The green car revolution. It is the unlikely transport of choice for the thinking film star's passage to the Oscars. And it has probably made its creator a loss for years. But the Toyota Prius has come to symbolise all cleaner, greener cars, as the biggest-selling low-emission car on the planet.
Its success is not without controversy, however. Critics of the petrol/electric hybrid Prius argue that its CO2 emissions and fuel consumption are no better than those of a good diesel, that its motorway fuel economy is very average and that it makes little sense to carry the heft of an additional battery and an electric motor that is frequently idle when the car is cruising.
Toyota categorises the Prius in the Ford Mondeo class of family cars. No conventionally propelled car in this class gets close to the Prius's 89g/km CO2 figure, nor its 72.4mpg Combined fuel consumption (which happens to be the same figure for Urban consumption).
That claimed figure was a source of contention with the previous model, many drivers getting nowhere near it in practice, though that hasn't prevented them from becoming among the most satisfied car owners on the planet according to some surveys.
The difference between the claims and reality is an area that Toyota's engineers have tackled with this new-generation model. Cleaner aerodynamics and low rolling-resistance tyres have produced one third of the 10 per cent economy improvement, while an enlarged petrol engine and improved transmission efficiency produce most of the rest of the gains, which are all the more impressive given that this Prius is quicker to 62mph and 70kg heavier.
Note that if you buy the Prius with the larger, 17in wheels the fuel consumption and emissions deteriorate slightly (70.6mpg and 92g/km), although the top speed and 0-62mph time are identical.
So, does it work? During a brief economy run we achieved 80.5mpg, though we travelled quite slowly. Driven briskly, that fell to 48.7mpg, but a typical drive should see consumption well into the 50s, with 60mpg a real possibility.
And there are more tools, this time, to help you achieve it. The previous Prius could be driven in electric mode only, but was barely capable of travelling more than a few hundred yards, whereas this one will go more than a mile.
Hyundai Motor Co. yesterday released images of the newly designed dashboard for the liquefied petroleum gas-electric hybrid version of the Avante compact sedan. The car, which will be launched next month, is the country's first hybrid electric that comes with a 1.6-litre LPG engine that manages 17.8 kilometres per litre of fuel.
The dashboard has an image of a plant that lights up if the car is maintained at the highest fuel efficiency.
The dashboard also has an Eco Guide display that tells the driver how economically the car is being driven
A recent test in Germany attempted to test claims by Neste that its biodiesel is sustainable. The tests involved 14 Daimler vehicles, DHL, the German Post, OMV and the Stuttgart bus company. The test involved about one million kilometers driven with NExBTL biodiesel that were produced from certified palm oil. The results stated that this fuel helped reduce NOx by 15 percent, compared to regular diesel, as well as CO2 emissions by 60 percent. The test measured each step in the production chain to assess its environmental efficiency and found that certified biofuels are the way to go, as there is no point in using biofuels that were produced with too many pesticides or old and polluting machinery
Earlier this year, Nissan applied for low interest loans under the Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing incentive Program. In order to qualify for those loans, Nissan would have to use it to build something in the U.S. It now appears that if Nissan gets the loan it will put in a line to build electric vehicles at its Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant. The line, which is expected to have a capacity of 50-100,000 units annually, could be up and running by 2012.
Automotive Energy Supply Company, the Nissan-NEC battery joint venture, also plans to set up shop in Smyrna. Initial production of both batteries and electric cars will start in Japan in 2010. Reuters is reporting that Nissan is expecting to get approval for a loan of $1 billion for the assembly and battery projects.