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Illustration of Lexus steer-by-wire system.

There I was, doing my best to pilot a car around a test track in Sweden without the aid of a steering wheel. My job in this 1992 exercise: Negotiate the twists and turns ahead in an experimental Saab 9000 equipped with a steer-by-wire system and an aircraft-like sidestick controller, similar in concept to that used in Saab fighter jets like the JAS 39 Gripen.

The first few passes around the track were focused and intense, the car jinking far too actively in response to the inputs interpreted from my painstakingly measured efforts with the controller. I was clearly on unfamiliar ground here, quite literally and figuratively since this was my first time on this Swedish test track. But I was determined to get this right, and eventually I did, gaining a sense of the steering and confidently working the stick to turn into a curve, find the apex, and power out smoothly. Then my right-seat observer, a Saab tech with keyboard and display screen in front of him, adjusted sensitivity settings and the car was jinking again. Ahh…part of the learning process.

Lexus RZ Steer-by-Wire

Segue ahead some 30 years – quicker than Tom Cruise graduated from piloting Top Gun’s F-14 Tomcat to Top Gun: Maverick’s F/A-18E Super Hornet – and I’m in an auto-aircraft setting once again. This time I’m in the driver’s seat of an electric Lexus RZ test car equipped with advanced steer-by-wire technology, pondering the steering yoke in front of me.

Coming but not yet available, the steer-by-wire system in this Lexus was calling to me, offering an opportunity to pilot this car around a cone course where expectations were reasonably high that some of the orange pyramids ahead would be sacrificed to the cause, at least initially. But I was not about to repeat my experience with the sidestick controller those many years back, no sir. This would be different.

Lexus steer-by-wire steering yoke.

More Than Just a Yoke

Unlike Tesla’s addition of yoke steering in some Model S and Model X variants, a move that has reportedly caused some driver difficulties during tight turns, Lexus has given this much more thought and a serious dose of elegant engineering. For one, Lexus doesn’t just swap out a round steering wheel for a cooler-looking yoke. In a simple swap, a yoke makes tight turns requiring hand-over-hand steering more of a challenge. However, the yoke in an RZ is not simply a swap, but rather an integral part of a sophisticated steer-by-wire system.

In its steer-by-wire system, there is no mechanical connection at all between the yoke and the car’s rack and pinion steering. It’s all wiring and software backed up by triple redundancies. Software interprets steering input at the yoke and delivers this information to a motor controlling the pinion gear, steering the wheels. What’s important is that the system is speed sensitive and smart, providing a continuously variable steering ratio depending on driving conditions and inputs. The result is confident driving with much less steering wheel travel required than one might expect. Plus, no hand-over-hand steering needed ever, even during very tight turns. Driving this system did require dialing in to its operating nuances, but I figured this out quickly and no cones were harmed during testing.

Lexus RZ electric car.

Auto-Aircraft Tech

As I wrapped up this day’s steer-by-wire mission, I reflected on yet another auto-aircraft memory from years past. Back in the 1990s when GM introduced its swoopy, teardrop-shaped EV1 electric car, the automaker shared that the car’s groundbreaking 0.19 drag coefficient was the same as an F-16 Fighting Falcon, wheels down. The aircraft reference wasn’t surprising since GM had acquired Hughes Aircraft a few years earlier and the automaker was benefiting from a huge aircraft/aerospace brain trust. PR being what it is, we’re not sure if the F-16 aerodynamics comparison was actually accurate but it sure sounded impressive, and it gave us a good point of reference as to how slippery the EV1 really was during the time.

In the ever-changing realm of advanced vehicles and their affinity for aircraft and aerospace tech, what’s next on the agenda? I’ve already experienced Tesla’s “autopilot” and other automakers’ advanced driving tech so check that off the list, until newer iterations come to the fore. I have also driven blindfolded in a test environment during the early years of autonomous driving development…but that’s a story for another time. Maybe a flying car? I think I’ll wait on that.

There’s a race of sorts for premium and exotic brands to introduce electrified vehicles, either variants of existing models or all-new ones designed with electrification in mind. We’re seeing this from legacy brands like Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Porsche, of course, but also from new and emerging automakers as well.

Enter The 21C (‘21st Century’) hypercar from Southern California-based Czinger Vehicles and its parent company, Divergent Technologies. By any measure this is no ordinary electrified supercar.

Yes, it offers massive power with an in-house developed 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V-8 and a pair of high-output electric motors energized with lithium-titanate batteries, producing a total 1250 horsepower. It impresses with its frenetic 11,000 rpm redline, 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 1.9 seconds, and quarter-mile time of 8.1 seconds. Not impressive enough? Then let’s ponder a 0 to 185 mph sprint that’s said to consume a mere 15 seconds.

Power from the two front traction motors and combined, crank-driven starter-generator is transferred to all four wheels through a seven-speed sequential transaxle gearbox. Two versions of the gearbox are available, one a synchromesh street version for everyday shifting and the other a track variant with full race dog gears to achieve the fastest possible shift times.

