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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Expanding Prius Family Amps Toyota

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Hybrids, News | Posted on 07-07-2011

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Any way you look at it, Toyota hasn’t exactly been riding the fortuitous train of late.  In a normal world the automaker would not have to deal with earthquakes and tsunamis crippling cities and disrupting power in Japan.  Not a company to rest on past accomplishments, Toyota is working day and night to get production up and in order.  Eight of Toyota’s North American-built models are already at 100 percent production.  Global output is expected to get back to normal levels by October. After September Toyota will shift focus to making-up lost production as much as possible.

While Toyota has worked tirelessly to recover operations it has also been pursuing the company’s established long-term growth strategy.  That includes developing fuel cell and electric cars, the next generation Prius as well as rolling out new compact and hybrid models within the Prius extended family.

This past May, Toyota launched the Prius ‘a’ or Prius Alpha in Japan, a sort of bigger, roomier minivan-ish Prius.  The orders poured in.  In the first month Toyota received 52,000 orders for the Alpha.  Last month Toyota sold 19,429 Prius vehicles in Japan where it has been perennially the best seller nationally.  Toyota seems to be getting their groove back.  Now Toyota has a good problem – delivering.  When earlier models of the Prius were released, buyers queued up on waiting lists for their prized Prius.  This was especially common in 2005 and 2006 when waiting lists deferred Prius gratification for most hand raisers.  Admittedly, it is a good problem to have and Toyota is prepared for it.

The North American version of the Prius Alpha will be called the Prius v (for versatile) and will be available around mid-October of this year.  The Prius v will have SUV-like cargo capacity, nearly 60% more than the current Prius.  There are 39 inches between the insides of the wheel wells, enough to accommodate dog carriers or whatever can be slid in through the tail gate.  The Prius v adds three inches of wheelbase, six inches of overall length, three inches of height and an inch of width compared with the venerable, standard Prius.  Every body panel on the 2012 Prius v is different from the standard Prius, yet it is un-mistakenly a Prius.  It drives and handles like a ‘regular ‘ Prius despite the longer wheel base.  The Prius v employs the same hybrid system as the parent Prius yet, it delivers EPA fuel economy ratings of 42 mpg combined even with the extra size.  Toyota expects that the Prius v will expand the market for potential Prius customers by up to 20 percent.  If you like the Prius and the only thing that held you back from owning one was the cargo space well,  the Prius v is your hybrid .

The second Prius sibling to be added to the line-up, the so-called ‘baby’ Prius or Prius c is headed to production.  Expect to see the Prius c (for ‘compact’ or ‘city’) by early 2012.  The compact Prius hatchback is intended to be a city-friendly vehicle that Toyota believes will be the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the market.  It will be about 20 inches shorter than the standard Prius (about 6 inches longer than the current Yaris) and employ Toyota’s new THSII hybrid system.  Target pricing for the Prius c is expected to be around the $20,000 mark.

Other advanced vehicles arriving from Toyota in 2012 will definitely require a plug-in.  It’s no surprise that one of these advanced technology vehicles from Toyota is a plug-in version of the popular Prius.  The car will have an all-electric range of 14 miles which according to Toyota is plenty of juice for most city drivers.  Once the ‘charge depleting’ portion of the PHEV Prius battery pack runs out, it just gets plugged in again.  For longer trips, the car reverts back to operating as a conventional Prius by utilizing ‘charge sustaining’ technology for regeneration.

The production version of the PHEV Prius will have a selectable EV driving mode that will be useful for trips longer than simple city driving.  This allows the driver to conserve energy for electric-only junkets.  A button will allow the driver to turn the EV mode on or off.  The production version of the PHEV Prius can also take advantage of regenerative energy to recharge the complete battery pack just like the run-of-the-mill Prius to extend the time the car can spend in EV mode.  This is an important distinction because the Prius Plug-in prototype did not allow full recharging of the whole battery pack – only the third of the pack that mimicked a regular Prius would recharge.  Now, the car’s regenerative mode will reportedly have the ability of full pack charging.  The price of the Prius Plug-in will be only a little more than a conventional Prius making it more in line with a mainstream car.

Speaking of plugging-in, Toyota is also planning to release two all-electric vehicles (EVs) for 2012.  The announcement that the RAV4 EV is destined to be reborn has generated the most ‘buzz’.  As anyone who has seen the 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car? knows the original RAV4 EV already had plenty of hard-core followers in the mid 1990s.  Toyota made the electric RAV4 from 1997 to 2003 building 1,484 of them before pulling the program’s plug after California changed its rules on the zero-emissions mandate.  Their drivers tended to be a devoted group.  They would brag about the car’s minimal maintenance and dependability, saying it was a great car for daily commutes and weekend grocery runs.  In other words — it was an ideal car for urban driving.

Last year Toyota bought a stake in Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors and immediately announced a joint venture to produce the second-generation RAV4 EV.  The re-incarnation of the RAV4 EV is a ‘no brainer’ for Toyota.  The new vehicle will have the same luggage capacity and performance similar to the gas-powered version.  The all-electric drive-train will be powered by inductive electric motors developed by Tesla.  The Panasonic-developed lithium battery will be located underneath the vehicle so as to not interfere with cargo capacity, thereby lowering the center of gravity and improving the handling over the gas-driven RAV4.  The RAV4 EV will have a range of 100 miles per charge and should be a big hit with drivers who require a more rugged vehicle with more cargo space.

At a recent dealer meeting held by Toyota in Las Vegas the company confirmed that the Prius v, c, the Plug-in Prius and the RAV 4 EV were all coming to dealerships next year.  But, the confirmation that an electric Scion iQ was also on it’s way to US dealers next year was a bit of a surprise.  The iQ is an electrified minicar with a range of 50 to 60 miles between charges.  Like the RAV 4 EV, the Scion iQ’s batteries will be located underneath the vehicle for improved handling and so they will not interfere with the car’s 3+1 layout.

The rollout of all these new advanced technology vehicles next year realizes a large part of Toyota’s ambitious expansion of the ‘green car’ market.  That’s just the start of it, next year Toyota will introduce an all-new 2012 Camry Hybrid that has been re-designed inside and out with improved technology, performance and a more refined ride.

Within the next few years Toyota is planning to launch a hybrid version of the Venza and quite likely a hybrid sports car.  To celebrate the expansion of the Prius brand Toyota plans to launch the next-gen Prius sometime in 2014.  Toyota is committed to putting a fuel cell vehicle on the road by 2015.  Furthermore, the automaker is continuously researching next-generation batteries, as well as materials to help make vehicles lighter, safe, earth-friendly and more efficient.  The company that revolutionized the auto market with the introduction of the Prius hybrid 14 years ago will continue to do the same with electrics, fuel cells and beyond.

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