fuel economy

You are currently browsing articles tagged fuel economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency published its official gas mileage numbers for the 2010 model year, including the leaders in each segment. Guess who won overall? Yeah, it was no contest, and no surprise: the 2010 Toyota Prius, with its 51 city/48 highway rating beat all the competition.

The other thing to note about the list is that out of ten cars with top fuel economy, only one is not a hybrid, the Smart ForTwo. If you take a gander at the top two cars in each category at FuelEconomy.gov, the fuel type varies a bit more, with Audi and Volkswagen scoring well with their diesel wagons.

  1. Toyota Prius Hybrid: 51/48
  2. Ford Fusion Hybrid: 41/36
  3. Honda Civic Hybrid: 40/45
  4. Honda Insight Hybrid: 40/43
  5. Lexus 250h Hybrid: 35/34
  6. Nissan Altima Hybrid: 35/33
  7. Ford Escape Hybrid: 34/31
  8. Smart ForTwo: 33/41
  9. Toyota Camry Hybrid: 33/34
  10. Lexus RX450h Hybrid: 32/28

Let’s start with what you want to know about the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: I drove it for one week on city streets and freeways, in traffic and on clear stretches, and got a combined 37 mpg.

There are two things I love about the Fusion Hybrid: the LCD instrument cluster and its car-like appearance. The instrument cluster is as addictive as a video game — even though its designers were asked to tone done the gamey-ness of it. A green box to the left of the speedometer pops up when driving to let you know when you’re using EV mode, and I was obsessed with driving under battery power alone as much as possible. Not just for the good of the environment, mind you. Eco-friendly driving earns you a bushel of leaves over on the right side of the LCD screen. I wanted leaves! More leaves!

The exterior styling might not strike some people as anything to write home about, which is exactly why I like it. Personally, I prefer a bit more adventuresome designs, but the Fusion Hybrid looks like a regular car, not a lunar lander. This is a four-door sedan my mom, or even my grandmother, would feel comfortable tooling around in. The change from electric to gas power and back again is seamless, as is the start/stop technology.

When you turn the car off, the LCD readouts slide behind the speedometer and a trip summary pops up so you can see the number of leaves you earned and get detailed numbers on your fuel consumption. I delighted in telling everyone things like, “I drove all the way here — 12.5 miles — and only used .2 gallons of gas.” Everyone I told this to suppressed an eye roll, which I appreciate.

2010 Ford Fusion Specs

  • 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine
  • CVT transmission (no gears)
  • Full hybrid with regenerative braking
  • EPA fuel economy: 41 mpg city, 36 mpg highway
  • My fuel economy: 37 mpg combined
  • MSRP as tested: $27,270

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

The U.S. House of Representatives took delivery of its first hybrid today, and what do you think it was? A Toyota Prius? A Honda Insight? A Ford Fusion? None of the above, it turns out. They got a Peterbilt Model 330 Hybrid Electric Truck.

The big, bad Peterbilt will be used to haul furniture and office supplies around the Washington, D.C., metro area with 30% better fuel efficiency and reduced tailpipe emissions. The truck is built in Texas, making it a home-grown green-power win. The plan, according to Daniel Beard, Chief Administrative Officer for the House, is to replace their aging fleet with newer, low-emissions vehicles.

In advance of its German debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show, Fisker announced that its Fisker Karma will have lower carbon dioxide emissions than any other production car on the street today. The company also released estimated fuel cost for the plug-in hybrid.

Here are the Fisker Karma numbers you need to know:

  • 67 miles per gallon
  • 83 grams of CO2 per km
  • 3 cents per mile in Stealth (electric-only) mode
  • 7 cents per mile in Stealth and Sport (gasoline) mode
  • 2010 launch date

The Society of Automobile Engineers, better known as SAE International, has issued a new challenge to college students studying engineering: build a better, cleaner snowmobile.

The rules for the competition have been recently posted, and the goal is to get better fuel economy. Entries can run on biodiesel, ethanol, or, in the zero-emissions category, on electricity. The snowmobiles will be rated in categories like emissions, noise, and acceleration.The idea is to make internal combustion snowmobiles suitable for use in fragile natural areas, like in national parks. The quieter and cleaner a machine is, the less it will disturb both plant and animal life.

The goal for the zero-emissions category is even more specific: make a snowmobile that won’t skew the research being done at Summit Station in Greenland. Scientists there are working to understand the absorption of atmospheric gases by the ice cap, and any emissions from fossil fuels burned at the site can mess up the results of their measurements.

