Software Presets In Future Hybrids
There has been a certain amount of controversy lately on how hybrid technology should be used. Ever since the 255-HP Honda Accord hybrid came out, some people have been asking for more "muscle hybrids" and it seems that Lexus is headed in that direction. The dilemma for automakers is that the efficiency gains from gas-electric hybridization can be used either to boost fuel economy or to boost power, the same way the advances in internal combustion engine technology have been used to boost power and make heavier cars while maintaining equivalent fuel economy in the past 15-20 years instead of making thems less thirsty for gas (see this). Of course, we treehuggers would like fuel economy to take the front seat – and rising oil prices are starting to make that option more desirable to the mainstream – but automakers know that there is a lot of money to be made by competing in the absurd horsepower race (much bigger profit margins on powerful cars and trucks).
Carmakers also want to please "car enthusiasts" and automotive journalists because they know very well that these people are an important part of any marketing strategy, but sadly for those who want fuel economy hybrids to be made, these people are usually more concerned with zero-to-sixty and quarter mile statistics (Is a tenth of a second really going to change your life? Would you even notice it without a stopwatch? Anyway....) than with fuel economy and lowering polluting emissions.
But there is a third way. Or rather, it is possible, thanks to the fact that computers are now a big part of any drivetrain and especially of hybrid ones, to take both paths at the same time.
Owners of future hybrid vehicles might be able to choose between high gas mileage or more performance by pressing a button on the instrument panel, said [Jim] Press, [Toyota's U.S. president and chief operating officer,] according to the Automotive News report. (you can also read about it in this New York Times article (might require registration)).
This would mean that hybrids with that feature could attract "car enthusiasts" and impress the automotive press while having less of an impact on the environment than the cars usually chosen by that type of people, and for the rest of us, the "eco" mode will do nicely.
We do hope that this is the path that will be taken by Toyota and other hybrid-makers. It would be sad to see them go in the "muscle hybrid" direction and not use the great potential offered by hybrid technology.