Search Results

Your search for world green car returned the following results.

Small-car, clean-diesel enthusiasts will be glad to hear that the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI will be sold in the U.S. next year. Why should you be glad? Well, for starters, it was name the “World Car of the Year.” Here are the deets, if you’re in the market for a fuel-efficient car while you wait for the Nissan Leaf to be available in your town:

  • Two doors for $17,490; four doors for $19,190
  • 2.0-liter TDI clean diesel engine
  • 140 hp, 236 lb-ft of torque
  • 30 mpg city, 41 mpg highway
  • 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds
  • CFC-free air conditioning standard

Volkswagen L1 Concept

The Volkswagen L1 diesel hybrid concept created quite a stir at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show — which despite a slew of high-end exotics was more green than ever this year. Volkswagen says its one-liter concept car would be the most fuel-efficient car in the world. Actually, they say it is the most fuel-efficient car in the world, but I’ll withhold that title until the car leaves the “study” stage and reaches production.

The L1 is light, thanks to a carbon fiber body; compact like a VW Fox, and short, with a height similar to the low-slung Lamborghini Murcielago, according to Volkswagen. The hybrid has an electric motor and a teeny diesel-powered engine, plus start-stop technology for further fuel savings.

The VW L1 Concept by the numbers:

  • 837 pounds
  • 12.5 feet long; 3.75 feet wide
  • 170 mpg combined

2SSIC vs Tesla

I spent the weekend at the Wayland Invitational, an electric vehicle drag racing event held at Portland International Raceway and sanctioned by the National Electric Drag Racing Association. Didn’t know they had such a thing, did you? Well, they do, and the electric cars repeatedly beat the pants off the gasoline-powered competition. Even the little Tango surprised the fans by beating a souped-up Mustang.

The weekend’s big (and little) draw was KillaCycle, Bill Dube’s electric-powered drag motorcycle. He built it to do one thing: go fast in a straight line. And it does just that. It’s the fastest electric vehicle in the world, and I saw it turn in quarter-mile times in the 8-second range. In contrast, the Teslas that drove down from Seattle turned in consistent 12.9-second times — and they were hitting 100 mph pretty regularly.

KillaCycle also wowed the crowd by racing against a miniature version of itself. A remote-controlled electric scale model of KillaCycle lined up on the track against the monster drag bike and did its best to hold its own. Do I need to tell you that the big bike won? It did. But it was fun to watch, in any case.

KillaCycle, Tesla, and every other electric car that took the track were there to prove one thing: green doesn’t have to be slow and boring. There were a lot of surprised newbies to the EV scene in the stands who flocked to the electric race cars in the pits after their runs to find out just what the hell was going on with these battery-operated cars, and found drivers and builders happy to tell them all about it.

Last month, the WorldFirst race car hit the scene; one month later, the car hit the track and topped 130 mph. Though the car can run on the waste produced at a Cadbury chocolate processing plant in the U.K., it used a 30/70 mix of vegetable oil and conventional diesel fuel for its first run at the track, according to the New York Times.

The Formula 3-class car is based on a Lola chassis, but as much of the project as possible was converted to sustainable parts, such as a front spoiler made from potato starch and flax fiber, and a steering wheel derived from carrots.

I know on first glance that putting an electric jet ski in the water seems like a bad idea, but the folks at ECO Watercraft swear that riders of it battery-powered personal watercraft won’t end up fried. The batteries and motor will be sealed for safety.

According to the company’s web site, a seven-hour ride on a two-stroke jet ski emits “more pollution than an old model car driving 100,000 miles.” Like all EVs, the ECO Watercraft will be zero-emissions. Since it runs cleaner and quieter than even four-stroke jet skis, the ECO Watercraft should be able to run in areas where gasoline-powered jet skis are banned.

ECO Watercraft also promises to build its products in a facility powered by renewable energy and to hold “green” workshops. Details on this facility — and the jet ski itself — are scarce, as the company is still developing the product. No word even on when the EV jet ski will hit the market, but keep your eyes peeled.

Several California counties, the state of Oregon, and now Seattle have hopped on the electric interstate idea by signing EV-charging infrastructure deals with Nissan. The car company plans to introduce its EV in limited numbers next year, and it wants to have recharging stations in place.