Can we expect to see any of these in the local Sno-Cat dealership? Probably. The SAE seems to expect that the biodiesel and ethanol versions would be pretty cheap to build for retail sale, and that they’d do pretty well on the showroom floor. Hybrids aren’t allowed in this competition for just that reason — the system is too expensive to be worth it for manufacturers or buyers at this point.

The federal CARS rebate program — better known as Cash for Clunkers — came to an early end today, for the second time. The program, which started July 1 despite having no set guidelines for dealers or buyers, quickly ran out of funds. When The Rule, as the government’s Cash for Clunkers clarification was called, was published in late July outlining requirements and restrictions, buyers eagerly hopped on the bandwagon and exhausted the original $1 billion set aside for the program.

Congress acted fast and added $2 billion more to the program before its summer recess, but the money wasn’t enough to sustain CARS through its intended end date in November. As of Sunday night, Cash for Clunkers was over, with no extensions in sight. Thanks to red tape and the sheer number of people who used the program to ditch their old car and buy a shiny new one, many dealerships put the brakes on CARS at the end of last week.

What’s next for the auto industry? Let’s hope its an infusion of cash for hybrids, electric cars, trains, public transportation, and — hell, why not? — bike riding safety courses for newbies. That’s my post-CARS dream world; what’s yours? Leave it in the comments.

Solar Gard says it’s got the solution for sun-warmed cars: a film that covers the windows and keeps the interior cool. And a cool interior, the theory goes, doesn’t require the air conditioning to run at full blast to make it habitable, saving you gas in the process.

The Ultra Performance film from Solar Gard lets 76% of visible light through, according to the New York Times, while blocking out 99% of UV rays. (Save your skin and gas!) The company’s web site points out that the film can also be used to keep houses cool and lower a/c costs at home.

In addition to saving fuel by not having to blast the a/c, it also saves wear and tear on the cooling system, which means fewer breakdowns, leaks, and replacements, none of which do Mother Earth any favors.

UPDATE: Solar Gard contacted me to make a correction — the Solar Gard film consists of layers of nano particles and a dyed application process in one layer of film. The film doesn’t have to be layered to block out nearly all UV rays, as I had originally written. Thanks for the correction, Bill! – www.GoodGreenCars.com

I recently bought a new computer, and I noticed that the box the sales associate put in my cart had a sticker reading “SmartWay Transport Partnership.” It had the same leaf-and-road logo as the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay auto certification program, so I thought I’d look into it.

It turns out it’s no big secret, the SmartWay Transportation Partnership. The agency has partnered with the trucking industry to reduce fuel consumption and polluting emissions, including carbon dioxide. The aim is to save 3.3 to 6.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel per year, which amounts to about 150 million barrels of oil.

How can they get there? There are a few strategies, some of which are easier to do than others:

  • Limit the amount of time truck engines are left to idle
  • Improve aerodynamics to increase fuel economy
  • Better trip planning to use less fuel
  • Automatic tire inflation systems
  • Use trucks with hybrid powertrains, or at least start-stop technology

The EPA keeps a long list of SmartWay Transport partners, which includes hundreds of trucking companies. If your green business has grown to the point where you need to get product further than the craft fair downtown, this may be a good resource. Consumers like me notice those little SmartWay stickers, you know.

The latest online app to help drivers track fuel economy comes from Moblu. The site asks for your vehicle’s year, make and model then requires you to create a user name and password.

Where, you might be asking, does the social networking come in? Moblu uses your Twitter user name (no Twitter password required) to share your mileage with other Tweeple. Moblu users can record events that might affect gas mileage, like “Changed Tire Pressure” or “Lots of Highway Driving.” You can also record a fill-up, calculate mileage for a road trip, and find fellow Moblu users on the site.

Clicking on “My Garage” shows fellow Moblu cars, with actual mileage, trends, and number of fill-ups. You can choose to follow anyone who looks interesting, or keep tabs on your friends’ fuel economy.

Michelin has announced its new tire, the Energy Saver A/S, calling it “the most fuel-efficient tire on the road.” It promises up to 8% better fuel economy and reduced carbon dioxide emissions for any car that uses the tire, plus Michelin says its even offers better braking capabilities than other tires.

