Toyota Prius Forum banner
1 - 5 of 5 Posts

2,237 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Found this article in Yahoo-prius 2G Group

The High-Performance Hybrids

"Hold on to your hat!" Jim Burns shouted as he slammed the accelerator
to the floor. With a high-pitched whine, the electric motor behind my
seat burst into action, and "the Enigma" - an experimental red sports
car in which I was riding shotgun - bolted forward, pressing me back
into my leather seat. In about three seconds we were whipping through
the San Diego State University campus at 50 miles an hour.

"We built her really low, so she totally hugs the ground," Burns said as
we coasted to a stop at a large intersection near Highway 8. "Watch
this." When the light turned green, he floored it again while yanking
the steering wheel to the left so that in the middle of the intersection
we performed two 360-degree doughnuts, complete with white smoke pouring
off the shrieking back wheels. The nearby drivers stared. Giggling,
Burns, a mechanical-engineering professor, straightened the wheel and
roared out of the intersection; a stolen glance backward revealed that
we had left a thick trail of burned rubber on the asphalt. We finally
coasted to a halt near his campus laboratory, where a team of students
was waiting with a video camera.

"Dude, that was awesome!" one of them blurted.

I had to agree: it was a heck of a ride. Yet this car, so sleek and
aggressive on the outside, hides an earnest do-gooder secret beneath its
hood. The Enigma is a hybrid, a distant cousin of the Hollywood
environmentalist favorite, the Toyota Prius. It has both a normal
fuel-burning engine (diesel, in this case) and an electric motor, which
cooperate so the engine runs only at peak efficiency. Together, they
give the Enigma an astounding fuel efficiency of 80 miles per gallon.

But the electric motor isn't merely for fuel efficiency. It also adds
crucial horsepower, allowing the Enigma to go from 0 to 60 in a mere 4.3
seconds and to cruise at a top speed of over 100 miles per hour. The
result is a seeming paradox: a car potent enough to please muscle-car
buffs yet eco-friendly enough to thrill environmentalists.

"We call it lean muscle," Burns said. The Enigma is not yet for sale; it
is a one-of-a-kind prototype, which Burns and his team have built at
their campus lab, financed by themselves, the California Energy
Commission and a few philanthropic donors. They are currently designing
the next generation, which will have a top speed of 217 m.p.h. while
getting 40 miles to the gallon or better. Burns has formed a corporation
that plans to sell the new models for $185,000 - expensive but, as he
points out, still cheaper than a Lamborghini or a Ferrari "and with way,
way better mileage."

This, Burns argues, is the future of hybrids. Americans will never
accept them if they remain small, meek vehicles like the Toyota Prius or
the Honda Insight, which have low top speeds and lackluster pulling
power. No, if hybrids are going to appeal to red-meat drivers across the
country, they'll need power and performance. "We've got to produce a car
that gets a 14-year-old boy excited," Burns said, flashing a bucktoothed
grin as he sweated beneath the sun in a loud Hawaiian shirt. "We got to
have the smoking! The squealing! The tires popping off!"

Burns is not alone in this belief. Indeed, in the last year the auto
industry has decided to drastically bulk up its hybrids. Carmakers are
ditching the bumper-car designs that have thus far defined the genre,
and in the next two years, every new hybrid that hits the showroom will
be a lumbering truck, a thundering S.U.V. or a high-powered luxury car.
There is nary a podlike bubble among them. Normally these sorts of boats
are infamous for their abysmal fuel economy. But when tricked out with
hybrid drivetrains, they can squeeze up to 50 percent more out of a tank
of gas. In essence, they are a compromise - nowhere near as good with
fuel as a Prius but nowhere near as bad as a regular S.U.V. gas guzzler.

This past spring, Lexus released the RX 400h, an S.U.V. that contains a
V-6 engine but uses two electric motors to help it perform like a V-8 -
giving it 268 horsepower and a 0 to 60 of 6.9 seconds. Next year the
company will release a GS 450h luxury-car hybrid with more than 300
horsepower and "eye-watering acceleration," as one Lexus official puts
it. (In fact, the hybrid GS will be more powerful than the existing
nonhybrid GS.) Meanwhile, Dodge is planning a hybrid version of its
famously muscular "Hemi" S.U.V., and Ford - which last year released the
first-ever hybrid S.U.V., the Escape Hybrid - will follow up with the
2006 Mariner Hybrid, an S.U.V. so green it has won support from the
Sierra Club. "It's sort of a 'get your cake and eat it too' experience,"
says Larry Nitz, executive director for global hybrid powertrain systems
at General Motors.