With San Diego and Seattle on board, the ends of Interstate 5 are pinned in place with EV charging agreements. Coverage along I-5’s length is spotty so far, though, so don’t plan a road trip in your Tesla just yet. Also, as John O’Dell reported on the Green Car Advisor blog, Seattle’s hydroelectric power source makes it the first utility in the world to be able to lay claim to the carbon-neutral crown.

Nissan’s EV has been making the rounds on the West Coast lately, with the technology tucked inside a Nissan Cube. The company won’t confirm that the final vehicle design will be based on the Cube, nor will it let journalists take a peek inside the battery pack. I assume details will be coming this fall as the first versions, suitable for real-world testing, become available.

Last month, the finalists for World Green Car were announced, and now we have a winner: the Honda FCX Clarity. It beat out the Mitsubishi i MiEV and Toyota iQ for the title at the 2009 New York Auto Show.

Currently, the hydrogen fuel-cell-powered Clarity is only available for lease in California. The i MiEV and iQ are available in Japan, though Mitsubishi’s little EV is hell-bent on global domination.

Past winners of the World Green Car have been:

Photo by Kristen Hall-Geisler.

Honday Clarity

The three finalists for World Green Car of the Year have been announced, and while none of them are widely available, none of them are big surprises, either:

  • Mitsubishi i MiEV (electric)
  • Toyota iQ (gasoline)
  • Honda Clarity (hydrogen)

Only the Clarity is available in the U.S., and it’s only leased to a select few customer in certain markets. The i MiEV is sold in Japan, and the iQ is sold in both Japan and Europe. The iQ, in case you’re not familiar with this foreign-only car, is the size of a Smart ForTwo and a 1-liter gasoline engine that gets 55 mpg.

The New York Times “Wheels” blog notes that with such disparate fuels and production levels, it’s not exactly a level playing field. Nonetheless, a winner will be announced at the New York Auto Show, which is being held April 10-19.

Image of the Honda Clarity by Kristen Hall-Geisler.

iMiev in the Basement

After a couple manufacturers pulled out of the 2009 Detroit Auto Show at the last minute and the floorplan was rejiggered, there was a large, empty space leftover in the basement of the Cobo Center. What to do with it? I know! Let’s bring in trees, tulips, and shrubberies, and have alternative-fuel vehicles available for test drives!

And so I found myself in line late in the afternoon, waiting to drive the Mitsubishi iMiev. Mitsu didn’t have a booth at the show, so I didn’t think I’d get to see this little EV in person. I was happy to be wrong. It was one of the most popular vehicles to test at the show, as most of the other vehicles were new hybrid models like the Cadillac Escalade. We’ve all driven a hybrid by now, right? Journalists are so jaded.

I lugged my press-kit-filled tote bag to the driver’s side, only to find it wasn’t the driver’s side. The car isn’t manufacturered for use in the States, so it’s right-hand-drive, Japan-style. Luckily, the car is tiny, so I didn’t have far to walk to correct my mistake. Mitsubishi PR guy Moe took the passenger seat to ride along with me and answer my questions. Moe is a fairly tall guy, and he didn’t look too uncomfortable inside the car. I’m only 5′ 4″, and I fit behind the wheel just fine.

We tootled about the smooth cement track for three or four laps. Moe pointed out that there is an Economy mode that slows the starts and is 13% more efficient than regular Drive, and a Boost mode for getting up hills that makes use of regenerated braking power. The little iMiev isn’t fast by anyone’s standards, but it was hard to gauge its usefulness in the real world when I was confined to 700 feet of basement track and a maximum 10 mph.

Moe said the iMiev project started in 2004, and that a fleet of the cars is being tested worldwide, with the U.S. being a proving ground for cold-weather use. He said he’s driven the iMiev on the highway without fearing for his life or being blown all over the road. The batteries help give the little car some weight, he said; he found the gasoline-powered version of the car scarier than the EV on the highway.

The interior was pretty Spartan, with few bells and whistles. But the rear seats can fold down for extra cargo space, which is nice as long as whatever you’re loading in the back is large and airy, like, say, a balloon bouquet. Anything heavier is going to have a noticeable effect on the little motor’s get-up-and-go.

Image by me. Moe is in the passenger seat on the far side of the car.

I’ve attended about a half-dozen press conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit today — enough to give you an idea of what’s to come. I’ll have pictures and in-depth information on the models mentioned here in the next day or two.