Here’s the Energy Saver’s claims to fame:

  • New construction and tread rubber keep the tire cooler, delivering the 8% increase in mpgs
  • Stops 8 feet shorter than similar tires
  • Longer tread life means fewer tires get tossed in the garbage
  • Available for conventional and hybrid cars

The tires are in the $140-$150 range per tire, depending on the size required for your car. Definitely not cheap, but if you can swing it, they may save on gas in the long run in addition to helping reduce CO2 emissions.

Ford couldn’t have picked a better day to throw a party for its fuel-efficient, turbocharged, direct-inject EcoBoost engine — the same day President Obama announced his new fuel economy standards.

The 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine will go on sale this summer in the Ford Flex, Ford Taurus SHO, Lincoln MKS, and Lincoln MKT. According to Ford, the V6 is able to deliver V8 performance in a smaller, more fuel-efficient package.

For 2010, though, Ford will introduce an inline-four EcoBoost engine with even more emphasis on mpg over hp. No models have officially been named for the smaller EcoBoost engine, though the Ford Fusion sedan may be a candidate, according to Automotive News.

Image of drag racing Fords with EcoBoost engines courtesy of Ford Motor Company.

The 2009 Audi Q7 TDI is being billed as “the world’s cleanest diesel SUV,” with 50-state emissions compliance and 17 city/25 highway fuel economy. It’s not cheap to buy race-proven diesel technology in an SUV, though: the Q7 TDI starts at $50,900. This doesn’t include the $825 destination charge, but it also doesn’t factor in the $1,150 Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit from the IRS.

In addition to getting 600 miles per tank, the diesel engine delivers significantly more torque, which is useful for those who actually utilize their sports utility vehicles, say, when climbing a steep hill. The Q7 also produces 25% less carbon dioxide than gasoline engines and emits 90% fewer nitrogen oxides than the stinky, old diesels of yore, according to Audi.

On March 26, President Barack Obama pushed new fuel economy regulations for 2011 through the Department of Transportation. The regulations give some teeth to an initiative begun by the Bush administration to reduce emissions and our dependence on foreign oil.

The new standards were drafted quickly to give automakers time to retool production lines to meet the requirements. The 2011 model year was targeted so that the accelerated standards could be implemented quickly while not affecting the aggressive plans Obama has for future fuel economy and emissions standards.

Here’s how the mpgs will play out in 2011:

  • Passenger cars (sedans, compacts, etc.) must average 30.2 mpg
  • Light trucks (pickups, SUVs, etc.) must average 24.1 mpg
  • National fuel savings: 900 million gallons
  • Cost to the auto industry: $1.4 billion

These are small increases — smaller even than in the Bush proposal — that are expected to be met with little drama by embattled U.S. auto makers. Keep an eye on California, though, as it’s allowed to set its own fuel economy standards in the next few months, along with any other state that should fancy cleaner air and less time at the gas station.

2009 Nissan Versa

The 2009 Nissan Versa 1.8 S hatchback I tested for a week was cute, bare-bones, fairly cheap — and it got fantastic gas mileage. Really. Here’s how my week went:

The car was a bright-blue hatchback, with bubbly corners and lights. The first thing I noticed was that I had to use the key to get in. No remote keyless entrey here. Seats were manual, windows were manual, locks were manual. It had a basic stereo with decent-enough speakers, and enough room for me but the knees of tall passengers were up against the glovebox. We didn’t try the rear seat.

Without a couple extras like the ABS package, this car could be had for $13,990. As tested, it cost $15,200, which seemed a tad spendy to me for such a Spartan little econobox.

Then, the night before the Versa was to leave my hands, I pulled into the gas station to top it off. I’d driven just over 100 miles almost entirely on surface streets, which used about a quarter tank’s worth of gas. I took my receipt, did the math, and came up with a whopping 32 mpg — on streets! No highway trips this week, no cruise control. With stops and starts and traffic included (though no serious snarls), I got the EPA’s upper estimate for the Versa.

This is the car for people who don’t care what they drive as long as it’s cheap, it’s safe, and it sips gas.

  • 2009 Nissan Versa 1.8 S HB
  • As tested: $15,200, including destination charge
  • 1.8L four-cylinder engine, EPA rated 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
  • 6.8 tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually

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

2009 Honda Fit

The 2009 Honda Fit five-door sport is indeed go. I had a Revolution Orange number this week, and I tooled around town quite happily. There was enough punch for merging onto the highway, and it was as easy to park as a Mini Cooper. It was also impossible to park it in, though a UPS truck tried its hardest outside the coffee shop. Those short, rounded front corners can skirt just about anything.