Inside, the 21C features “jet-fighter” seating that’s said to address optimum vehicle weight distribution. This configuration finds the driver positioned in the middle of the 21C and the passenger behind, with this in-line seating allowing for a narrow cabin that aids the vehicle’s slippery aerodynamics. A range of cutting-edge and next-generation Alcantara  materials are found throughout the cabin.

This is as beautiful a design as you could want in a supercar. But what really sets this apart from the crowd is that, for the most part, its carbon fiber and alloy construction is the result of Divergent’s advanced 3D printing and manufacturing technology. Yeah, you read that right. And it’s all created in-house at the company’s facility in Los Angeles. Czinger says only 80 copies of the 21C will be produced at a cool $1.7 million.

In today's direct fuel injected, overhead camshaft engines, valves driven by belt- or chain-driven camshafts control the amount of air flowing in, and exhaust gases flowing out, of the cylinders. Timing, lift, and duration of intake and exhaust valve opening have significant impact on engine performance, emissions, and efficiency. Today's engines use variable valve control to manage timing of the valve’s opening and closing. Until now, variable valve control techniques could not regulate valve duration, as the valve’s closing timing was subordinate to opening timing and could not respond to diverse driving situations.

Hyundai addresses this with its new Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) technology that optimizes engine performance and fuel efficiency while reducing emissions. CCVD stretches or shortens the time intake valves are open, depending on engine speed and load. When the vehicle maintains a constant speed requiring low engine output, CVVD opens the intake valves from the middle to end of the compression stroke, improving fuel efficiency by reducing the resistance caused by compression. When high engine output is needed, intake valves are closed at the beginning of the compression stroke to maximize the amount of air for combustion.

CCVD brings a 4-percent boost in performance, a 5-percent improvement in fuel efficiency, and reduces emissions by 12 percent. It works as a complement to existing variable-valve-timing systems, not as a replacement. Hyundai is currently using CVVD on intake valves, but the technology can be used on exhaust valves as well. Hyundai's Smartstream G 1.6-liter engine is the first to feature the technology.

Internal combustion engines power the vast majority of the cars and trucks on the road today. That’s not by any means a bad thing. While electrification of our cars dominates most of today’s headlines and resources, the internal combustion engine is still what moves most of us from one place to another.

These tried-and-true powerplants have evolved to meet modern requirements in ways that lend flexibility to current and future needs. A primary advantage to internal combustion is that engines can be powered by multiple fuel sources including gasoline, diesel, and an array of alternative fuels. That flexibility provides options moving forward.

Hybrid cars and trucks, in all their configurations, are a gateway to pure electric vehicle acceptance. Gasoline-electric hybrids rely on an efficient internal combustion engine to function. The hybrid envelope has expanded in recent times to include plugin models that can travel varying distances on pure electric power as well.

Automatic start-stop function is an important technology that makes internal combustion vehicles more city-friendly by shutting an engine off when stopped at a traffic light for more than a few seconds, eliminating unnecessary idling emissions. The engine remains off as long as a driver’s foot is on the brake pedal and the vehicle is not in motion. When the light changes, lifting off the brake immediately restarts the engine and you drive away.

Fuel economy improvements, lower carbon emissions, and overall emissions reductions are also being accomplished by other strategies. Among the most prominent is engine downsizing, which allows the use of smaller displacement engines boosted with power-adding technologies like turbocharging. The old adage, ‘there’s no replacement for displacement,’ is being successfully circumvented by smart engine downsizing.

Some elegant solutions are presenting themselves. One example is Nissan’s VC-Turbo, the world’s first variable compression production engine. Modifying engine compression ratio through sophisticated computer control allows adjusting compression in real time, optimizing efficiency and performance depending on driving conditions.

Another example is the introduction of Chevrolet’s next-generation Dynamic Fuel Management in Silverado 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V-8 engines. This advanced technology optimizes power and fuel efficiency through cylinder deactivation, determining 80 times-per-second how many cylinders are actually needed for real-time driving needs, with the engine running on as little as a single cylinder to save fuel and decrease carbon emissions.

Gasoline engines have traditionally required a spark plug to ignite the fuel-air mixture in an engine’s combustion chamber to drive a piston. More thermally efficient diesel engines create ignition as a piston compresses the fuel-air mixture at high pressure, without a plug. So, what if you could combine the best of both worlds and make a gasoline engine work more like an efficient diesel? 

It now appears the technology is ready for prime time and production. Mazda’s new SKYACTIV-X is set to become the world’s first production engine to use compression ignition in a commercially available gasoline engine. The automaker’s proprietary Spark Controlled Compression Ignition design provides considerable torque during acceleration, along with sharp engine response, improved fuel efficiency, and lower emissions. 

The worldwide push toward electric vehicles has yielded some surprising consequences. One is an all-out effort to make combustion vehicles better and more competitive with the advancement and sharing of technologies across all platforms.

Is the internal combustion engine dead? Hardly. It just keeps getting better, more efficient, and technologically advanced as the years roll by.

The all-new 2019 RAM 1500 debuted with eTorque mild hybrid technology, an efficiency-enhancing system that’s exclusive to the segment. This new feature, while potentially important to buyers seeking a fuel economy bump in the increasingly-crowded and always competitive light pickup field, is not readily understood by all. So here’s an overview on how RAM’s eTorque mild hybrid works.

