Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Honda Takes on the Prius

TOKYO — The road is about to get a little more crowded for the Toyota Prius. Starting Tuesday, the Honda Motor Company will offer American consumers what it bills as “the world’s first affordable hybrid.”

Costing just shy of $20,000, the Honda Insight promises to let drivers respond to both of the leading crises of our day: the environment and the recession.

If the Insight’s introduction in Japan is any indication, Toyota should be worried. The car went on sale here on Feb. 6, and orders have soared, reaching 18,000 in just the first three weeks — topping Prius’s current sales. In fact, the Insight pushed Prius out of the top-10-selling cars for February.

“I have people asking about hybrids that I never had before,” said Tsuguhito Tokita, a Honda dealer in Tokyo. “With this price, it’s easy to recommend to anyone.”

If Honda makes inroads in the United States, the world’s largest market for hybrids, it could force the market leader, the Toyota Motor Corporation, to bring down its prices. Japanese news media have reported that Toyota, which controls 70 percent of the American hybrid market, will introduce a cheaper hybrid model with a smaller engine in 2011 — in part, reportedly, because of the Insight’s success.

Sales of hybrids have been hit hard by the global economic crisis. After several years of strong growth in Prius sales, Toyota had virtually no increase in 2008 from the previous year, as the overall auto market struggled.

“In the short term, it’s a very difficult sell,” said Christopher Richter, a Tokyo-based auto analyst at CLSA. “We’ve entered into a very deep recession, and consumers aren’t keen on buying new cars. Fuel prices have plunged, with fuel so cheap people don’t care much about it.”

But so far the Insight has been a bright spot for Honda in an otherwise dismal year of plunging sales that have led the automaker to make painful cutbacks and give up its prized Formula One racing team.

Toyota plans to lower the sticker price of the Prius, according to Japan’s largest business daily, Nikkei. The automaker has refused to confirm the report.

“But I can tell you we’re not satisfied with the current state,” said Paul Nolasco, a Tokyo spokesman for Toyota, which has sold one million Prius vehicles since their introduction a decade ago. “The Insight’s popularity is evidence that the public is recognizing hybrid technology.”

The market for hybrids could be headed for a huge expansion. The development of cheaper technology, economies of scale and more government subsidies for environmentally friendly vehicles could take what was a niche technology into the mainstream.

A bigger market for hybrids could also ensure that they stay the green vehicle of choice over full electric or hydrogen cars, which remain prohibitively expensive. A report released by J. P. Morgan in October predicted that the global market for hybrids “will rise exponentially” to 9.6 million in 2018 from 500,000 units in 2007— and the current economic slump will not significantly slow that rise, the authors said.

The Insight could bring about a big turnaround for Honda, which tried selling hybrids for a decade without much success. In fact, it discontinued a previous Insight model in 2006, believing consumers found hybrids too expensive. But when sales of Toyota’s Prius rose as oil prices spiked, Honda quickly changed course.

Behind the less expensive Insight is an aggressive cost-cutting effort, as well as technological sacrifices.

Instead of the more complicated hybrid system used in the Prius, the Insight’s main source of power is a lightweight gasoline engine that is assisted by smaller batteries. That greatly reduces manufacturing costs, but gives the Insight lower fuel efficiency than the Prius — 43 miles per gallon on the highway compared with 45 miles per gallon for the Prius. The Insight also shares parts with other Honda models, which helps the carmaker keep costs to a minimum.

Honda has also struck a chord with an overhaul of the car’s shape. One reason its previous hybrids failed to take off, analysts say, was that they did not come in distinctive shapes.

“A lot of people who drive hybrids want to make the statement, ‘I am driving a hybrid,’ “ Mr. Richter said.

But Honda’s new Insight looks remarkably like — well, Toyota’s triangular Prius, which has become synonymous with hybrid technology. Analysts say that should help sales.

The global economic slowdown could be an advantage for the Insight, at least over the Prius.