The test car I had was fitted with a nav system that flipped open to reveal the slot for the CD player. Creature comforts were few, but it did have power windows and door locks. I’m not sure the little wing at the top of the hatchback kept the rear tires stuck to the road, but it added to the car’s sporty looks.

Surprisingly, the car didn’t live up to its EPA fuel economy estimates while it was in my hands. I’m not a crazed driver, but I also didn’t make an effort to drive in a fuel-friendly way (the Fit doesn’t have the eco-nanny feature that the new Insight has). There was an mpg minder in the dash, but it was small and I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it.

Honda Fit Speedo and MPG

After a week of mostly in-town driving, I got 22.1 mpg. The EPA estimates the car a 27 mpg city, 33 highway. I fell far short of its combined rating of 30 mpg, probably thanks to the 30-minute traffic jam I ran into outside Adidas headquarters. All that idling wrecked my mileage.

  • 2009 Honda Fit Sport
  • As tested, $19,430, including destination charge
  • 1.5L gasoline engine rated 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway
  • 6.1 tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually

Images by Kristen Hall-Geisler.

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

Chevy Malibu Hybrid

The Chevy Malibu Hybrid is the gas-sipping car for people who don’t want to look like an eco-freak. It’s a pretty big four-door sedan with lots of space, a solid feel, and comfy seats. Grandparents and salespeople will love this car. It’s not an incognito hybrid, though: there’s the green hybrid badge on the trunk and a large hybrid decal at the top of the back window.

This car got a little extra testing this week, as we got a load of snow dumped on us here in the Pacific Northwest. I drove the hybrid — carefully — on slick and snowy streets when it was safe. The traction control worked beautifully as long as I was going slowly. When the snow got deep, though, the Malibu stayed parked in the driveway for five days.

As a result of driving in less than optimal conditions, I didn’t get the best mileage. The EPA says the Malibu Hybrid should turn in 26 city, 34 highway, but I averaged in the low 20s in the time I had the car. The most helpful green feature in nasty weather was the automatic shutoff, which was indicated by a flashing green “ECO” light in the dashboard. The Eco mode shut down and restarted smoothly.

The Chevy Malibu Hybrid starts at $26,345, which seems par for the hybrid course. If it makes you, the consumer, feel any better, it’s not the most expensive Malibu trim level available. There’s a 3.6-liter V6 LTZ version that starts at over $26,000, making the hybrid look like a good value all around. Too bad Chevy lists it as having “Very limited availability.”

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

In my review of the Honda Civic Hybrid, I mentioned that my fuel economy was nearly 10 mpg lower than the EPA estimates, and wondered if it had to do with the cold temperatures that week. Could freezing temps have an effect on the batteries or the electric motor? Or was I imagining things?

I checked in with my informal panel of experts, the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association, whose members drive hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and EVs. According to these road-tested experts, I wasn’t imagining things, but I didn’t have the whole story.

First of all, Oregon adds ethanol to the gasoline in winter, which reduces fuel economy by about 4%, which I had forgotten about. Second, the snow and gravel would increase friction, which would lower the mpgs. Hybrids also lose energy heating up the whole engine and keeping it warm. Hybrid drivers can combat the drop in mpgs by turning off the defrost and heat while idling to get the gasoline engine to shut off as it does in more pleasant weather.

Several OEVA members also mentioned that everyone, hybrid and conventional car drivers alike, have been driving more carefully in the snow and ice. The techniques we use to avoid sliding into parked cars are the same ones that save gas overall and extend the range of electric vehicles:

  • Start very slowly
  • Take your foot off the gas far from the stop sign
  • Keep a huge gap between your front bumper and the next car’s rear bumper

One final word of caution: Hybrids are usually fitted with low-rolling-resistance tires to maximize the mpgs. These are pretty awful in winter weather, so if you’ve got a hybrid and live in an area that sees a fair amount of fluffy white stuff, it’s probably worth it to invest in a set of snow tires.

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid

The first thing to note about my week with the Honda Civic Hybrid was that it was very cold. Not negative-degrees cold, but well below freezing cold. I wondered if the hybrid engine or fuel economy would suffer when the car and the street were icy. I’m not sure if it was the weather or my driving, but my mpgs came in way below the EPA estimate.

Over the week, I drove about 120 miles, and I managed to average 31.5 mpg combined city, highway, and icy roads. The EPA rates the Civic Hybrid at 40 city, 45 highway. Handling, however, wasn’t compromised, and I was glad to have stability assist, ABS, and 4- and 5-star crash ratings. Not that I crashed. The car is just fine. I’m an excellent driver.