The time may be ripe for a leaner power car. After Hurricane Katrina
damaged the Gulf Coast's oil industry, gas rose to more than $3 a gallon
in some parts of the country. Now even rock-ribbed conservatives are
looking keenly at environmental technologies. Lean, or green, muscle
thus has the potential to permanently shift the landscape of American
oil politics by uniting two bitterly opposed fan bases: earnest liberal
conservationists and truck-driving red staters. Could the future of
hybrids lie not in tiny, futuristic-looking pods but in burly S.U.V.'s
and sports cars?

To understand how hybrid technology can produce a muscle car, it's
helpful to consider the basic engineering behind hybrid drivetrains. A
car like the Prius derives its superb mileage from an elegant ballet
performed between the fuel engine and the electric motor. The goal is to
let the gas engine work only when it is most efficient to do so, which
is when the car is running at roughly 20 m.p.h. or higher. A gas engine
is at its worst efficiency in two situations: when it's revving fiercely
to get a car moving from a standstill and when the car is idling at a
stoplight and going nowhere.

The central genius of a hybrid is that the electric engine steps in at
these inefficient moments. An electric motor, as it turns out, is far
better suited to accelerate from zero because of a quirk of physics -
when pushing off from a dead stop, an electric engine has much more
torque than a gas engine. It's fundamentally suited to the task. Better
yet, when a hybrid is stopped at a red light, the gas engine can shut
down completely; it won't start up again until the electric engine has
accelerated the car to that magic 20 m.p.h. point. The upshot is that a
gas engine operates only in its near perfect window of efficiency,
thereby burning substantially less fuel than normal. When a car brakes,
the electric motors switch to "regenerative" mode, transforming the
energy of braking into electricity that recharges the batteries. The
fuel efficiency of this self-contained process in a Prius can be as high
as 60 miles a gallon, or 66 miles a gallon in an Insight.

Yet as any physicist knows, efficiency can be flipped on its head. If a
hybrid system can squeeze more energy out of a single unit of gas, then
why not reverse the proposition? That is, instead of using the extra
juice to increase fuel economy, employ it to propel the car faster and

This is the logic behind Detroit's new hybrid muscle: take a relatively
midpower gasoline engine, add electric power on top and produce the
illusion of V-8 strength. After all, if you're no longer worried about
maximizing mileage, those electric motors can offer drag-race-style
acceleration, giving a regular gas engine the appearance of far more
torque. Last fall, Toyota engineers decided to prove just this point by
souping up a humble Prius to make it drive 130 m.p.h. on a dry lake bed
in California. "If you've got a system designed to produce efficiency,
all you need to do is run it in reverse to produce extra output,"
according to Aaron Robinson, an editor for Car & Driver who test-drove
the souped-up Prius (proclaiming it "pretty cool").

Several other automakers began tinkering with this concept, creating
concept cars to show just how hyperpowered a hybrid could be. In 2002,
Acura produced the DN-X, which astonished car-show attendees by offering
a remarkable 400 horsepower and up to 42 miles to the gallon. The next
year, Mazda produced the Ibuki, a Miata-like concept vehicle with an
estimated 180 horsepower.

The real head-turner came at last year's North American International
Auto Show in Detroit when Mitsubishi rolled out its Concept-E, an
experimental hybrid based on the well-known Eclipse sports car. The
Concept-E had an electric motor located in the rear of the car. But it
had not been engineered to help the gas motor the way that a normal
hybrid does. Instead, it simply provided boost, delivering extra
horsepower when the driver wanted to suddenly overcharge the engine -
rather like a high-tech version of a nitrous oxide boost. On its own,
the Concept-E was powered by a regular Eclipse gas engine with a healthy
263 horsepower. When the extra electric motors engaged, the car had
another 150 horsepower.

"So now we're talking, like, Viper territory or Corvette territory,"
says Dan Sims, the general manager of Mitsubishi's design studio in
Cypress, Calif., who oversaw the construction of the Concept-E. "That's
quite a different driving experience." When Sims took the car for a test
drive on a nearby racetrack, the electric motor produced a whine that
sounded like a sci-fi jet engine. "Remember the Batmobile in the 60's
with that turbine sound?" Sims says. "That's what it sounds like! It was
like when Captain Kirk puts it into overdrive, and the stars blur."

