And the second best? The all-wheel drive version with a rating of 30 city/28 highway/29 combined. Bottom line: In general, the 2013 Lexus RX 450h is the perfect all-purpose vehicle as an everyday hauler of full-size people and their stuff. It’s at its best around town, picking up people and delivering people and doing so in all kinds of weather. Plus, it delivers the best fuel economy of any sport utility.
The year 2013 is half over and the auto industry is doing quite well, led by high mileage vehicles that are outperforming the overall industry in sales growth. As more and more pure electrics, plug-in cars, hybrids and clean diesels appear on the U.S. market, consumers are embracing them.