The Honda Civic Hybrid makes heavy use of its Integrated Motor Assist technology, which uses an electronic motor mounted between the gasoline engine and the transmission for extra power. Honda says the electric motor can propel the car from a stop to 35 mph, but I had a hard time keeping the internal combustion engine from kicking in, no matter how carefully I drove.

The car does have an auto stop feature that cuts the gasoline engine out almost as soon as the car is stopped, and it starts back up seamlessly when it’s needed. A blinking green “Auto Stop” indicator in the dash lets the driver know that the car is supposed to be absolutely silent.

The poor-ish mileage was my only complaint with the Honda, and that was likely a function of the weather, not the car. But if you live in an area with regular harsh winters, you may only get 30 or 35 mpg with the Civic Hybrid. Keep in mind, though, that these days we’re calling anything above 30 mpg pretty good.

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

The New Oxford American Dictionary has chosen “hypermiling” as its 2008 word of the year, beating out such other neologisms as “staycation” and “frugalista.” The word was apparently coined in 2004 by Wayne Gerdes, who runs the web site CleanMPG.com.

In honor of hypermilings achievements as both a word and a lifestyle in 2008, here are the top 10 hypermiling techniques:

  1. Do not idle. Shut the engine off if you’re going to be waiting for 30 seconds or more.
  2. Do not accelerate quickly. You’ve heard it before: no jackrabbit starts from stop lights.
  3. Properly inflate your tires. Keeping air in your tires reduces friction and increases fuel economy.
  4. Take ‘er easy. There’s a reason the feds set the speed limit at 55 during the gas crisis of the 1970s — it’s the best speed for the best mileage on the highway.
  5. Clear out the car. Every pound counts, so clear out anything that isn’t needed, especially if it’s on the roof, where it can create drag.
  6. Keep it in tune. Oil changes, regular maintenance, and the like will keep your mpgs as high as possible.
  7. Ride the ridges. In bad weather, drive with your tires on the higher center of the road and the white line to stay out of the rain- or snow-filled ruts. Be careful with this one.
  8. Make a trip chain. Don’t run six separate errands; do one trip with six stops to keep the engine warm.
  9. Make right turns. Do like UPS does: plan your route to have as many right turns as possible to minimize idling time while waiting for traffic to clear for your left turn.
  10. Hybrids only: Maximize the electric motor. Start slow and keep the car running under electric power for as long as you can, usually up to 35 or 40 mph.

Oh, Americans, when will we ever learn? We the people freaked out during the spring and summer of 2008, when gas prices hit $4 a gallon, and bought small, low-gas-mileage, low-emissions, Earth-friendlier vehicles by the boatload. Small cars that had languished on dealership lots for months were snapped up in seconds as the price of gasoline climbed. And heaven forbid you had a Mini Cooper or hybrid on your shopping list. They were scarcer than hens’ teeth.

In the wake of this fuel economy frenzy, articles were written (including one by me) about the plight of the large truck. Pickups and SUVs were left on the lot by new-car buyers, despite deep discounts and dealer incentives to get these things to go away and make room for the smaller cars people wanted.

But now, though we all talk a good eco-game, truck sales are inching back up. This despite the fact that all signs point to the current low-ish price of gas being an anomaly. Not to mention that whole reducing the ol’ carbon footprint idea. Here are the top five vehicles ranked by sales in May and November, according to industry publication Automotive News, with city and highway mileage plus the annual carbon dioxide output numbers from the EPA:

May 2008

  1. Honda Civic (53,299 sold, 25/36, 6.3 tons of CO2)
  2. Toyota Corolla (52,826, 26/35, 7.3 tons of CO2)
  3. Toyota Camry (51,291, 21/31, 7.3 tons of CO2)
  4. Honda Accord (43,728, 21/31, 7.7 tons of CO2)
  5. Ford F series (42,973, 14/19, 11.4 tons of CO2)

November 2008

  1. Ford F series (37,911)
  2. Chevy Silverado (29,534, 15 city/20 hwy, 10.8 tons of CO2)
  3. Toyota Camry (25,224)
  4. Toyota Corolla (21,807)
  5. Honda Civic (17,690)

Nissan Altima Hybrid

The first thing to note about the Nissan Altima Hybrid is that it makes use of the Toyota hybrid system. Nissan is working on its own proprietary hybrid system, but in order to enter the HEV market ASAP, they leased the technology from Toyota and dropped it into the Altima, giving the car an EPA mileage rating of 35 city, 33 highway. Not too shabby for a four-door sedan.