Functionally, eTorque works by replacing the RAM’s conventional alternator with a more robust motor/generator in 3.6-liter V-6 and 5.7-liter V-8 HEMI engines. The eTorque-equipped V-6 mounts its Continental motor-generator in front of the engine with the pulley pointing aft. A dedicated, water cooled coolant circuit is used since the internal cooling fans in a typical alternator would not work in this configuration. In the HEMI V-8, a Magneti Marelli motor-generator mounts conventionally near the top of the engine where air cooling works fine. The 48-volt eTorque system adds 90 pounds to a the HEMI V-8 and 120 pounds to the V-6, with the water-cooling circuit accounting for the difference.

When lifting off the throttle at speed, eTorque’s motor/generator begins to generate electrical energy that feeds back to its battery pack while also smoothing transmission downshifts. It provides a brief torque boost of 90 lb-ft in V-6 RAMs and 130 lb-ft in V-8 models. Along with adding torque during shifts, it contributes torque while transitioning in and out of four-cylinder mode during V-8 cylinder deactivation. The eTorque system restarts the engine and resumes forward motion within 70 milliseconds after an auto-stop. An interactive deceleration fuel shut-off system also saves fuel.

Electrical energy in the eTorque system is stored in a 30 pound, 430 watt-hour LG Chem battery pack mounted at the rear wall of the pickup cab. The system includes a DC-to-DC converter to supply the vehicle’s regular electrical loads and charge its 12-volt starter battery.

Alternators only draw modest power from an engine’s accessory drive. However, eTorque’s motor-generators use their accessory drive belt to slow and accelerate these trucks, so the belt must be larger and stronger, and also must wrap farther around the pulley. It also requires a tensioner on both sides to keep belts tight as the motor/generator transitions from generating to motoring. The eTorque Hemi gets a larger crankshaft pully as well that improves the motor/generator’s leverage.

While Audi and Mercedes-Benz are selling similar systems in Europe, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) is the first to market vehicles using the technology in large numbers in the U.S. With an estimated 2 to 3 mpg savings in city/combined fuel economy, eTorque delivers improved environmental performance and has the potential to have a measurable effect on FCA’s corporate average fuel economy as well.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu HybridChevrolet’s all-new 2016 Malibu features an aggressively-stylish design, loads of on-board tech, a four inch longer wheelbase, and greater rear leg room. It does all this while also increasing efficiency compared to its predecessor. The bump in efficiency comes in no small part from the use of a high strength steel structure that sheds 300 pounds, greater use of aluminum, a lighter engine, and lighter accessories.

Upping the efficiency ante is Chevy's Malibu Hybrid variant, which was distinguished at this year's Washington Auto Show as Green Car Journal's 2016 Connected Green Car of the Year™. The Malibu Hybrid won over finalists that included the Audi A3 e-tron, BMW 330e, Toyota Prius, and Volvo XC90 T8.

2016 Chevrolet MalibuThis model's hybrid tech is packaged so discretely there’s virtually no differentiation from a conventionally powered 2016 Malibu. Power is delivered by a 1.8-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine mated to a two-motor drive unit, providing 182 total system horsepower. The drive unit, which is slightly modified from the 2016 Chevrolet Volt powertrain and integrates propulsion and generating motors, kicks in at higher speeds and high loads to provide additional power for acceleration. Since it’s not a plug-in, the Malibu Hybrid has a significantly smaller 1.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack compared to the Volt's 18.4 kilowatt-hour pack. This enables efficient hybrid operation plus a nominal mile or so of all-electric driving at speeds up to 55 mph.

Efficiency is impressive with the Malibu Hybrid achieving an EPA rated 47 mpg in city driving and 46 mpg on the highway. The conventionally powered 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder version of the Malibu nets 27 mpg city and 37 mpg highway fuel efficiency, with the 2.0-liter turbo variant achieving 22 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

2016 Chevrolet MalibuThe Malibu Hybrid also shares the Volt’s blended regenerative braking system, which provides maximum kinetic energy recovery during braking to generate electricity stored in the battery pack for maintaining charge. The engine features Chevrolet’s first application of Exhaust Gas Heat Recovery (EGHR), technology that uses exhaust heat to warm the engine and cabin. EGHR improves engine warm-up and ensures consistent fuel economy performance in cold weather.

Advanced on-board electronics and connectivity are hallmarks of the new Malibu Hybrid. The mid-size sedan comes standard with Chevrolet MyLink Radio and an 8-inch diagonal color touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, rear vision camera, OnStar, and 4G LTE with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. That’s a lot of tech for a model that starts at an approachable $28,645 with much more highly desired technology available.

2016 Chevrolet MalibuThe Malibu features front pedestrian braking, low speed front automatic braking, and parking assist. When activated, adaptive cruise control maintains a set speed while also adjusting speed to keep you a safe distance from cars ahead. Selecting lane keep assist automatically provides steering input to help keep you from drifting from your lane unless a turn signal is activated,

Parents will appreciate Teen Driver, which encourages safe driving by muting the audio of any device paired with the vehicle when front-seat occupants aren't wearing seat belts. It is also the first in-vehicle system in the industry that lets parents view stored information on how their teenagers drove the vehicle, which can be a useful teaching tool for young drivers.

