Falling Gas Prices – It Looks Like a Great Time to Buy a Prius!

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Automotive, Community, Driving, Family, Hybrids, Madison, News | Posted on 04-11-2014

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Gas Prices LowBooming SUV, crossover and pickup sales can only signal one thing — low gas prices.  With average gas prices falling to below $3 per gallon according to AAA, hybrid sales have softened a bit.  Earlier this year TrueCar reported a shift in consumer car buying preferences away from hybrids and toward pickups and SUVs.   In September Prius sales were down a little more than 10 percent compared to a year ago.   Last month Prius demand was off 14 percent, as gas prices stabilized.  To boost demand hybrid sales incentives have gone up to levels equal to, or even surpassing those of their gasoline counterparts.  The average transaction price for hybrids has shrunk by $113, according to TrueCar, while the average price for gasoline vehicles has actually gone up by over $700.

 

Turn the clock back about seven years to a time when the Prius was at the ‘top of its game’ – – when demand and gas prices were high and dealer inventories were low or non-existent. NS4 captureBack then, the window sticker price was the selling price and incentives were virtually nil.  In fact, there were waiting lists for the Prius with many customers queued up for over a year waiting to take delivery.  In September 2007, the Prius sold with average incentives totaling only $91 (or about the cost of the floor mats).  Fast-forward to last month — incentives across the US for the Prius liftback averaged $2,309 per vehicle.  The fortunes of hybrid sales have always risen or fallen with the price of gasoline, so this is not particularly surprising. That falling gas prices cause consumers to tack back to larger format vehicles is nothing new.  A TrueCar analysis of current year registrations shows that full-size pickup trucks now lead sales in 34 of 50 US states with most of these states located in the South.  But,  as  Matt DiLallo of The Motley Fool pointed out in October of last year, “fracking — that process of injecting high pressure fluids into the ground in order to fracture rock and retrieve oil or natural gas in the shale regions of the Upper Midwest and Pennsylvania has also prompted an incredible demand for pickups.”   Those four-wheeled pickups are sometimes the only viable solution for workers to get to a wellhead, so it is the vehicle of necessity.  

 

Recently, West Texas Intermediate crude dropped to below $80 a barrel, the lowest level in more than two years after Saudi Arabia reduced the cost of its oil to U.S. customers.   U.S. crude imports from Saudi Arabia fell to a four-year low last month and according to FuelFix, the Saudi move is more about wanting to preserve its US market share in the face of soaring North American output.   FuelFix reports that oil “has collapsed into a bear market as leading members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries resisted calls to cut production even amid signs of slowing global demand.”  Members of the group, which pumps about 40 percent of the world’s crude, “are engaged in an internal price war’ as they seek to defend their share of an oversupplied market”.  A US Energy Information Administration Market Prices and Uncertainty Report bears out that even as gas prices continue to slide due to robust supply and potentially weakening demand one thing is certain — these prices will remain historically volatile.  

 

Although at this point it would take a dramatic increase at the gas pump to wean some  buyers away from the larger format vehicles, this fall still looks like a great time to buy a hybrid. The third generation Toyota Prius has been on sale in its current form now since 2009 and despite help from the extended Prius family like the Prius v, Prius c and the Plug-in, sales of the traditional liftback have fallen off almost every month in 2014.  While it is still one of the best-selling Toyota models, it is obviously reaching the end of its current lifecycle.  Problem is, the next generation super-Prius won’t go into production for another year.  Therein lies the problem for Prius sales – low gas prices combined with the slack-end of a model cycle conspire to create a perfect storm for lagging hybrid demand.

 

Capture Welcome to PriusSo here’s the opportunity — slowing hybrid sales mean there are deals to be had and if you are a proactive car-buyer who wants a Prius now to prepare for the next time gas prices creep up to $4 per gallon there is no time like the present!  After all, whether gas costs $4, $3 or even $2 a gallon using less of this fossil fuel and saving money in the bargain is always a good idea!  So, if a Prius works for you (and not all of us want a SUV or a crossover), now is the time to act!

 

 

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The Toyota Prius v Puts on a More Aggressive Face for 2015

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Automotive, Community, Driving, Family, Hybrids, Madison, News | Posted on 13-10-2014

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2015-toyota-prius-v-3The Prius v (Prius+ in Europe) is getting the first facelift since its launch in 2012.  Following a design theme that Toyota has been implementing these days, the design re-fresh will feature sharper edges for a sportier look with thinner, more aero headlights and a big-mouthed trapezoidal grille intake vent.  The result is a more aggressive face with more sharp edges than the first generation.

New LED headlamps are set in slimmer, more aero bezels with chrome and black plating.  The glossy black front grille utilizes the trapezoid shape which has become formulaic with a number of Toyota models.  This creates an overall impression of a wider front end when combined with the re-designed vertical side vents and the slim LED daytime running lights.  The rear-end gets an updated look thanks to new tail lights with red lens as opposed to the clear LED lenses from the last model.  A diffuser integrated into the rear bumper adds to the drama.

Cosmetic changes to the cabin include dark silver metallic and chrome finishes to the trim and climate controls with a new infotainment system.  Befitting an eco-vehicle like the Prius, the new Prius v toyota-prius-v-gets-an-angry-face-for-2015_1connects the driver to an assortment of fuel efficiency data and hypermiling feedback to enhance the Eco Experience.  According to the European website autoevolution.com, one such upgrade is a little game called the Eco Judge in which the driver scores points based on their eco-driving abilities.

x2015-toyota-prius-v-2.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ylTH-CIXeh (1)rearMechanically, the 2015 Prius v will be powered by the same Hybrid Synergy Drive unit as before, but with a slightly re-tuned suspension for improved ride damping quality.  The previous Prius v had road-leveling technology that automatically adjusted the car’s balance and posture to variations in the road, so the ride must be getting even cushier now.  