Ready LightBut not too smooth, either. The Altima hybrid has a keyless, push-button start. It only takes a second to turn the car on, and a green “ready” light lets the driver know the electric motor is good to go. A few seconds later, though, whether you need it or not, the gasoline engine kicks in — very noticeably. The first time it happened, I wondered if I had done something wrong.

Since the hybrid system was thrown into the Nissan Altima almost on a whim, the gauges lack the depth of fuel economy information seen in other hybrids. The center gauge does display “EV Mode” when the car is running under electric power only, which makes for a fun mpg challenge for the driver. The key is to stay in EV Mode for as long as possible, or to get EV Mode to kick in while driving around. I found that with careful pedal work, I could do most of my Christmas shopping on electric power. That was cool.

EV Mode

The Nissan Altima Hybrid gets good marks for its safety — five-star ratings for front and side crashes — and its low carbon footprint. But the integration of the hybrid system into the existing Altima leaves a lot to be desired, especially at a base price of $25,070. I assume the Nissan hybrid system of the future will work more seamlessly in its own cars.

Top image courtesy Nissan USA.

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

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.

1999 Chevy PrizmThe stalwart Consumer Reports has come up with a list of a dozen or so used cars that get great mileage. The list is divided into two categories, under $10,000 and between $10,000 and $20,000. There’s no mention of tailpipe emissions, so the focus is on the price of gas, not the ecological impact of the vehicles.

The hybrid 2000 Honda Insight tops the fuel economy numbers at 51 mpg for under $10,000, but there were only about 17,000 of these cars in the country even while it was still being produced. Good luck finding one now — especially for that price. You might be better off socking your down payment away in a savings account and waiting for the reincarnated Insight hybrid to arrive in dealerships next spring.

It’s interesting to note that the cars are as old as a 1998 Mazda Protege LX and as new as a 2007 Honda Fit Sport with a manual transmission, but even more interesting is the fact that one lone American car, the 1998-2002 Chevy Prizm, made the list. It can be snagged for less than $10,000, and it gets a respectable 32 mpg.

CR, being the people’s advocate that it is, points out that the older cars on the list lack some safety features common in new cars, like ABS and side-curtain airbags. Check out MSN Autos for the full list.

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 www.GoodGreenCars.com 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.

NASCAR has become the latest partner of the Driver $marter Challenge, a campaign to increase awareness about the little steps we can all take to increase our fuel economy, no matter what we drive. (Readers of www.GoodGreenCars.com know all about these tips — the tires, the excess weight, the speed limit obeying.) Other partners include 3M, Con Edison, and Exxon Mobil.

NASCAR will give the challenge props on its reality show, “NASCAR Angels,” on its weekly radio show “NASCAR Performance Live,” and in podcasts by the likes of Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the Mobil 1 Dodge.  Driver $marter calls NASCAR “a leader in promoting conservation messages,” which I’m not sure is the most apt description of the race organizations eco-efforts.

But race teams would do well to improve their own fuel economy. As I mentioned a few months ago, they’re feeling the pinch of fuel prices — if not the pangs of guilt at sucking up the earth’s resources — at the track, in testing, and in team transportation.

Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR

The National Automobiles Dealers Association — the same people who print price guides for everything from new cars to snowmobiles — is urging new car and truck dealers to to offer free Green Checkups to anyone who drives onto the lot.

The association’s new web site, Green Driving USA, lists the spots dealers will check for you, all of which focus on fuel economy. Here’s a smattering of the dozen or so points they’ll take a look at:

  • Tire inflation
  • Air filter
  • Motor oil
  • Excess weight
  • They’ll even check up on your driving habits

The site has green driving tips, sales figures for hybrids and small cars, and a glossary of green terms, from “acid rain,” which is so 1980s, to the latest buzzwords, like “xeriscape.”

The NY Times reported last weekend on a dozen autos you might not expect to get such great gas mileage. Among their picks was a Corvette, which I can tell you first-hand gets better gas mileage than you’d expect, at 26 mpg on the highway — if you drive it reasonably and responsibly. But who does that in a Corvette?

Here’s the Times’s list with combined miles per gallon, but you’ll want to read the whole list on the newspaper’s Web site. Reporter Lawrence Ulrich includes everything from tiny econoboxes to full-size SUVs and pickups. He purposefully left out the obvious, like the Prius and Honda Civic, to focus on overlooked models in broad categories.

