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US diesel vehicle sales are up 25% this year

07/19/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Diesel, MPG, USA

Going against popular perception, diesel vehicles are showing some pretty good pickup. The context, of course, is US sales of oil-burners. And those sales are on the rise as more Americans look to cut refueling costs via more fuel-efficient vehicles.

US clean-diesel sales through June have jumped 25 percent from a year earlier, outpacing the 4.2 percent increase of total vehicle sales, says Diesel Technology Forum, citing research from HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates. In fact, diesels, which account for about three percent of US vehicle sales now, may double that marketshare by 2018, as more Americans are attracted to a powertrain that on average delivers about 30 percent better fuel economy than similar gas-powered engines. In all, there are 46 diesel models in the US, including 27 cars and SUVs, so it's not just all about big torquey rumbling pickup trucks anymore.

Oddly, Volkswagen - a leader in the US clean diesel initiative - saw a sales decrease of about eight percent from a year earlier to about 42,000 units. That said, sister company Audi boosted diesel sales almost fourfold to more than 8,100 units. And the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel has moved almost 3,000 units through June. Check out the Diesel Technology Forum's press release, below.

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Ford not backing down on MPG-based marketing strategy

06/26/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrid, MPG, Ford

Ford C-Max Hybrid

The Blue Oval may have to back off a bit from the green messaging. Ford has had to lower fuel-economy ratings on a number of 2013 and 2014 model-year vehicles, namely its hybrids. And that may force the US automaker to rethink some of its marketing strategy, Automotive News reports.

Ford has spent much of the year pushing its fuel-efficiency improvements, with everything from a Super Bowl ad saying its Fusion Hybrid gets "almost double" the fuel efficiency of an average vehicle (after the recalculation, it's now more like 75 percent better) to claiming the Fiesta is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid in the US (it's actually the Mitsubishi Mirage) to stating the C-Max Hybrid gets better fuel economy than the Toyota Prius V (it doesn't). Nonetheless, Ford doesn't plan on changing its mpg marketing emphasis anytime soon, the company said in an e-mailed statement to AutoblogGreen.

"Providing customers great fuel economy is a key part of our Ford vehicle DNA."

"Providing customers great fuel economy is a key part of our Ford vehicle DNA," the company said. "We will continue to highlight our vehicles features and attributes in our advertising and marketing, which includes fuel economy and fuel-saving technologies like EcoBoost and hybrids."

Earlier this month, Ford said it would lower the fuel-economy ratings of models such as the C-Max, Fusion and Lincoln MKZ Hybrids as well as most of the Fiesta line because of mistakes in the company's internal testing data. It was the second change for the C-Max Hybrid.

The good news for Ford is that its fleetwide fuel economy is up almost 40 percent from a decade ago, compared to an improvement of around 23 percent for Toyota. Still, while sales of Ford hybrids and plug-ins are about even with last year through the first five months of 2014, C-Max Hybrid sales have plunged 49 percent from a year earlier.

Earlier this year, Ford admitted that the first fuel economy downgrade had a negative effect on sales and we can find proof in the numbers. Before that the change was announced, in August 2013, Ford was consistently selling over 2,000 - and sometimes over 3,000 - C-Max Hybrids a month. In September, it dropped to 1,424, then to 1,438 in October. It didn't climb back above 2,000 until May 2014. The second mpg adjustment was announced in June.

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What's this, a bipartisan proposal to increase the US gas tax?

06/25/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Legislation and Policy, USA

Summer Gasoline Prices

It would be the first federal hike in gas taxes since 1993.

One Democrat and one Republican senator are reaching across the aisle to try to solve an upcoming funding shortfall for US road improvements. Of course, it involves raising taxes, so this first step might also be the last in the journey. Early reviews are naturally mixed.

The issue is the federal road-improvement fund that's slated to go insolvent this summer. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) want to address this by proposing the first federal hike in gas taxes since 1993, Reuters reports. Specifically, the proposal is to increase per-gallon taxes on both gasoline and diesel fuel by six cents for two consecutive years. That'd bring federal gas taxes to 30.4 cents a gallon and diesel to 36.4 cents per gallon. After that, the gas tax would be tied to inflation.

Given that mid-term elections are taking place in November, there may not be much of a chance of such taxes being endorsed. Still, sources for the US Highway Trust fund have become progressively more of an issue because fleetwide fuel economy is at an all-time high. With nationwide driving plateauing, it's getting increasingly difficult for the feds to collect their pennies per gallon.

