NHTSA Findings on UA on Toyota.com

Toyota Statement in Response to NHTSA/NASA Study

Feb. 8, 2011 — In response to the publication by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of an extensive review of the electronic throttle control systems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, conducted with the assistance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s Chief Quality Officer for North America, said:
“Toyota welcomes the findings of NASA and NHTSA regarding our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i) and we appreciate the thoroughness of their review.  We believe this rigorous scientific analysis by some of America’s foremost engineers should further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles.  We hope this important study will help put to rest unsupported speculation about Toyota’s ETCS-i, which is well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real world, un-commanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur.
“We will continue to develop and equip Toyota and Lexus vehicles with industry-leading safety technologies, including many based on breakthroughs in sophisticated electronics systems.  We will also continue to cooperate fully with NHTSA and respected outside experts in order to help ensure that our customers have the utmost confidence in the safety and reliability of our vehicles.  Everyone at Toyota – all 30,000 of our team members in the United States and the many thousands of Americans at our dealers and suppliers across the country – is focused on listening to our customers and constantly improving our products and service.”

Regarding the safety and reliability of Toyota vehicles with ETCS-i, the company also noted:

•    Electronic throttle control systems have long been standard across the automobile industry, and they provide great benefits to consumers.
•    Toyota’s ETCS-i has performed reliably in more than 40 million cars and trucks sold around the world, including more than 16 million in the United States.
•    This system has also made possible significant safety advances such as vehicle stability control and traction control, which are among the five sophisticated accident avoidance technologies in Toyota’s Star Safety System.
•    These enhancements, along with Toyota’s Smart Stop Technology braking system, are now standard on all the new vehicles Toyota manufactures for the North American market.
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Crash Data Suggest Driver Error in Toyota Accidents

This is an interesting read published by the Wall Street Journal

By MIKE RAMSEY And KATE LINEBAUGH

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said.

The results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyota and Lexus vehicles surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes. But the findings don’t exonerate Toyota from two known issues blamed for sudden acceleration in its vehicles: sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats that can trap accelerator pedals to the floor.

0713DRIVER

Associated PressA recalled Toyota gas pedal is posed next to a recalled Toyota Avalon at a dealership in Palo Alto, Calif.

The findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration involve a sample of reports in which a driver of a Toyota vehicle said the brakes were depressed but failed to stop the car from accelerating and ultimately crashing.

The data recorders analyzed by NHTSA were selected by the agency, not Toyota, based on complaints the drivers had filed with the government.

The findings are consistent with a 1989 government-sponsored study that blamed similar driver mistakes for a rash of sudden-acceleration reports involving Audi 5000 sedans.

The Toyota findings, which haven’t been released by NHTSA, support Toyota’s position that sudden-acceleration reports involving its vehicles weren’t caused by electronic glitches in computer-controlled throttle systems, as some safety advocates and plaintiffs’ attorneys have alleged. More than 100 people have sued the auto maker claiming crashes were the result of faulty electronics.

NHTSA has received more than 3,000 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas, including some dating to early last decade, according to a report the agency compiled in March. The incidents include 75 fatal crashes involving 93 deaths.

However, NHTSA has been able to verify only one of those fatal crashes was caused by a problem with the vehicle, according to information the agency provided to the National Academy of Sciences. That accident last Aug. 28, which killed a California highway patrolman and three passengers in a Lexus, was traced to a floor mat that trapped the gas pedal in the depressed position.

Toyota has recalled more than eight million cars globally to fix floor mats and sticky accelerators.

A NHTSA spokeswoman declined to confirm the results from the data recorders. She said the agency was continuing to investigate the Toyota accidents and wouldn’t be prepared to comment fully on the probe until a broader study is completed in conjunction with NASA, which is expected to take months.

Transportation Department officials, however, have said publicly that they have yet to find any electronic problems in Toyota cars.

Daniel Smith, NHTSA’s associate administrator for enforcement, told a panel of the National Academy of Sciences last month that the agency’s sudden-acceleration probe had yet to find any car defects beyond those identified by the company: pedals entrapped by floor mats, and “sticky” accelerator pedals that are slow to return to idle.