  • Toyota Camry Hybrid, 34 mpg
  • Volkswagen Jetta TDI, 33 mpg
  • Mini Cooper, 29 mpg
  • Nissan Versa, 27 mpg
  • Honda Accord coupe, 24 mpg
  • Toyota RAV-4, 24 mpg
  • Mazda 5, 23 mpg
  • BMW 328i, 22 mpg
  • Toyota Tacoma, 21 mpg
  • Chevy Corvette, 19 mpg
  • Ford Flex, 19 mpg
  • Mercedes-Benz GL320 Bluetec, 19 mpg

Now 10% Cleaner!I don’t mean GM has found a way to turn corporate bluster into a fuel source, though that would ease the burden of the price of gasoline. A while back, the Department of Energy issued a challenge to automakers. It asked them to improve fuel economy by 10% using nothing but wasted exhaust heat to help power the vehicle.

GM, with BMW close on its heels, has developed a thermoelectric generator that could create enough electricity to augment or replace the usual alternator in a gasoline-powered car. Thermoelectric devices can use temperature differences to create electricity. When one side of the generator is heated, electrons move to the cooler side. The movement creates a current, which is collected by electrodes and converted to electricity.

The GM prototype is set to be tested in a Chevy Suburban next year, where a 10% fuel economy boost would mean a 1-mpg improvement. In a small car like the Chevy Aveo (the Suburban’s exact opposite), the boost could be enough to put its combined economy over 30 mpg. BMW and its research partner Ohio State University will run tests of its prototype next year, too.

New online app Fuelly allows users to record mileage, track it over time, share it over the network with other Fuelly users, and compare fuel economy to EPA numbers. Do it from your desktop or take on the go with your iPhone or other mobile, Web-lovin’ technological wonder.

There are currently, as of the minute I’m writing this post, 1,981 cars registered with the site. Interesting note: there are more Jettas using Fuelly (71) than Priuses (34), and more Civics (157) than any other model. There’s one Ferrari Testarossa listed, but right now it says it gets 200,000 mpg after one fill-up. I find that hard to believe.

The site also offers gas-saving tips, most of which I’ve covered over at sister site RiverWired.com, but they always bear repeating. And there’s a forum for asking questions and posting your own fuel-saving tips.

Nissan Altima HybridNissan announced that a new device called the ECO Pedal will be available on some of its 2009 models. The pedal will let the driver know that he may be using more fuel than necessary by pushing back on his foot a little. There’s also a little green “ECO” light in the dash to help you learn to use fuel wisely rather than wastefully.

Nissan says the ECO Pedal can earn a driver as much as 5-10% better fuel economy. They didn’t say which models will receive the new technology, or even which countries might get it.

In the meantime, U.S. car buyers can count on the Nissan Altima hybrid for 2009, which was named one of the top 10 green cars by Kelly Blue Book. The company just announced pricing for the hybrid at $26,650, and the EPA rated it at 35 city/33 highway.

PHEV PriusPlug-In Supply in Petaluma, California, is selling plug-in conversion kits for the Toyota Prius for the low, low price of $4,995. How can they sell it so cheap? First, that’s the price of the kit only, no shipping or installation included; second, they’re using CalCars Open Source Prius+ Technology as the basis of the conversion.

For you do-it-yourselfers and engineers out there, the kit includes lead-acid batteries and the box to hold them, charger, and wire harness. There’s also a switch you can flip to operate your Prius on battery power up to 52 mph — 10 mph higher than an unmodfied Prius. The converted PHEV can then run 10-15 miles on electricity before the gasoline engine kicks in, giving you 100+ mpg. Plug-In Supply even designed the kit to be upgraded to lithium-iron-phosphate batteries for longer range, when they become available.

There are currently only a handful of dealers where you can buy the kit and lug it home, but Plug-In Supply is looking for more. Those nine dealers already on board stretch from California to Florida and New Jersey, though, so you might be able to find one not too far from home.

Automakers have dreamed up a new all-green event to coincide with the wildly popular Woodward Dream Cruise. They call it NextCruise, and it will debut in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, with a public preview Friday, August 15 and activities Saturday, August 16.

Photo by Niall KennedyNine automakers have signed up — General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Volkswagen — plus Bridgestone and the the IndyCar and American Le Mans racing series. All the participants aim to prove that green technology is clean, comfy, and cruise-worthy with displays and free 15-minute test drives.

