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NYTimes.com Article: A Shade of Green: S.U.V.’s Try to Soften Their Image

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  • rickrise@earthlink.net
    This article from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by rickrise@earthlink.net. As you can see, they still don t get it: a world populated with giant cars is
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 16 7:14 AM
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      This article from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by rickrise@....

      As you can see, they still don't get it: a world populated with giant cars is still a world with no place for our humanity....


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      A Shade of Green: S.U.V.’s Try to Soften Their Image

      February 16, 2004

      DETROIT, Feb. 15 - Can the sport utility vehicle, the b�te
      noire of environmental advocates, be reinvented as a green

      This year, Ford and Toyota plan to sell the first two
      hybrid sport utility vehicles. With carlike mileage
      expected, the advent of the hybrid S.U.V. may change the
      uniformly visceral antipathy to sport utility vehicles
      among environmental advocates, even if automakers are
      unlikely to sell enough hybrids to significantly reduce
      fuel consumption or pollution any time soon.

      "I would definitely encourage people who need
      four-wheel-drive vehicles to look at these," said the Rev.
      Jim Ball, the president of the Evangelical Environmental
      Network, a small group that sponsored a widely publicized
      grass-roots campaign called "What Would Jesus Drive?"

      "These vehicles are one small step," he added, "but we've
      got a long way to go here."

      The Toyota and Ford hybrids, which will be 2005 models,
      supplement the internal combustion engine with an electric
      motor that takes over at slow speeds and at stoplights, a
      switch that they say can help S.U.V.'s get 27 to 40 miles a

      The Ford Motor Company is scheduled to introduce the first
      of the hybrids, a version of its Escape sport utility, by
      the end of summer. In November or December, Toyota will
      follow with a hybrid version of its Lexus RX330 sport
      utility, the RX400h; it plans to introduce early next year
      a hybrid version of its Highlander S.U.V. The hybrid
      versions will be more expensive than the conventional
      models, though neither company has yet said by how much.

      From a consumer's perspective, hybrids are not much
      different from conventional cars. They run on regular
      gasoline, and the batteries for their electric motors are
      recharged as they drive, so they do not need to be plugged
      in. One consideration is that battery, which would be
      costly to replace if it were to fail; most, however, are
      under warranty for at least eight years.

      Because the biggest gas savings occur at slow speeds,
      hybrids sometimes disappoint customers who spend much of
      their time on highways. That is borne out in Ford's
      projections for the Escape hybrid: the front-wheel-drive
      version will average 35 to 40 m.p.g. in the city, about
      twice the 19 m.p.g. for the Escape that runs on gasoline
      only. In highway driving, however, the Escape hybrid will
      get 29 to 31 m.p.g., about 20 percent better than the 25
      m.p.g. for the gasoline version.

      Environmental advocates frustrated by the long-swelling
      appetite for gas have embraced hybrids. Booming sales of
      sport utility vehicles and big pickup trucks, coupled with
      increasing horsepower for vehicles big and small, have
      stalled advances in overall fuel efficiency.

      In the 2002 model year, the fuel economy of the average new
      light-duty vehicle sold in the United States sank to its
      lowest point in more than two decades, according to the
      Environmental Protection Agency. Cars averaged 24.4 m.p.g.
      and S.U.V.'s 17.3 m.p.g. And that data understates the
      mileage gap, because the heaviest sport utilities with the
      worst fuel economy, like Hummers and Ford Excursions, are
      not counted. They are so big that they do not fit the
      definition of a passenger vehicle.

      S.U.V.'s have also been widely criticized as unsafe.
      Because they are heavy and have high ground clearance, they
      are typically less stable and can inflict more damage on
      passenger cars in collisions than other cars do. These
      problems are being addressed to varying degrees by the
      industry; the Lexus S.U.V., for example, comes with
      electronic suspension-control technology that is intended
      to reduce rollover risk.

      "We fight S.U.V.'s because it is irresponsible to make
      vehicles that guzzle, pollute and are unsafe," said Dan
      Becker, a global warming specialist at the Sierra Club.
      "But the auto companies have the technology to fix these
      problems, and if they do, acceptance of S.U.V.'s will

      So far, hybrids have not made much of a dent in fuel
      economy trends. For several years, Toyota and Honda have
      been the only automakers selling hybrids, and they sell
      just tens of thousands in the United States, a country with
      annual sales of 17 million vehicles. Toyota, however, has
      said it plans to be selling two million hybrids a year,
      worldwide, in a decade. The company now sells only the
      Prius in the United States.