Prices and full specs haven’t been announced yet and Toyota hasn’t announced the exact schedule.

 

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New Silicon Carbide Semi-Conductors Could Boost the Efficiency of Toyota’s Hybrids By Up to Ten Percent

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Automotive, Community, Driving, Hybrids, News | Posted on 20-05-2014

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In the spirit of one of Toyota’s vital principles, Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) the company has developed a new semiconductor it says can boost fuel efficiency in hybrid cars such as the Prius by up to 10 percent.

The world’s largest manufacturer of gasoline-electric cars with it’s relentless efficiency improvements aims to extend its lead in hybrid technology.  This particular advancement, which was developed with Toyota’s in-house technology partner Denso, is focused on the semiconductors that manage the flow of electricity through the power control unit (PCU) that integrates a hybrid’s battery, motor and generator.  The new semiconductors utilize only a tenth of the energy that today’s chips gobble up and enable the PCU to be 80 percent smaller, according to Toyota’s press release.

The technology has the potential to deliver a ten percent increase in fuel efficiency because less energy is lost when the battery powers the car’s electric motor or when regenerative braking recharges the battery.  Better internal combustion engines (ICEs), traction batteries and aerodynamics are a key part of Toyota’s plans for future hybrids, including the next generation Prius.  But the company has targeted the performance of these power-hungry PCU chips that also sap energy.

Although Toyota still has a commanding sales lead in the hybrid segment, especially with the pioneering segment-leading Prius, competition had gotten keener and the world’s largest producer has been ramping up research on ways to squeeze out better mpg.  “We are aiming for great improvement in fuel economy and miniaturization, says Kimimori Hamada, the project manager of Toyota’s electronics development division.

Toyota opened a vast semiconductor development center at its Hirose plant in Toyota City last year to expand this new technology.  That facility already makes semiconductors for Toyota’s existing hybrid systems.  Toyota has historically developed hybrid technology and components in-house, starting with the development of the first-generation Prius which began in 1993 and the car company holds over two  thousand of patents on hybrid systems and components.

Toyota’s new approach with semiconductors is to use silicon carbide (SiC), instead of simply silicon, to make the semiconductor wafers.  Silicon carbide wafers have a few distinct advantages.  Just as an internal combustion engine experiences ineffiency due to heat loss, whenever energy (in this case current) passes through the PCU semiconductor, power is lost as heat.  In fact, Toyota says, semiconductors account for about 20 percent of all power loss in hybrid systems.

toyotadeveloSilicon carbide semiconductors experience only a tenth of the energy loss of the silicon-based chips in use today.  Also, Toyota engineers say that silicon carbide semiconductors can switch on and off at much higher frequencies.  That makes them more efficient and obviates the need for space-clogging coils and capacitors that are used in PCUs to temporarily store power.  Capacitors and coils take up about 40 percent of the space in a typical PCU.  Because fewer of these components are needed with silicon carbide semiconductors, the overall size and weight of the PCU can be made 80 percent smaller.  The new PCU is about the size of a shoe box.  The new silicon carbide semiconductors will be applicable to hybrid, all-electric or fuel cell power trains and can be mated to lithium ion or nickel-metal hydride batteries according to Toyota’s press release.

Toyota’s next generation Prius is already expected to see a 10 percent improvement in efficiency compared to the current model, with a touted fuel economy just above 55 mpg.  The new semiconductors have not been confirmed for the next Prius, though Toyota does say it intends to “boost development activities” so that it can implement the technology sooner, not later.  Each Prius generation has come with a 10 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over the outgoing model and the next Prius will surely benefit from this.  Add the fact that Toyota is also developing new, highly efficient gasoline engines that achieve an amazing thermal efficiency and fuel efficiency improvements of at least 10 percent and you can count on the the next Prius being the most efficient hybrid so far.

  Sources: Toyota Pressroom, Toyota GB, Automotive News, autorevolution.com, greencarreport

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FGSOK5l6s0?rel=0]

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Toyota FCV Fuel Cell Concept Moves Ahead

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Automotive, Community, Driving, Events, Hybrids, News | Posted on 09-12-2013

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The annual Tokyo Auto Show is known for its edgy concept cars, but this year the show featured a ‘radical’ technology from Toyota that is scheduled to go into global production in 2015 — the Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) Concept.  

 

Although there have been reports that those of us in the United States won’t see it until much later, Toyota has hinted that it may make the FCV available in select regions of the country beginning in 2015.  The absence of a developed hydrogen fueling infrastructure here in the US remains a huge obstacle to adoption of this technology.  Yet, Toyota says it expects to sell a production vehicle based on the FCV in the United States, targeting areas where hydrogen fueling is available.  In all likelihood that means California where 10 of the nation’s 28 or so public hydrogen fuel stations exist.  Further, the California Fuel Cell Partnership has an action plan in place to develop 46 retail hydrogen fueling stations in six key California communities at a cost of about $180 million over the next four years; $60 million will come from industry and $120 million from government.

 

According to Catherine Dunwoody, CaFCP’s Executive Director, fuel cell vehicles are coming to California and the infra-structure needs to be in place, “By 2017, automotive manufacturers plan to place 50,000 zero-emission fuel cell vehicles in customer hands.  FCVs will provide the performance, durability, driving range, and comfort that customers want, and meet the nation’s need for a domestic fuel that is better for the environment”.  No one expects anything like this to happen over night, but the bottom line is that the funds have been allocated for more stations and there is a plan in place with future funding.  This funding is being justified by future demand allowing for additional expansion of H2 stations to meet the potential mass adoption of hydrogen-based vehicles.

