Friday, November 18, 2011

Fuel sipping technology is here

Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4: world's first diesel-electric hybid gets up to 74 mpg.

I have never personally owned a car with anything other than a four cylinder engine. I never saw the need. The reason for the awkward phrasing is that my wife owned a used, six cylinder Chevrolet Lumina once.

An early gas sipper from the '60s.
I have always been offended by gas guzzlers. In the '60s my brother-in-law and I used to compete in fuel economy runs. One year the winning entry was a Renault 4. The driver inflated the tires until they were rock hard to lower rolling resistance, he trimmed the carburetor to burn a leaner fuel mix and when approaching a red light he turned the car off, letting it coast. If the light changed while still coasting, he popped the clutch to restart. With all these gas-saving contortions, his little car came close to hitting the magic 100 miles per gallon number.

When I worked at The London Free Press, I drove a lot for work. I experimented for a time with a compressed natural gas (CNG) powered car. I bought an American-made, compact and converted it to a bi-fuel car burning both natural gas and, at the flick of a switch, unleaded gasoline. When I drove outside of London I found I burned far more gasoline than CNG as there were almost no stations offering natural gas.

The CNG conversion was a disaster. It was the most expensive car I have ever owned. It cost a fortune to keep on the road. Whether or not the conversion caused a lot of the engine problems, I will never know. But GM would not cover the costs as the conversion put the car outside of the warranty. The CNG conversion folk said my problems were not their concern. The problem, they said, was with the GM engineering.

But, I do know the engineering of my early compressed natural gas system was poor. The engine burned through fuel at a phenomenal rate. I could fill the CNG tank in my trunk up to three times a day. And it took forever to fill, well five minutes, but it seemed like forever. And the car always reeked of natural gas.

I wish I had had an emission test done on that engine. My guess is it was emitting a lot of unburnt hydro carbons. I'm convinced it a fuel sucking, world polluting pig.

Today, Honda sells a fine CNG powered Civic but not in Ontario, Canada, where I live. It's no wonder they don't sell them here, almost all the stations that once sold CNG are closed. Here, in London, there is only one station left. There aren't a dozen public refueling stations in the whole province. As the technology has improved, the availability of the fuel has dried up.

Now, I'm retired and suffering from a serious heart condition. My car purchase in late summer may be my last kick at the green-car can. I wanted a Prius but my wife hated, absolutely hated, its look. Oh well, I had some nagging doubts about how green all those batteries would prove to be in the end. I bowed to her wishes and scratched the Prius off my list.

In the end, I settled on the latest Volkswagen Jetta TDI (turbo direct injection diesel). All I can say is, "Wow!" In the almost three months I have been driving the Jetta, my overall fuel consumption has averaged 41.3 mpg. (Those are imperial gallons; That's 34.4 mpg in U.S. gallons.) My most impressive number is 55.1 mpg achieved on a round-trip to Sarnia. It was mostly freeway driving but there was a fair amount of city driving in Sarnia on account of construction closing the freeway.

There was one car on my dream list that I had to drop from consideration early on: The Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid diesel. The car will not be released in Europe until late in 2012, and Volvo has announced that it will never be released in North American. Volvo believes the diesel component of this hybrid would kill United States sales. Pity.

I honestly believe that there are technological answers to North America's propensity to guzzle gas. The NA vehicle fleet gets better mpg today compared to historical numbers, but still, we could do much better.

Unfortunately, technology today costs money and with the economy only sputtering along, missing on a number of cylinders, buying a smooth running, technologically advanced car is not an affordable option for many. My TDI was not cheap. It is thousands more than a plain vanilla Jetta with a small gasoline engine.

The newest Mazda 3, when equipped with an optional Skyactiv-g engine, gets up to 55 mpg in Canada. And to get that great mileage, you will be asked to pay a great price.  Like my Jetta, the top-of-the-line Mazda 3 Skyactiv-g is paired with a new transmission. According to Road and Track, "the 2012 Mazda 3 with the new automatic is 21 percent more efficient that the car it replaces."

The 'g' tacked onto Skyactiv with a hyphen stands for gasoline. I understand that in Europe and in Japan Mazda offers a Skyactiv-d engine with the 'd' standing for diesel. R & T reports: ". . . withing 15 to 18 months, Mazda will have a diesel passenger vehicle on sale here in America. We're betting it's the CX-5 with Skyactiv-D."

If you are curious about my TDI and how it is performing, I'm writing a long term blog about owning a TDI. For more info on diesel vehicles, and hybrids, too, check out the HybridCars site. The U.S. government has a page devoted to diesel-powered cars.

3008 HYbrid4 from Pascal BUSOLIN on Vimeo.

In Europe, Peugeot recently released the 3008 HYbrid4, the world’s first diesel-fueled hybrid, returns up to 74 mpg according to some car reviewers. This car is economical – and four-wheel drive. In winter conditions, it can selectively apply the brake to the wheel with the least amount of grip for better control.

Why is this technology only seen on European roads?

For me, when it comes to delivering high fuel mileage wrapped in an incredibly stylish package, the Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid diesel promises to be the car to drool over. (I've posted a video.) Volvo claims 50 km of in-city-driving in the electric powered mode. I could do most of my driving without burning a drop of fuel! In Europe, although not in North America, hybrid diesels are somewhat common in large, public transit buses.

1 comment:

  1. Received as an e-mail from someone who will remain anonymous: "My experience with a (then) state-of-the-art French car was not a happy one. It needed frequent, very costly repairs. But, chacun a son gout."