This spring, the Obama Administration sent a bill to Congress that would free up about $87 billion during the next four years for highway repairs. Late last year, a Democratic representative from Oregon, Earl Blumenauer, proposed a 15-cent gas tax increase. There is broad support outside of political circles for an increase, but his proposal went nowhere.

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Ford made three big mistakes in calculating MPG for 2013 C-Max Hybrid

06/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrid, MPG, Ford, Legislation and Policy

ford c-max hybrid 47 mpg

It's been a rough time for the official fuel economy figures for the Ford C-Max Hybrid. When the car was released in 2012, Ford made a huge deal about how it would beat the Toyota Prius V, which was rated at 42 combined miles per gallon, 44 city and 40 highway. The Ford? 47 mpg across the board.

How did Ford come to this place, where its Prius-beater turned into an also-ran?

Well, after hearing customer complaints and issuing a software update in mid-2013, then discovering a real problem with the numbers last fall and then making a big announcement last week that the fuel economy ratings of six different 2013 and 2014 model year vehicles would need to be lowered, the C-Max Hybrid has ended up at 40 combined, 42 city and 37 highway. In other words, the Prius trumps it, as daily drivers of those two vehicles have known for a long time. The changes will not only affect the window sticker, but also the effect that the C-Max Hybrid (and the five other Ford vehicles that had their fuel economy figures lowered last week) have on Ford's compliance with greenhouse gas and CAFE rules for model year 2013 and 2014.

How did Ford come to this place, where its Prius-beater turned into an also-ran? There are two technical answers to that question, which we've got below, as well as some context for how Ford's mistakes will play out in the bigger world of green vehicles.

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EcoCar2 is on the hunt for a better, cleaner Chevy Malibu [w/video]

06/13/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Biodiesel, Emerging Technologies, Ethanol, Green Culture, Hybrid, MPG, Chevrolet

The students spent three years transforming an ordinary Chevy Malibu into a revolutionary vehicle.

Not far from the building where General Motors once invented the Chevy Volt, a dozen or so college students are standing on the blacktop alongside a test track, watching a professional driver push the limits of a plug-in hybrid car they've built that's far more radical.

These students, from Colorado State University, have spent the past three years transforming an ordinary Chevy Malibu into a revolutionary vehicle. At first glance, it still looks like a regular sedan. But under the hood, they've installed a hybrid powertrain that contains both hydrogen and electric power sources. Even by the standards of the Department of Energy competition they're participating in, it's an outlier.

That's exactly what they had in mind.

"We didn't want to come here and tell them how to build a better Volt," said Tom Bradley, faculty adviser for the Colorado State team. "They already know how to do that. We can tell them how to think about these possibilities in a whole new way."

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Hyundai-Kia claims 'greenest' title from Honda, Big Three still big losers

05/28/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, USA

Union of Concerned Scientists greenest automaker ranking infographic

Let's start with the good news. On average, any new car you buy in the US today will be 43 percent cleaner than any average new car in 1998. Here's some more good news, for Korea anyway, Hyundai-Kia has been named the cleanest automaker in the latest study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which looked at 2013 model year vehicles sold between October 2012 and September 2013 from the top eight automakers (by volume). The bad news? The big three Detroit automakers are, on average, still making the dirtiest cars in the showroom.

The big three Detroit automakers are, on average, still making the dirtiest cars in the showroom.

The problem for Ford, General Motors and Chrysler lies in their trucks, which sell well but tend to have pretty bad fuel economy (compared to sedans, at least). The UCS calculates its list by averaging "the per-mile emissions for each light-duty vehicle sold by each automaker" and then factors in "the fuel economy, fuel type, and sales volume of each type of vehicle sold by each automaker" and "the upstream global warming emissions from producing and distributing the fuel used by each vehicle, as well as emissions from the vehicles themselves." That all means that, the more trucks you sell, the worse you're gonna do. Then again, the more trucks you sell with 18 mpg, the more you're helping drivers put CO2 into the air, so the UCS is doing a fair comparison of the things that this study is trying to track. More details on the methodology are available on page six of the study PDF.

In case you were wondering (we were), UCS did make sure to use the revised mpg numbers for Hyundai and Kia models that were originally overstated. Hyundai has apologized for and fixed those figures and even with the new, corrected numbers, Hyundai's total emissions are dropping at a rate of about three percent a year, enough for it to take the greenest company title for the first time.

In fact, this is the first time that an automaker other than Honda has come out on top in the UCS ranking, which has been released six times now, including the first one in 2000 (which looked at 1998 model year data). In 2010, Honda was almost knocked off the winner's perch by both Hyundai and Toyota, but managed to hold on. Chrysler, on the other hand, came in dead last (again) in the ranking of the top eight automakers, snagging the "dirtiest tailpipe" award once (again). Read the UCS' press release below.