 

Utilities in Japan have already started putting in more stations as part of a pilot program co-sponsored by Toyota.  For this reason, Toyota will initially launch the FCV in four Japanese cities — Tokyo, Chukyo, Kansai and Fukuoka during 2015.  From there it will come to Europe next, where there is a more developed H2 fueling network and to California and then possibly, Hawaii after that, targeting areas where hydrogen fueling is available.

Toyota is serious about hydrogen fuel cell cars and the development of its technology began in 1993 concurrent with the research and development on the Prius.  When Toyota

Rearfirst launched the gas-electric hybrid which has since become the industry standard, the response from the auto industry and mainstream America was pretty skeptical.  Through relentless engineering and continuous improvement and a solid three generations of the model, Toyota developed the Prius brand into a hybrid standard.  This is the company’s plan with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

 

 

Fuel cell cars are basically extended-range electric cars — only a hydrogen-powered fuel cell stack serves as the range extender instead of a conventional internal combustion engine as in the Chevy Volt.  Toyota believes that this is the best solution to meet the future challenges of dwindling energy sources and increasing emissions.  A fuel cell vehicle produces zero emissions during operation and hydrogen is one of the more abundant elements around, although it needs to be extracted (separated) from others (such as H2O).  The hydrogen isolation process can be driven by energy sources such as natural gas, but solar energy would have the least environmental impact.  A hydrogen station, a storage or filling station for hydrogen, could be located along a road on the hydrogen highway, or in the home as part of the distributed generation resources concept.  A hydrogen highway is a chain of hydrogen-equipped filling stations and other infrastructure along a road or highway, such as the one the California Fuel Cell Partnership is developing.  Ultimately, a hydrogen highway would link states and countries.  Italy and Germany are collaborating to build a hydrogen highway between Mantova (Italy) and Munich (Germany).

 

 

Front Quarter

The Toyota FCV Concept that is making the rounds on the auto show circuit this season features it’s own fuel cell stack and a pair of high-pressure hydrogen tanks.  It is roughly the size of a Camry and has a range of around 310 miles per hydrogen fill-up.  Once the fuel stacks are depleted, it takes just three minutes to refuel.  Toyota says the FCV would also be capable of powering the average Japanese home for more than a week using the same amount of hydrogen.  Toyota is keen on developing home and even neighborhood fuel cell power in Japan where there has been a series of recent natural disasters.

 

According to a Toyota press release, the fuel cell stack of the FCV develops a peak power output of around 100 kilowatts

H2 TanksSide Quarter

(134 horsepower) but there is no mention of the output of the electric traction motors onboard the vehicle.  Toyota did mention that the FCV concept is equipped with a high-efficiency boost converter, which increases the voltage so the size of the electric motor  and the number of fuel cells could be reduced.  The result is a smaller system offering enhanced performance at reduced cost.  We can expect a top speed for the FCV to be at or just above 98 mph which was the top-end for the fuel cell Highlander test vehicle that successfully completed cold-weather testing during the 2,700 mile ALCAN Highway testing in 2007.  The 100kW output of the new FCV is more than twice that of the 2007 Highlander FCHV demonstration vehicle.  Although the fuel cell can deliver sustained power of 100 kilowatts, power delivery to the electric motor driving the front wheels is buffered through a lithium battery pack located under the specially designed body.  This allows the vehicle controller to alter power output quickly in response to acceleration and braking.

 

Front

The exterior styling of the FCV takes its design cues, says Toyota, from the operation of a fuel cell— conveying “the air-to-

water transformation (in fuel cells) with its flowing-liquid door profile and wave-motif fuel cap.”  The air and water themes are everywhere.  The large-mouth grille design typical of Toyotas these days, is beyond prominent on the FCV and symbolizes “taking in air”.  There are Prius cues in the roofline with a “floating roof” effect.  The FCV’s rear continues the “flowing water” theme and looks a little like the stern of a catamaran “emitting water” in its wake.  Even the color hints of water and air.

 

Toyota marketing executives are debating whether to include the upcoming fuel cell sedan into the Prius family.  The name “Prius” is loaded with marketing weight for both Toyota and its many customers.  The Prius is already a successful sub-brand with four models.  The “Hybrid Synergy Drive” power train branding will eventually be applied to every Toyota and Lexus.  More importantly, as a Toyota engineer mentioned nearly a decade ago at a training session prior to the launch of the Gen ll Prius, “Down the road, all we have to do with Hybrid Synergy Drive is take out the ICE (internal combustion engine) and replace it with a fuel stack and hydrogen fuel tanks and we have a fuel cell vehicle!”  Although not that simple, a fuel cell vehicle would fit right in with the rest of the family!

 

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Plug-in Day: Electric Cars, Plug-in Hybrids Whizz and Whirr Up the Winding Road to Acceptance

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Automotive, Community, Driving, Events, Hybrids, News | Posted on 15-10-2013

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DSCN0480The Third Annual National Plug-in Day held recently, included events in nearly 100 cities around the world.  Plug-in and electric car enthusiasts came together for an annual celebration of driving cars with a cord.  Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are increasingly popular and the world-wide event drew more than double the attendees compared to the year before.  The primary feature of each event was displaying the plug-in vehicles from the major automakers as well as the newcomers.  Scores of people had their first experience with vehicles that burn little or no gas.  This was the most important element of the event because most advocates believe that familiarity is the absolute key to popular acceptance of these vehicles and National Plug-in Day raised the bar on what is possible!