The all-new 2016 Chevrolet Malibu will debut a system, called Te

2016-rav4-hybrid-rear-viewThe Toyota RAV4 that emerged an all-new generation SUV in 2013 features a stylish refresh this year with a bolder front fascia, restyled bumpers, and sharper rocker panels. That’s not the big news for 2016, though, because the RAV4 now features an important new addition – the first-ever hybrid powertrain in the RAV4.

While an all-electric RAV4 variant developed with Tesla had previously been offered in limited numbers and markets beginning in 2012 and an earlier generation RAV4 EV was offered in small numbers in the late 1990s, this is a very different scenario. Toyota has priced the RAV4 Hybrid base price aggressively at $28,370 and expects it to represent about 10 to 15 percent of all 2016 RAV4 models sold.

2016-rav4-hybrid-energy-monitorToyota's two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system is used in the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid, the same as in the Lexus NX 300h hybrid crossover. In this application the RAV4 Hybrid comes with Electronic On-Demand AWD-I, making all-wheel-drive standard in the model. Fuel efficiency is rated at 34 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Driving range is just over 480 miles.

The RAV4 Hybrid integrates a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder gasoline engine and 141 horsepower electric motor to drive the front wheels. A 67 horsepower electric motor provides torque to the rear wheels when the vehicle’s control system senses power is needed. Electrical energy is provided by a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission is used. Several operating modes are provided. ECO mode favors fuel economy by optimizing throttle response and air conditioning output. EV mode allows the RAV4 Hybrid to run solely on battery power for about a half-mile while traveling below 25 mph.

2016-toyota-rav4-hybrid-limited-dashInside, more premium features are used this year including soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels and a leather steering wheel. A 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display is included in a revised gauge cluster. The five passenger crossover offers ample room for five adults plus 38.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seats, expanding to 73.4 cubic feet with the 60/40 split rear seats folded. Rear-passenger knee room is enhanced with front seats that feature a slim seat back. The rear seatbacks also recline several degrees for added passenger comfort.

The RAV4 Hybrid is one of the first U.S. models to offer Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), a new multi-feature safety system that includes forward collision warning and automatic pre-collision braking. There is also lane-departure alert, radar-based adaptive cruise control, pedestrian pre-collision warning, and automatic high beams. A new Bird's Eye View Monitor with Perimeter Scan provides a live rotating 360-degree view of the surroundings on a 7-inch touchscreen using four cameras mounted on the front, side mirrors, and rear of the car. Limited models include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts as well.


honda-eco-assist-displayEven the best fuel saving technology can be negated by poor driving habits. Thus, many of the latest vehicles come with features that help you drive ‘smarter’ to save fuel. The simplest provide feedback through computer displays showing instantaneous and average mpg, range to empty, and more. More sophisticated displays may also graphically indicate efficient driving, like leafs turning greener.

Some vehicles have more active features that coach drivers so they can drive more efficiently. By staying in the green within the blue and green ‘coaching bars’ in Honda's Eco Assist display, drivers can see in real-time how they can achieve higher mpg. Pressing the system’s green ECON button also causes the engine and other energy-consuming systems to automatically operate more efficiently.

bmw-eco-proSimilarly, BMW Driving Dynamics Control allows choosing between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ driving modes. Along with shutting down unnecessary systems that consume power, Eco Pro includes a coasting function that decouples the engine from the drivetrain when the accelerator is released between 30 and 100 mph.

Fiat's eco:Drive provides efficiency feedback after a trip, not during it. While driving, eco:Drive records data that can be transferred to a memory stick plugged into its USB port. This data can then be accessed on a PC or laptop to enable a driver to review how well they did. An ecoIndex scores driving skills on a 100 point scale. Tutorials provide tips on how to score better and scores can be compared to tell if driving skills are improving.

fiat-eco-drive-screenWith Nissan's Eco Pedal, the accelerator pedal pushes back against a driver’s foot to encourage accelerating in a fuel-efficient manner. More aggressive acceleration is available if the driver pushes harder. Additionally, an instrument panel provides four levels of indication depending on acceleration – no light when the vehicle is stopped, green with appropriate pedal pressure, flashing green with almost-unfavorable pressure, and amber for unfavorable pressure.


Honda FCV ConceptMany believe hydrogen to have the greatest potential of all alternative fuels, not only for vehicles but as a primary energy source for all aspects of life. Used in fuel cells to electrochemically create electricity for powering a vehicle’s electric motors, hydrogen produces no emissions other than water vapor and heat. There are no CO2 or other greenhouse gases.