“In spite of our investigations, we have not actually been able yet to find a defect” in electronic throttle-control systems, Mr. Smith told the scientific panel, which is looking into potential causes of sudden acceleration.

“We’re bound and determined that if it exists we’re going to find it,” he added. “But as yet, we haven’t found it.”

Toyota officials haven’t been briefed on NHTSA’s findings, but they corroborate its own tests, said Mike Michels, the chief spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales. Toyota’s downloads of event data recorders have found evidence of sticky pedals and pedal entrapment as well as driver error, which is characterized by no evidence of the brakes being depressed during an impact.

Some company officials say they are informally aware of the NHTSA results. But Toyota President Akio Toyoda has said the company won’t blame customers for its problems as part of its public-relations response.

Toyota is still trying to repair damage to its reputation caused as much by disclosures that the company hid knowledge of safety problems with its vehicles as by the reports of sudden acceleration.

NHTSA levied a $16.4 million fine against Toyota earlier this year for failing to notify the agency in a timely manner about its sticky-accelerator issue. Toyota’s handling of a rash of safety complaints involving high-profile models such as the hybrid Toyota Prius has prompted Congress to consider a far-reaching overhaul of U.S. auto-safety laws.

Last week, Toyota announced it had taken steps to improve its vehicle quality, including moving 1,000 engineers into a new group that will try to pin down problems. The Japanese auto maker also will extend development times by at least four weeks on new models to do more testing and will cut down on the use of contract engineers.Toyota showed reporters the inner workings of its labs, including how it has been testing its electronic throttle control module to find any malfunctions. The system is controlled by a main computer and has a second computer as a backup if the first fails. In either instance, failures should be noted in the car’s main computer and result in engine power being cut.

The car maker also has tested its vehicles’ responses to strong electromagnetic radiation, such as the waves generated by cellphones and radio towers, which some critics have said could be causing a malfunction. The only interference engineers have encountered after bombarding cars with electromagnetic waves is static on the car radio.

U.S. Reps. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) and Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) have been critical of Toyota’s efforts to track down alternative causes of unintended acceleration. They have said Toyota has been slow to react or evasive. Toyota has said it is doing everything in its power to respond to both Congress and customer complaints.

—Josh Mitchell contributed
to this article.


Could Runaway Prius Have Been Faked?

Posted: Mar. 12, 2010 10:03 a.m.

Yesterday we told you about doubts Edmunds Inside Line raised about a California man who claimed his Prius had raced out of control. Today, more people are looking into the story.

Jalopnik thinks James Sikes, the man in the incident, may have had a motive: “James Sikes, the San Diego runaway Toyota Prius driver, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and now has over $700,000 in debt. According to one anonymous tipster, we’re also told he hasn’t been making payments on his Prius,” they write, adding, “it’s potential motivation for wanting to find an out — any out — on paying for the vehicle.”

Jalopnik’s questions about Sikes’ motives add to questions Inside Line raised about the story.  Inside Line pointed out that it’s relatively easy to shift the Prius into neutral, even at highway speeds.  They also found it odd that though he claimed to be doing well over 90, Sikes managed to avoid an accident on a California highway for over 20 minutes — while panicking.

The Associated Press says the runaway Prius story may be reinforcing itself. “Experts on consumer psychology say the relentless negative media attention Toyota has received since the fall makes it much more likely that drivers will mistake anything unexpected — or even a misplaced foot — for actual danger.” AP adds, “In just the first 10 weeks of this year, 272 complaints have been filed nationwide for speed control problems with the Prius, according to an Associated Press analysis of unverified complaints received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By comparison, only 74 complaints were filed in all of last year, and just eight the year before that.”

Autoblog Green comments, “We’ll let the authorities investigate these latest cases and determine as best they can what happened there, but we also want the madness to calm down. Problems should be fixed, sure, but just because some people have problems doesn’t mean everyone does.”