National Plug-in Day is ongoing proof that Americans, and drivers the world over are keen to drive vehicles that use little or no gasoline, cut down on airborne pollutants and keep1383193_365819993552808_2127503790_n our fuel dollars local.  The Silicon Valley event in Cupertino was a perfect example of the growth of the event, where approximately 2,000 attendees checked out nearly 300 vehicles on display from 20 major automakers.  Events in Seattle and the Los Angeles area had similar turnouts.  In Nashville, Nissan decided to promote electric cars by giving away free gasoline.  Cities from Maine to Hawaii hosted similar events and many saw a big increase in attendance compared to last year.  Initial numbers from Plug-in America, a coalition of first generation RAV4 EV owners and former lessees of Honda EV+, GM EV1, Ford Ranger and Ford Think City electrics from the “Who Killed the Electric Car?” era and long-time Plug-in advocates, pegged total US attendance at between 40,000 and 50,000 people.  According to the organizers, that’s a 43 percent boost in participation.

Closer to home, the Upper Midwest Plug-in Day held in Madison, Wisconsin featured over 25 electric vehicles on display, along with demonstrations, owner testimonials and test drives.  Some of the vehicles on display included home-built and concept vehicles along with all-electrics (Nissan LEAF and Tesla).  Various Plug-in Hybrids (Plug-in Priuses, Gen ll Prius Plug-in modifications, Ford C-Max Energi, Chevy Volt, and Wheego) were all equally represented.  Electric bikes and mopeds were also featured at the event.  Flux Mopeds of Madison, Len’s Electric Bikes and Ride Green Bikes of Milwaukee showed off their clean, quiet, 100% electric offerings.  In addition, Madison Gas and Electric was on hand to talk about their Madison-wide electric vehicle charging network and answer all power-related questions.  There were plenty of EV owners on hand sharing information on what its like to own and drive a plug-in vehicle.

National Plug-in Day was also marked in Sauk City, Wisconsin where the Free Congregation of Sauk County held a Free Forum on Energy, Climate and Our Future.  The social and environmental responsibility of cleanDSCN0557 energy was the theme of the day and Plug-in vehicles were on display outside of Freethinker’s Hall.  A Prius Plug-in, a Nissan Leaf and a Chevy Volt were on display and there were representatives on hand to answer all the questions.

Electric drive enthusiasts had plenty of success to celebrate on Plug-in Day.  Still, plug-ins only make up a tiny segment of the total auto market.  Slowly but surely, as National Plug-in Day underscores, many people are making that change, and the mainstream auto industry has taken note.  Higher fuel-efficiency standards and government subsidies have shifted the center-of-gravity a little more toward Plug-in and EV vehicles and it appears no automaker wants to be the one not moving forward with this technology.

The good news for consumers is that automakers have been dropping the prices of hybrids and EVs, making it easier to get into the game.  Reuters says that “automakers have slashed prices on their electric cars to help overcome consumer qualms about high costs and fears of driving range.”  This has been borne out by plug-in sales which have remained high month by month this year.  Sales rose as prices for these vehicles came down.  Recently, the Plug-in Prius joined the Volt and the Leaf at a lowered price-point as Toyota dropped the price of the 2014 model.  Toyota has always been very good at making complex electromechanical systems smaller, cheaper and more reliable.  And a lesson learned from the early history of the Prius just might indicate that Plug-ins may have an advantage at this stage of their history that the Prius did not – when the 2001 Prius went on sale in the United States Toyota sold only small numbers of that first gas-electric from 2001 through 2003, but it had big plans for the little hybrid from the start.

DSCN0558With the re-designed second-generation Prius in 2004, Toyota had a winner.  Since then, Prius sales have never looked back and now there is a family line of separate Prius vehicles, which are now Toyota’s third best-selling passenger car in the United States market.  The success of the Prius and the company’s hybrids in general, has paved the way for a much earlier acceptance of plug-in hybrids and EVs compared to early hybrid history.  According to the United States Department of Energy, around 40,000 plug-in electric vehicles were purchased by Americans in the first six months of 2013, that’s more than double the amount sold throughout the same period last year.  In 2012 there were 52,000 EVs sold, which was an increase from 17,000 in 2011.

So, compared to hybrid cars — which took about a decade to catch on in the U.S. and now represent four percent of the total car market — electric vehicles are doing better earlier in the cycle, historically, than hybrids after their first 30 months on the market. There were about 3,000 hybrids sold per month 30 months after the cars were first introduced.  Over the same time period, plug-in electric vehicles are selling at a rate of about 9,000 per month.  It is clear that there is a growing segment of car-buyers who are ready for this technology.

 

DSCN0559Toyota has always taken a long-term view of hybrid-electric technology planning not only in five year and ten year cycles, but twenty-five and even fifty year plans, as well.  This has worked out very well for Toyota.  Today, the company has built 5 million hybrids and sells 23 different hybrids around the world – and has plans to launch additional hybrid models each year going forward along with a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle coming on the market in 2015!  DSCN0560

 

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More Hybrid Options Means More Savings

Posted by Smart Motors | Posted in Hybrids, News | Posted on 25-06-2013

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Highlights from a recent WGN radio interview with Smart Motors’ own Allen Foster…

Continual questioning from consumer and expert markets are putting hybrid and EV’s under the telescope. Despite some hesitance for early adoption, these vehicles continually climb in sales and popularity.

Toyota Prius sales in the US are up nearly 10% in May over last years figures, and at Smart Motors in Madison, hybrid vehicles consistently make up nearly 50% of our new car sales. As additional manufacturers unveil new models, these alternative fuel vehicles will gain further traction. The Nissan Leaf, for example, has seen dramatic sales improvement (nearly 300%), thanks in part to a recent 18% reduction in price.