Hybrids and clean diesels will make up the bulk of the event, in contrast to the cars rolling along Woodward Avenue at the14th annual Woodward Dream Cruise. Classic and muscle cars both pristine and hot-rodded will cruise from Ferndale, Michigan, to Pontiac in one of the largest vintage car cruises in the country. If anybody needs to be convinced of the fun to be had in low-emissions vehicles, it’s these guys.

MyGallons.com promises that users can buy gas at today’s price and fill up in the future. Once the service is completely up and running (right now, you can reserve an account but not yet use it), users create an account, receive a MyGallons card, and check the web site for the current price of gas. You’ll be able to click a button to prepay for as many gallons of gas as you like.

The prices quoted on MyGallons are all regular unleaded. If you fill up with premium or diesel, the company will adjust your balance to account for that. If you’re out of town and the price of a gallon of gas is significantly lower — or higher — than your hometown price, MyGallons will adjust for that, too.

A program like MyGallons is designed to hopefully save you money — not gas. Having a prepaid fuel-only card will not improve your fuel economy. You may in fact get worse mileage out of your car if you drive like you know you paid less for that tank of gas.

Something to keep in mind: Tara Baukus Mello, lead analyst for the NADA Guides, told me in an interview that they don’t expect gas prices to rise any more this year, and they may even drop a little. Not a lot, but a little. With the price of gas in such flux, I’d check my crystal ball twice before prepaying for gas.

Photo of Nissan Versa courtesy NissanNissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says that Nissan has joined forces with the Tennesee Valley Authority to promote zero-emissions vehicles, including EVs. The collaborators expect to have a full-scale electric vehicle project in place by 2011.

Ghosn has previously committed Nissan to introducing zero-emissions cars of one kind or another in the U.S. by 2010 and globally by 2012. The company has made similar deals with Isreal, Denmark, and Portugal as part of its zero-emissions plan. TVA is the largest public power supplier in the U.S., and it seems to be eager to usher in the use of EVs, especially if they can charge overnight during inexpensive off-peak hours.

As a side note, Nissan will be shifting production from trucks like the Titan and Frontier to smaller, more fuel-efficient four-cylinder cars. Sound familiar, Ford? Of course it does. Nissan has a 30-day supply of passenger cars available right now, but a 6-month supply of pickups. They’re aiming to get that balance shifted ASAP.

Ford Fiesta ECOnetic

After a disastrous second quarter, Ford announced that they’re going to build fewer trucks and SUVs and import six small cars that the company’s been selling in Europe. Consumers, and the dealers who can’t move SUVs off their lots, are chomping at the bit to get these more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Ford Focus and Fiesta sedans and hatchbacks currently on the streets of Paris and London will be available in the U.S. in 2009-2010. At the same time, three truck plants — two in the U.S. and one in Mexico — will switch over to building the small cars that are currently in such short supply. I can’t help but think that a little bit of foresight on Ford’s part could have saved them from their worst quarter ever, which just ended with a total loss of $8.7 billion.

If we’re lucky, we Americans will get the latest Fiesta, the ECOnetic, which debuted in London July 22. It gets the best fuel economy in the company at 3.7 l/100 km, which on this side of the pond is an amazing 63.5 mpg. It also has the lowest CO2 output in its class, at 98g/km, yet it still has a top speed of 110 mph.

Tesla Roadster

The government released its latest fuel economy numbers, and one company was clearly at the head of the class. Telsa Motors, builders of the all-electric Roadster, rated a corporation-wide fuel economy of 244 mpg. The federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard is currently 27.5, so Tesla left that figure in the dust.

2008 models across the board, though, only rated 26.8. In 2007, the overall rating was 26.6, so that’s not a big improvement.

Analysts say the feds need to figure out a more fair way of comparing alternative-fuel vehicles to their conventional, gasoline-powered counterparts. The numbers are pretty revealing as they are, though. Handicapping EVs and other vehicles running on more efficient fuels to make the combustion engine look better seems misleading.

Tesla isn’t worried, obviously. They plan on selling their surplus CAFE credits as soon as they’re allowed to trade them with lower-scoring auto manufactuers.

In other Tesla news, the production line is cranking out Roadsters, after a fashion. There are 27 being assembled as of July 12, with a goal of 100 a month being produced by December of this year. The company has also opened its second store, this one in the San Francisco Bay area, with another four to come in the near future.

Image courtesy of Tesla (and the car is a different color! Not red!).