06 September 2005

Hybrid Dreams

I drive a wonderful, but expensive, car, a 2003 Subaru WRX (her name is Mary Jane). I love this car, but I have loved all my cars because I love cars generally. Mary Jane is as close to perfect as I've found in a car, though, despite the fact that she's not a convertible. But she is expensive--she drinks only premium gasoline (currently running at $3.19/gal on base) and only gets about 23 mpg overall. Keeping her fueled is not cheap.

Consequently I've been looking into replacements. I've been doing this for some time, since gas was down around $2/gal. I've gone to the Toyota website and built a Prius--$26,420--and I've even looked at the Honda Insight. But I hate the way the Insight looks--and looks are half the reason I buy cars. Obviously; otherwise I'd have bought the Echo back when I was shopping for Mary Jane. What I really want, though, is for Subaru to come up with a nice hybrid, with Subaru styling and Subaru construction (MJ's frame is stouter than my Mustang's was (her name was Sally), which is saying something), and Subaru all-wheel drive. And I like the fact that people occasionally think of Subaru's as "granola cars." I'm fine with being a granola person.

So the other day I wrote to Subaru of America, and told them that at night I dream of hybrid Outbacks, and did they have anything like that in the planning stages. Technophile types should definitely follow the jump here, to read what Subaru had to say in response. I'm not sure I understand much of it, but I take away three things: 1. A hybrid is coming, but it will be a few years; 2. It won't be an Outback; 3. Subaru and its partner companies are trying to corner the market on efficient batteries. Sounds pretty exciting. I'm going to write back and remind them not to make a car that looks like the Insight.

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for visiting the Subaru Web site and for your inquiry regarding our hybrid vehicles.

Hybrid vehicle development involves many new technologies and designs. Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.(FHI), our manufacturer, is currently developing alternative fuel engines for future environmental measures, focusing on a compact-sized vehicle and aiming to commercialize it within the next few years.

A joint venture with NEC Lamilion Energy, Ltd. will advance the development of a manganese lithium-ion type rechargeable battery for automobiles. By integrating NEC's laminate-type manganese lithium-ion cell technology with FHI's battery pack technology, the new company will be prepared to develop the global de facto standard rechargeable battery. NEC Lamilion Energy, Ltd. plans to supply the test battery to all domestic and international automobile manufacturers for industry evaluation.

There is a more environmentally significant development over the battery/internal combustion engine hybrid in the long term. GM is making progress toward having fuel cell powered vehicles available in the future. In continuation of its history of adopting practical innovations, Subaru and its linkage with GM will be an eager partner in fuel cell vehicle developments.

While there are no specific dates or schedules available to us now, please be assured that you will be hearing more about Subaru's advanced technology vehicles in the future. If you would like further general information on FHI's efforts to preserve the environment, please go to http://www.fhi.co.jp/english/envi/env_report/main.html.

We appreciate that you took the time to inquire about our vehicles and give us your comments. We hope to continually improve our products. If you need any future assistance, you can always contact us through our Web site at www.subaru.com.

Best Wishes,

Natalie Cox
Subaru of America, Inc.


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Smitty said...

That's it. Two spamments within minutes of my filing this post. Hate to do it, but here comes the dreaded LETTERBOX.

Lucky Bob said...

I saw those just before you deleted them. You site must be good to get all this spam attention.
I take that to mean that Subaru thinks the current energy storage technology is too heavy and doesn't have a good enough energy density. They seem to want to go for the performance market by reducing weight. They have high hopes for this battery technology, and I applaud them for the research. I expect that current gas prices may pressure them to release a version using current storage technology ahead of schedule.
I have also heard talk of Lithium Sulfur batteries that store more than twice the energy per unit mass as compared to Lithium Ion.