The increase in sales is not surprising, considering the inherent savings that these vehicles can provide to consumers. CR (Consumer Reports) estimates that the Prius costs owners 49 cents per mile — less than half the cost of operating an average car. One Chicago area listener estimates saving hundreds on fuel costs each month. The advent of plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles will undoubtedly show increased savings over the already efficient hybrids that we’ve come to know and love.

Follow the link to listen to the complete radio interview.

June 8th 2013 WGN 720 Hybrid Sales

For more information, visit our website at smarttoyota.com

 

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“Smart Charge” Plug-in Electric Vehicle Charging at Smart Motors

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Community, Events, Hybrids, News | Posted on 20-06-2013

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IMG_0226Charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles are now available for guest use, free of charge, at Smart Motors in Madison, Wisconsin.  The new charge stations or “Smart Charge” as they are called, feature a ChargePoint-enabled Leviton CT-2021 public station that offers Level 2 (208/240 V @ 30 Amp) charging via a standard SAE J1772 connector and a fixed 18-foot cable.  This is a two-head bollard charger capable of charging two cars at a time.  The station is network-enabled and embedded with an on-board computer, a fluorescent display, a standards-based RFID reader and a utility-grade meter that provides precise, bi-directional energy measurement.  It is located at the Toyota Showroom main entrance and sits on a space with two reserved parking stalls.  At Smart Motors car-charging with be available free of charge day and night with a ChargePass card which will be available at the showroom desk.  The Toyota Prius Plug-in, for example, can be fully charged in 90 minutes with Level 2 charging.

For EV drivers, GPS information on ChargePoint-enabled locations are included on all ChargePoint mobile phone apps for iPhone and Android.  These ChargePoint mobile apps provide an easy wayphoto to locate stations near any specified address, get turn-by-turn directions, even start and stop a charging session directly from a smart phone. Additionally, these applications allow drivers to utilize ChargePoint’s station reservation feature.  Drivers can locate reservable stations, and then make, view, and cancel a reservation directly from a smart phone.

A second wall-mounted electric vehicle charger is located just outside the entrance to the service bays at Smart Motors.  This wall unit is a Leviton Evr-Green Electric Vehicle Charging Station and it provides the same quick charging of any SAE J1772 charger. Like the Smart Charge bollard charger it is available free of charge however, the wall unit does not require a ChargePass card and can be accessed anytime it is available.

IMG_0193“The electric vehicle infrastructure is in its early stages and we see an opportunity for Smart Toyota to help make a real difference by expanding the nascent car charging infrastructure that is already in place here in Madison,” said John Dolan, the network administrator for the charging stations.  “At this stage, the goal for us is not merely to explore and understand the technology, but to expand it and in turn, support our guests who choose to go electric.”

Last year Toyota paired up with Leviton, selecting the in-home electrical giant as an approved Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) provider for Toyota’s customers and dealers.  Toyota understood that Leviton with its high level of customer service would benefit both customers and dealers who were interested in setting up in-home or dealership charging stations for the Prius Plug-in and later on, the RAV4 EV.  Leviton’s charger line, including some home chargers, are all network-enabled by the ChargePoint Network through an open interface architecture that provides Leviton customers advanced features similar to all charging stations on the ChargePoint network. coulomb-logo-solid_02

ChargePoint is the largest online network of independently owned EV charging stations operating in 14 countries.  In a recent Pike Pulse report, Polk Resarch ranks ChargePoint (formerly Coulomb Technologies) as an industry leader as a result of their range of charging products and services.

“As Plug-in Hybrids and electric vehicles become a more attractive alternative amid climbing gas prices, a city’s EV infrastructure has to be ready to accommodate growth in this area, and we believe Madison is a leader in this regard,” says Dolan.  “A key goal of our business is to provide our customers and guests with the services they need and vehicle charging infrastructure choices is just one IMG_0191such need.  With vehicles like the Prius Plug-in on the market today we have seen strong interest in the market for networked electric vehicle charging solutions.  This emerging trend is just like we saw when hybrids first came to market over a decade ago, so we are excited to offer the ChargePoint product line to our customers.  We believe that Smart Charge will provide added value to our guests seeking smart features in an EV charging solution.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources: ChargePoint: http://www.chargepoint.com/home.php  ChargePoint Station Finder Smart Phone Apps: http://www.chargepoint.com/chargepointnet/mobile-apps.php  PlugShare EV Station Locator App: http://www.plugshare.com   Leviton: http://www.leviton.com/OA_HTML/SectionDisplay.jsp?section=37668

 

 

 

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Hybrids offer “best value” for new-car buyers

Posted by Smart Motors | Posted in Community, Hybrids, News | Posted on 03-06-2013

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Toyota Prius tops the list, costing half as much as an average car to operate

President Obama’s Inaugural address emphasizing the importance of addressing climate change dovetails with reports of rising sales of hybrid vehicles and a recent Consumer Reports study suggesting that hybrids offer the best value for those buying a new vehicle, with the Toyota Prius ranking No. 1.

CR (Consumer Reports) estimates that the Prius costs owners 49 cents per mile — less than half the cost of operating an average car.

Americans in the heartland are keeping pace or pulling ahead of politicians and reviewers in recognizing the importance and value of conserving energy. At the Wisconsin’s oldest automotive vehicle dealer, Smart Motors, hybrids account for 40% of the dealership’s new car sales. Compare that to 2008, when only 25.2% of the dealership’s car sales came from hybrid vehicles, and their growing popularity and mainstream acceptance are clear.

“When these in-demand hybrids roll in, they almost immediately roll right out the door,” says Allen Foster, vice president/general manager of Smart Motors.