While hydrogen is largely extracted from methane today, there are bigger things on the horizon. Hydrogen is a virtually unlimited resource when electrolyzing water using solar- or wind-generated electricity, a process that splits H2O (water) into hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) molecules. Water covers much of the Earth’s surface and is the most abundant compound on the planet.

hydrogen-mazda-miataThis has been on the mind of auto manufacturers for years. In fact, editors have experienced many test drives of prototypes and concepts running on hydrogen power for years, like our time behind the wheel of a Mazda MX-5 Miata concept more than two decades ago, along with others from BMW, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and more.

Along with their own independent hydrogen vehicle development programs, some automakers like GM and Honda are working cooperatively to develop next-generation fuel cell systems and hydrogen storage. Others are working with hydrogen fuel suppliers and state governments to develop an expanded hydrogen fueling network.

Chevy EquinoxIn recent years, Honda has been leasing its FCX Clarity fuel cell sedan to limited numbers of consumers in California and Hyundai has recently followed suit with its Tucson Fuel Cell crossover vehicle, also available to limited numbers of consumers in California where hydrogen refueling is more readily available. Both Honda and Toyota have announced plans to introduce next-generation production fuel cell vehicles for consumers shortly.

As with any game-changing technology, hydrogen vehicles come with their challenges. Hydrogen vehicles are presently quite costly to produce, although their cost to consumers who lease them will surely be subsidized by manufacturers until this field matures. The production of ‘green’ hydrogen through electrolysis and other means is also presently limited and costly, plus the nation’s hydrogen refueling infrastructure is extremely sparse, although growing.

shell-hydrogenThe hydrogen vehicle field continues to evolve. A recent study by Sandia National focused on 70 gas stations in California – the state with the largest number of existing hydrogen stations – to determine if any could add hydrogen fueling based on requirements of the 2011 NFPA 2 hydrogen technologies code. The conclusion is that 14 of the 70 stations explored could readily accept hydrogen fuel, with an additional 17 potentially able to integrate hydrogen with property expansions. In this light, expanding the network of hydrogen stations may be more straightforward than previously thought.

Even amid these challenges, with major commitments from automakers like Honda, Toyota, GM, and others in Europe and Asia, hydrogen vehicles are a very real and exciting possibility for the road ahead.


Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) combine the functionality of a gasoline-electric hybrid with the zero-emission capabilities of an all-electric vehicle. Unlike conventional hybrids that rely solely on an internal combustion engine and regenerative braking to charge their batteries, PHEVs also allow batteries to be charged through an electrical outlet or EV charging station.

A PHEV’s battery pack is significantly larger and more powerful than a conventional hybrid, but still quite smaller than that of a dedicated battery electric vehicle. Thus, a PHEV’s electric driving range is shorter than an electric vehicle. Still, the added functionality of 20 to 40 miles of zero-emission electric driving is a real plus to many hybrid owners.

Examples of PHEVs already available to U.S. consumers include the BMW 13 and i8, Chevrolet Volt, Cadillac ELR, Ford C-MAX Energi, Ford Fusion Energi, Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and Toyota Prius Plug-In. Other PHEVs from various automakers are in the works.

The larger battery pack in a PHEV can add several thousand dollars to a hybrid’s purchase price. For example, Ford's Fusion and C-MAX Energi models use a 7.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that provides about 21 miles of electric-only driving. This compares to the smaller and less expensive 1.4 kilowatt-hour battery in Ford hybrids without plug-in capability. The kilowatt-hour capacity of a battery is an indicator of the miles a PHEV can travel in electric-only mode, much like the gasoline in a conventional car's tank indicates its range.

A PHEV’s greatest advantage is that driving range is not limited by the finite battery capacity carried on board, thus there is no ‘range anxiety.’ Once battery power is depleted, a PHEV reverts to conventional gasoline-hybrid operation or, depending on its configuration, powers its motors with electricity created by an on-board internal combustion engine-generator. For this reason, PHEVs are often called extended range electric vehicles (EREVs).

Calculating PHEV fuel economy is complicated due to differing operating modes – all-electric with no gasoline used, combined electric and gasoline use, and gasoline-only operation. Plus, series and parallel plug-in hybrids operate differently. For this reason, federal PHEV fuel economy labels have been established to illustrate a plug-in hybrid’s expected efficiency measured in miles-per-gallon (MPG) when running on gasoline-electric hybrid power and MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent) when running on electricity.

toyota-fcvToyota has unveiled its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that will be available for sale to California customers in summer 2015. The Toyota FCV four-door sedan is forward-looking with its blending of traditional sleek styling and aggressive futuristic exterior touches.

This is quite a departure from the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell now on sale in California that packages hydrogen fuel cell power within a conventional-looking Tucson SUV. Honda took a more middle-of-the-road approach with its FCX Clarity fuel cell sedan that it began leasing to limited numbers of California customers in 2008, offering an advanced body design that, while not necessarily wildly futuristic, did preview many of the styling cues that would show up in Honda’s model lineup in future years.

toyota-fcv-rearLike its fuel cell competitors, the Toyota FCV is driven by electric motors powered by electricity electrochemically generated by a hydrogen fuel cell. Since there is no combustion, no CO2 is produced and the car emits only water vapor. The Toyota FCV is expected to travel 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen, providing the advantages of an electric car without the limitations of short driving range. Refueling is said to take less than five minutes.