GM: To emphasize the company’s commitment to greener powertrain technology, the Volt led the GM parade. The much-hyped range-extended electric vehicle should be market-ready by the end of 2010. The Chevy Beat microcar concept will be produced worldwide as the Chevy Spark in 2011. The surprise of the conference was the all-electric Cadillac Converj concept (nice spelling, eh?) It’s based on the Voltech system, as the company is calling it, and should have a 40-mile range.

Lexus: Toyota’s luxury arm debuted a dedicated hybrid, the HS 250 h. The “entry-level luxury vehicle” has plant-based eco-plastics, according to Lexus, throughout the interior, which is 30% recyclable. The car overall is 85% recyclable, including the batteries. It’ll be on sale in late summer 2009, but no price was announced yet.

Ford: Ford was all about its new EcoBoost engine, which is an option for the Flex right now and will be available on 90% of Ford vehicles by 2013. Bill Ford Jr. announced plans to bring four new high-mileage battery vehicles to the market by 2012, declaring it “not a test program,” but a business strategy.

Chrysler: Chrysler execs were grateful for the government bailout and weren’t afraid to show it. They brought their GEM low-power electric vehicles, plus the three ENVI electric prototypes they debuted in 2008. They also brought the new Patriot EV (the second Jeep to get the EV treatment) and the Chrysler 200c EV concept, which is packed with more hi-tech bits than an iPhone.

Bentley: The high-luxury car maker made available its corporate plans to move to flex fuels in its massive sedans and convertibles. It also announced a new biofuel car that would debut in Geneva this March. Oh, and they brought champagne. Yum.

Mini: Mini brought its E electric car and talked about its program to get a fleet of 500 test cars in Los Angeles and New York City, and it debuted a new convertible that is more fuel efficient and emits less carbon dioxide than the previous model.

That’s all for now. More press conferences tomorrow, including a new plug-in hybrid sports car concept from Fisker.

An ongoing and occasionally updated list of green car terms and acronyms.

B20, B100: Seen at diesel pumps, these designations indicate the amount of biodiesel blended with petroleum-based diesel. So B20 is 20% biodiesel, 80% low-sulfur diesel, while B100 is 100% biodiesel.

Biodiesel: Diesel fuel made at least partly from non-petroleum sources, such as used restaurant grease. Most diesel-powered vehicles can use biodiesel without conversion or alteration of the engine.

Bioethanol: A vehicle fuel based on starchy plant materials, commonly corn in the U.S. It has a lower emissions rating than petroleum. Also known as ethanol.

CAFE Standards: Corporate Average Fuel Economy. Each automaker must average the mileage of every vehicle it builds. The standards were enacted in 1975 to increase overall fuel efficiency. The standard for 2009 is 27.5 mpg for cars, 20.7 mpg for light trucks, and 23.1 mpg for trucks under 8500 pounds.

Diesel: A petroleum-based fuel that gets higher fuel efficiency than gasoline. It tends to have more tailpipe emissions, but technological innovations in the past decade have nearly erased this concern and dropped diesel emissions to near gasoline levels.

E85: A fuel blend that contains 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline.

EPA: Environmental Protection Agency. Together with the Department of Energy, the EPA issues mileage and emissions ratings for all cars sold in the U.S. See

Extended Range Electric Vehicle: A type of PHEV where the car drives entirely on electric power, but there is a small gasoline engine on board that runs a generator to provide electricity for the batteries and electric motor. The addition of the gasoline engine allows the electric motor to go further on a charge.

Ethanol: A high-octane, low-emissions fuel long used in racing. Now it’s made from renewable plant materials and can be used in regular vehicles, though it gets lower fuel economy ratings than gasoline.

EV: Electric Vehicle. These cars have only batteries and an electric motor–no gasoline or other fuel required, and no emissions are released into the air. They are refueled by plugging the batteries into an outlet.

Flex Fuel: A vehicle that can accept regular gasoline or an ethanol blend, such as E85.

Fuel Efficiency: Using the least amount of fuel to drive the farthest number of miles. This can be measured miles per gallon, which is standard in the U.S., or in gallons per mile, which is more common in the rest of the world.

Hybrid: In the automotive sense, this is a vehicle that has a gasoline-powered engine and an electric engine that work together to deliver better gas mileage, usually 40+ mpg. The batteries are recharged by systems like regenerative braking. The 1999 Honda Insight was the first commercially available hybrid; the Toyota Prius became the first popular hybrid car.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell: These cells use hydrogen gas and air to create an electrical current to power a vehicle, with only water as a byproduct. Creating an infrastructure of hydrogen fueling stations has been an obstacle to the manufacture of hydrogen-powered cars.

