Long Term Test: 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Our long term test of the new 2012 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid really gave us a detachment from reality. When you get behind the wheel of a car like this for a week, it’s easy to forget as you watch the average miles per gallon hover at 41.5, that other poor sods are driving similar cars and getting only 18 mpg.

The all new redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry at first glance looks only mildly retouched in styling, but continues the very formula that has made it a best seller. It is however all new inside and out with crisper lines, sharper corners and an all new interior that really raises the fashion quotient.

The Camry is still solid, predictable, and gives you a lot of car for the money however. In the case of the Hybrid model we tested, you get all of what has made the Camry the top selling car in its class for what seems like forever, plus the kind of gas mileage that people work hard for even in sub-compact cars.

Our Camry Hybrid XLE was a top of the line model with the premium interior package which brought the sticker price to a healthy $34,480. The more budget minded can buy an LE Hybrid model that starts at $25,900, still only a $3,400 price increase over the standard four-cylinder Camry LE.

The Premium package included a boat load of options like leather suede heated seats, push button start, blind spot monitor, a power tilt and slide moonroof and the top of the line JBL navigation sound system with Toyota’s new Entune connectivity functions. All of the above made living in the Camry for a week comfortable and good.

The interior had a very tasteful looking modern two-tone design with high quality trim and an easy to read instrument cluster. The seating was comfortable and able to easily adjust with power to the needs of both short and tall drivers in our office. A memory seat function would have been welcome however and for a $6,320 package price, the sound system still sounded pretty base level.

The good news for the 2012 Camry Hybrid came in the handling and efficiency department. While Camry has a rather vanilla aura we were surprised at how adept it was in our twisty mountain test loop of Apache Trail, located on the outskirts of Phoenix. It was even dare we say fun to drive.

While it has low rolling resistance rubber which usually means no grip, the chassis was competent and well tuned in spirited driving. The electric power steering was well weighted and balanced with the chassis and made the car feel as a united front against the world as opposed to a collection of unconnected systems.

The core of Camry’s powertrain is the latest generation of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. It combines a 2.5 liter Atkinson Cycle gasoline engine with two electric motors. Through a constantly variable transmission (CVT), they work in concert to provide an EPA estimated 43 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. In our week of testing we averaged 41.1 combined but saw 15 minute averages as high as 45-48 mpg around town.

Power delivery from the Camry was smooth and refined in most cases. The engine stops and starts constantly when switching back and forth from electric power to gas power. Only sitting at a dead stop is the engine starting up really all that perceptible. On the road you often don’t even notice.

The engine is a lot quieter at full throttle than a Toyota Prius which has a similar powertrain. This is due to a healthy amount of sound deadening as well as the fact that Camry’s engine is larger and does not have to work as hard. On the freeway the Camry Hybrid is actually one of the quietest cars we have tested in a while.

We came away impressed with the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid in the sense that it makes good sense. When you consider Toyota’s stellar reliability record in concert with the pure math of the extra gas mileage the $3,400 hybrid option delivers, it’s hard to look back at the standard gasoline model with goo goo eyes in today’s gas price environment.

Automakers Join Forces For Fast Charging Standard

Recognizing the importance of a single international approach for DC fast charging, Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen have agreed on the combined charging system as an international standardized approach to charge electric vehicles (EV) in Europe and the United States.

The system is a combined charging approach integrating all charging scenarios into one vehicle inlet/charging connector and uses identical ways for the vehicle to communicate with the charging station. This allows electric vehicles from Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen can share the same fast charging stations.

The seven auto manufacturers believe the development of a common charging approach is good for customers, the industry and charging infrastructure providers. Standardization will reduce build complexity for manufacturers, accelerate the installation of common systems internationally and most importantly, improve the ownership experience for EV drivers.

The endorsement of the combined charging system was based on reviews and analysis of existing charging strategies, the ergonomics of the connector and the preferences of customers in both the United States and Europe. The harmonized approach – across both continents and all manufacturers – will provide a framework for future infrastructure planning as well as a communication protocol to assist in the integration of electric vehicles into the smart grids.

The seven auto manufacturers also agreed to use HomePlug Green Phy as the communication protocol. This approach will also facilitate integration of the electric vehicle into future smart grid applications.

Automakers point to the success of Level 1 and Level 2 (for 220V charging in the U.S.) as an example of how standardization will increase the adoption of electric vehicles and increase customer satisfaction. The harmonized electric vehicle charging solution is backward compatible with the J1772 connector standard in the U.S. Backward compatibility also has been achieved in Europe where the system is based on the IEC 62196 Type 2. The approval of the J1772 standard has given electric vehicle owners the comfort of knowing they can charge at all Level 2 charging stations. Prior to standardization an EV owner had no way of knowing if the charge port they were pulling up to was compatible with their vehicle.

2013 Volkswagen e-up! Electric Concept

The world premiere of the new Volkswagen up! took place at Frankfurt last week. The debut featured a number of models of the new micro car. Whether we will get the up in the USA is still not certain, but it is too cute to pass over.

Volkswagen is unveiled six exciting concept cars to demonstrate how this family could be further developed based on the new up!. Specially designed for the world’s beaches are the buggy up! and the up! azzurra sailing team. Then there is the cross up!, which was conceived for urban driving. The GT up! is a concept car tuned for the Autobahn. Another concept car is the eco up!, which is powered by natural gas and extremely clean to drive. Finally, the e-up! is a zero-emissions version with electric power.