The Concept-E was geared for performance, not fuel efficiency. But as
Sims points out, it did, technically, save fuel - because getting the
equivalent 400-plus horsepower out of a gas-only engine would have
required burning considerably more gas. A regular sports car with
comparable performance would get only about 10 miles to the gallon, Sims
figures; in contrast, the Concept-E got as much as 25.

As these experiments unfolded, the auto industry began to realize that
high-performance hybrids were not only possible but might also be the
answer to hybrids' enormous marketing problems. Sure, Leonardo DiCaprio
and Harrison Ford were lining up to buy Toyota Priuses. But surveys
showed that hybrids would never break into the mainstream because Middle
America couldn't abide their feeble performance. "Skinny tires, little
engines - they looked arguably more like a science project than a car
you'd want to drive," says Anthony Pratt, who covers hybrids for the
car-industry analyst J. D. Power & Associates.

Indeed, Pratt's consumer surveys discovered recently that, even with
rising gas prices, "performance" was still far and away the single most
important factor in buying a car. J. D. Power polled people who owned
their cars for 90 days and asked them what the most important part of
their purchase was. Only 33 percent said gas mileage, and a mere 7.6
percent said "environmental impact." The No. 1 factor for 62 percent of
the respondents was "reliability and durability."

To the extent that consumers worried about low fuel economy, it was as a
matter of personal inconvenience: stopping to refuel every few days was
a big hassle. Before Lexus began selling its 400h S.U.V. hybrid this
spring, the company conducted a focus group to find out why would-be
buyers wanted a hybrid. The reason: convenience. "The big deal was, I
don't have to stop that much to fuel up. That was a primary purchasing
factor!" says Dave Hermance, executive engineer for environmental
engineering at Toyota's Technical Center. "It wasn't so much the fact
that 'I'm going to save $600 a year in fuel savings.' Then there was the
'Oh, yeah, it makes me feel very, very good about the environment. When
my kids come home from college, they don't chew on me as hard, because
I'm doing something environmentally correct.' "

In this new generation of high-powered hybrids, you essentially get the
same powerful S.U.V. drive you've always had - but with slightly better
mileage. For example, the Lexus 400h has a six-cylinder engine, so it
attains mileage of up to 27 to 32 miles per gallon. But the electric
motors endow it with the feel of a V-8, a car that would normally get a
measly 13 miles to the gallon. Similarly, Ford's Escape S.U.V. has only
four cylinders but drives like a V-6 and gets 36 miles to the gallon.

When i slid behind the wheel of the Lexus 400h to give it a test drive,
there was no doubt it was a luxury ride. The steering wheel robotically
lowered into place; when I looked out the window, I was perched high
above the plebes who scurried through the streets of Manhattan in their
puny little compact cars.

So I turned the key in the ignition to start the car and. . .nothing. No
sound, no shudder of the engine awakening. Then it hit me: of course
there was no sound. The 400h uses its electric motors to push off from
zero, so even though the gas engine hadn't come to life yet, the car was
indeed "on." I gently stepped on the accelerator, and sure enough, the
car drifted forward, silent as a ghost. Half a block later, the engine
quietly began purring. I quickly discovered that the 400h really does
perform as if it were a full V-8. When I suddenly hit the accelerator to
dart out of a tight spot in traffic, the tires gave a satisfying squeal.

Yet in other ways, the experience felt subtly different from a regular
S.U.V. When I quickly sped up to get onto a highway ramp, for example,
the acceleration didn't push me back into my seat the way a normal car
would. This, as it turned out, is due to some intriguing physics in the
hybrid drivetrain. When a regular car accelerates, it goes through a
"shift curve." Each time it shifts up a gear, the transmission needs to
disengage for an instant, producing a moment of deceleration - followed
by a sudden fresh burst forward. It's that staggered, pulsed feeling
that we typically associate with speeding up. But the hybrid 400h has a
considerably more complicated "planetary" drivetrain, which organically
weaves the efforts of the gas engine and the electric motors together.
You don't feel any dead spots because whenever the gas engine is
changing gears, the electric motors prevent those tiny temporary

"It's deceptively smooth," Hermance says. When auto journalists first
drove the vehicle, they were disappointed. "The initial response was,
'Darn it, I'm not getting the big G-shock.' "