While hydrogen fueling opportunities are admittedly sparse these days, Toyota is working toward a solution in California through its partnership with FirstElement Fuels. The aim is to support the long-term operation and maintenance of 19 new hydrogen refueling stations in that state, accessible by all model fuel cell vehicles. The availability of hydrogen fueling will determine where automakers initially offer their first fuel cell vehicles, thus the interest in California.


Race car designers go to extreme measures to make competition vehicles as light as possible. Lighter is faster. It’s simple physics; less horsepower is required to accelerate a light vehicle compared to a heavy one. So on a given amount of horsepower, a lighter race car with advanced materials will be faster than one that weighs even a few pounds more. It also takes less energy to slow the car, providing better braking performance. The use of lighter and more advanced materials generally contributes to better handling, too, since there is less mass working on the chassis through the corners.

Lighter vehicles are also more environmentally friendly since they require less energy to move from point A to point B. Shaving a few hundred pounds off a car design can yield major improvements in fuel economy. In addition to improved mileage, electric vehicles will see longer range between charges if they can be made lighter.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BMW-i3-Composite-Construction-1024x576.jpgTrimming pounds off a production car is not as easy as it seems, however. Today’s road worthy vehicles must feature hundreds of pounds of federally mandated safety equipment that wasn’t required or available a few decades ago. Equipment like antilock brake systems, multiple airbags, advanced computer controls, and crash mitigating high-strength body structures all add weight to a vehicle design. Pile on the comfort and convenience equipment that most new car buyers expect in a modern car or light truck and the extra bulk adds up fast.

That’s why vehicle designs like the new BMW i3 and i8 are so intriguing. These models are revolutionary for mass production vehicles, featuring clean sheet designs that found BMW designers throwing traditional materials and production methods out the window, resulting in lightweight electric-drive cars with maximum strength for safety.

BMW i3 lightweight carbon fiber construction.For example, the i3’s primary body and chassis structure are composed of two separate units that form what BMW calls the LifeDrive architecture. The primary body structure is the Life module and the Drive module incorporates the powertrain components. The passenger cell module is made from Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic, or CFRP. This is the first ever use of CFRP in a mass production vehicle. Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic is every bit as strong as steel yet is 50 percent lighter. When you can trim half the weight off something as large as a body structure, you are talking major weight savings.

Aluminum has been used as a lightweight material in the transportation industry for many years. The i3’s rear Drive module that houses the electric drive motor, rear suspension, and optional range extending gasoline engine is made of aluminum. While both are light and strong, Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic is even 30 percent lighter than aluminum. Materials throughout the i3 were selected for their weight saving properties and for their sustainability characteristics.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BMW-i3-Silver-Side-Doors-Open-1-1024x576.jpgBeneath the flat floor (there is no transmission tunnel) of the i3 is a space-saving 22-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that tips the scales at 450 pounds. Power is delivered by a hybrid synchronous electric motor. The motor produces 170 horsepower with 184 lb-ft torque and can spin up to 11,400 rpm. The compact electric motor offers immediate torque and weighs just 110 pounds. With a curb weight of just 2,700 pounds, the i3 is nimble and great fun to drive. As in racing, automakers strive to save weight because it gives them a competitive edge. Sometimes, less is more.

The Acura NSX Prototype Makes Its Public Running DebutThe all-new NSX hybrid supercar, to be motivated by an advanced powertrain combining torque vectoring all-wheel drive with hybrid efficiency, was recently shown in prototype form by Acura. The prototype maintains the low and wide stance of the original NSX with the dynamic and alluring proportions of the NSX Concept that debuted in 2012.

The new NSX design steps up this car’s game by combining supercar driving dynamics with advanced environmental performance. Its all-new Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) powertrain features three electric motors, one integrated with the mid-mounted, direct-injected V-6 engine. Power is delivered through an all-new dual-clutch transmission (DCT) driving the rear wheels. Two independent electric motors drive the front wheels.

The Acura NSX Prototype Makes Its Public Running Debut

Multiple benefits come as a matter of course. Beyond the obvious advantages of gasoline-electric hybrid power, the system will enable instant delivery of negative or positive torque to the front wheels during cornering to achieve a level of driving performance unparalleled with current AWD systems. Electric-only front-wheel drive will be available for zero emissions driving.

Acura’s iconic supercar will be produced at the Performance Manufacturing Center now under construction in Marysville, Ohio. The original Acura NSX was built in Japan from 1990 until 2005. The new NSX is being developed by a global R&D team led by designers and engineers at Honda R&D Americas in Los Angeles and Raymond, Ohio. Honda’s engine plant in Anna, Ohio will assemble the advanced powertrain for the NSX. The Acura NSX is slated for launch in 2015 and will be exported to customers throughout the world.


Hydraulic hybrid technology is already used in commercial trucks that travel at lower speeds and experience lots of starts and stops. Now, the PSA Peugeot Citroën Group plans to offer hydraulic hybrid cars in 2016, a first. It calls it technology ‘Hybrid Air’ because it uses compressed air for energy storage rather than the nitrogen gas usually used in hydraulic hybrid trucks. Hybrid Air was developed by PSA Peugeot Citroën in collaboration with Bosch.