ICE: Internal Combustion Engine. The same old gasoline-powered engine we’ve been driving all our lives.

Liquified Natural Gas: Natural gas that has been cooled to form a transportable liquid. Vehicles that run on LNG cannot use any other type of fuel with major modifications.

Lithium Ion: A type of battery used in cell phones, laptops, and electric cars. These batteries store a lot of energy for their weight.

LNG: Liquified Natural Gas.

MPG: Miles per gallon. The number of miles a car can travel on one gallon of gasoline or other liquid fuel.

NHTSA: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA administrates the CAFE Standards, based on fuel efficiency data from the EPA.

NiCd: Nickel Cadmium, sometimes called NiCad. A type of rechargeable battery used in electric cars.

NiMH: Nickel Metal Hydride. A type of rechargeable battery used in electric cars.

PHEV: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. See Plug-in Hybrid.

Plug-in Hybrid: A vehicle that has a gasoline-powered engine and a bank of batteries that can be recharged by plugging them into an outlet. These vehicles usually use the electric motor for 40 or so miles, then the gasoline engine as a backup. The supposedly forthcoming Chevy Volt is a PHEV.

Vehicle to Grid: Technology that allows electric utility companies to reclaim small amounts of energy from plugged-in EVs. Boulder, Colorado, has a pioneering VtG program.

Water Car: Proponents of the idea of running a car on water say it’s a similar energy conversion process to hydrogen fuel cells. The conversion of energy, though, seems to lose a lot along the way, making any benefit null.

Ford Escape Hybrid

When I got back to the States after my vacation in diesel-clogged Buenos Aires, I had a Ford Escape Hybrid waiting for me to test drive. I don’t think I’ve even been so happy to see a low-emissions vehicle in my life.

Before we get to the mpg, a note on space: The Escape fit all of our suitcases, camera bags, backpacks, and whatever else in the back seat and cargo area, with plenty of space for a regular-sized driver (me) and a six-foot-plus passenger. It was far less crammed than the airline seats we had just happily left, and we had satellite radio.

On Indicator

When the Escape is started, the gasoline engine comes on, so there is an audible cue to let the driver know when to stop turning the key. In case that’s still too quiet for you, there’s the little green car-shaped light with a double-ended arrow under it in the dashboard to let you know the vehicle is ready to go. (This comes in handy when stopped at very long red lights and the gas engine drops out. The electric motor is silent, but ready to do your bidding at the green light.)

The home screen of the display has a little map, radio information, and an mpg meter. For more detailed mileage information, you can call up the HEV screen, which shows a diagram of the engine, electric motor, the battery, and the front wheels. A green outline shows which elements are in play at any time, and the status, i.e., “Idle with Charging,” is spelled out at the bottom of the screen.

HEV Screen

The Escape doesn’t have the pep of the Mini I tested a few weeks ago, but I did take it on a variety of roads — surface streets, interstates, and state roads. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get my average fuel economy to budge from 30 mpg. Wait — I did get it to 29.9 mpg while I was passing a string of trucks. This is less than the EPA combined rating of 32 mpg, but still good for an SUV. The EPA also gives it an 8 out of 10 emissions rating.

That kind of mileage and low emissions come at a price, though: the Ford Escape Hybrid starts at $29,305. Hybrids are still hard to find on the lot, as they are expensive to build and popular to buy, so price breaks and dealer incentives are going to be equally as scarce for the Escape hybrid. But if you can find and afford it, the Ford Escape hybrid is a great SUV.

This car was provided for review by the manufacturer at no cost to the reviewer.

BA BusesI was just in Buenos Aires, Argentina, enjoying long, sunny, Southern-Hemispheric days — and choking on clouds of stinky, old-fashioned diesel. While the U.S. market has diesels you can stand behind while wearing a white linen suit and not get dirty, Baires drivers still use the smelly, sooty, decidedly non-green diesel in cars, trucks, and city buses.

Compounding the massive carbon footprint left by all these old-skool engines is the rotten traffic. City streets can be as wide as twelve lanes — though lanes are mere suggestions for the citizens of Buenos Aires. Cars cram the smaller side streets, with drivers idling at red lights and honking in frustration. Even ambulances have a hard time getting through.