Not only do rising hybrid sales suggest the nation is ready to embrace energy-efficient products and programs, but stronger sales of cars in general and hybrids in particular are a leading indicator of our nation’s economic recovery. USA Today reports that if the industry can keep up its momentum, sales could climb back to 16 million in 2013 — on par with the best banner years of a decade ago.

“As the market begins to rebound, it’s obvious people are more aware, and are planning for the future with fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius, Prius V, Prius C, Prius Plug-In, Camry hybrid, Highlander hybrid and Avalon hybrid” says Foster. “During the past few years, the entire auto industry saw customers scaling back on their purchases, but hybrid vehicles have always been a solid product line for us, and in 2013 it is getting even stronger.”

The demand is there to quite literally drive intense and quick sales. A $20,885 Prius C hybrid drives off the lot almost daily.

About Smart Motors: Founded in 1908, Smart Motors is one of the nation’s oldest automotive dealerships and the Midwest’s largest hybrid dealer. In Wisconsin, Smart Motors is the No. 1 volume dealer for both Toyota and Scion. In the Chicago region, Smart Motors is the No. 1 Prius, Prius c, and Prius v dealer. Located at 5901 Odana Road, in Madison, Smart Motors is Wisconsin’s only two-time President’s Cabinet Award recipient from Toyota Motor Sales for superior customer service and sales volume. For more information visit www.smarttoyota.com

Check out this quick video of just a small sample of our hybrid inventory!

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We Get a Charge Out of That…

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Community, Hybrids, News | Posted on 15-01-2013

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DSCN0479Now that plug-in Priuses and EVs are becoming more commonplace on our roadways the sight of one of these Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) hooked up to a public charger in the wild is no longer such an isolated event. Plug-in electrics offer many advantages, especially in city driving, including reduced gasoline use, reduced emissions and electricity costs that are less than gasoline per mile driven. So, as the technology evolves it’s not surprising to see plug-in hybrids and pure electrics catching on here in Madison.
Most owners are charging their cars at home, but here in Madison we are fortunate to have access to a network of public charging stations. Madison Gas and Electric is the biggest player with a network of 26 charging stations through-out the Madison area. Each charging station offers Level 1 charging that uses a standard 120-volt outlet and the adapter that is provided with the vehicle (auto manufacturers do not recommend using an off-the-shelf cord set and this may void the manufacturer’s warranty). The ChargePoint chargers in the MG&E network also provide Level 2 charging at 240-volts using the SAE J1772 electrical connector which is the North American standard for electric vehicles. Using a Level 1 or a Level 2 charger only changes the amount of time it takes to charge the car, not the charging cost. For example, the Prius Plug-in has a 4.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that takes 3 hours to charge with Level 1 charging (120-volts). That same charge only takes 90 minutes with Level 2 charging (240-volts).
Anyone interested in using one of MG&E’s charging stations can find a specific station and even see if it is currently in use at www.chargepoint.net . ChargePoint also offers a mobile phone app to locate and determine station availability. Another popular smartphone app for finding electric vehicle charging stations is PlugShare which is available at www.plugshare.com . PlugShare will not only help you locate public charging stations, it will also direct you to private home charging stations that the homeowner’s have made available to PEV owners (with permission).
Dave-Toso-MGECharging your vehicle at an MG&E public station is gratis for now as the utility is operating the stations free of charge within a trail period during which they are, among other things, gauging personal charging patterns and their demands on the power grid. There will be a cost in the future. As part of its Electric Vehicle Charging Research, MG&E is evaluating different cost options. Addresses for all of MG&E’s PEV charging stations in the network can be found at www.mge.com/ev . MG&E’s charge station map will also indicate which stations are ADA-compliant (American Disabilities Act) stations. Only vehicles with the proper disabled parking permits are allowed to park in these designated stalls.

250px-SAE_J1772_7058855567In addition to MG&E’s charge network, a number of local businesses have seen the value of installing charging stations for their customers who own electric vehicles. Kohl’s Department Store on Madison’s west side, Hy-Vee Grocery Stores, the east and west-side Willy Street Co-op locations and Copps in Shorewood have led the way in this regard. Other businesses, like Smart Motors have plans to install PEV charge stations for their customers in the very near future.
In practice, most people do their charging at home. Here you have the same options of Level 1 or Level 2 charging using a standard 120-volt outlet or you could install a home charging system connected to a 240-volt outlet. Check with an electrician to determine if your home is ready. Most auto manufacturers can provide information on home charging systems that are compatible with your vehicle and may even have a list of qualified electrical installers. Toyota has paired with Leviton, as an approved Electrical Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) provider for Toyota customers and dealers. Leviton offers a variety of charge equipment for home use, an extensive customer service center and deals with local, certified installers. Information and a pre-qualification survey are available online at www.toyota.leviton.com . Installation and equipment costs can range from $500 to $3000 depending on the type of equipment and the level of electrical work needed.

So, how much does it cost to charge an PEV at home? The maximum cost to charge the Prius Plug-in equals the battery capacity multiplied by MG&E’s per kilowatt-hour (kWh) electricity rate. The Prius Plug-in’s battery capacity is 4.4 kWh and MG&E charges 14₵ per kWh. So, the maximum charging cost for the Prius Plug-in is $0.62. However, the Prius Plug-in can be programed to charge over-night during off-peak hours when less electricity is used. Keep in mind, you must be enrolled in your utility’s time-of –use rate plan to take advantage of lower off-peak prices. Off-peak hours vary by rate plan and you pay more for electricity used during on-peak hours. The more energy you shift to off-peak use (not just EV charging), the more money you save!

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Driving the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle – A Better Prius!

