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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Urban Surprise: More Bicyclists Means Fewer Accidents

In a study that at first glance seems counterintuitive, researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, reviewed safety studies from 17 countries and 68 cities in California and found that the more people bike in a community, the less they collide with motorists.

"It appears that motorists adjust their behavior in the presence of increasing numbers of people bicycling because they expect or experience more people cycling," said Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from the university.

With fewer accidents, people perceive cycling as safer, so more people cycle, thus making it even safer, she said.

"Rising cycling rates mean motorists are more likely to be cyclists, and therefore be more conscious of, and sympathetic towards, cyclists," she said.

Safety experts said the decrease in accidents that comes with an increase in cycling is independent of improvements in cycling-friendly laws and better infrastructure such as bike paths. The safety studies reviewed were from Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, 14 other European countries, and 68 cities in California.

Although the review focused on bicycling, it appears that the more is safer rule also applies to pedestrians, Hatfield said.

The 65 mpg Ford the U.S. Can't Have


If ever there was a car made for the times, this would seem to be it: a sporty subcompact that seats five, offers a navigation system, and gets a whopping 65 miles to the gallon. Oh yes, and the car is made by Ford Motor (F), known widely for lumbering gas hogs.

Ford's 2009 Fiesta ECOnetic goes on sale in November. But here's the catch: Despite the car's potential to transform Ford's image and help it compete with Toyota Motor (TM) and Honda Motor (HMC) in its home market, the company will sell the little fuel sipper only in Europe. "We know it's an awesome vehicle," says Ford America President Mark Fields. "But there are business reasons why we can't sell it in the U.S." The main one: The Fiesta ECOnetic runs on diesel.

Automakers such as Volkswagen (VLKAY) and Mercedes-Benz (DAI) have predicted for years that a technology called "clean diesel" would overcome many Americans' antipathy to a fuel still often thought of as the smelly stuff that powers tractor trailers. Diesel vehicles now hitting the market with pollution-fighting technology are as clean or cleaner than gasoline and at least 30% more fuel-efficient.

Yet while half of all cars sold in Europe last year ran on diesel, the U.S. market remains relatively unfriendly to the fuel. Taxes aimed at commercial trucks mean diesel costs anywhere from 40 cents to $1 more per gallon than gasoline. Add to this the success of the Toyota Prius, and you can see why only 3% of cars in the U.S. use diesel. "Americans see hybrids as the darling," says Global Insight auto analyst Philip Gott, "and diesel as old-tech."

None of this is stopping European and Japanese automakers, which are betting they can jump-start the U.S. market with new diesel models. Mercedes-Benz by next year will have three cars it markets as "BlueTec." Even Nissan (NSANY) and Honda, which long opposed building diesel cars in Europe, plan to introduce them in the U.S. in 2010. But Ford, whose Fiesta ECOnetic compares favorably with European diesels, can't make a business case for bringing the car to the U.S.

TOO PRICEY TO IMPORT

First of all, the engines are built in Britain, so labor costs are high. Plus the pound remains stronger than the greenback. At prevailing exchange rates, the Fiesta ECOnetic would sell for about $25,700 in the U.S. By contrast, the Prius typically goes for about $24,000. A $1,300 tax deduction available to buyers of new diesel cars could bring the price of the Fiesta to around $24,400. But Ford doesn't believe it could charge enough to make money on an imported ECOnetic.

Ford plans to make a gas-powered version of the Fiesta in Mexico for the U.S. So why not manufacture diesel engines there, too? Building a plant would cost at least $350 million at a time when Ford has been burning through more than $1 billion a month in cash reserves. Besides, the automaker would have to produce at least 350,000 engines a year to make such a venture profitable. "We just don't think North and South America would buy that many diesel cars," says Fields.

The question, of course, is whether the U.S. ever will embrace diesel fuel and allow automakers to achieve sufficient scale to make money on such vehicles. California certified VW and Mercedes diesel cars earlier this year, after a four-year ban. James N. Hall, of auto researcher 293 Analysts, says that bellwether state and the Northeast remain "hostile to diesel." But the risk to Ford is that the fuel takes off, and the carmaker finds itself playing catch-up—despite having a serious diesel contender in its arsenal.