The day after the Prius incident in California, according to reports, a Prius accelerated suddenly in New York. In that incident, a woman was pulling out of her driveway when she says the accelerator stuck, causing the Prius to surge forward into a stonewall. No one was hurt in the incident.

However, Richard Schmidt, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, writes in the New York Times that the kind of driveway scenario the woman describes is a prime example of driver error being mistaken for a mechanical problem. Shchmidt has spent much of his career investigating cases of unintended acceleration for automakers.  His work has found that reports of unintended acceleration “typically happened when the driver first got into the car and started it. After turning on the ignition, the driver would intend to press lightly on the brake pedal while shifting from park to drive (or reverse), and suddenly the car would leap forward (or backward). Drivers said that continued pressing on the brake would not stop the car; it would keep going until it crashed.”  Schmidt adds, “Drivers believed that something had gone wrong in the acceleration system, and that the brakes had failed.”

When engineers would examine the cars, they’d find nothing was wrong.  Schmidt writes, “Several researchers hypothesized how a driver, intending to apply the brake pedal to keep the car from creeping, would occasionally press the accelerator instead. Then, surprised that the car moved so much, he would try pressing harder. Of course, if his right foot was actually on the accelerator, the throttle would open and the car would move faster.”  The result? “This would then lead the driver to press the ‘brake’ harder still, and to bring about even more acceleration. Eventually, the car would be at full throttle, until it crashed. The driver’s foot would be all the way to the floor, giving him the impression that the brakes had failed.”

Of course, Schmidt’s reasoning doesn’t explain the reports of the runaway Prius in California, and it doesn’t prove that nothing was wrong with the Prius in New York.  But, driver error plus increased publicity may explain some of the spike in reports of problems with Toyota.

Check out the latest Toyota recall news and information, including how the company’s recent troubles affect our rankings. If you’re in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year’s best cars as well as this month’s best car deals.

Here are some other good reads as well………

Unintended Acceleration Expert Provides His Perspective in the New York Times

In a column in Wednesday’s New York Times, Richard Schmidt, professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles and the author of a well known study on unintended acceleration, provided his perspective on this issue in response to reports that the federal government may require brake override systems on new vehicles.

Approaching the issue from a historical perspective, Prof. Schmidt noted: “From the mid-1980s until 2000, thousands of incidents of sudden acceleration were reported in all makes and models of cars (and buses, tractors and golf carts). Then, as now, the incidents were relatively rare among car crashes generally, but they were nevertheless frequent and dangerous enough to upset automakers, drivers and the news media.  But when engineers examined these vehicles post-crash, they found nothing that could account for what the drivers had reported.”

To read the full column, click here

Two Professors Say Satisfied Toyota Customers Protect the Brand
Two Rice University management professors say in an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle that the media frenzy on Toyota has “focused on vivid yet highly unrepresentative events that ignore the most important constituents: Toyota’s current customers.” Vikas Mittal and Utpal Dholakia note that Toyota has a large base of unwavering loyal customers who “drive their Toyotas day in and day out and experience reliable and trouble-free performance.” That positive experience, accumulated over decades, “insulate” the brand from long-term damage. “When customers are highly satisfied and consistently so (and consistency in the key), they are prone to see the occasional performance lapse as an anomaly.” They go on to say Toyota has that “brand insulation effect” and can recover from its current difficulties. To read the full column, click on the link below:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/6909344.html

Toyota Didn’t Pay Stanford Professor for Unintended Acceleration Analysis

In light of recent press reports, Toyota issued a statement Thursday making it clear the company didn’t compensate Stanford University professor Chris Gerdes for his analysis of unintended acceleration claims made by Southern Illinois University professor David Gilbert.

News reports have implied that Toyota’s support of Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research may have influenced Gerdes’ analysis, which challenged Gilbert’s claims. Yet, Toyota is only one of many auto manufacturers that support the center. Toyota also supports other automotive programs, including the Division of Automotive Technology at Southern Illinois University, where Gilbert teaches. Such support is common in the auto industry and does not mean that independent professors will naturally side with corporate donors.