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Community, Hybrids, News, Uncategorized | Posted on 22-10-2012

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When you get behind the wheel of the new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid (PHV) — indeed before that — the car seems very familiar.  With so many Prius models traversing our roadways these days that should not come as a surprise.  The hybrid icon is the most popular vehicle in a growing automotive segment: over half of every hybrid sold is a Prius.  This broad appeal makes the Prius an ideal platform to refine and improve Toyota’s hybrid technology.  It’s also reassuring to know that the Prius Plug-in has the reliability and dependability of Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive engineering behind it. Since the car company has well over a decade’s worth of experience figuring out how to sell a simple-to-use hybrid car to the masses, it is pretty obvious the engineers and marketers at Toyota realize these things, too!

Inside it is pretty much all standard Prius, complete with the futuristic dashboard, plenty of space and the familiar little drive selector protruding from the familiar flying-buttress raised center-console.  The driver-selectable mode switches are there too.  However, the EV mode is now a combination HV/EV switch which enables greater control over vehicle performance and efficiency.

Powering up the car, which is the same push-button experience that Prius drivers are used to, calls up a new multi-information screen, but results in very little sound — also familiar.  At start-up the car automatically defaults to EV (Electric Vehicle) mode.  The main difference here is that on the move the car isn’t so intent on getting out of EV mode as the regular Prius.  The car accelerates with reasonable power and driving up to 62 mph without the engine kicking in is a pleasant driving experience.  This experience alone is enough for many of us to figure out that this Prius is yet another step down an evolutionary timeline towards the Prius we’ve always wanted!

The new HV/EV mode extends this ability and is designed for city drivers who do not want to frustrate traffic, as in the standard Prius when they would resolutely creep away from the stop light trying to keep it in electric drive.  The HV/EV switch allows the driver to select between HV (Hybrid Vehicle) mode — which behaves like a regular Prius and EV (Electric Vehicle) mode.  An advantage of this would be when one was say, heading out on a longer highway trip.  The driver could select HV mode and the vehicle would perform like a standard 50 mpg-plus Prius on the highway.  Once the driver returned to stop-and-go city driving — they could then switch over to EV mode and the Prius Plug-in reverts back to electric-only driving. Smart, isn’t it? It’s just like a regular Prius — only better.  Driving in EV mode it is easy to think this switch makes your Prius PHV operate like an electric car, but crush the gas pedal and you’ll be quickly reminded that it is still a Prius — close to electric at times, but not quite!  

As you ease away from the curb and briskly accelerate, the most noticeable difference between the standard Prius and Plug-in model is how a hybrid-adept right foot can move the PHV forward into traffic and maintain speeds of up to 62 mph using electricity alone. The PHV’s electric/gas threshold is slightly higher than the regular car’s, but apply anything more than steady pressure on the go pedal — as might be required to enter the freeway or accelerate up a hill — and the 98-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder begins to stir to life.  Forget that it is after all, a regular Prius and press the pedal aggressively and the PHV will fire up its internal-combustion engine if you’re not careful.  In true-to-Prius form you can easily engage the gas engine at speeds well below that threshold if you punch the go pedal. Any sudden throttle input will force the combustion engine to burn some of your precious petroleum. If you’re cruising on the highway at say, 60 mph and let your speed dip to 55 and then nudge it back up to 60, you can do so on battery power. But, if you try to go from 55 to 60 more quickly (in a passing situation, for example), you will certainly start to burn gas.  Maintain a judicious, somewhat geezerly driving-style though, i.e., drive the speed limit, and a Prius PHV with a full charge can travel up to 15 miles in electric mode, which becomes considerably more pleasurable the faster one travels.  Once the battery pack is depleted, the car reverts to the conventional hybrid 50 mpg behavior of the standard Prius.

Even under full throttle, the PHV behaves like a standard Prius though a tad slower with a 0-to-60-mph time.  Blame the heavier battery pack and its ancillary hardware—which add about 330 pounds to the car — for the  slightly slower time.  But then, the Prius never has been and never will be, about driving celerity; it is more about maximum fuel economy. At the end of the drive there is PHV vindication — the driving experience is not about getting to the next stop light faster, but rather the numbers that are neatly displayed on the dashboard. Over an average week of driving it is entirely possible by utilizing multiple charging cycles, to move about the city and short highway loops powered solely by electricity much of the time.

Station[1]Every Prius Plug-in comes equipped with heated front seats, even those with fabric upholstery.  The seat heaters come in handy on those cooler days and for short trips because the heaters give you the option to not use the car’s heater.  Reduced heater (and defroster) use will have fuel economy benefits for those of us who dwell in the colder, northern climes, since the role of EV (electric vehicle drive) is diminished once the snow begins to fly.  In all practicality, this is because heater and defroster use will turn on the internal combustion engine (ICE) to supply warm coolant to the vehicle’s heater core.  This is a given. When this happens, the Prius PHV is not in EV because the engine is running, but the hybrid system is still getting more electricity from the battery-pack than it would in HV mode.  The Prius with a plug is designed to take advantage of this since the engine needs to run to supply heat during the winter anyway.  Consequently, you will not get as many pure EV miles during the colder months, but you will still get outstanding fuel economy.  Since diminished fuel economy over the winter months in the upper Midwest is a given in any vehicle, including the standard Prius, loss of EV range in cold months is to be expected.  On the positive side, hybrid system warm-up in the PHV is faster than with the regular Prius.  Also, the battery-pack can be pre-heated simply by timing your vehicle recharging to conclude close to your departure time.  Having more electricity and more motor power available will deliver a nice improvement to winter efficiency.

