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Fiamp Charging

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s call-in show, “Think Out Loud,” was about the future of the automotive industry this morning. The program focused on the state of Oregon, and most of the guests and callers were from the state, but the show had a lot to say about where personal transportation is headed in the next decade for the entire U.S.

The show, which aired Monday, December 1, was called “A Sustainable Auto Industry.” Guests included John Viera, Director of Ford Sustainable Business Strategies; Mark Perry, Director of Product Planning for Nissan North America; a representative from Governor Kulongoski’s office; and an assistant professor at Oregon State University’s College of Business. So they had their bases covered.

Highlights of the show (though you should listen to the whole thing):

  • Viera says Ford will not go back to making so many trucks, no matter what the price of gas is. The company apparently is trying to learn its lesson and produce for the tomorrow instead of yesterday.
  • Perry says Oregon will be one of the first launch markets for its new EVs in 2010. Yay!
  • He also said Nissan wants to have 10% of its sales to be EVs by 2020 — that’s about 100,000 vehicles in the U.S.
  • My favorite phrase came from Chris Warner, Kulongoski’s transportation adviser. He says there is no silver bullet, only “silver buckshot,” which includes alternative fuel cars, bikes, walking, public transportation, and whatever else the future holds.

A lot of basic alternative-fuel questions were answered, like shifting emissions from the tailpipe to the smokestack, and the recyclability of electric-vehicle batteries. It’s a good listen for newbies and alt-vehicle veterans alike.

A Sustainable Auto Industry

Inifiti Hybrid Prototype

Three of Japan’s largest car manufacturers have all made announcements recently about their future hybrid plans. Here’s a quick recap, in order of each hybrid’s expected release date:

April 2009 — Honda’s Hybrid

Honda’s Prius-fighting five-door hybrid-only model will see showroom floors next April, according to the company’s American executive VP Dick Colliver. He also said the new hybrid, which doesn’t have an official name yet, will be cheaper than the Prius. Honda plans to build 200,000 of the car globally, with about half of them to be sold in the U.S.

Sometime in 2010 — Nissan’s Hybrid

The first car to carry Nissan’s in-house hybrid technology (its previous hybrids used a system leased from Toyota) will be badged as an upscale Inifiti. The new hybrid features a lithium-ion battery and a V6 engine, but Nissan engineers say there are still some kinks to be worked out before the car hits the streets, notably a lag when the gasoline engine kicked in.

By 2020 — Toyota’s Full Line of Hybrids

The manager of Toyota’s advance powertrain program said at a seminar recently that the company plans to have hybrids in each of its product lines at the end of the next decade. He added that the 1 million hybrid Toyotas sold so far have saved 7 million tons of carbon monoxide emissions, and that the company wants to continue to develop cleaner powertrains. Toyota’s also working to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology to complement its domination in the hybrid market.

Nissan has commited itself to its Green Program 2010, and it keeps making strides toward meeting its goals. This week, it previewed its EV and hybrid technologies, though not any final designs for the cars these powertrains will power.

Nissan EV PrototypeThe electric vehicle will be based on an array of lithium-ion batteries installed under the floor to allow for maxium passenger and cargo space. Though no one outside the company knows what the EV might look like when it hits the market in 2010, it won’t look like anything Nissan currently offers, according to the company.

The hybrid will carry Nissan’s own, recently developed technology instead of the hybrid tech it’s been leasing from Toyota to power the Altima. The HEV will have regenerative braking and power assist like most hybrids on the road right now. The difference is in its parallel powertrain, which has two clutches to improve fuel efficiency, or so Nissan says.

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.

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.