The Hybrid Air’s powertrain adjusts automatically to one of three modes – Hybrid Air, Gasoline, or Combined – depending on driving conditions. The system uses a gasoline engine, hydraulic motor/pump, and an energy storage system consisting of two hydraulic units and their pressure accumulators. Power from the engine and motor/pump is transmitted to the wheels via an automatic transmission. A smart control system adapts the operating mode to the driver’s commands and optimizes energy efficiency in the three different modes.

The hydraulic pump/motor unit recovers energy generated by the gasoline engine and from braking and deceleration. Energy is stored by pumping hydraulic fluid into the high pressure storage tank and by compressing air in the tank. When power is required in the Hybrid Air or Combined Hybrid Air modes, the high pressure hydraulic fluid powers the motor/pump driving the wheels. Afterward, the now-low pressure hydraulic fluid is stored in a low pressure reservoir.

For continuous highway driving, the engine alone powers the car. At speeds of less than 43 mph (70 km/h), the vehicle switches to the motor/pump for zero-emission operation. When more power is required at lower speeds or when the compressed air energy storage needs topping off, the system will run in Combined Hybrid Air mode.

Initially, PSA plans to use the system in its B segment super-mini models like the Peugeot 208 and Citroen C3, and C segment compacts like the Peugeot 308 and Citroen C4. It will also be used in the group’s light commercial vehicles. Its advantages over hybrid electric vehicles include being more cost-effective, robust, and service-friendly.

A distinct advantage is that this Hybrid Air system is expected to provide fuel savings of 45 percent in city driving and increase a vehicle’s range by 90 percent compared to conventional engines, while offering the same horsepower. In urban driving, Hybrid Air-powered vehicles can run on air power alone for 60 to 80 percent of the time. When used in standard body styles such as the Citroen C3 and Peugeot 208, the system achieves combined fuel consumption of 81 mpg.

The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, or G-wagen – short for Geländewagen – has been around since 1979. It looks like Mercedes-Benz could be offering this iconic, off-road capable SUV for many more years.

Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studio in Carlsbad, California created the Ener-G-Force concept shown at the 2012 L.A. Auto Show, a civilian version of the Mercedes-Benz entry in the 2012 Los Angeles Design Challenge. Mercedes-Benz was one of six entrants that presented their vision of the Highway Patrol Vehicle 2025, this year’s theme.

The futuristic Ener-G-Force is powered by hydrogen fuel cells supplying electricity to four wheel-hub motors that motivate 20-inch wheels. Advanced electronics adapts power output for each individual wheel to provide precisely the right amount of traction required for the respective terrain. A roof-mounted, 360-degree ‘Terra-Scan’ topography scanner provides a handy read on nearby surroundings, with scan results used to adjust the spring and damping rates as well as other suspension parameters for maximum on- and off-road traction.

Recycled water stored in tanks on the Ener-G-Force roof is transferred to an on-board hydro-tech converter, which in turn electrolyzes water into hydrogen for the fuel cells. This renewable energy could provide an estimated zero-emission operating range of about 500 miles.

The vehicle’s strikingly-styled side skirts are designed to house either energy storage units or hot-swappable battery packs. Color changes in the side skirts’ illumination indicate energy pack operating and charge status.

The police version is differentiated with emergency lights integrated into the roof and other law enforcement equipment and markings. Less glass area is also found on the police variant to provide a safer environment cocoon for police officers.

By mid-2013, Mazda will be offering a diesel engine sedan in the U.S. market, the first diesel car from an Asian manufacturer here in recent times. The Mazda 2.2-liter SkyACTIVE-D diesel engine will be available in the all-new 2014 Mazda6 along with a 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G gasoline engine, the latter coming first. Both engines can be mated with either the SkyACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic or SkyACTIV-MT six-speed manual transmission.

Compared to the 2.2-liter MZR diesel engine already powering Mazda models in other markets, U.S. bound Madza6 variants get the more advanced – and 10 percent lighter – 2.2-liter SkyACTIV-D diesel that develops greater torque.

Other improvements include a 20 percent reduction in internal friction and improved fuel economy. The SkyACTIV-D features a new two-stage turbocharger and a 14:1 compression ratio, much lower compression than typical diesels.

Mazda says this low compression ratio results in cleaner burning with lower nitrogen oxides, producing virtually no soot. This means no additional NOx aftertreatment is needed, as is the case with many other modern diesel engines.

The 2014 Mazda6 is first production vehicle to feature Mazda’s unique i-ELOOP (‘Intelligent Energy Loop’) braking regeneration system. Unlike virtually every other regenerative braking system that uses batteries to store electrical energy created during braking or coast-down, i-ELOOP uses a capacitor for energy storage. The recouped electrical energy is used to power all Mazda6 electrical systems.

Among its advantages is that i-ELOOP avoids the need for a dedicated electric motor and battery, making the system more efficient, compact, and lighter than traditional regenerative braking systems. Also, capacitors can charge and discharge rapidly and are resistant to deterioration even in prolonged use.