Just as it is behind the wheel, an obvious take-away from looking over the Plug-in’s exterior is familiarity.  The Prius PHV looks, feels and drives pretty much like the standard version of the world’s most popular hybrid.  The Plug-in does receive some important advances – ones that hardcore Prius chat-room fans will notice right away — but it’s more than obvious that Toyota’s thinking with the design of the Plug-in is evolution, not radical change.Although the changes start with the PHV’s new lithium-ion battery pack, the most noticeable changes are on the outside.  The body work is essentially that of a familiar Prius liftback, but there are subtle detail changes like an extra ‘filler cap door’ concealing the charge port.  Other detail garnishments include matte-silver door handles, front bumper and rear hatch trim with blue-tinted headlamps and 15-inch alloy wheels.

Trunk space hasn’t suffered despite the larger battery.  It is still a Prius in the cargo area, too. But one with a more potent 4.4 KWh lithium-ion battery instead of the standard 1.3 KWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack.  The specs of the hybrid system are the same as the standard Prius — combining a 98hp Atkinson-cycle gas engine with a 80hp synchronous AC electric motor with a total system output of 134hp.

The larger lithium-ion battery pack is modular in design and consists of three modules – with the middle module charging up via the inverter and the two outside modules getting their charge from an outside source.  Though much smaller than the packs used in the two of the other plug-in vehicles on the market, the Prius Plug-in’s 176-pound, 4.4-kWh battery pack is, according to Toyota, “a balance of cost, capacity and weight” and offers just enough juice for an “electric-only driving range of up to 15 miles at a maximum speed of 62 mile- per-hour”.
After you charge it up — which takes just two-and-a-half to three hours from a standard 110-volt outlet (or around 90 minutes with one of the 27 or so Level 2 chargers that are strategically placed around Madison, Wisconsin where we live) you can muster 12 to 15 miles of city driving without any emissions.  By driving with the typical Prius ‘pulse and glide’ technique it is possible under some driving conditions (undulating terrain, not too hilly) to easily attain the 15 mile range.  This is because the battery pack does receive a small amount of charge via the inverter and through regenerative braking.  Incidentally, the Prius Plug-in comes with a 24-foot all-weather charge cord that stows conveniently in a recess below the cargo hold floor.

From the driver’s seat, the Prius PHV is like any Prius in that it surrounds you with information. Only more of it! A heads-up information (HUD) display is available on the Advanced trim level, and Toyota has also re-designed some of the information you can get from the info screen on both trim levels. For example, the new multi-information display in the Prius Plug-in now includes a EV Drive Ratio display that records the ratio of driving distance covered by EV power and the Hybrid System Indicator shows possible EV driving range when in EV mode. There is also a monthly fuel consumption record available, which emphasizes the sort of futuristic, computer-based driving experience that the Prius has always encouraged. Toyota’s Entune info-tainment system — that junction where cell phone and car begin to merge is also standard equipment. Entune provides access to Pandora, iHeartRadio, Bing, Movie Tickets and OpenTable. The Advanced trim level adds Premium HDD Navigation and other plug-in vehicle-specific apps to the standard Entune system such as: Charge Management, Remote Air Conditioning System, Charging Station Map, Vehicle Finder and Eco Dashboard. There is also a way to log-in to XM Stocks — as if you need to check on all this stuff while driving!?

All in all, driving the Prius Plug-in Hybrid conveys the exact same feeling as driving a standard one. When driving is mostly confined to the city, especially when that city is as progressive as Madison, you may not ever have to use gas throughout your urban travels. Most of us would not mind topping the battery off on the move or in our garages at night (utilizing the charge management timer that is standard on the Prius PHV). Prius Plug-in owners do most of their charging, in fact, at home. Minor life-style changes like this are essentially trade-offs — in this case trips to the gas station are exchanged for frequent, mostly at-home, battery charging. And seeing the gas gauge needle barely move for weeks at a time would not be a bother to anyone! With the Prius Plug-in it seems that Toyota is targeting buyers who want a better Prius. Not necessarily the enthusiastic early adopters who have the wherewithal to pay out bigger dollars for a Tesla Roadster or a Volt, or those who desire the all-electric purity of the Leaf. Because that’s really what the Prius Plug-in Hybrid is — a better Prius.

Now let’s compare the Prius PHV to other cars with a cord: The all-electric Nissan Leaf has an official range of 73 miles from its 24-kWh pack and the Chevrolet Volt is rated at 35 miles on a full charge of its 16-kWh pack before the range-extending gas engine kicks in. In the interest of self-preservation, none of these plug-ins use all of the energy capacity that their batteries can hold.  Prius PHV covers 29% of the miles on electricity with 4.4 kWh battery. Volt covers 64% with 16 kWh battery. Which plugin makes the best use of battery? The Prius PHV covers 71% with a 50 MPG gas engine. Volt covers 36% with a 37 MPG gas engine. Which plugin makes the best of gas? It takes 10 hours to fully charge Volt with the bundled charger. It takes Prius PHV 3 hours. Gas, of course, refuels in minutes. Which plugin takes longer to refuel?

The EPA bestowed the Prius Plug-in with a fuel economy rating of 95 mpg equivalent and a rating of 50 mpg when operating only on gasoline (same as the standard Prius). Compare this to the Volt, which gets just 37 mpg combined (using premium fuel) when the battery runs out (after many more EV miles, granted!).

 

Even though the Prius Plug-in Hybrid’s pack is small compared to other plug-ins, it is clearly light years more sophisticated than the standard Prius’ 1.3-kWh nickel-metal hydride pack.  It is the battery pack that allows for a significant increase of electric-only range in stop and go city driving — the type of driving that is the hardest on fuel economy. Of all the changes to the Prius PHV, this is the one that is the most important from an evolutionary standpoint. Whether operating on battery or gasoline, the Prius Plug-in drives and handles almost exactly like the familiar, standard Prius. The only difference — gas goes in on the left side and electricity goes in on the right side!

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