To read the entire statement, click on: http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/toyota-update-regarding-dr-chris-155054.aspx.

Akio Toyoda writes The Washington Post

washingtonpost.com


Toyota‘s plan to repair its public image

By Akio Toyoda
Tuesday, February 9, 2010; A17

More than 70 years ago, Toyota entered the auto business based on a simple, but powerful, principle: that Toyota would build the highest-quality, safest and most reliable automobiles in the world. The company has always put the needs of our customers first and made the constant improvement of our vehicles a top priority. That is why 80 percent of all Toyotas sold in the United States over the past 20 years are still on the road today.

When consumers purchase a Toyota, they are not simply purchasing a car, truck or van. They are placing their trust in our company. The past few weeks, however, have made clear that Toyota has not lived up to the high standards we set for ourselves. More important, we have not lived up to the high standards you have come to expect from us. I am deeply disappointed by that and apologize. As the president of Toyota, I take personal responsibility. That is why I am personally leading the effort to restore trust in our word and in our products.

For much of Toyota’s history, we have ensured the quality and reliability of our vehicles by placing a device called an andon cord on every production line — and empowering any team member to halt production if there’s an assembly problem. Only when the problem is resolved does the line begin to move again.

Two weeks ago, I pulled the andon cord for our company. I ordered production of eight models in five plants across North America temporarily stopped so that we could focus on fixing our customers’ vehicles that might be affected by sticking accelerator pedals. Today, Toyota team members and dealers across North America are working around the clock to repair all recalled vehicles.

But to regain the trust of American drivers and their families, more is needed. We are taking responsibility for our mistakes, learning from them and acting immediately to address the concerns of consumers and independent government regulators.

First, I have launched a top-to-bottom review of our global operations to ensure that problems of this magnitude do not happen again and that we not only meet but exceed the high safety standards that have defined our long history. As part of this, we will establish an Automotive Center of Quality Excellence in the United States, where a team of our top engineers will focus on strengthening our quality management and quality control across North America.

Second, to ensure that our quality-control operations are in line with best industry practices, we will ask a blue-ribbon safety advisory group composed of respected outside experts in quality management to independently review our operations and make sure that we have eliminated any deficiencies in our processes. The findings of these experts will be made available to the public, as will Toyota’s responses to these findings.

Third, we fully understand that we need to more aggressively investigate complaints we hear directly from consumers and move more quickly to address any safety issues we identify. That is what we are doing by addressing customer concerns about the Prius and Lexus HS250h anti-lock brake systems.

We also are putting in place steps to do a better job within Toyota of sharing important quality and safety information across our global operations. This shortcoming contributed to the current situation. With respect to sticking accelerator pedals, we failed to connect the dots between problems in Europe and problems in the United States because the European situation related primarily to right-hand-drive vehicles.

Toyota will increase its outreach to government agencies charged with protecting the safety of motorists and passengers. I have spoken with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and given him my personal assurance that lines of communications with safety agencies and regulators will be kept open, that we will communicate more frequently and that we will be more vigilant in responding to those officials on all matters.

In recent years, much has been written about what we call “the Toyota Way” — the values and principles at the heart of our company. Chief among these is our unwavering commitment to continuous improvement: going to the source of a problem and fixing it. While problems with our cars have been rare over the years, the issues that Toyota is addressing today are by far the most serious we have ever faced.

But great companies learn from their mistakes, and we know that we have to win back the trust of our customers by adhering to the very values on which that trust was first built. The hundreds of thousands of men and women at Toyota operations worldwide — including the 172,000 team members and dealers in North America — are among the best in the auto industry. Whatever problems have occurred within our company, the strength and commitment to fix them resides within our company as well.

You have my commitment that Toyota will revitalize the simple but powerful principle that has guided us for 50 years: Toyota will build the highest-quality, safest and most reliable automobiles in the world.

The writer is president of Toyota Motor Co.

BrionStapp@interstatetoyota.com

CARS program in full

Hello All!