      By 2015, 60 percent of the vehicles sold nationwide would
      have to be hybrids just to stop the growth of automotive
      global warming emissions beyond levels expected at the end
      of this decade. That is according to a projection by David
      Friedman, research director for the clean vehicles program
      at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental
      research and advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass.

      Financial analysts have estimated that hybrids are more
      likely to account for as much as 10 percent to 15 percent
      of the market over the next decade or so.

      "If hybrids just end up as a niche vehicle," Mr. Friedman
      said, "they really won't have an impact on the environment
      and global warming. Millions of these vehicles have to be
      sold every year."

      But he says he thinks less ambitious technologies would
      also be a good option. He recently collaborated on "a
      blueprint for a better S.U.V.," a report that laid out a
      design for a more fuel-efficient and less rollover-prone
      vehicle that used less-expensive technologies than hybrid
      systems. Many skeptics view hybrid power as an inherently
      profit-sapping technology because it involves two drive
      systems instead of one, though Toyota insists its hybrids
      are already profitable.

      "I'm just not a blind monk of hybrid technology," the chief
      executive of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, said last month. Nissan
      will offer a hybrid version of its Altima sedan in 2006.

      The industry is struggling to decide which of three
      technologies has the most potential to cut fuel
      consumption: hybrids, advanced diesels or hydrogen fuel
      cells. The two vehicles to be introduced this year will
      present hybrid S.U.V.'s in different packages: the Escape
      is a basic, no-frills sport utility that starts around
      $20,000 with a conventional engine, about $15,000 less than
      a conventionally powered Lexus, a luxury vehicle. Hybrids
      have, in the past, cost a few thousand dollars more than
      similar cars, though the new midsize Toyota Prius starts at
      about the same price as the midsize Toyota Camry. Fuel
      savings can make up for the high purchase price over time;
      there are modest tax deductions and Congress appears close
      to offering more.

      One feature of the Toyota Prius is a screen with a video
      readout that charts fuel economy as driving conditions
      shift. Ford will offer a similar feature as an option. The
      Lexus will make it a standard feature, as it is on the
      Prius, and will also use the screen to display the view
      from a rear-facing camera to make backing up easier.

      Toyota, which has years of experience in the hybrid game,
      will pitch the Lexus RX400h as a combination of virtue and
      muscle. Its V-6 engine (the Escape is a four-cylinder) has
      270 horsepower, 20 percent more than the Lexus RX330.

      "Lexus buyers wanted a hybrid, but they didn't want to be
      in a vehicle that was recognized as such," a Lexus
      spokesman, Bill Ussery, said. He said about 1,500 people
      had already put down deposits.

      Ford, as the world's third automaker to sell a hybrid,
      hopes to carve out a spot between Toyota and Honda and the
      rest of the industry. The Escape also offers a very visible
      vehicle to begin to deliver on the desire of William Clay
      Ford Jr., chairman and chief executive, to be seen as both
      an environmentalist and an industrialist.

      And the company hopes to capture some of Toyota and Honda's
      green buzz. Ford executives said more than 21,000 people
      have signed up to receive a quarterly e-mail newsletter
      about the vehicle. Corey Holter, the marketing manager for
      the Escape, said that "77 percent are non-Ford drivers."

      "That's a great story for us, because it shows we really
      are attracting incremental business," Mr. Holter said. "It
      will provide a halo to the entire Ford division."

      The Escape hybrid has been talked about for several years,
      and has been previously delayed, but the company has been
      emphatic that it will be on the road this summer.

      Jeff Young of Chicago was one of the 21,000 people who
      signed up for Ford's e-mail newsletter. He is a co-owner of
      a business that makes hand carts used for gardening. Since
      he bought a Chrysler in the mid-1980's, Mr. Young, 40, has
      not owned an American car.

      "The parts don't fit right. The materials are cheaper. They
      tend to break down more and generally the styling lags
      behind the imports," he said. But he sent an e-mail message
      to Ford in 2002 because he had heard that the Escape hybrid
      would be coming in 2003, as was originally planned. When it
      did not materialize, he leased a Honda Element S.U.V.
      instead. But his lease is up in 2006, and he said he would
      consider a hybrid S.U.V. then.

      "I'm not to the far extreme of either side," he said. "But
      if you can do something like this hybrid technology, where
      there's not much compromise, then it can do a lot to help."



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