I saw not one hybrid or electric car on the streets in the week I spent in the city, but I did see a sign of green hope, like the single plant Eve retrieves from a ruined Earth in Wall-E (why yes, it was the in-flight movie. Why do you ask?). Argentine petroleum company YPF has billboards along the city’s streets informing the diesel-choked drivers that clean diesel is on its way.

The web site (which is in Spanish) lists the advantages of what the company is calling D-Euro diesel: cleaner combustion, more miles per gallon, and fewer emissions. The fuel will have fewer than 50 ppm of sulfur, closer to the 15 ppm in the ultra-low-sulfur diesel used in the U.S. D-Euro diesel is classified as Bin 4 in Europe.

Photo of Bs. As. buses by blmurch.

2008 Mini Cooper

In my capacity as an automotive journalist, I have driven the Mini Cooper before. Several times, as a matter of fact. But when the red 2008 Mini with black stripes was delivered on Friday, I had a mission in mind. I was going to put its EPA fuel economy estimates to the test.

The Mini Cooper in my possession for a few days had a standard 1.6-liter, 16-valve, 4-cylinder engine that could turn out 118 hp. It may not sound like much, but in a car this small, it’s enough. It also had a six-speed manual transmission, which would help in the mpg department. The test car did have sport suspension and 16-inch wheels, rather than the regular 15-inchers, but I didn’t think that would affect the fuel economy much. The EPA estimated 28 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

The morning the Mini Cooper appeared in my driveway, I was already late for lunch. I grabbed the keys, reset the mpg counter, threw the car in reverse, and tore off in the direction of the restaurant where I would meet a few friends. I did not drive responsibly. Safety was, as always, my priority, but speed came in a close second. I was surprised, on reaching the restaurant a few miles away, that I had still averaged over 32 mpg, even driving like a jerk.

Over the next few days, I drove in a much more sane way around Portland. Lots of in-town driving, some freeway, some stop-and-go traffic at 5:30. It never dipped below 30 mpg. As you can see, after five days of normal driving, I averaged 33.7 mpg. This is above the EPA’s combined rating for the Mini Cooper of 32 mpg.

Mini Cooper Fuel Economy

I have to give the car back, and it’ll be a while before I get another. BMW, which owns the Mini brand, is pulling back on its press loaners for now. In the meantime, we can all look forward to those precious few electric Mini E models coming to the States for real-world testing.

This car was provided for review by the manufacturer at no cost to the reviewer.

Smart ED at the 2008 Paris Auto Show

One of the most talked-about unveilings at the Paris auto show this month was the all-electric version of the Smart car, called the Smart ED. (That stands for Electric Drive, not the subject of those old Bob Dole commercials.) Parent company Daimler says the cars will go into production in late 2009 for delivery to “selected customers.”

Daimler leased 100 early versions of an electric Smart to Londoners earlier this year to get real-world experience with plug-in vehicles. The second phase of testing, announced last month, will take place in Berlin with another 100 cars.

The updated version seen in Paris at the auto show will have a 90-mile range, which is twice as far as the current crop of neighborhood electric vehicles will go on one charge. No word on if or when the Smart ED will show up at U.S. dealerships.

2009 Honda Insight Concept

Now that the new 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid has made its Paris debut, like any model worth her skinny jeans would do, the company has launched two new online outlets for the car.

“Latest Insight” is a blog that follows the car from debut to dealership. The design seems to be final with only the manufacturing step left to go, so I’m not sure what “journey” the bloggers at Honda will be following. You can count on posts and pics from every event and auto show the car graces, though.

Honda also launched a mini site, “Words of Hybrid,”* that showcases all of its hybrid vehicles, including the original Insight and the forthcoming CR-Z. There’s a link at the bottom of the list for a Jazz Hybrid that can’t be clicked. (The Jazz is the name of the Fit in Europe and the Middle East.) U.K. site What Car says the hybrid Jazz could reach the European market by 2010.

*You can also reach the Honda mini site by visiting Honda’s world hybrid site and clicking “Launch.”

Spooky photo of the Insight courtesy of Honda.

Zap Xebras Ready to Roll

Neighborhood electric vehicle manufacturer ZAP reported that its third quarter, which ended September 30, was its best ever, or at least since it launched the Xebra model in 2006. In fact, it shipped 200% more vehicles in the third quarter of 2008 than it did in the same quarter last year.

While this is absolutely good news — the company has even upped its workforce by 30%, something the Big Three couldn’t do this summer — it has to be put in perspective. ZAP is a small company, so a 200% increase in units shipped means 240 went out the door this summer, as opposed to 80 in 2007.