“Several years ago, the Prius would have won hands down,” Mr. Richter said. “But when you’ve got a raging recession, you come down to the question: Do you want the fancier car with greater fuel economy, or the one that still has pretty good economy, allows you to be seen driving hybrid, and is cheaper?”

“The Insight could steal a lot of Toyota’s thunder,” he said.

Whatever the outcome of the new hybrid race, it is certain to reinforce the dominance of Japanese automakers in eco-friendly cars. Unlike their American counterparts, Japanese automakers have long made energy efficiency a priority, teaming up with Japan’s electronics conglomerates to develop high-powered batteries.

In 1996, Toyota and Matsushita, now Panasonic, formed a joint venture to produce nickel-metal hydride batteries for hybrid cars. It plans to produce a million batteries a year by 2010. The venture also plans to make more powerful lithium-ion batteries.

Honda, which gets its batteries from Panasonic and Sanyo, has also invested heavily in battery production, setting up a company with a battery maker, GS Yuasa, to produce lithium-ion batteries. That move came partly because Honda was nervous about obtaining batteries from the same company as its archrival, Toyota. The greater capacity would allow Honda to introduce hybrid versions of its other models.

A string of auto companies worldwide, from Ford to start-ups like Tesla Motors, have announced or introduced hybrids, plug-ins or electric cars. Others are hurrying research into fuel cells and other alternatives. A technological breakthrough could still turn the market on its head, analysts say.

But for now, only Toyota and Honda have invested the money to mass-produce the mainstay batteries at a scale that makes economic sense. Batteries are still expensive to develop and produce, and kinks in the technology remain, as demonstrated by a string of flare-ups involving Sony-made lithium-ion laptop batteries three years ago.

“Other companies just don’t have a mass-production setup yet,” said Kohei Takahashi, a Tokyo-based auto analyst for J. P. Morgan. “They might be able to come up with hybrids, but they’re too expensive.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Planet Green - Message from a friend

Take Advantage of the Government's Weatherization Assistance Program
If life gives you a recession, make recession-ade.

By Josh Peterson, Los Angeles, CA, USA | Thu Mar 19 09:00:00 EDT 2009

man with insulation photo


Green Home | Green Home Renovation | Heating | Insulation | Smart Bargains

Proper weatherization can reduce your heating bills by 32%. That's over $300 dollars a year. Not bad. Of course, you may not be able to afford such niceties. The United States Government has a program that helps low-income families obtain weatherization for their homes. That's good news, since we're living in such trying times right now. You can use that extra money to put food on the table.

A well-insulated house won't just save you money, it will also benefits the environment. The less energy expended to heat your home, the less pollution emitted. Everyone wins.

First, you need to find out of your are eligible Seniors, families with a disabled member and families with children are given preference in this program. The government provides this state-by-state guide (PDF). Look it over and see if you are eligible.

Each state runs it's own program. You will have to find the office in your state. Go into the office. Fill out a form answer some questions and if you are eligible, they will send experts to make your home energy efficient.

For more information, check out the EERE's Weatherization Assistance Program Page.

Do you have strong opinions about new green initiatives? Have your say with our View and Vote - Obama Green Stimulus Projects.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Could the Volt Jump-Start GM?

Could the Volt Jump-Start GM?
Automaker Hopes Battery-Powered Car Will Be A Game Changer. Critics Say It's Too Expensive.

By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 14, 2009; D01

General Motors frequently holds up the Chevrolet Volt as a symbol of its future and a testimony to its ingenuity when it asks Washington officials for billions of dollars in federal aid.

So prominent a role has the battery-powered car played in discussions that when members of President Obama's auto task force flew to Detroit earlier this week for a series of meetings, they decided to take it for a spin.

Their impression, according to an administration official: The Volt certainly shows promise, but it is no panacea for what ails GM in the near term.

The problem is GM will likely have to price the vehicle far higher than a comparable family car with a gas-powered engine, putting it out of reach for many consumers, particularly if oil prices remain low.