Honda Insight Concept to Debut at Paris Int. Auto Show

For months there has been chatter about Honda’s new 5-door hybrid, which has been hyped up as a Prius-killer. However, details have been scarce up until now, when Honda announced (and shared pictures!) of the Honda Insight Concept, which will be revealed on October 2nd at the Paris International Auto Show.

Much has been made of this car because of it’s low starting price (around $18,500) and higher people/hauling capacity when compared to the original Insight. The new Insight’s starting price will be lower than any other hybrid on the market, and was achieved by cutting the cost of Honda’s IMA system, which should lower hybrid prices across the board.

If you’ve been following the rumors, you’ll know that the new Insight Concept is based on the stylings of Honda’s fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, which is now on lease to a few lucky people out in California. This aerodynamics shape allows for a large interior while reducing fuel consumption tremendously, and doesn’t look half bad (I’m sure those wheels won’t come on the production model).

Expect to see the new Insight on Honda show-room floors in Spring of next year. Unlike the old Insight (and currently the Prius), we should expect the new Insight to be fairly available for purchase, as Honda intends to sell 200,000 units annually worldwide, with about half of those sales in the US. When more information is available to consumers, I will post again with pictures and links to the Honda site.

Read the full press release below:

TORRANCE, Calif. - Sep 04

Honda will reveal a concept version of its new small hybrid vehicle, to be named Insight, at the 2008 Paris International Auto Show, October 2, the company announced today. The new Insight Concept shares styling cues with the Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle and will provide an early look at the highly-anticipated five-passenger hybrid vehicle.

Going on sale in the U.S. next spring, the all-new purpose-built Insight will come to market at a price significantly below hybrids available today. From this unique position in the marketplace, the Insight will advance the affordability and accessibility of hybrid technology to a new generation of buyers.

“The original Honda Insight pioneered hybrid technology in the U.S. and remains a symbol of Honda’s commitment to innovative technology and fuel efficiency,” said Takeo Fukui, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. CEO. “This new Insight will break new ground as an affordable hybrid within the reach of customers who want great fuel economy and great value.”

The Insight Concept defines a new stage in the evolution of hybrid technology by utilizing a more cost-efficient version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist™ (IMA™) hybrid technology, resulting in a new level of affordability for hybrid customers worldwide. Evoking the innovative styling cues first seen in the FCX Clarity, the Insight Concept is designed with a low center of gravity and a generous five-passenger cabin, offering the kind of driving pleasure and roomy interior that customers have come to expect from Honda. While the Insight Concept’s aerodynamic design clearly identifies its fuel efficient purpose, its five-door access and folding rear seats speak to functionality that is designed to meet the needs of customers with an active lifestyle. The Insight Concept is a small, fuel efficient hybrid car that delivers big style and functionality with a healthy dose of fun.

Honda achieved a significant cost reduction in Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) components which should make Insight the most affordable hybrid vehicle to date. The production Insight will be offered as a five-door, five-passenger hatchback. Numerous technologies, including a function to assist customers in achieving more fuel efficient driving habits, will be applied to achieve a further improvement in real world fuel efficiency. With its affordable price, the new hybrid vehicle will represent the best value in its segment. Along with the Civic Hybrid, the new vehicle will be produced at an expanded hybrid vehicle production line at the Suzuka factory in Japan.

The Insight is expected to have annual global sales of 200,000 units per year - approximately 100,000 in North America. Following the launch of the new Insight, Honda also plans to introduce another unique sporty hybrid vehicle based on the CR-Z, first shown at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show. All together, Honda’s global sales of hybrids should increase to approximately 500,000 units a year, or more than 10 percent of its total worldwide annual automobile sales.

The original Honda Insight was introduced in December 1999 as America’s first gas-electric hybrid car. The first vehicle to break the 70-mpg fuel economy barrier, Insight was designed from the ground up to demonstrate the ultimate potential for fuel-economy in a two-seater subcompact automobile.

A leader in the development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient mobility products, Honda introduced the first low-emission gasoline vehicles; America’s first gas-electric hybrid car and the world’s first EPA-certified hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX. In 2007, Honda was named “greenest automaker” by the Union of Concerned Scientists for the fourth straight time.