In comparison, the rest of the industry slumped hard in August. Sales were down 15.5% over last year, making it the worst August the auto industry has seen in a decade. GM’s sales were down 20%, Ford was down 27%, Toyota dropped 9% despite the popular Prius, and even steady Honda dropped 7%. But Chrysler had it the worst in August, with a 34% drop in sales.

2009 GEM Peapod

Fuel-efficient small cars like the Smart ForTwo and EVs like the Zap Xebra have a built-in cuteness due to their diminutive size. But the 2009 GEM Peapod acutally made me say, out loud, “Oh! They’re adorable.”

Like the Xebra, the Peapod is a neighborhood-electric vehicle, or NEV, so it can’t do highway speeds or ferry your family to Yellowstone for vacation (unless you live less than 30 miles from Yellowstone and have a very small family). Surprisingly, the Peapod is longer and taller than the Smart ForTwo, and even has rear seats. But the NEV’s top speed is 25 mph, where the gasoline-powered ForTwo can do a highway-capable 90 mph.

The Peapod comes from those eco-innovation lovers over at Chrysler’s ENVI outfit, the same folks who brought us the Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge EV designs in late September. The design of the latest little EV is completely new, unlike, say, the Jeep or the Town and Country minivan EVs, and features a lot of glass and a shape straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I’ve blogged about GEM before, back in the dark ages of EVs (early 2008). With the advent of the Peapod, though, the decade-old, North Dakota-based subsidiary of Chrysler got a new-ish name, GreenEcoMobility. Whatever they call themselves, this is a big improvement over GEM’s glorified golfcarts of old. And by old, I mean six months ago.

I recently got a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motor Scooters to review. Here’s the one-sentence review, in case you’re pressed for time: If you’re new to scootering, this is a great place to start, but if you’re an old hand, you won’t find much you don’t already know.

The Idiot’s Guide books are similar to the Dummies books, but they seem to rely less on lists and cartoons to get the reader through the information. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motor Scooters is arranged logically, from history to extreme scootering, and the “Contents at a Glance” pages at the front of the book make it easy to jump to the section that interests you. The end of each chapter lists “The Least You Need to Know,” in case you’re reading up on a subject as you run out the door to the scooter shop to buy an armored jacket.

TCIGMS, as we’ll call it for brevity, is an excellent resource for newbies, especially if you haven’t bought your scooter yet and are overwhelmed by the choices. It helps potential buyers decide between vintage and new; 50 cc, 150 cc, or larger engines; two-stroke or four-stroke; and more. It lists necessary gear and has pages and pages of optional gear, including decals and the like for customization (I prefer punk-rock stickers myself).

The book also deals with common questions about getting started, like registration and motorcycle endorsements on your driver’s license. It does not deal with the more advanced stuff, like scooter repair (see Part I of this post for my recent success with taking scootering to a new level), though it does have some pretty in-depth maintenance how-tos. It also includes a section in the back with tech specs for just about every scooter on the market today, which is helpful for buyers and owners alike.

The authors speak with authority. Bev Brinson is the founder of Scooter World magazine, and Bryce Ludwig is a longtime writer for the mag. They’ve written a guide to getting a scooter, riding it safely, and maintaining it. Anything beyond that is entirely up to you, scooter commuter. Armed with this kind of information, there’s nothing you and your scooter can’t do.

Australians John and Helen Taylor are on their way to a new record in fuel efficiency. The couple, who’ve been setting fuel economy records for a quarter-century, are touring the U.S. in a clean-diesel VW Jetta TDI. As of September 10, the Taylors had covered over 2,700 miles and averaged 58.78 mpg. The current record for lowest fuel consumption on a nationwide drive is 51.58 mpg, so the Taylors are in good shape so far.

They began their latest record-breaking attempt to drive across the lower 48 in Chantilly, Virginia, and will end it September 26 in Beckley, West Virginia, after looping through Vermont, Montana, California, Louisiana, and points in between. The Taylors are using fuel-saving tacticts of the sort they teach in their fuel economy workshops, like avoiding idling and high speeds, plus all the faves like checking tire pressure and planning your route.

Check out Fuel Academy, the Taylors’ web site, for posts from the road and more information about their efforts to reduce oil consumption and CO2 emissions. They hold 46 speed driving world records and 36 fuel economy world records, so it sounds like they know how to have fun while reducing their impact on the planet.