I have included a current graph for the Cash for Clunkers program that is supposed to go into effect on July 23rd. We are currently taking deposits on cars and trucks that qualify for the program. We also know the money that is set aside for the program is limited so if you are interested, we can help you before the program goes into effect so you can get the voucher that is coming to you plus the car or truck you want.

Incentive Chart for Cash for Clunkers
Incentive Chart for Cash for Clunkers

2010 Toyota Prius vs. Honda Insight

Prius vs. Insight: A clash of corporate cultures

Hans Greimel
Automotive News
May 18, 2009 – 12:01 am ET

TOKYO — Few cars better embody the wide divergence in the corporate cultures of Toyota and Honda than these two hybrids.

In one corner is the Honda Insight — a case study in utilitarian expedience. It’s powered by a simplified four-banger with an electric motor adding just enough oomph to cut down on trips to the pump. It sports a plasticky, no-frills interior and poaches parts from sister models.

In the other corner is the redesigned Toyota Prius — a paragon of engineering excellence. It pushes the envelope with an ingenious planetary gear transmission, outstanding fuel economy and snazzy options such as solar panels. The car that made hybrids famous carries a first-class sticker price to match.

For better and worse, the redesigned Prius and Insight exude the distinct corporate identities that gave them birth. The result is as much a battle of the automakers’ business philosophies as a two-car rivalry.

Faultless Toyota Motor Corp. reached new technological heights but drifted into cost creep, a risky trend in a recession. Penny-pinching Honda Motor Co. did a lot with a little, churning out a low-budget hybrid that can’t match its rival’s specs.

Different strokes
The Insight and Prius highlight personality differences between Honda and Toyota.
Honda Insight Toyota Prius
Objective Affordable sticker Fuel-efficiency tour de force
Price No discounting No discounting
Drivetrain Simplify current engine Go high-tech for more power
Bottom line Practicality with compromise Perfection at a price
Pricing policies

image

2010 Toyota Prius

The redesigned 2010 Toyota Prius goes on sale in the United States in late May with a base price of $22,750, including freight. The price of the top-trim Prius will be $28,020. Later this year, a stripped-down base model will be offered for $21,750.

The Insight, by contrast, starts at $20,470 and climbs to $23,000, fully loaded. Toyota’s aggressive pricing of the third-generation Prius may pressure margins again. Says Takaki Nakanishi, an auto industry analyst at JPMorgan: “It will be difficult to make a profit at the lower grades.”

Honda and Toyota share a reverence for the principles of kaizen — or continuous improvement — and just-in-time manufacturing. But their subtle differences are best summed in Honda’s pragmatism vs. Toyota’s perfectionism.

Pragmatism vs. perfectionism

image

Honda Insight

“Honda always has to prioritize what they can and can’t do because they just don’t have the resources of Toyota,” says Tatsuo Yoshida, an auto analyst with UBS Securities in Tokyo. “If they tried to follow Toyota on development, it would be like committing suicide.”

Take mileage. Honda was satisfied with a respectable EPA rating of 40 mpg city/43 highway for the Insight. But the Prius reached for and attained an eye-popping 51/48.

Honda got there by simplifying an existing 1.3-liter engine to two modes of variable valve timing, instead of three. It chose a one-clutch drivetrain instead of a two-clutch version. That reduced the efficiency of regenerative braking but was cheaper.

The lowest trim-level Insight lacks such staples as cruise control and stability control.

In aerodynamics, the Insight has a 0.28 drag coefficient. Good, but not even as good as the Honda Civic‘s. Yasunari Seki, the chief engineer, was ordered to poach body structure from the Honda Fit compact, a move that limited aerodynamic improvements and also resulted in ho-hum styling. In fact, attention to styling is such an afterthought at Honda that the company doesn’t have a company wide design chief.

The pursuit of expedience is echoed in Honda’s aversion to full-sized trucks and V-8 Acura offerings. Honda can’t be all things to all people so it compromises with the car-based Honda Ridgeline and a V-6 Acura. They may not be best-in-class, but they leverage Honda’s strengths.

“We believe it fits with the culture of our company, where we want to build environmentally friendly cars that get good gas mileage,” says Dick Colliver, who retired recently as executive vice president of sales at American Honda Motor Co. “You don’t have to have a V-8 engine to be Tier 1.”

High-tech luxury

Meanwhile, Akihiko Otsuka, Toyota’s chief engineer, was striving to make his Prius the world’s greenest car. The solution was cutting-edge.

Otsuka used a bigger engine to get better mileage at high speeds. He eliminated drive belts for the air conditioning compressor and water pump, making them electric. He devised an exhaust-heat recapture system to help keep the engine operating at optimal efficiency.

Otsuka also improved drag to 0.25, from 0.26. The new Prius was the world’s slickest production car until Mercedes unveiled its new E-class coupe at 0.24.

The Prius brims with luxury features, most famously the gimmicky solar panels whose sole task is to run a ventilation system to cool the cabin when the car is parked in the sun.

Toyota’s approach mirrors the whole-hog ambition that thrust it into the full-sized pickup segment with the Toyota Tundra and into premium sedans with the Lexus lineup.

“It’s part of Toyota culture to always improve on what it’s already done,” says Chris Richter, of CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. “It wants to position itself as higher end.”

Honda re-engineered the Insight’s hybrid system to cost 40 percent less than the previous-generation hybrid drivetrain, used in the current Civic Hybrid. Toyota was able to shave 35 percent off the costs of the current generation. But Otsuka missed the internal target of halving the cost.

Hybrid Article in Automotive News

Hybrids 101

Perplexed by plug-ins? Lost when it comes to lithium ion? Start with this sample from our extensive online guide

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Nearly every major automaker plans to roll out environmentally friendly vehicles or add to its current fleet of hybrids or hydrogen-powered cars.

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If these plans come to fruition, by around 2012 consumers will be able to choose from:

— Battery-powered electric vehicles.

— Plug-in hybrids.

— Fuel cell vehicles that use hydrogen.

A century ago, cars powered by gasoline, steam and electricity battled for supremacy. Over the next decade, consumers once again will have a number of powertrains and fuels from which to choose. Back then, gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines emerged triumphant. This time there may be more than one winner.

Daimler AG’s Smart microcar shows how Americans’ car-buying patterns are evolving in an era of environmental concerns and fluctuating fuel prices. Smart has proved that some people will plunk down $13,000 to $20,000 for a small, highly maneuverable car best suited to cities rather than highway driving. First-year sales totaled about 25,000.

So a small battery-powered electric car such as the upcoming Mitsubishi i MiEV or Toyota FT-EV could find a place on American roads, even though the driving range will be limited to about 100 miles on a charge.

Hybrid Guide

Because so many automakers are working on advanced-propulsion vehicles and often giving different names to the same technologies, it is difficult to keep track of all that is going on.

So Automotive News has put together a Hybrid Guide explaining the powertrains of the future. We define the terms you see in automakers’ messages. We explain how the different types of hybrids work.

Also included is a list of major automakers’ plans for hybrids and electric vehicles with as much information as is known — such as what kind of hybrid, what kind of batteries it uses and when it will be available.

The full guide is available online at http://www.autonews.com/hybridguide. Here’s a small sampling.

Types of vehicles

Not all hybrids work the same way. There are two types of hybrids: full (or strong) and mild. There also are two different powertrain configurations: series and parallel.

Here’s how they work:

Full hybrid: Found in the Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion Hybrid and Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, it can be driven short distances by the electric motor alone. After a percentage of the battery’s charge is used or when the vehicle reaches a certain speed, the gasoline engine turns on, drives the wheels and recharges the battery pack. Under heavy acceleration, both the engine and the motor drive the wheels.

Mild hybrid: Found in the Honda Civic Hybrid, it uses the electric motor to supplement the gasoline engine. In other words, the electric motor reduces the load on the gasoline engine and acts as a stop-start system. The electric motor does not drive the vehicle by itself.