Further, the rollout comes as rivals roll out partial-electric hybrids at a fraction of the cost.

With the ability to drive 40 miles on a single charge, the Volt aims to usher in a new era of gasoline-free daily commutes when the car debuts in late 2010 in the Washington area and San Francisco, GM officials say. But some analysts and government officials predict the car may be initially priced up to $40,000, and possibly more, because of its costly lithium-ion batteries.

"Over time the costs will come down and be competitive with conventional cars," said Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman for global product development, who has taken on the Volt as his last project before retirement. "Although right now that's not the case."

Meanwhile, hybrid fuel-efficient cars are getting cheaper as the competition for alternative-fuel vehicles heats up. Honda's Insight LX, a traditional gas-electric hybrid that goes on sale this month, will start at $19,800. Chinese battery manufacturer BYD sells a plug-in for $22,000 and plans to enter the U.S. market in 2011.

Toyota plans to start testing a plug-in, lithium-ion version of its Prius at the end of this year. Chrysler has created several plug-in electric prototypes. And Ford has announced plans to build a family of electrified vehicles by 2012.

"Consumers are going to have a great choice," said Jim Lentz, Toyota's top U.S. executive. "That's what makes it a horse race."

The Volt was supposed to be a game changer for GM. With it, the beleaguered automaker burdened with the perception that its products are out-of-touch hopes to leapfrog more cautious rivals.

Lutz makes no apologies for GM's strategy, even though he admits that putting the Volt's battery technology into GM's upscale Cadillac line might have made the initial pricing more palatable. After all, affluent customers might be willing to brave the inevitable first-generation glitches, since this would likely be their second or third car.

"Doing it in a Cadillac would have made it financially easier to do, but on the other hand we wanted something that's boldly applicable," he said. "Our big 5-million-unit global path is Chevrolet. With the Volt we can sell it around the world."

California automakers Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive are speeding exactly in the opposite direction. Both sell electric sports coupes priced above $88,000 -- targeting well-off, environmentally minded buyers such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Black Eyed Peas frontman In a few years, the two carmakers hope to come out with a mass-market version.

Fisker chief executive Henrik Fisker likens his business model to the one for flat-screen televisions. At first they were expensive, $20,000 status symbols, but in a few years companies were able to perfect the technology and sell in large enough quantities so that the average family could pick one up at Best Buy for under $1,000.

"The quicker you get started in the luxury market, the quicker you can get to the down market," Fisker said.

For now, the small volumes of cars being produced means that there are few suppliers, and little competition to drive down prices.

"We didn't start with a Honda Civic because it would be a $70,000 to $80,000 Honda Civic," said Elon Musk, chief executive and one of the founders of Tesla.

Still, the Volt has inspired a legion of fans -- the so-called "Volt Nation." Lyle Dennis, creator a popular Volt news Web site, stirred up such a demand for the car that GM invited him to Detroit to talk to top executives half a dozen times.

"Electric cars are not necessarily new," said Dennis, a New Jersey neurosurgeon. "But the idea that a major automaker is going to produce them on a mass scale, now that's something new. This could really make a difference."

GM doesn't have a Volt waitlist, so Dennis created his own. To date, about 47,000 people are "registered" on his Web site to buy the Volt, from all 50 states and 85 countries. And Volt fans say they are willing to pay an average of $31,297.89 for the car.

In a way, this is a shot at redemption. A decade ago GM discontinued its first electric car, called the EV-1, and terminated all leases. The outrage that followed was a public relations nightmare and the subject of a scathing documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

As GM's financial woes grow, the Volt has become a source of company pride.

At GM's first press event at the annual Detroit auto show, out marched Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) with the Volt silently gliding in front of her, past the cheering masses and bobbling signs reading "We're Electric" and "Here to Stay."