We asked study author Dave Cooke what an automaker could do to improve its score, and he told AutoblogGreen in an email that:

Improving the fuel economy of a manufacturer's biggest sellers should be a top priority. However, boosting sales of a very green vehicle can help as well. For a good example of how both strategies would be helpful, you can look at Nissan-less than two percent of Nissan's sales are the Leaf, but since it performs so much better than the average vehicle, it is able to improve Nissan's score by one percent just by being sold. However, if you improved Nissan's top-selling vehicle, the Altima (~25 percent of sales), by about five percent, this would also give a similar level of improvement. By focusing on both improving its existing, popular vehicles and developing a "green" halo car, Nissan was able to make the most gains in reducing global warming emissions from its fleet since the last rankings.

Chrysler, you know what to do.

Continue reading Hyundai-Kia claims 'greenest' title from Honda, Big Three still big losers

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Hypermiling a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel to 38.1 mpg

05/10/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Diesel, Green Culture, MPG, Dodge, AutoblogGreen Exclusive

ram 1500 hypermile drive

You never quite know what Wayne Gerdes has up his sleeve. The man who coined the term hypermiling is always looking for adventurous ways to prove that anyone - even you... yes, you - can eke out more miles per gallon just by changing the way you drive. Saying that is easy. Proving it by going on outlandish cross-country drives is hard. But for Gerdes and his team of fuel economy fiends over at CleanMPG, hard is half the fun.

Our latest adventure appeared, at first glance, to be nearly impossible.

Which is why we always answer the phone when Gerdes calls. He likes to take journalists along on his drives, not only to try teach us how to hypermile but also to prove that we can be taught. The first time I 'helped' him and his team was when we got over 30 miles per gallon in a 2011 Ford F-150 XLT with the EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6. The EPA rated that truck with at just 16 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. So, we'll count that trip as a success.

Next up was a cross-country drive last fall in a trio of Audi TDI vehicles to prove that you don't need to drive extra slow to beat the EPA numbers. In fact, we made it from Los Angeles to New York City in just over 46 hours, cramped but not cranky. We had once again proven that how you drive is hugely important to your fuel usage.

Our latest adventure appeared, at first glance, to be nearly impossible. The EPA says that the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel we would be driving gets just 22 combined mpg (19 city and 27 highway). Gerdes' idea was to drive it as far north from Houston, TX towards Detroit, MI as we could go on one tank. The day before we left, our itinerary got an extra stop. Instead of taking one of the official Shell Eco-marathon prototype vehicles to Detroit, it was decided to bring the winning diesel-powered prototype from the just-finished event to The Henry Ford Museum, where it had been arranged the car would be displayed. The winning car was built by a small team (just four students) from Sullivan High School in Sullivan, IN, who managed to beat a number of college teams with a score of 1,899.32 mpg. That target would be a bit out of reach for the Ram, but could we get 1,000 miles from the tank? Since the truck has a 26 gallon tank (officially, anyway), that would mean the EPA says we could only go 702 miles, assuming all highway driving. Could we make up 300 miles with careful driving? That spells both challenge and fun.

Continue reading Hypermiling a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel to 38.1 mpg

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Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2014: Students find upsides pretty much everywhere

05/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Diesel, Emerging Technologies, Ethanol, EV/Plug-in, Green Culture, Hydrogen, MPG, AutoblogGreen Exclusive, Natural Gas

Shell Eco-marathon 2014

The skies threatened rain, but aside from a few fat drops struggling down through the Texas air, the track remained dry through the end of the 2014 Shell Eco-marathon Americas. Given the haphazard way some of the vehicle bodies were held together - a bit of velcro or pieces of tape doing the job door hinges do on normal cars - this was a very good thing. The dry roads also meant that all of the teams were competing on an even footing, in this one aspect at least. After all, the 100-plus college and high school teams came to downtown Houston, TX this past weekend from across North, Central and South America and from a wide variety of backgrounds. Given wildly difference school sizes, team sizes and budgets, the students all had on thing in common beyond the dry road: true passion for achieving high efficiency.

There were failures everywhere but also a whole lot of successes.

There were first-time teams, there were veterans. There were schools that took inspiration from the movies with cars based on Back To The Future and the Indiana Jones movies and some that went for the most efficient shape they could CAD. There was a middle school student who talked her way onto a high school team. There were seniors giving the Eco-marathon one last go before graduation. There were failures everywhere but also a whole lot of successes.