The biggest engineering challenge in any high-performance hybrid is not
really managing the drivetrain, however, or even the electric motors. It
is the batteries. They are the linchpin of how a hybrid system performs,
because they determine how long the electric motors will be able to

Consider, for comparison's sake, a laptop battery. It works very slowly,
taking several hours to charge, then it holds the charge for weeks at a
time and dispenses it in a slow trickle. In contrast, a battery for a
hybrid needs to work in huge, rapid surges. It must rapidly blast out a
very big charge - the motors in the 400h require a heavy 150 kilowatts -
and then recharge just as quickly by capturing regenerative power while
braking. If you could force the 400h to drive solely on batteries, with
no gas engine at all, they would last for only a minute or two. But this
never happens, because in reality the batteries are constantly inhaling
and exhaling energy; a single drive across town might involve a dozen
such cycles.

If you wanted to endow a hybrid with astonishingly high fuel efficiency,
you'd charge the battery to its absolute peak; that way, it could spell
the gas motor for the longest possible period. But a fully charged
battery tends to swell with heat, and such wear and tear would
significantly shorten its life span. You would have to do open-heart
surgery on your hybrid, having a mechanic regularly install new
batteries at a cost of several thousand dollars. Customers, Hermance
realized, would never tolerate that. Indeed, surveys show they don't
want to change the batteries for seven years or more. So with the 400h,
Lexus did what most hybrid automakers do: they programmed the car's
software to intentionally hobble the energy flow, ensuring that the
regeneration would never fill the batteries more than 60 percent. This
means the batteries will last years - but potentially at the cost of
significantly reducing the vehicle's fuel economy.

At the end of my day driving the 400h, I checked the on-board computer
to see what sort of mileage I had been getting. Technically, it should
have been great. The stop-and-start traffic of a city like Manhattan is
where a hybrid gets its best fuel economy, because when you're braking
so frequently, the electric motors have many opportunities to replenish
the batteries. The worst fuel economy comes from highway cruising
because the gas engine is working full-time, with the electric motors
doing comparatively little work.

Yet I discovered I got only 20.4 miles per gallon. That's a bit better
than a comparable Lexus S.U.V.; the GX, for example, is rated at 15
miles per gallon in city driving. But compared with an ultraefficient
hybrid like the tiny three-cylinder Honda Insight - with its
66-miles-per-gallon range - the 400h remains a prodigious gas guzzler.

With relatively small fuel numbers like these, many environmentalists
are dismayed by the advent of green muscle. Sure, they admit these
S.U.V.'s aren't quite as bad as the old ones. But is "marginally better"
good enough for the environment? Isn't this a huge betrayal of the
original promise of hybrid technology, which was supposed to help wean
America off its gasoline addiction?

"It's incredibly unfortunate," John Coequyt, an energy-policy specialist
for Greenpeace, says. "Hybrids are getting bigger and faster, and
there's less and less concern about efficiency. They're setting such low
targets." A spokeswoman for the Rainforest Action Network was even more
blunt: "They're just not taking this technology seriously."

Indeed, the mileage picture is even worse than the automakers promise.
In a dealer's room, a manufacturer will boast that its luxury hybrid
gets 35 miles per gallon, based on testing done by the Environmental
Protection Agency. But in actual road driving, hybrid owners frequently
discover the mileage is far less. This disparity, critics say, derives
from the fact that the E.P.A.'s laboratory tests do not match real-world
driving. The E.P.A. runs cars on an 11-mile course of city driving, with
an average speed of 24 m.p.h., followed by highway driving at an average
speed of 45 m.p.h. A hybrid performs very well in a test like that,
because it's heavily weighted with stop-and-go driving. In actual life,
though, Americans do much more highway driving, where luxury hybrids
barely outperform regular gasoline-only cars. "The E.P.A. tests are just
not realistic," Anthony Pratt of J. D. Power says.

Still, some environmentalists are grudgingly pragmatic about the new
trend. After Ford began work on its impending 2006 Mariner Hybrid
S.U.V., promising around 33 miles per gallon, it approached the Sierra
Club for an official stamp of approval to use in its advertising
campaign. Surprisingly, the club agreed. "We're not jumping up and down
with glee" over the Mariner's fuel efficiency, Daniel F. Becker, head of
the Sierra Club's global warming department, admits. But if Americans
are going to drive S.U.V.'s and luxury vehicles anyway, they might as
well be driving models with possibly 50 percent better gas mileage, he

Becker also worries, however, that he may be helping to create a
monster. If the luxury hybrids are successful and profitable, they could
metastasize to dominate the entire category of hybrids - and automakers
will abandon the goal of ultrahigh, Honda Insight-level fuel efficiency.
"It would be a shame if they killed that goose that's laying the golden
egg and make the hybrid just another muscle car with a different
engine," he says.

