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KPMG annual auto industry survey shows fears as SUV growth grinds to a halt

Auto Industry (UK)
The Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) – or 4×4 – sector appears to have become the primary casualty of high oil prices and a hardening consumer desire to purchase more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly cars. According to the annual KPMG survey of the global automotive industry, expectations for growth within the SUV sector have now hit rock bottom amongst North American industry executives, while they have also slid considerably amongst their European and Asian counterparts. Just 3% of American executives expect to see growth in the SUV sector this year, compared to 39% in Europe (down from 50% last year) and 52% in Asia.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this loss of confidence comes at the same time that 79% of the executives surveyed agreed that oil prices have now permanently changed consumers’ purchasing habits – a figure which rises even higher amongst the North American (85%) and European (84%) respondents.

On top of that, 89% of all respondents now feel that fuel efficiency will be an important factor in a consumer’s purchasing decision, ranking it as the single most important factor – ahead of quality, safety, affordability and product design.
(4 Jan 2007)

The Detroit Auto Show: Where Did the Green Go?

Joel Makower, WorldChanging
What to make of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, from which I’ve just returned?

The event — the world’s largest auto show — fills every nook and cranny of the COBO Center’s 2.4 million square feet of exhibition space. It’s a car lover’s dream — the latest and shiniest new models and concept cars, up close and personal, the scene augmented by testosterone-pounding music and flashing lights. Attractive women stand vapidly around sporty and luxury models, just in case the vehicles themselves aren’t titillating enough.

But where was the green? This year, environmentally minded vehicles and innovations seemed few and far between. The well-choreographed and elaborately staged press events focused far more on horsepower and high-technology than on hybrids and hydrogen. “Muscle” was probably the show’s most exercised buzzword.
(8 Jan 2007)

GM’s Earth-friendly Volt recharges interest in electric cars

Justin Hyde, Detroit Free Press
With the Chevrolet Volt concept that appears at the Detroit auto show media preview today, General Motors Corp. attempts to take the title of environmental technology leader from Toyota by resurrecting the electric car.

The four-door Volt uses electricity as its main power source, with a small gasoline engine that powers a generator rather than the vehicle’s wheels. GM engineers say while the Volt concept can travel 640 miles on 12 gallons of fuel, about 53 m.p.g., many drivers would rarely use gasoline at all, and some could get 150 m.p.g. in regular use.

After years of failing to deliver on promises of high-technology concepts, and antagonizing environmental groups by fighting tougher fuel economy rules, GM executives say they’re determined to reclaim an environmental mantle by putting the technology from the Volt in dealerships.

“We don’t want people to get the impression that this is a flavor of the month or a PR stunt,” said Beth Lowery, GM’s vice president of energy and environment. “We want to build transportation on a global basis, and we want to do so in a sustainable way. … We have to figure out some diverse sources of energy.”

But executives also admit the concept of the Volt and its electric drive system GM has dubbed E-Flex rest on future developments in battery technology, which GM will have to rely on outside suppliers to provide. The Volt at the Detroit show isn’t drivable; GM promises to have a self-powered Volt by mid-year.

Environmentalists say GM will have to do more than produce a show car before they believe the automaker has had a change of heart.
(7 Jan 2007)
GM’s New Electric Vehicle (MIT Technology Review)
GM Introduces Electric Vehicle System (WorldChanging)
Return trip for electric vehicles (LA Times)

Contributor Ken Clark writes:

Series hybrids like this one are probably the ultimate destination for personal motorized land transportation. This will allow two or four wheel electric drive, with one to four electric motors, no need for a transmission, and an efficient flexible-fuel engine running at maximum efficiency. This is how big SUVs will end up with 400hp, tremendous starting torque, and 30+mpg as well as small cars will reach over 100mpg. I suspect we’ll end up with microturbines instead of reciprocating engines, however. Since the drive is all electric, you can make it more electric by increasing the amount of battery capacity. It remains to be seen if GM can manage to bring it to market successfully or if someone else will eat their lunch this time as well. Not my idea of the best solution, but it will keep the wealthy countries motoring for many years.

This Guy Can Get 59 MPG in a Plain Old Accord. Beat That, Punk.

Dennis Gaffney, Mother Jones
Drafting 18-wheelers with the engine off, taking death turns at 52 miles an hour, and other lessons learned while riding shotgun with the king of the hypermilers.
On a midsummer saturday in a sprawling wisconsin parking lot, about a dozen people are milling about a candy-apple red Honda Insight. They’re watching Wayne Gerdes prepare for his run in Hybridfest’s mpg Challenge, a 20-mile race through the streets of Madison. Wayne is the odds-on favorite to win the challenge, in which drivers compete to push the automotive limits not of speed and power-a desire those gathered here consider old-fashioned and wasteful-but for the unsexy title of Most Fuel-Efficient Driver in the World.

Wayne is believed to be that driver, but he’s nervous, because all day long the hypermilers-the term Wayne invented to describe the band of brothers who push the limits of fuel efficiency-have been getting crazy-high miles-per-gallon readings, as much as 100 mpg. For the race, he’s borrowed a buddy’s Insight and, in order to decrease the car’s mass, jettisoned everything that’s not screwed down. Car detritus-a pillow, towels, cleaning supplies, a tool kit-sits neatly on a blanket on the macadam.

What can’t be jettisoned is Wayne himself, who at 6 feet 1 inch and 210 pounds looks too big to fit into this tin can two-seater. (“I would love to lose 60 pounds,” he tells me, “because it would help my mileage.”) In Wayne’s world, fuel efficiency is not about the car. It’s about the driver. Wayne doesn’t get high mpg marks by tinkering with engines or using funky fuels or even, most days, by driving a hybrid. He gets them by driving consciously-hyperconsciously.

…Drivers in four lanes are accelerating hard, weaving erratically, or grinding to a halt. To Wayne, these are the driving habits of the ignorant and the wasteful-which is to say, nearly all of us.

…Wayne’s driving obsession began after 9/11. Before then, he drove “75 miles per hour in the left-hand lane,” but in the wake of the attacks he vowed to minimize his personal consumption of Mideast oil.

…If people could see how much fuel they guzzled while driving, Wayne believes they’d quickly learn to drive more efficiently. “If the EPA would mandate [fuel consumption display (FCDs)] in every car, this country would save 20 percent on fuel overnight,” he says. “They’re not expensive for the manufacturers to put in-10 to 20 bucks-and it would save more fuel than all the laws passed in the last 25 years. All from a simple display.”

…A few minutes later, he slaps the wheel. “Damn. I forgot my ice vest.” The vest, which he uses at the nuclear plant when he has to work in really hot rooms, “is kind of my secret weapon,” he says. “You can drive at 95 degrees with an ice vest, and it doesn’t feel like 95.” Wayne expects his car will be extremely toasty during the mpg Challenge. “No electricity, no air, no fans,” he says. “No nothin’.”
(Jan/Feb 2007)
A less dramatic way to improve gas mileage drastically is to lower the maximum speed limit to 55 MPH, as was done in the 70s. -BA