A few days later, on the same stage, GM chief executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr. declared that the company would be assembling the Volt's battery packs at a new plant in Michigan -- a victory for Granholm's relentless push to plug her flagging state into new alternative energies. The $30 million plant holds the promise of bringing new high-tech, "green" jobs to a state that has the highest unemployment in the nation.

Staff writers David Cho and Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wind farm to be built off Delaware shore -

Read the Full Story

(CNN) -- A contract to build what is being called the nation's first offshore field of wind turbines was announced Monday by a Delaware utility and a firm that will build the generators off the Atlantic coast.
The 150 wind turbines off Delaware are expected to be operational in four years, say developers.

The 150 wind turbines off Delaware are expected to be operational in four years, say developers.

Officials from Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind announced details of their agreement in Newark, Delaware.

Bluewater spokesman Jim Lanard said the power company will get about 16 percent of its electricity from a field of 150 wind turbines, anchored in the seafloor about a dozen miles off Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

The contract with Delmarva would use less than half the projected generating capacity the energy park is expected to have when completed. The rest would be sold to other customers.

The project's cost is estimated at $1.6 billion, according to a project official with Bluewater.

The offshore site is expected to be operational within four years, but the timing depends on how quickly regulatory agencies can review and approve the construction project.
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Using electricity generated by the wind, "Delmarva Power will be able to light about 50,000 homes a year, every year" for the duration of the 25-year contract, Lanard said, with first power expected by 2012.

He said the project may help stabilize consumer energy costs, since the contract locks in the price Delmarva will pay per kilowatt-hour.

Bluewater has previously established an offshore "energy park" operating off Denmark.

Each turbine in the Delaware project is to sit on a pole about 250 feet above the waterline, where the ocean is about 75 feet deep. The poles are to extend 90 feet into the seafloor, and the units are to be constructed to withstand hurricane-force winds.

From the shore, the park will be visible only on clear winter days, and the turbines will be nearly invisible during summer months when Rehoboth Beach fills with vacationers, Lanard said.

Each blade on the three-blade rotor is to be 150 feet long.

"If they can see them at all, the turbine blades would cover about the size of your thumbnail, and the poles would be about the width of a toothpick," he said.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Incentives on Solar Water Heating

DALLAS (Oncor) – Monday, Oncor expanded its solar energy initiatives to include the Take A Load Off, Texas Solar Water Heating Incentive Program.

Oncor’s Solar Water Heating Incentive Program offers cash incentives for the purchase and installation of qualifying residential solar water heating systems. Oncor expects to install about 1,100 new solar systems over the next four years through this $2 million program. Only homes served by Oncor and using electric water heating systems are eligible.

By preheating water with the sun’s energy, systems typically reduce the electricity required for hot water needs by 40 to 85 percent. Oncor will pay an incentive of $600 to $1,500 per installed system, based on the system’s predicted performance.

As a result of its 31 programs that encourage energy efficiency, Oncor will operate one of the largest energy efficiency initiatives sponsored by a regulated utility in Texas.

For more information on the Solar Water Heating Incentive Program and other Oncor energy efficiency programs, visit

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TODAY: Maytag recalling 1.6 million refrigerators

Maytag recalling 1.6 million refrigerators
About 1.6 million refrigerators are being recalled by Maytag Corp. due to an electrical failure in the relay - the component that turns on the refrigerator's compressor - that can cause overheating and pose a serious fire hazard.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

GREEN Presentation Tomorrow - March 4th - WCR Dallas!

Women's Council of REALTORS

Wednesday, March 4 2009 - 11:30am - 1:00pm-----------Dallas Athletic Club - 4111 LaPrada in Mesquite

Presenter: Bob McCranie Let's All do our Share to Go Green!*Tips on small steps to take* What can we do in our own homes
NAR Launches 'Green Designation" Realtors! Did you know that National Association of Realtors has launched a green designation? THis is a perfect opportunity to get a head start on what issues are at hand and how we can do our part to help. Many consumers are asking questions and now, you will be the expert. Call or log on to NAR for more details.