Volkswagen says a production version of the e-up! will be launched on the market in 2013. At Frankfurt, Volkswagen presented a near-production study of this zero-emissions car. At its front end is a distinctive design detail: the arc-shaped layout of the LED daytime running lights in the bumper. Of technical interest the upper engine cooling air slot—between the headlights and the VW logo—is fully covered by an elegant chrome trim strip. That is because narrow air intake slots above and below the license plate serve to cool the drive system of the e-up!.

Supplying the propulsive power for the concept car, which can reach a top speed of 84 mph, is an electric motor that has a continuous output of 54 horsepower and a peak of 80 hp. As is typical of electric motors, the nearly silent power system develops a high maximum torque of 155 lb-ft. from a standstill. The driver activates the forward or reverse gear by a pushbutton on the center console.

The car’s battery capacity of 18 kWh enables distances of up to 80 miles, depending on driving style—enough driving range for the city and for the trips of most commuters. The batteries themselves are located in the underbody of the e-up!. Meanwhile, all key drive and ancillary components are located in the front engine compartment.

Obviously we would love to see the Volkswagen up! and the e-up! come to the States. We’ll have to wait and see.

Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus, The First Hybrid Car

Hybrid cars and electric cars are actually not at all a new idea. In the first decade of the automobile, history shows that electricity was a big part of the early years. There were almost as many electric cars available to consumers in 1910 as there were gasoline powered ones.

The 1900 Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus was built by Professor Ferdinand Porsche and co-workers at the Lohner Electric Company. It made its debut at the Paris Exposition in 1900. At the time Lohner told the press of Porsche, “He is very young, but he is a man with a big career before him. You will hear of him again”.

Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus 5

The Semper Vivus had two generators each connected to a gasoline engine. The engine and generator combination charged the batteries and provided power to the electric hub motors simultaneously. While all cars of the era were difficult to drive by modern standards, steering the Semper Vivus was a workout. The front axle load was a hefty 2337 lbs. due to the large heavy un-sprung hub motors.

Ferdinand Porsche was instrumental in the development of the hub mounted motors. The design eliminated the need for a transmission. Subsequent models built between 1900 and 1902 boasted 12 hp and a 70 mile range. At the time it was determined that the hybrids weren’t cost effective for mass market production and were not pursued further by Ferdinand Porsche.

Semper Vivus 6

Porsche however recently reminded the world at the debut of their new Panamera S Hybrid that the company built the very first Hybrid car in the world, back in 1900. To celebrate this milestone the company has been quietly and painstakingly building a working replica of the “Semper Vivus” from early drawings and photographs.

The completely drivable and functioning Semper Vivus replica debuted at the New York Auto Show this spring. The collaborative effort between Porsche Engineering and German coach builder Karosseriebau Drescher began in 2007.

Great detail and attention was given not only to the visual details, but the mechanical operation and authenticity of the original. Since no surviving examples of the original existed for them to study, the project took on an enormous historical weight.

 

Their first move was exhaustive research in various archives throughout Europe. With several original shop drawings and many black and white photographs the team went to work in creating the replica you see here. As there was no functioning wheel hub motor in existence, technical details such as performance and range had to be resurrected and calculated from scratch.

The project took three years to complete building most of the parts but also finding some of the original bits for the gasoline engine.

Ford Standardizes EV Charging Port Location

Ford is proud to say that when owners of the soon to come Ford Focus Electric and Ford C-MAX “Energi” plug-in hybrid charge up their cars, they’ll find the location of their charging ports to be just right.

Finding the best charge port location may seem inconsequential. However, Ford says that an electric vehicle owner is likely to plug in or disconnect his or her car four times a day, or nearly 1,500 times a year. Compare that to once a week or 52 times a year for filling up a gas tank. The higher frequency of interaction the charge port entails played a role in Ford wanting to make sure the location was just right.

“After benchmarking multiple competitive vehicles, we found there wasn’t much consistency in charge port location,” said Susan Curry, Ford Electrified Vehicle Technology Integration supervisor. “We wanted to give customers a location that made the most sense for them and would seem as simple as filling up at the gas station.”

The team used market research to find out how customers expected to charge up. The research showed most customers would charge their vehicle at home, which was helpful in determining the best place for the port. Feedback also indicated the location should be kept out of areas with high risk of damage in the event of small crashes. This was a driving factor, Ford says, in the choice of the side of the vehicle rather than the front or rear.

To meet customer usage patterns, engineers considered the driver side, the passenger side and the front and rear of the vehicle. Placement in the front could have created problems with customers having to bend down to plug in or out, snow packing, dead insects or debris, and potential damage from car accidents. The rear of the vehicle would have invited the same issue, with damage from fender benders, as well as less accessibility when trying to connect to a charging station. Incidentally, Chevrolet chose the same location for their charging port on the Chevrolet Volt.

“The left front fender location keeps the charge port in sight, before the customer enters or exits the car, for an easy reminder to unplug or recharge,” said Mary Smith, Ford Electrified Vehicle Technology Integration supervisor. “It creates an intuitive placement for owners that also has aesthetic appeal.”

A bit of ego plays a role too as additional thought went into the port location from a style perspective to ensure it would provide that “wow” factor. Being positioned on the side of the vehicle delivers the best visibility, especially when lit to show the charge state, as opposed to being buried in the front with the grille and other style cues.

The 2012 Ford Focus Electric will go on sale later this year and the 2013 C-Max Energi Hybrid is said to be coming sometime in 2012.