Computer and communication technologies are proving important in helping motorists drive more intelligently and efficiently. These high-tech strategies are increasingly being used to complement the fuel economy and emissions reductions brought by improved powerplants and vehicle electrification. On the way to the federally mandated fleet fuel economy average of 54.5 mpg, all strategies and efficiency technologies become important.

Like many other automakers,  the BMW Group is investing large amounts in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technologies to make traveling  more efficient, safer, and more convenient. Recently, the BMW Group presented some of its latest innovations that are part of its BMW ConnectedDrive.

BMW's Mobility Assistant, currently being tested in Berlin, can help travelers chose the best way of traveling to a destination, especially in a congested city. This iPhone app can provide information on a variety of transportation options. When a destination is entered, the Mobility Assistant displays various routes to reach the destination cost-effectively and quickly – whether by car, public transportation, or a combination of modes.

Finding a place to park can waste fuel and time. BMW's ParkatmyHouse and ParkNow provide an answer by making it easier to locate parking spaces. ParkatmyHouse is for entrepreneurs and homeowners who want to rent parking spaces, with ParkatmyHouse parking spaces at more than 20,000 locations in the United Kingdom and over 150,000 registered drivers using them. With ParkNow, drivers can book parking spaces in advance through the ParkNow website or by using the ParkNow App for smart phones. There are currently 14 ParkNow locations in the San Francisco area.

The ability to travel in city traffic without constantly stopping and starting at traffic lights means calmer and safer driving while saving fuel and reducing emissions. BMW's Traffic Light Assistant communicates with traffic lights to obtain and evaluate their timing, and then informs a driver about the optimum speed to match traffic light timing. For instance, if the light at the next intersection is projected to be red if the driver doesn't change speed, the driver would be informed early enough to brake smoothly.

Getting stuck in a traffic jam can waste lots of fuel, not to mention being a source of frustration and  even lead to road rage incidents. ConnectedDrive-equipped BMWs with RTTI (Real Time Traffic Information) provides drivers with the latest information about traffic conditions, enabling drivers to select routes with less congestion, thus saving time, emissions, and fuel.      

Updated every three minutes, RTTI indicates five levels of traffic flow including flowing normally,  slow-moving traffic, heavy traffic, congested, or gridlocked.

BMW is also developing BMW ConnectedRide, a version of BMW ConnectedDrive for BMW motorcycles. Currently, the emphasis is on safety with features like Left Turn Assistant, Traffic Light Assistant, Collision Warning, and Traffic Sign Recognition. The motorcyclist would be alerted about adverse weather conditions like fog, rain, snow, and ice, which are all much greater hazards for motorcycle riders. The cyclist could also be warned about other hazards like an oil slick, loose gravel, potholes, or an obstacle in the road. Warnings could be presented via a heads-up display in the windscreen.


BMW's  Concept Active Tourer, a through-the-road plug-in hybrid, uses a front-mounted engine to drive the front wheels and an electric motor to drive the rear, with no mechanical connection between the two. In most hybrids the output of the engine and motor are combined. The Concept Active Tourer is the first additional application of the eDrive sys­tem used in the i8, which incorporates an electric motor, lithium-ion battery, and intelligent engine control. BMW will use the eDrive designation for all its electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Like BMW’s latest four- and six-cyl­inder engines, the BMW Concept Active Tourer’s 1.5-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine uses BMW TwinPower turbo tech­nology. Even though it has only three-cylinders, BMW claims it is very smooth running even at low speeds and emits the sporty sound expected of a BMW.

The synchronous electric motor can power the car for up to 18 miles exclu­sively on a fully charged battery. It also augments the gasoline engine to provide over 190 horsepower when maximum power is required. BMW expects it will get an impressive 94 mpg, achieved partly through automatic engine start/stop and regenerative braking energy supplied the rear axle during deceleration. A high-volt­age generator connected to the 1.5-engine also charges the battery while driving.

BMW’s Concept Active Tourer has an ECO PRO mode to help reduce fuel con­sumption. When appropriate, it reduces air conditioning and other electrically powered creature comforts to increase fuel efficiency. Linked to the navigation system, ECO PRO mode gives drivers advice on how to reach a destination using minimum fuel. ECO PRO mode also completely shuts off the engine at speeds up to nearly 80 mph, and then decouples the engine from the drivetrain up to 100 mph to make full use of the kinetic energy already generated.

The Efficient Dynamics strategy uses information from the navigation system to optimize electric motor and battery ef­ficiency. For example, it calculates in ad­vance the most suitable driving situations and sections of a route for electric-only operation or to charge the battery. This optimized charging strategy can achieve an energy savings up to 10 percent and thus increase electric range.

While small on the outside, the Tourer is very roomy on the inside. It rides on a long 105 inch wheelbase and has an over­all length of 171 inches. A tall roof allows a raised seating position for an excellent all-around view. Batteries are located entirely beneath the floor so there’s no intrusion into passenger or cargo space.

Will the BMW Concept Active Tourer appear in dealer showrooms? BMW has a good track record for putting concept vehicles into production, so here’s hop­ing.