Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2011   by Andr

Coming Soon To Your Service Operation

Hybrid vehicle technology has moved from the esoteric to the mainstream and moving into your service bays

The automobile industry is solidly behind moving the traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) towards new engine designs that benefit from a partial or full electric motor assist. Recent hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) are crammed with new technologies that enhance performances, improve fuel economy, reduce exhaust pollution and contribute to passenger safety and comfort. Car shows in Detroit, Toronto and Montreal have all showcased some of the most recent hybrid vehicles set to roll onto North American streets and soon into your service operations for maintenance and repair work.
Here is what has appeared at the car shows: Hyundai joins the green club this year with its hybrid Sonata. The Korean manufacturer opted for a set of lithium polymer batteries and a six-speed box instead of the popular continuously variable transmission (CVT). The Honda Insight showcases the company’s intelligent ECO assist system to maximize fuel economy. On the other hand, the next-generation Lexus CT 200h has a variety of driving modes: Normal, Sport, Eco and full EV. At BMW, the Active Hybrid 7 is considered a mild hybrid, matching best performance versus weight end efficiency. Porsche turned its Cayenne into a hybrid, a luxury SUV more enviro friendly, enabling the sporty off-roader to cruise exclusively on its electric motor.
Full electric and plug-in
Long promised and soon to hit the roads, Electric Vehicles (EV) or Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV), are a new generation of cars that will require their own infrastructure to refuel them. The question is: where will these vehicles go for service and maintenance? Will it be to the dealers, independent shops or your computer geek? Let’s take a moment to recap some of those new vehicle technologies.
Hybrid types
Hybrids are now classified according to the importance of the electric components and how they work together with the internal combustion engine. These are the most commonly accepted hybrids and how they work:

  •  The Micro Hybrid solution is the entry level of hybrids. It features a Stop/Start mode with a reversible electric motor that fills both duties of the starter and the alternator. The engine comes to a dead stop when brake pedal is maintained and the vehicle is under five km/h. The first generation of Silverado 42 volt-hybrid had this feature around 2004. The industry wants to implement this technology across the board around 2015.
  •  Mild Hybrids take you to the next level. The Stop/Start mode is still around, but the technology goes another furlong. Regenerative braking capacity kicks in to recharge a set of batteries (electric motor generates kinetic energy through braking). Batteries or super condensers then provide assistance to a small displacement gasoline engine.
  •  Full Hybrid is the most popular formula. It combines thermal engine and electric motor(s). If power from both sources reaches the wheels directly, this is a parallel architecture, just like a Honda Insight or CR-Z. The other is an epicyclical drive train (a serial or parallel architecture), aka the Toyota Prius.
  •  The Series Hybrid is an architecture where a combustion engine feeds an electric generator which in turn runs an electric motor that propels the vehicle. Using sophisticate computer software, batteries will store enough energy for the vehicle to drive all electric. Regenerative braking lengthens its autonomy in urban conditions.
  •  A Plug-in Hybrid is a series or parallel structure that uses a common power outlet – 120 or 240 volts – to recharge the batteries and enables the vehicle to travel electric-only over short distances.

The 100 Per Cent Electric Vehicle
Mitsubishi’s proposal has been the i-MiEV (acronym for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle). It features a 16 kw all-electric power plant with lithium-ion battery packs. A full recharge spans over 14 hours on a regular 120 volt outlet or seven hours on a 240 volt. With a special 400 volt outlet, 80 per cent of the charge can be gained within 30 minutes.
The range is a surprising 120 km with maximum speed reaching 130 km/h. The perfect commuter econobox. According to Mitsubishi, the battery system should last a minimum of ten years without any notable lost of capacity or performance. A full recharge costs fewer than 50 cents.
The i-MiEV is already on sale in Japan and Europe. A whole fleet is under severe testing by Hydro One and Hydro-Québec. It will arrive in the Canadian showrooms by the end of the year.
Nissan Leaf
Nissan was the first major manufacturer to reach the consumer with the Leaf, a subcompact based on the Versa and already available in selected markets across the USA and shortly in Canada. Finalist for the North American Car of the Year, it earned the award in Europe.
The power train is a single 80 kw electric motor fed by lithium-ion batteries. A full recharge can last up to a long 20 hours on a regular 120 volt outlet, but down to eight hours only with a quicker 240 volt source. A special charging unit will need barely 30 minutes to reach 80 per cent of the capacity. It is mandatory to have an outside 240 volt source under British Columbia housing laws for every new unit. The industry is close to standardizing the hardware: voltage, breaker, plugs.
The Leaf has an intelligent navi system that monitors the state of the battery, the available range left according to the driving style and the location of the closest charging station.
Nissan Canada announced the basic warranties is the usual 36 months/60,000 km, 60 months/100,000 km for the power train and 96 months/160,000 km for the lithium-ion batteries. A 50-car fleet will be up for hourly and daily leasing in Montreal by next Fall. A governmental program should feature rebates up to $9,000.
Next-gen hybrids
Chevrolet Volt
The Chevy Volt is a Series Hybrid type with a long-range capacity. Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles car show, it clinched the coveted all-around award in Detroit.
The architecture is different here: the power train starts with an 84 horsepower Ecotec 1.4 litre four cylinder that turns into a generator to top up a set of lithium-ion batteries. Combined, they deliver 150 horsepower for better accelerations. This package provides the Volt a range of 80 km on batteries alone and 500 km when the gas engine kicks in, with a maximum speed of 160 km/h.
A complete charge will require eight hours on a regular outlet while a 240-volt plug will do the trick in just three hours through a specific recharge system. GM announced a Chevrolet Volt owners would benefit from an eight-year or 160,000 kilometres warranty on the li-ion battery.
The Chevrolet Volt will debut in selected areas like California, New York and Washington DC, Michigan, Connecticut and Texas. In Canada, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, a few weeks ahead of the other large markets in the country.
Plug-in Toyota Prius
Toyota remains number one in the hybrid business considering the numbers of models and their proven technology. For 2012, a new generation of Prius plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is stepping in. The technology sits halfway between hybrid and electric. The Prius is a parallel hybrid with a 60 kw electric motor linked to a 98 hp 1.8 litre gas engine, totalling 136 hp.
What is new is the plug-in lithium-ion battery pack. Complete recharge requires three hours on a regular outlet and half the time using a 240-volt plug. Electric autonomy is about 20 km with a top speed of 100 km/h, while in normal operation the vehicle could reach 160 km/h.
At this point in Canada, a few provincial hydro societies and universities have been testing the product. At the FIA Alternate Fuel Rally held in Mont-Tremblant last Fall, a Toyota Prius PHEV showed fuel best economy using a wink more than 20 litres of fuel over a very challenging 525 km two-day event.
Real life testing
Some cities and universities are conducting real road and real life testing across the cou
ntry with electric vehicles, and many of them with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Commuting in heavy traffic, driving in snowy conditions, operating under cold spell are part of the rough going these new vehicle must face. The recharge infrastructure is under study as well as is overall driver satisfaction.
These different projects could set the pace of introduction for fleets of these new vehicles inside cities or municipal administrations using vehicles that always come back to their base at night. This fall, Montreal will have a fleet of 50 Nissan Leaf vehicles  available for hourly or daily rental.
Among the cars under close scrutiny by non-automobile manufacturers are the Nissan Leaf, Ford Escape, General Motors’ Volt and the Toyota Prius.
But there are old friends and newcomers to be examined more closely, like the Hyundai Sonata, Honda Insight and CR-Z, and the concept project Px-MiEV from Mitsubishi.

André St-Pierre is president of Groupe Efftrans, a company ­specialised in urban transport.

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