This year, we thought we'd learn a bit more about the students and their stories. Last year, we reported an in-depth story on how the Eco-marathon works, which you can read here. Basically, to recap, the students try to expend the least amount of energy while covering the most distance. Within the rules, which emphasize safety, there is a lot of freedom for the teams to experiment, which is why you see all sorts of vehicles running around the track. Not a lot has changed, ruleswise, from last year, aside from the addition of gas-to-liquid as a possible fuel and a rules change for EVs that we'll get to in a moment. You can find the complete 2014 results here, but the headline number is that Laval University, from Canada, won the gasoline prototype category with 2823.41 miles per gallon. The University of Toronto Supermileage team was close behind with 2711.97 mpg. Given the distances covered and the way the small amount of fuel burned gets measured, that's basically a tie. That's how the Toronto team tells it, anyway.

Continue reading Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2014: Students find upsides pretty much everywhere

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EPA says automakers ahead of schedule for 54.5 MPG by 2025

04/27/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Legislation and Policy, USA

Worst Traffic

Remember, the target is 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Today, the CAFE level is a little over 30. How we get from here to there is something the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is monitoring closely. Thus, the EPA just released an annual flash report on how the auto industry is progressing towards meeting the nation's fuel economy goals.

Overall, the industry is doing almost 10 grams per mile (equivalent) better than the rules require.

The good news is that the industry is a bit ahead of schedule. In the report (see page iii), the EPA breaks things down by automaker based only on MY12 numbers. Tesla is at the top of the list (which is ranked by over-compliance with 2012MY CO2 standards), but for our money, the real leader is Toyota. The Japanese automaker built the second-highest number of vehicles (2,020,248, after General Motors' 2,364,374) but racked up the most net 2012 over-compliance credits (13,163,009 metric tons). That's an average of over 6.5 metric tons per vehicle. The next closest is Honda, with just over five metric tons of credits per vehicle. Given the MPG fiasco with Hyundai and Kia, the EPA says, "we are excluding Hyundai and Kia data because of the ongoing investigation into their testing methods," but overall, the rest of the industry has credits worth 25,053,168 metric tons of CO2, which means it's doing almost 10 grams per mile (equivalent) better than the rules require. Go team.

For now, the numbers in this report (and there are a lot more of them - get the 59-page PDF for yourself here), can't really be used to understand everything from the first year of the new CAFE program. The EPA writes, "Because the program allows credits and deficits to be carried into future years, at the close of the 2012 model year no manufacturer is considered to be out of compliance with the program. ... Compliance with the 2012 model year standards can't be fully assessed until the end of the 2015 model year."

There are a more interesting tidbits in the report, such as the fact that Fisker produced 1,415 model year 2012 vehicles, Tesla made 2,952. Remember, too, that CAFE numbers don't equal the fuel economy you see in your daily drives. In the real world, the 54.5 CAFE level will be about 40 mpg, and the average fuel economy today is around 25 mpg, so we have a ways to go, no matter how you measure it.

Continue reading EPA says automakers ahead of schedule for 54.5 MPG by 2025

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Ford F-150, Toyota Tacoma top ASG list of most eco-friendly trucks

04/01/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Ford

Ford F-150

No one's going to confuse the massively popular Ford F-150 pickup truck with a green vehicle, but at least it performs well in an environmental sense when compared to its brethren. The Automotive Science Group (ASG) took on the odd (to us, at least) task of measuring which pickup trucks are friendliest to the environment and found that the big seller in the Blue Oval's flagship F-series came up big, while the Toyota Tacoma came up, well, slightly smaller. That's a good thing.

Among the 245 light-duty trucks that ASG studied, the 3.7-liter V6-powered F-150 won ASG's award for full-size trucks for both regular and crew cabs. Meanwhile, the 2.7-liter Toyota Tacoma, with its fuel-economy rating of 23 miles per gallon combined, had smallest overall life-cycle carbon footprint and won ASG's two mid-sized categories. Finally, the Chevrolet Silverado won best all-around performance in the full-size extended-cab category. The ASG factored in eco-friendliness, price and social performance (which is measured by, "considering the rights of those charged with vehicle manufacture and assembly") to come up with its findings.

Sales of Ford's F-Series trucks rose 8.4 percent last year to 74,592 units and accounted for more than a third of the total 2013 sales of Ford and its Lincoln unit. Check out the ASG's press release below.

Continue reading Ford F-150, Toyota Tacoma top ASG list of most eco-friendly trucks

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