Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hybrid Cars Evolve in Different Directions

The 2009 North American International Auto Show held in Detroit, the US, January 11 to 25, 2009, featured an exhibition of the 3rd-generation Prius hybrid by Toyota Motor Corp of Japan, and the new Insight hybrid from Honda Motor Co Ltd of Japan. Both automobiles use NiMH rechargeable batteries for the drive power supply, the Prius supplied by Panasonic EV Energy Co Ltd of Japan, and the Insight by Sanyo Electric Co Ltd of Japan.

Both seem to be optimistic about using Li-ion rechargeable batteries, though, and it is likely that both will make the switch in a minor model change in two or three years. Toyota Motor, in fact, has already disclosed that it will sell about 500 new Prius plug-in hybrids to corporate customers in Japan, the US and Europe at the end of 2009, mounted with Li-ion rechargeable batteries.

The displayed models clarified the different development stances taken by Toyota Motor and Honda Motor, with Toyota Motor placing the priority on fuel economy, and Honda Motor on price. The Prius has a 1.8L displacement 4-cylinder inline engine with a 60kW drive motor, combined with a 1.3kWh NiMH rechargeable battery. This represents an upgrade from the current model, increasing engine displacement from 1.5L to 1.8L, and motor output from 40kW to 60kW.

According to Akihiko Otsuka, chief engineer, Product Planning, Toyota Passenger Vehicle Development Center 2 of Toyota Motor, engine displacement was increased because "We wanted to lower the rpms and improve fuel economy.

The goal wasn't just to increase power." Fuel economy was improved by about 10% over the existing model, attaining 50 miles/gallon (about 21.3km/L) in the combined city/highway mode defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the US.

The new Insight, on the other hand, uses a 1.3L displacement 4-cylinder inline engine with a 10kW motor and a 580Wh NiMH rechargeable battery.

This is the same engine as used in the current Honda Civic Hybrid, but motor output and battery capacity have been curtailed.

The motor output was dropped from 15kW to 10kW, and rechargeable battery capacity from 869Wh to 580Wh, by dropping the battery voltage from 158V to 100.8V. EPA combined mode fuel economy is 41 miles/gallon (about 17.4km/L), or about one mile/gallon worse than the Civic Hybrid with its larger engine.

The fuel economy of the Prius is 3.8km/L higher, but the Insight has the advantage in price. The Insight is expected to sell for about Yen1.9 million, while if the new Prius is sold at about the same price as it is now, it will mean a price difference of about Yen500,000. The Insight is slated for release in Japan in February 2009, and the Prius in May.

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