GirlDriver, USA

GirlDriver, USA
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2012 Camry Hybrid Cranking at a higher FE

I drove the 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid for a week recently. I logged 641.6 comfortable miles and averaged 37.4 mpg. I was quite happy with the functions in the car and the mileage, (EPA rating is 31 city/35 highway, combined 33). Like all of us, I wince when I put those fill-ups on my credit card. But, the whole trip cost only around $65 in gas, not a big blip on the monthly statement.

The story gets better with the 2012 model. Much of the hybrid powertrain is new--including the engine. The new hybrid system has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that delivers 200 horsepower. Toyota has also reduced the weight of the hybrid by 220 pounds. The improvements give you better fuel economy, fewer emissions and also faster acceleration--7.6 seconds from 0-60. Fuel economy jumps to 43 city/41 highway, the best mileage of any midsize sedan available today, with a range of 650 miles.

Along with improvements, the Camry Hybrid LE will cost less. Toyota has reduced the price $1,150 to an MSRP of $25,900. The premium Camry Hybrid XLE model is $800 less with an upgrade package at an MSRP of $27,400. As equipped, the 2011 vehicle I drove cost $29,420. The hybrids arrive at dealerships in November; the gas-powered Camrys arrive October 3rd.

The 2012 Camry, with three powertrains, including the hybrid was introduced on August 23. The Camry. which debuted in the U.S. in 1983, has been a big success story for Toyota. Globally the car has sold 15 million since its introduction. It has been the best selling midsize sedan for nine years running and 13 out of the last 14 years. The earthquake and tsunami, Toyota's unintended acceleration nightmare, as well as increased competition contributed to a 31 percent decline is Camry sales from its best sales year 2007. It is still the best selling mid-size sedan with total sales last year of 327,804.

Serious competition from competitors is one problem that isn't going to go away. Hyundai sells a Sonata hybrid. Volkswagen has a Passat hybrid coming in 2013. And these days, those two companies seem to be the ones to worry about. Toyota, which faced criticism for not making a bolder new design with the 2012, defends its evolutionary approach. Bob Carter, Carter Group Vice President and General Manager, Toyota Division was quoted saying, "Styling like the Sonata's is not a quick way to get to 400,000 sales."

Toyota's reputation has been battered over the last year. But I wonder how many of its competitors could have held up as well under the pressure. Years of steadfast reliability have helped the company. I would worry about the coming competition, not only from VW and Hyundai, but from other manufacturers like Kia, GM, Nissan and Honda. Still Toyota is a strong company. And the Camry, with so many loyal owners, will survive. It may not have the record sales of 2007, but it will be strong.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Andy Pilgrim Shows Parents "Driving Skills That Kill" in His New PSAs

I met Andy Pilgrim at the Oregon Raceway over a year ago. Andy has won 5 Championships and 61 races so far in his professional racing career, has also been in the role of a factory driver racing BMWs and Porsches. He has raced for GM in Corvettes, Pontiacs (remember Pontiac?) and Cadillacs and is currently part of the Cadillace team for SCCA Pro Racing with the CTS-V Coupe.

When I got to the Oregon Raceway, a new and technical course, I was tired from the day-before travel from the East Coast and that day's all-day drive. I drove the Volvo S60 on the track, did one lap and handed over my keys. I knew in my gut I shouldn't be out on the track, but I didn't want to give in. At dinner that night I confessed my self-disappointment to Andy that I couldn't burn some rubber. If I wasn't 100 percent, I shouldn't be out there, he told me and then confessed he doesn't go on the track when he's tired either. Well, that put my little trauma in perspective.

Driving is serious business not business as usual. Our attention should be on the road 100%. Andy has a foundation whose mission is to teach new drivers good driving skills. Young drivers, not surprisingly, learn a lot of their driving habits from parents--parents who put on make up, talk on the phone, get into heated discussions and succumb to other distractions while driving. Parents: your kids are watching.

Andy has just completed three PSAs that are available for download at his foundation website, They are designed to help parents. Check them out and drive carefully and attentively.

New Technology For Keeping Tires Inflated On Its Way

So many people don't know how much fuel economy they lose from under-inflated tires. Seriously, how many friends do you have who check their tires religiously?

But the estimates for a decrease in fuel economy run from 2.5 percent to 3.3 percent per mile for underinflated tires. A vehicle that gets 40 miles per gallon would get less than 39 miles per gallon at 3.3 percent. That translates to about 12 cents per gallon at today's prices.

But when you stop for gas, do you really feel like checking the PSI in your tires? Do you even think of it? Do you have time? It's one of those things that's so easy to put off.

Goodyear has a new technology under development that could help to make underinflated tires a thing of the past. It's working on something called Air Maintenance Technology (AMT). Miniaturized pumps, that will keep tires inflated to their correct PSI at all times, will be fully contained within the tires eliminating the need for external pumps and electronics. I once asked a GM engineer to name the worst technology in recent years and without hesitation she said, "the tire pressure monitoring system."

So presumably with Goodyear's AMT system, all those annoying warnings about your tire pressure that are both scary and inaccurate would go away. That alone is good news. But if we calculate the elimination of "low" tires relative to fuel savings, this could have a substantial impact on CO2.

No doubt these tires will be expensive, but would there be a case--like the argument that diesel eventually pays for the frontloaded cost by saving fuel and lasting longer--that you will make up the difference in fuel cost savings? We won't know until the technology is in the market.

Goodyear is speeding up its research in light of new government mandates for higher fuel economy. They don't say when the technology will be available. But the U.S. Department of Energy and the government of Luxembourg have given Goodyear grants to pursue the development.

Goodyear is also working, along with many other tire companies, on developing lower rolling resistance tires.