After giving us coy pictures of front corners and rear decks of the design concept, GM says they will unveil the Chevy Volt in all its production-trim glory at the company’s 100th birthday party September 16. Preproduction models will be built in 2009, with sales of the real deal expected to begin in 2010.

GM chair Bob Lutz told Automotive News Europe that the production Volt will be the “next generation global compact architecture.” For those who don’t speak Auto Industry as a first language, that means the U.S. version of the Volt will use many of the same underpinnings as GM’s upcoming world-market offerings. For examples of this design, keep an eye out for the Opel Astra and Chevy Cruze at the Paris auto show this year.

Meanwhile, according to Motor Trend, GM and the EPA are debating whether the Volt is a hybrid or an electric vehicle. The outcome will decide how fuel-economy numbers will be calculated. The car has an electric motor with a combustion engine that acts as a range extender when the batteries run out.

GM wants the car to pass the EPA’s tests using the electric motor 85% of the time, which would give it a rating of 100 mpg or more. The EPA wants the Volt to pass the tests with its batteries near full charge at the end, which would require the gasoline-powered engine to run most of the time. This calculation would drop the fuel economy to about 48 mpg. When fuel economy is your sales tool, a Prius-like 48 mpg might hurt sales of the $40,000-plus Volt.

There are two giants in the DIY auto-repair world: Chilton and Haynes. And now, for the very brave home mechanic, these two publishers have repair manuals for the Toyota Prius, 2001-2008.

Haynes offers the tradtional paper-bound book that, if you’ve ever pulled a tranny, you’ve undoubtedly seen before. (If you thought that example involved cross-dressing, do not attempt to fix your Prius. Ever.) For about $25, it covers everything from routine maintenance to emissions controls and wiring diagrams, with photos and step-by-step instructions for every procedure.

Chilton has gone all 21st-century on us with its new web site Twenty bucks will get you online access to the how-tos for maintenance and repair, with photos and illustrations to guide you through the process. This is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to hook up a wireless router in the garage and plug in your old laptop. You might want to get one of those plastic keyboard covers first.

Be warned, Prius owners: you must have a mechanical bone in your body — preferably dozens of them — to follow along with the more advanced techniques in either repair manual. But curious beginners with a reasonable understanding of how a car works should be able to start with the maintenance and work their way up to master home Prius mechanic.

Honda Insight ConceptHonda has been promising to unveil its new hybrid all week, and today, they’ve done it: the company is resurrecting its original hybrid, the Insight, which died a small death only two years ago. The new version will be a five-door, five-passenger hatchback like the Prius, with a similar starting price in the low $20,000s.

The new car looks more like a Civic or hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity and less like the old Insight, with its covered rear wheels and flat Kamm tail. Though the original only sold 17,000 units between 1999 and 2006, it was the first car to break the 70 mpg barrier. Honda expects the new Insight to sell much better, to the tune of 200,000 cars worldwide, half of which will end up in American driveways. The concept will debut at the Paris auto show, October 4-19, 2008, and be available in U.S. showrooms by April 2009.

Honda already has a hybrid version of the Civic, but the Insight will be smaller and lighter. The company also has plans to add a hybrid Fit to the lineup sometime in the future, along with a sporty hybrid based on the CR-Z.

Reva’s teensy electric car, the G-Wiz, is the best-selling EV in the U.K. The car has an owner’s club, with nearly 600 members so far, and you can park it in London for free, which saves Brit commuters nearly $2000 a year. Retailer GoinGreen can get you into a brand-new G-Wiz of your very own for about $18,000.

Granted, the cars are weird-looking. Weirder than a Smart ForTwo, anyway, but maybe not as weird as a Zap Xebra. If they’re going to drive such strange-looking vehicles, Londoners seem to think they might as well go all the way. The cars are often subjected to custom paint jobs and marketing wraps, as if they weren’t getting enough attention from passers-by.

Here, for example, is a car covered in what looks like parking garage locations:

This example is covered in lightning bolts, though it tops out at 50 mph:

GoinGreen has even partnered with a designer to produce a special-edition G-Wiz featuring one of her designs, Sunlight Through Leaves, which was on display at the London auto show this year:

So, my fellow Americans, let the Brits inspire you to fancy up your weird-looking green car, whether it’s an old Honda Insight with the covered rear wheels or a brand-new GEM with its space-age ovoid doors. Why stop at fuzzy dice and seat covers? These cheap neighborhood electric vehicles are crying out for you to put your personal stamp all over them.

