Thursday, November 30, 2006

GM To Introduce Plug-In Hybrid SUV!

OK, so this doesn't have much to do with politics, but it fits with my interests in technology and environmental issues:

Next year General Motors will introduce plug-in hybrid version of the Saturn Vue sport-utility vehicle. A plug-in hybrid lets you charge its batteries by plugging it into a regular electrical outlet overnight. For short trips, like city commuting, a plug-in hybrid uses little or no gas. It gives you all the environmental and cost advantages of a true electric car for shorter trips, while still having a gas engine for longer trips.

Most American made hybrids are crap, and I don't know if the Saturn Vue will be any better. The Japanese have nearly a decade's head start on the technology, so the real importance of GM's move is that it puts pressure on Toyota and Honda to make plug-in versions of their own hybrids. Both manufacturers have been resisting calls to do so, claiming there's no market for plug-in hybrids.

Toyota could produce plug-in hybrids quickly and with minimal R&D and production costs if it wanted to. The design of current Toyota hybrids lends itself to this because most of the necessary pieces are already there. You can actually covert a Toyota Prius into a plug-in hybrid yourself, but it's technically demanding. There are also after-market conversion kits and services, but they're not cheap.

Unfortunately the technology Honda uses it its hybrids can't be easily modified to work as a plug-in, so it'll take Honda a lot longer to get into this market.

We're starting to think about replacing our trusty old Honda Civic, but we're going to wait until we can get a good plug-in hybrid. I suggest you do the same when it comes time to get a new car.

The best place to learn more about plug-in hybrids is CalCars, which is "a group of entrepreneurs, environmentalists, engineers and other citizens working to spur adoption of efficient, non-polluting automotive technologies." It's a good organization doing important work.

No comments: