My Next Car?

I was talking to my wife on the phone yesterday, and she asked what I knew about the 2009 Prius. I asked what she was talking about, and she started telling me about some of the features. She said that Toyota has been keeping the details pretty quiet, but details are available. Actually, I think it has come up here a couple of times, but here’s a picture:

There have been some pretty big claims about fuel efficiency:

2009 Prius May Reach 94 MPG

Auto Observer reports that the next generation of Toyota’s wildly successful Prius hybrid “is coming soon and will launch at the Detroit auto show in January 2009.” The car will be “a touch bigger so offering more space. It will come with stronger 1.8-liter hybrid performance yet at the same time boast even better economy and class leading emissions, if early word is correct.” The Prius will feature “a bigger 1797 cc four cylinder gas engine to cope with the bigger body and counter criticism in some quarters of the weedy performance of the current 1.5,” boosting the total output of the car to 160 horsepower (up from the current 110). Sources say Toyota rates the new configuration for 94 mpg.

The New York Times also had some recent coverage:

2009 Prius: Not So Fast

A third generation of the Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid car has been eagerly anticipated. Though Toyota has not officially announced when the redesigned Prius would appear, unofficially, automotive journalists had been tipped to expect it sometime in 2008, as a 2009 model.

However, news reports from Japan last week said the car has been delayed by at least six months, to early 2009.

Whether the delay is real or not, it appears that the battery problems are plenty real. Previously, Toyota set a goal of reducing the size of the battery pack in the next Prius by 50 percent, while also increasing its efficiency.

The delay is apparently to give Toyota engineers time to retro-fit the new Prius design with the old-style nickel metal hydride batteries they’d hoped to be rid of. At least initially, the new Prius will still have nickel metal hydride batteries, Nikkan Kogyo reported. Lithium ion power is not ready for prime time (remember all the exploding laptop batteries made of the same substance?). Lithium ion gets unstable under extreme pressure – apparently too unstable for automotive use at this stage of its development.

I am going to try to hold out until the 2009s come out before I get another car. I think I can manage that, and I am really intent on getting one of these new, ultra-high mileage vehicles.

25 thoughts on “My Next Car?”

  1. There isn’t even a chance it will get 94 MPG on North American driving cycles.

    Also, that isn’t an official image.

    “The delay is apparently to give Toyota engineers time to retro-fit the new Prius design with the old-style nickel metal hydride batteries they’d hoped to be rid of.”

    This is a ridiculous statement, 100% guaranteed it had been planned with Ni-MH in mind as an option from the start, considering development would’ve started in 2004-2005 probably. I’d consider it more likely they’re delaying, if they are, to jump the market with a low volume lower EV range PHEV, as I don’t see that 94 MPG figure being obtainable otherwise with a gasoline powered hybrid of that size.

    Honda is coming out with a Prius fighter in 2009.

    Do yourself a favour and don’t jump the gun, much will be revealed during the next winter/spring auto show season.

  2. More information on the new hybrid from Honda that you mentioned:

    Honda Plans Prius-like Hybrid

    Honda is planning to take on the Toyota Prius with a new hybrid priced for less than the Honda Civic Hybrid.

    The car will go on sale in 2009 and Honda will market the sedan as a dedicated hybrid with no gasoline-powered version. The new Honda hybrid will seat four to five people and carry a wedge-shaped design.

    The price will be less than the Civic Hybrid but more than the Honda Fit subcompact.

    Honda will not disclose if the new hybrid will use the lithium ion battery of the future or the nickel hydride batteries common in hybrids now.

    Honda hopes for worldwide sales of 200,000 units for the new hybrid.

    The Japanese automaker is also considering a hybrid model based on the CR-Z, a small, sporty hybrid which is on display at the Tokyo Auto Show. There is no timeline for the new sports car.

    Honda predicts automakers will increasingly test the market for hybrid sports cars because the cars allow for high torque and quick acceleration.

  3. I doubt the 94mpg figure is a true mileage figure. To get there with current technology I’m betting they add plug-in recharging.

  4. I read that there would be a PV panel on the roof for recharging batteries.

  5. No Aptera for you?

    94 mpg is Japanese 10-15 cycle. The current Prius gets 83.5 mpg on that cycle. I figure US combined cycle will be just over 50 vs. 46 now. The new Prius should be a fine car. Launch is Detroit Auto show in January with US availability probably April/May. Expect a waiting list and price-gouging.

    You can buy a used Prius for 15k and A123’s $9995 battery pack and be the first PHEV owner on your block. Not really economical, but think of the status!

  6. For what its worth, my 1999 VW TDI golf always got at least 45, with a 117,000 average of around 50 mpg. Oh, and I sold it for more than I bought of for…

  7. I realize that Tesla has only produced two cars, but they seem to have cracked the Li-Ion code.

    AFAIK, GM is committed to Li-Ion technology in their Volt.

    On a slightly different subject, Honda is bringing a California-compliant Accord Diesel to the US in 2009. I would expect 40mpg (with a nice torque curve as a bonus).

  8. Robert, the “2009” Prius will not be available till probably the middle of 2009. Toyota has publicly stated that they will do the public introduction at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in Jan ’09. As for the mileage figure, I would be highly skeptical. The best guestimate for what the new mileage will be is about 10% better than the current model which would get it to ~50-55 mpg. The early models of this new generation of Prius will start off with NiMH batteries as Toyota does not have enough confidence in their lithium ion battery technology. You may see one in 2010 or 2011 as that is when Toyota says they will have their first PHEV version of the Prius available for fleet use. In 2009 it looks like you’ll have several good choices for a fuel efficient hybrid. As others have said, Honda will also be releasing their “Prius killer” hybrid sometime next year also. Since the new Prius and the Honda will be first of their model designs I’d expect some bugs, which is why I recently bought a 2008 Prius. I didn’t really feel like being a guinea pig. 🙂

    Also, if you don’t want to wait till 2009 and want some more performance VW will begin selling a 50-state legal Jetta TDI that will get close to 60 mpg on the highway. The first batch is already in the US and are being distributed to various dealers.

  9. Mike C – the $9995 battery pack upgrade I mentioned is from A123Systems itself, via the Hymotion subsidiary they acquired last year. CalCars is a non-profit which has done a few experimental upgrades. A few startups also do upgrades, but the A123 kit looks the slickest to me.

    Dougm – Tesla uses lithium-cobalt-oxide, featured recently in YouTube videos of flaming laptops. They’re a startup, they can afford the risk. Toyota engineers inexplicably chose lithium-cobalt for the next-gen Prius until execs overruled them. They had to switch back to NIMH, which caused the delay. They’re now working on an unknown lithium chemistry. GM will use lithium-iron-phosphate from A123Systems or Lithium-manganese from LG Chemical. Both are much safer than lithium-cobalt.

  10. The old Prius had 5 KiloWatt hours capacity. What is the storage capacity for the 2009 model.
    lithium-cobalt-oxide seems to be working pretty well on the Tesla. The capacity is 53 KW hours and the weight is about 440 KG or about 5300/440 = about 120 WH/Kg.
    This is much better than the Nickel batteries in the old Prius:

    By volume, lithium ion polymer is about 300 WH/liter compared to about 100 WH/liter for old Nickel batteries.

    Perhaps the issue is proximity of the old gas turbine fire engine with the electric battery. One solution is to keep the gas engine in the front and move the battery to the trunk.

    What technologies are coming in the pipeline for battery storage? The best one I have seen are 200-240 WH/Kg in the lab.

    Is there any battery under development with more than 300 WH/liter capacity?

  11. Okay, now my curiousity is piqued…what’s with the “run your car on water” ad that appears on the bottom of the Prius article?

    I looked at the website, and the “conversion kit” uses battery power to electrolyze water into some sort of Hydrogen-related substance, which is then burned in the engine with gas.

    I don’t see where the “extra” energy comes from. Won’t you just run your battery down quicker, which makes the alternator work harder (which uses more fuel, etc.)?

    Please delete this comment if it is too off-topic. I was just curious.

  12. Okay, now my curiousity is piqued…what’s with the “run your car on water” ad that appears on the bottom of the Prius article?

    It’s crap. I thought it had faded away finally.

    It’s an advertiser who has bought an ad with Google ads. It triggers off of key words and your location. I don’t see it here in the Netherlands.

    Cheers, RR

    P.S. If they don’t make any money, they will stop buying ads. They must be pulling in some suckers.

  13. mike c: If you’re interested in seeing the real world performance of that $9995 conversion kit for the Prius mentioned, you can go to Google’s site. They’ve been testing four cars that have the Hymotion upgrade kit installed.

  14. Wow! Even 50-60 mpg I say wow!
    Imagine if the US fleet migrates towards 50 mpg.
    Transportation uses 70 percent of oil.
    You would see U.S. oil demand decline for decades and decades…which is exactl what I predict.
    I just don’t see an oil problem out there.
    California’s demand for gasoline falling at nearly 5 percent y-o-y.
    Not Peak oil. That’s not the story. The story is Peak Demand.

  15. After oil prices spiked up in the late ’70s, US oil consumption dropped for 3 years in the ’80s, 2 years in the ’90s and now for the second year in the ’00s. Demand increased in the mid 1980s even while CAFE standards were increasing. I doubt that we will see U.S. oil demand decline for decades and decades because we got smart. That’s wishful thinking. I think we will only see demand decline for decades if we have hit peak oil.

  16. The $10,000 for the A123 conversion seems like approximately breakeven if gasoline averages $6 per gallon over the next 12 years and you get 100 MPG.

    Calculation: 150,000 miles / 46 MPG = 3261 gallons. Multiply by $6/gallon = $19,565.
    Repeat at 100 MPG and you get $9,000, and then add in $1968 for electricity.
    The difference between these is small; certainly more than the error bars on the $6/gal guess for the next 12 years.

    The bigger issue is that Google’s site is showing less than 100 MPG for their vehicles. I don’t know the details on their modifications though.

  17. Robert: a tip on KHOSLA. You’d do well to investigate his purchases of “Praj”. Someone in the know might share he has VC backed his private ethanol co’s to expand on other people’s money(while owning the source of production via Praj). He went to India, did a public promotional tour, hyped the stock and dumped it on the Indian public, making a fortune on Praj.

  18. As demand for hybrid and electric cars picks up, a major issue is where the neodymium that is used in the magnets in electric motors is going to come from.

    There are related issues, such as the supply of lanthanum for use in NiMH batteries.

    Currently, virtually 100% of these elements comes from China — and the production has some serious environmental and health issues, such as radioactive thorium.

    From the US Geological Survey:

    Any serious discussion of the electric drive train going mainstream must address the issue of supply and/or substitutes for these currently-critical elements.

  19. And the new 2010 Honda Insight has an EPA mpg rating of 40/43. While not as high numbers as the Prius, it may still be a Prius fighter with its smaller price tag.

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