A cheaper, smaller Prius with crazypants gas mileage
By Jon Alain GuzikPosted 06.22.2012 at 2:00 pm 10 Comments
Recently Bloomberg ran a report stating that Toyota is on track to sell over 250,000 Prius-branded vehicles in the United States in 2012. If you live anywhere on the coasts or in any urban and/or quickly gentrifying area, you might think Toyota has hit that saturation point already. In California, it seems that every other car on the road is a Prius--including most of the taxicabs.
Without a doubt, the best part of an auto show is the test drive — you can sink into the cushiony driver’s seat, behold the beautiful control panel, feel the steering wheel slip comfortably between your fingers. At this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, that won’t happen. Test drivers will sit in the back seat of an autonomous Prius, letting the car drive them around by itself. It’ll probably be worth the back seat view.
Google's self-driving fleet of robo-Priuses have been cruising around the San Francisco area for months now, logging over 190,000 miles. But until recently, the technology behind the autonomous cars had been kept secret. Last month, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor and head of the project, and Google engineer Chris Urmson, delivered a keynote speech at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in San Francisco, explaining how the car works.
A chunk of magnetite guards the office door at the Pea Ridge iron mine near Sullivan, Mo., a mascot of the mine's past and future. When Jim Kennedy bought the mine in 2001, he'd planned to restart production on a high-grade iron ore deposit. He didn't realize he was sitting on a mother lode of 600,000 metric tons of high-grade rare earth elements -- elements the U.S. is desperately hungry for. Four years ago, he almost threw away reams of documents describing Pea Ridge's deposit. "Nobody bothered to tell me about it," he said.
Responding to concerns about Toyota's recall of 8 million cars, President Obama has asked the National Academy of Science (NAS) and NASA to conduct a formal investigation of computer technology in cars. The NAS will oversee the broad program, while NASA will specifically examine computer-controlled acceleration in Toyota's Prius hybrid.
Toyota's rivals have long complained that the popular Prius hybrid has a less-than-green legacy due to its manufacturing process. Now the car maker has flashed its green thumb by creating two new species of flower that help offset the carbon emissions from the Prius plant in Japan.
The new version of the cherry sage plant can absorb harmful greenhouse gases, such as nitrogen oxide, through its leaves. And Toyota's variant of the gardenia acts as a natural humidifier by creating water vapor in the air, to help cool the factory grounds, reducing the energy required for air conditioners.
It's been the talk of the hybrid-car crowd since the first hybrids landed in dealerships: The plug-in Prius. And with GM's plug-in Volt set for a 2010 launch, all eyes are now on Toyota. This week the company offered its first tangible evidence of a plug-in Prius, at least in two dimensions. The company released the first official photo image of a new Prius concept car that can get juice from the electrical grid.
So it turns all those hybrid car owners who turn their environmentally conscious noses up have an unexpected caveat to their green-ness--their cars are sucking up rare earth metals at a disturbing rate.
Rare earth elements take up 17 slots on the periodic table, and are named not for their overall scarcity (they're actually quite common in trace elements throughout the Earth's core) but for the relatively uncommon minerals in which they were originally found; few rare earth elements exist in pure elemental form naturally.
Dear EarthTalk: I understand that Toyota is planning to sell a plug-in Prius that will greatly improve the car's already impressive fuel efficiency. Will I be able to convert my older (2006) Prius to make it a plug-in hybrid vehicle? -- Albert D. Rich, Kamuela, Hawaii
Toyota is readying a limited run of a plug-in Prius, which can average 100 miles per gallon, for use in government and commercial fleets starting in 2009. Toyota will monitor how these cars, which will have high-efficiency lithium-ion batteries that haven't been fully tested yet, will hold up under everyday use.