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Hybrids Planning A U.S. Road Trip

Issue 2 and Volume 104.

Honda is bringing the first electric hybrid car to the U.S. marketplace, offering its 2000 Insight for $19,000. The vehicle sports 60+ mpg from its 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder engine and 2.3-inch wide permanent magnet electric motor operating in parallel. Electricity for the motor is stored in a 144 V nickel-metal hydride battery pack and controlled through an electronic Power Control Unit. Unlike a pure battery-powered electric vehicle, the Insight does not need an outside source of electricity. The system generates its own electricity primarily through regenerative braking, eliminating the infrastructure expense and problems faced by pure electric models.


Under the hood
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Honda is first in the United States, but Toyota was first in the world when it began selling its Prius in Japan more than two years ago. The Prius is a four-door sedan that may be more appealing to families than the two-door Insight. More than 20,000 of the Toyota hybrids have been sold in Japan, with a base price of $17,000. The cars get around 66 mpg and are expected to enter the U.S. market in another year.

The vehicle’s Integrated Motor Assist system incorporates an idle-stop feature that shuts off the engine under certain circumstances to conserve fuel and reduce unwanted exhaust emissions. The system activates when the Insight is stopped, the shift lever is placed in neutral and the driver removes his foot from the clutch pedal. Engaging the clutch and putting the car in gear restarts the engine.

The Insight has an aluminum body that is 40 percent lighter than a comparably sized steel body. Its futuristic design is also highly aerodynamic with one of the lowest coefficients of drag of any mass-produced automobile sold worldwide. The vehicle’s chassis is also aluminum. The Insight is designed to meet 2003 safety standards for side-impact and head-injury protection.

Even the tires on this vehicle are specially selected. The tires, 165/65 R14 78S mud- and snow-rated low-rolling-resistance tires, account for as much as a 40 percent reduction in rolling resistance when compared to conventional tires.

Electric Motor Assist


Insight Electric Motor
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The electric motor supplies an additional 25 lb-ft of torque in assist mode, eliminating the need for a separate, heavy electric drive motor. The electric motor has a maximum output of 10 kW. The ultra-thin design allows it to be mounted directly between the engine and transmission. Its high torque characteristics at low speeds make it more helpful in assisting the engine during low-rpm acceleration, increasing the overall efficiency during normal driving.

The motor also functions as the generator, saving the additional weight of a separate unit, and as a high-rpm starter, quickly spinning the engine up to idle speed. If the system’s battery charge is low, a separate 12 V battery and starter motor will start the engine.

The electric motor also damps engine-idle vibration by applying reverse torque to the crankshaft. The reverse torque pulses are in phase and opposite to the 60-degree torque fluctuations of the gasoline engine.

Specifications

67 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm
73 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm
66 lb-ft torque @ 4,800 rpm, engine alone
91 lb-ft torque @ 2,000 rpm, with assist

Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase: 94.5 inches
Length: 155.1 inches
Height: 53.3 inches
Width: 66.7 inches

Track:
56.5 inches, front
52.2 inches, rear

Curb Weight:
1,856 pounds
1,887 pounds with A/C

EPA Mileage Estimates:
61 mpg city
70 mpg highway