Photos by Rain Rabbit, canonsnapper,  and jonanamary.

i MiEVs for Japanese UtilitiesMitsubishi announced that it has partnered with Pacific Gas and Electric to test the new all-electric i MiEV in California at the end of 2008. The utility company will test the four-passenger cars in the “real world,” and gauge the impact charging a fleet of EVs will have on the grid.

Similar testing with seven electric utility companies in Japan went so well that the company stepped up its EV program and will offer the i MiEV in Japan next summer. Global sales expectations for the car are so high that Mitsubishi has plans to build a lithium-ion battery factory that will open in April 2009. The plant will produce enough batteries to equip 10,000 vehicles.

The i MiEV is based on the Japanese-market i-series mini car, but its 47-kW motor is said to have better acceleration and performance than the 64-hp engine in the gasoline-powered version. Though a quick conversion shows 47 kW to be equal to 64 hp, electric motors have 100% torque available as soon as you press the throttle, making it seem quicker.

Keep an eye on PG&E and Mitsubishi to see how these cars play with California traffic and how soon they might reach U.S. consumers.

Hearing aid battery from PanasonicToyota’s researchers in Japan are working on using zinc air batteries for powering EVs. That’s right — batteries that create electricity out of thin air.

When oxygen from the air around us is introduced into a battery cell, it reacts with a zinc electrode to create electricity. The materials to build these batteries are cheap, and they have high energy density. So why aren’t these things powering your Mini already? Because not even a Mini is small enough to be powered by zinc air batteries. Right now, the most common use for zinc air is in hearing aids.

Despite the small size, Toyota hopes that the move from lead-acid and even lithium-ion batteries to zinc-air will blow open the doors of the EV market, providing the range and speed consumers want from a daily driver. There is a lot of possibility here — it wasn’t that long ago that li-ion batteries were only found in cell phones and laptops, not 100+ mph supercars like the Tesla Roadster.

Honda and Mitsubishi have both launched microsites on the Internet dedicated to their latest entries into the green-car market. Honda is preparing the world for its line of hybrid vehicles on its microsite, while Mitsubishi is laying the groundwork for its i MiEV concept.

Honda is expected to debut its new hybrid at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, a five-door hatchback. The as-yet-unnamed car will be offered only as a hybrid, unlike its Civic and Accord stablemates. Honda also has a hybrid sports car that debuted at the Detroit Auto Show this year, but the CR-Z, as it’s called, has a long way to go to get from car shows to showroom-floor.

Mitsubishi’s microsite introduces the i MiEV, an electric vehicle currently in fleet testing. The car is small, not much bigger than a Smart ForTwo, though Mitsu says it seats four. The car’s lithium-ion batteries are good for 80 mph max and nearly 100 miles, making it a more feasible commuter car than neighborhood EVs like the Zap Xebra or Zenn NEV.

CRAFTY BONUS: Mitsubishi has a page full of paper craft plans and instructions for building models of its cars, including the i MiEV. Seems like an excellent way to recycle that useless meeting agenda someone left on your desk this morning.

Image from RMI SolutionsSay you take the plunge and buy an electric vehicle, be it a neighborhood EV like the Zap Xebra or a supercar like the Tesla Roadster. You tool around all day, and you plug your car in at night to recharge. It only takes a couple hours to fully top up the batteries, though, even when they’re nearly depleted. Soon, you and your electric car can put those idle cycles to work while you sleep.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has published its first “Solutions” journal, which is available as a PDF. In it, they discuss the research conducted by RMI on vehicle-to-grid technology. Electric cars, with their built-in, onboard electricity storage devices (batteries, to you and me) can smooth out the power flow and provide emergency backup power:

The real benefit of electric vehicles is that they bring a new level of stability and control to the grid—including giving power back when it’s needed most (in blackouts or at times of peak demand). By some estimates, a battery-electric vehicle, with about 40 kilowatt-hours of usable energy, could power an entire residential block for over an hour if necessary.

During the 17 years that RMI conducted its V2G research, the grid in the U.S. became robust enough to handle this kind of power exchange. But RMI went further and imagined what they call a “smart grid” that can communicate with homeowners about, say, when electricity is in high demand and therefore more expensive.

There are also serious benefits, both economic and ecological, to getting more solar and wind power onto a smart grid — the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions alone would be significant. To see how all this plays out in the real world, keep an eye on the pilot project in Boulder, Colorado.