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Cost and performance

Flex-fuel vehicles (FVV) have a single fuel tank, fuel system and engine. These vehicles are designed to operate on unleaded gasoline and on alcohol fuel in any mixture. Alcohol fuels are corrosive; thus, the engine and fuel system in flex-fuel vehicles are altered slightly. There is a special sensor in the fuel line to analyze the fuel mixture and control the fuel injection and timing to adjust for varying levels of fuel compositions. (Alternative Fuels Vehicles, 2006) According to Ed Stone, fleet manager for the city of Wilmington, DE, the cost to utilize flex-fuels is significantly less expensive. Stone compared the $28,000 for a hybrid vehicle or the $4,000 in upgrades needed to retrofit an existing vehicle to use compressed natural gas and concluded that the “initial costs can’t be beat”. (Karen Lundegaard, 2006)

Bi-Fuel Vehicles have two separate fuel systems, gasoline or diesel and another for either liquefied propane gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG and LPG are stored in pressurized tanks and cannot be pumped into the gasoline tank. When accessible, low cost CNG or LBG and the bi-fuel design offer a cleaner alternative to the traditional single system fuel system. As a result of the two

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separate fuel systems and the storage tank, the bi-fuel system vehicle is costly and lacks adequate storage space. (Alternative Fuel Vehicles, 2006)

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are virtually non-polluting and energy efficient. 75% of the energy from a battery reaches the wheels of a vehicle, compared to only 20% of chemical energy in gasoline in conventional combustion vehicles. Whereas internal combustion engines must be increased to a high rpm to produce peak performance, electric motors have the ability to provide power at just about any engine speed. This results in efficient acceleration from a stop.

Cost and performance of EVs is determined by the battery in the vehicle. Batteries range from advanced lead-acid batteries, to nickel-metal hydride, to lithium polymer batteries. (Alternative Fuel Vehicles, 2006) Electro Energy is a company seeking to implement EVs technology in the Toyota Prius. James Landi, engineering manager at Electro Energy, has developed a prototype of the Toyota Prius with two new accessories; plug-in battery charger and a larger-than-stock battery pack capable of storing six kilowatt-hours of electricity. (Jim Motavalli, 2006) At this time, however, recharging the battery pack can be problematic. Home recharging systems are available but recharging sites away from home are rare. (Alternative Fuel Vehicles, 2006)

Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) are the most recent buzz in the automobile sector. FCVs will not reach the mass market before 2010 but the technology is expected to transform the transportation industry. FCVs are propelled by electric motors. Whereas battery-electric vehicles use electricity from an external source, FCVs create their own electricity. According to the fuel economy website, “Fuel cells create electricity through a chemical process using hydrogen fuel and oxygen from air.

FCVs can be fueled with pure hydrogen gas stored onboard in high-pressure tanks. They can also be fueled with hydrogen rich fuels; such as methanol, natural gas, or gasoline; but these fuels must first be converted into hydrogen gas by an onboard device called a reformer”. (Alternative Fuel Vehicles, 2006) FCVs emit a significantly smaller amount of air pollutants. FCVs have issues that must be resolved before their entry into the market. The vehicles require expensive components which lead to high cost for the customer. Also, a system needs to be developed to store the hydrogen necessary to run the cells. (Tim Scramcik, 2004)

Diesel cars and trucks are changing the previous perception that diesel vehicles are loud and odorous. As gas prices have risen dramatically over the past two years, more consumers have turned to vehicles with greater fuel economy. On average diesel cars and trucks are 20 to 30 percent more fuel efficient than cars powered by gasoline engines. (Lazarony, 2004) As a result of the lower fuel consumption, diesels emit less carbon dioxide (CO2), believed to be a contributing factor to global warming trends. (Consumer reports, 2006) Despite the lower CO2 emissions, diesels emit more particulate and oxides of nitrogen. Therefore, diesels are not considered as environmentally conscious as other fuel alternatives.

Toyota Competition

Honda is Toyota’s most formidable competitor in the hybrid category. Honda produces the only two seat hybrid on the market. The Honda Insight retails at an affordable $20,000 and is marketed as an eco-friendly, high fuel economy vehicle. The Honda Civic Hybrid is categorized with the Toyota Prius as a compact car. The Civic Hybrid was the first hybrid vehicle to achieve Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle status under California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program. The major difference in the Civic and the Prius is the Civic lacks the ability to drive exclusively on its electric motor. (Hybrid-Car, 2006) Honda has also manufactured the Accord in the hybrid model. In 2005, Honda sold more Accord Hybrids, than Ford sold Escape Hybrids. Honda proved that Hybrids can offer performance, amenities and fuel efficiency.

The Accord Hybrid, however, will lose market share with the introduction of the Toyota Camry Hybrid. The Camry Hybrid is more fuel efficient as it gets a reported 43 highway miles/gallon compared to the Accord Hybrid’s 37 highway miles/gallon. Hyundai revealed plans to release a Hybrid version of both the Accent and Sonata in 2007. Hyundai chairman Chung Mongkoo believes “Hybrids are the next-generation growth engines” and announced the company will “shift their R&D from fuel cells to hybrids”. (Hybridcars, 2006) Hyundai will develop their own design and to compete directly with Toyota and Honda.

Conversely, Nissan does not have plans to develop a Hybrid program CEO Carlos Ghosn states, “They make a nice story, but they’re not a good business story yet because the value is lower than their costs”. (Hybridcars, 2006) Nissan will introduce a Hybrid Altima in 2006, but it is simply an effort to meet fuel and emissions standards in states, such as California, that maintain stringent emissions guidelines. Volkswagen offers several diesel models. The VW Golf, VW Beatle and the VW Jetta compete directly with the Toyota Prius. Consumers do not sacrifice performance with these vehicles.

SMART is an unleaded fuel-efficient vehicle recently available on the market in the United States. The vehicle is neither electric nor Hybrid, but is competitive with current hybrids. With a tank capacity of 8.7 gallons, the 1599 pound vehicle can travel as fast as 85 mph. (Smart Cars, 2006) Closing Toyota, the second large producer of automobiles, has set the stage for years to come in several aspects of the industry. Not only has Toyota set the bar with their business model for all companies, they have paved the way for “greener” pastures for their own and worldwide economies with their technological inspiration. It will be interesting to see how this revolution, which Toyota initiated with the birth of Prius, unfolds in the years ahead.

References

Toyota Georgetown. (2006). Retrieved April 17, 2006 from http://www.toyotageorgetown.com/history.asp George Alukal. (2006). All About Lean. Quality Progress, 39(2), 74-75. Retrieved April 18, 2006, from ABI/INFORM Global database (Document ID: 991049161) Norihiki Shriouzu (2005, July 14). Mean but Lean, Toyota Seeks Outside Help; With In-House Quality Gurus in Short Supply, Automaker Turns to Its Affiliates. Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), p.B.4. Retrieved April 18, 2006, from Wall Street Journal database. (Document ID: 867761901

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