Mild hybrid powertrains are designed in two ways. The first has an electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission, as in Honda Motor Co.’s Integrated Motor Assist. General Motors uses another approach in its Belt-Alternator Starter system. It has a combined motor/generator bolted to the front of the engine.

A mild hybrid can improve fuel economy by 20 to 30 percent in some driving conditions. The Saturn Vue offers a good example of how a mild hybrid can improve fuel efficiency. The Vue has a 2.4-liter engine and automatic transmission. The non-hybrid version is EPA rated at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg on the highway. The mild hybrid version, which also has a 2.4-liter engine and automatic transmission, carries EPA ratings of 25 city and 32 mpg highway.

Series hybrid: Propulsion comes entirely from the electric motor or motors. The onboard gasoline engine generates electricity directly for the motor and the battery pack. The Chevrolet Volt is an example of a series hybrid. After 40 miles, the charge in the battery pack runs down and the gasoline engine starts up, turning the generator which makes electricity for the motor and the battery pack. The gasoline engine does not drive the wheels and is not mechanically connected to the wheels. Its sole purpose is to generate electricity.

Parallel hybrid: Found in the hybrid versions of the Ford Escape and Chevrolet Tahoe, it uses both the gasoline engine and electric motor to provide mechanical propulsion to the wheels, either together or independently.

Hybrid terms

Belt-Alternator Starter system, or BAS: A combination of motor/generator that is bolted to the front of the engine and connected to the crankshaft by the fan belt. It provides a slight boost to acceleration, puts energy back into the battery pack on deceleration and gives the vehicle stop-start capability.

Plug-in hybrid: The initial charge for a plug-in hybrid comes from the grid and gives a hybrid vehicle a longer driving range on pure electric power only. Plug-ins are scheduled to be introduced late in 2010, with the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt leading the way. Plug-ins can be either series hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt or parallel hybrids such as the Toyota Prius.

Range extender: This is a hybrid vehicle that has to be plugged in for its initial charge and has an onboard source of electricity, such as a fuel cell or a gasoline engine that spins a generator. The Chevy Volt is a range-extended, gasoline-electric plug-in series hybrid. Some automakers want to classify their range-extended hybrids as electric cars because if driven 40 miles per day or less, the vehicle will not need its gasoline engine to generate electricity. But under the Society of Automotive Engineers’ definition of a hybrid, the vehicle has two sources of energy for propulsion stored onboard. So a range-extended vehicle is a hybrid.

Two Mode: The marketing name for a hybrid drive system developed by BMW, Chrysler LLC, Daimler and General Motors. Two different Two Mode transmissions have been developed, one for rear-drive vehicles and one for front-drive vehicles.

The Two Mode transmission has two electric motors and delivers the fuel economy advantages of hybrid driving in the city and on the highway. A regular one mode hybrid, such as the Toyota Prius, uses the electric motor to drive the vehicle at low speeds and to assist the gasoline engine when accelerating. At highway speeds, the electric motor in the Prius does not drive the vehicle. The Two Mode uses its electric motors to drive the wheels all the time, sometimes in conjunction with the gasoline engine.

Advanced propulsion plans

Here are BMW’s plans for advanced-propulsion vehicles. The online guide examines 14 automakers’ plans.

BMW: The German automaker’s Mini brand is leasing 500 Mini E battery-powered electric cars to consumers now. This is an electric car that must be plugged in at night to recharge the lithium ion batteries. The test could lead to limited production in about 2011.

BMW plans to introduce the X6 crossover with a Two-Mode hybrid powertrain in late 2009 or early 2010. This will be a gasoline-powered hybrid that uses the Two Mode transmission developed by BMW, Chrysler, Daimler and GM. In this application, the Two Mode transmission is a four-speed rear-drive system that delivers the benefits of electric-assist hybrid propulsion in both city and highway driving and also can tow heavy loads.

On European vehicles, various BMWs are equipped with a stop-start system that uses lithium ion batteries.

BMW also is testing a fleet of 7-series sedans with an internal combustion engine that burns either gasoline or liquid hydrogen.