Others argue that green muscle simply needs to flex further and that
hybrid S.U.V.'s could more than double their mileage if only carmakers
were willing to change some of their basic assumptions about car design.

Down at San Diego State, Jim Burns pointed to his Enigma sports car,
which couples high performance with 80 miles to the gallon - more than
double that of these new S.U.V.'s and luxury cars. To achieve that
superb mileage, he opted for a small three-cylinder Volkswagen engine
that runs on diesel. To compensate for the horsepower lost by having
such a small engine, Burns chose to push the electric motors extremely
hard. He used "spiral wound" lead-acid batteries, which can store eight
and a half times as much energy as normal hybrid batteries and discharge
it more than twice as powerfully.

The catch is, the Enigma's workhorse batteries burn out more quickly. If
an owner drove an Enigma at high speeds regularly, he could wind up
spending thousands of dollars replacing the batteries every couple of
years or so. Burns admits that only a small number of wealthy sports-car
collectors could ever afford this sort of maintenance, which is why his
cars will eventually be sold only to enthusiasts. Even in the world of
green muscle, it seems, there's no free lunch.

But as battery technology improves in the years to come, he thinks
hybrid muscle could eventually achieve the best of both worlds - giving
us S.U.V.'s with power that get nearly 100 miles per gallon. Next year,
to prove that hybrids can go farther and faster, he intends to load the
Enigma with a 35-gallon gasoline reservoir and drive from San Diego to
Jacksonville, Fla., on a single tank of gas.

"It'll get people excited," he said. "We need to show them the cars they
could have." Burns popped open the car's flaming red hood to show off
the electric motor, cooling down from his drive. "We're going to put it
in a package that no one can say no to, give them their cake and eat it

The Planetary Gearset for the Lexus RX 400h hybrid combines the energy
of the gas engine and the electric motors.

Two electric motors add muscle to the Lexus RX 400h S.U.V., making it
feel like a V-8.

The Enigma can peel the rubber from your tires and get 80 miles to the
gallon. Unfortunately for car nuts, it's still a prototype.

'We've got to produce a car that gets a 14-year-old boy excited,' the
engineering professor said, referring to his hybrid's appeal. 'We got to
have the smoking! The squealing! The tires popping off!'

lThe head of the Sierra Club's global warming department worries that if
luxury hybrids are successful, they could metastasize to dominate the
entire category of hybrids - and automakers will abandon the goal of
ultrahigh fuel efficiency.

Clive Thompson is a contributing writer for the magazine.

928 Posts
Well, I must admit I'm surprised it's taking the industry so long to realize how awsome a powerful 4WD vehicle you can build with hybrid technology.

So is this the future? High performance with slightly improved mileage, while clean emissions falls off the radar? Or is it just one segment?

2,237 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
RSnyder said:
Well, I must admit I'm surprised it's taking the industry so long to realize how awsome a powerful 4WD vehicle you can build with hybrid technology.

So is this the future? High performance with slightly improved mileage, while clean emissions falls off the radar? Or is it just one segment?
Hello Pikachu-San. I do not refer to the rest of the country but here in CA
Especially, Northern california Hybrid seekers: The segment or buying group geographics are split. I have Prius buyers that cherish the AT-PZEV
and the great MPG, The other sector, the HH buyers wants the Torque & Power, 0-60 acceleration performance. Also the HH buyers wants a Hybrid
Sport Cars or sedans that can go fast but do not care about how clean or how fuel miser the Prius can be but more space and power !

279 Posts
Performance wise, you just can't beat electric-propulsion. Just ask the electric autocrossers and electric motorcycle racers - the motorbikers in particular reckon that for an ICE motorbike to keep up with an electric motorbike over a tight circuit the ICE needs three times as much power to be able to keep up with the electric powered bike!

1,233 Posts
Well, you can't please everyone and you gotta make something for everyone. Although, I do hope that they'll use it to get the same hp but better fuel efficiency. If not, there's not point cause the people who buy these performance hybrids will be driving like they always have.
1 - 5 of 5 Posts