Episode 870 – Natural-Gas News, Honda Recycling Rare-Earth Metals, Ford Focus Electric

April 17th, 2012 at 12:19pm

Runtime: 7:41

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission just approved the first liquefied natural gas export plant in the U.S. in nearly 50 years.  Honda announced it’s teaming up with Japan Metals and Chemicals Company to reuse rare-earth metals from second-hand auto parts.  Autoline Daily Correspondent Isaac Bouchard gives us a first look at the new Ford Focus Electric.  All that and more, plus a rundown of the 2012 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors winners with guest host Christie Schweinsberg.

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Welcome to Autoline Daily, for Tuesday, the 17th of April, 2012.  I’m Christie Schweinsberg from WardsAuto.com filling in for John McElroy.  Here are today’s top news stories.

And we start out in the good ole’ US of A where natural gas prices keep dropping. That’s why GM recently announced it will sell trucks powered by the fuel and the reason daily-rental company Hertz said it will begin testing CNG vehicles in its fleet.  According to Reuters, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission just approved the first liquefied natural gas export plant in the U.S. in nearly 50 years. Cheniere Energy will build the facility in Louisiana, and it could come online by 2015. Analysts say there’s so much natural gas in the U.S. this decision won’t do much to put a dent in supplies.

If you’ve seen me host this show before you know I love hybrids and EVs.  They do have drawbacks, but like it or not they are the future.  And a new study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists adds another feather to their electrified caps.  According to Bloomberg, drivers of plug-in EVs like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf can save as much as 12-hundred bucks per year.  That’s driving 11,000 miles annually compared to a vehicle that gets 27 MPG with gasoline at $3.50 per gallon.  The study does not compare the total cost of ownership nor does it factor in how long an EV owner would have to drive their vehicle for it to pay off.

Speaking of electrics, Autoline Daily Correspondent Isaac Bouchard is out on the West Coast testing an exciting new earth-friendly vehicle.

(This feature is only available in the video version of today’s program)

For more on the Electric Focus you may want to check out WardsAuto.com.

Honda just announced it’s teaming up with Japan Metals and Chemicals Company to reuse rare-earth metals from second-hand Honda parts. The operation will be the first in the world to recycle these materials on a large scale. Around 80 percent of the rare-earth metals used in nickel-metal-hydride batteries can be extracted. The company plans to use the recycled metals in a wide range of products, not just batteries. The price of rare-earth metals has skyrocketed because China, which controls the majority of the world’s supply, is limiting exports.

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Designing, engineering and manufacturing cars ain’t easy.  Automakers have to meet all kinds of emissions, fuel economy and safety standards.  And now European OEMs can add another worry to that list.  The mother ship, WardsAuto.com reports the European Commission is calling for a drastic reduction in vehicle noise levels.  They’re shooting for a limit of 68 decibels for cars and 70 for trucks, but cutting the racket isn’t cheap.  It’s estimated the changes will cost hundreds or even thousands of Euros per vehicle.  Understandably, OEMs are protesting loudly against this proposal.

They say it’s what’s inside that counts, and the editors at WardsAuto agree.  We’ve just wrapped up our annual 10 Best Interiors competition.  Find out which vehicles won our hearts, right after this.


Last week WardsAuto editors selected the winners of our 2012 10 Best Interiors competition.

As always, assembling the list had some easy picks and some that were a bit more contentious.

If you haven’t heard yet, our winners include:

The Audi A7, Chevy Sonic, Chrysler 300 Luxury, Dodge Dart, Hyundai Accent, Hyundai Azera, Infiniti JX35, Mazda CX-5, Range Rover Evoque, and the Volkswagen Beetle.

We all agreed the Azera interior is stunning, with great, high-quality materials, beautiful design and extreme attention to detail. The true test of our love is we awarded the Azera even though our test car had a dark-color interior. Typically beige, brown or some other shade gets our blood pumping.

Speaking of ‘some other shade’ and ‘blood,’ the Vee Dub knocked our socks off with its red glossy trim, mimicking the exterior color of our test car. It’s a retro look that we loved, and we hope it inspires more auto makers to be bolder in their interior color choice.

The A7 took a little more debate, because its design borrows heavily from the last year’s winning A8. But in the end, the car’s styling flair and high-quality execution put it a step ahead of its competitors, including the redesigned BMW 335i, which had its supporters but left some of us wondering what exactly is new about it.

The Dodge Dart was another controversial pick. We loved its groundbreaking interior design, but had to convince ourselves to look past some fit-and-finish issues on the pre-production model. We’re told by Chrysler those will be fixed once the car is launched.

‘Superior subcompacts’ was a theme this year. I’m happy the Sonic and Accent won but a personal favorite of mine, the Kia Rio, was left off. Yes, the Rio’s cabin isn’t flashy, but its airplane-cockpit-inspired switchgear, thoughtfully patterned speaker grates and seamless, soft-touch dash – rare for a B-segment model – were spot-on.

I’m still licking my wounds over that one.

And that’ll do it for today’s episode of Autoline Daily.  Again, I’m Christie Schweinsberg from WardsAuto.com.  Thank you for watching, I’ll see you next time!

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog and WardsAuto.com

37 Comments to “Episode 870 – Natural-Gas News, Honda Recycling Rare-Earth Metals, Ford Focus Electric”

  1. W L Simpson Says:

    Digital dashes require only a glance, dials & gauges have to be studied. Dash surfaces should not be light reflecting colors or brightwork trim.
    John, please get back on screen!

  2. dcars Says:

    I hope all OEM’s are recycling rare earth metals; it seams very strange that they wouldn’t have significant programs to reuse this material.

  3. Dave F Says:

    Wow, the Ford Focus Electric has “all the performance that any American is ever going to need.” I’m impressed.

  4. Chuck Grenci Says:

    2 to 3 percent of the market, and over 50 percent of today’s show; give me a break. I don’t mind electrics (but stop trying to stuff them down our throats). My opinion of today’s show; others may differ. No disrespect to the presenter; just didn’t care for the content.

  5. pedro fernandez Says:

    The host’s personal agenda took over today’s show, if you examine how much time is dedicated in the media to these EV’s and what a miniscule portion of the market they represent, and how few people are interested, its really pathetic.

  6. C-Tech Says:

    T.Boone Pickens will be happy about the natural gas outlook.

  7. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Natural gas vehicles would make sense, if they were dual fuel, running on either natural gas or gasoline. A vehicle that runs on only natural gas is little better than a pure electric car. Yeah, it has more range than an electric, but there are a lot fewer places to “plug it in.”

  8. Michael Khoury Says:

    Christie, thanks for highlighting the real value of hybrids and EV’s. When the earth runs out of gas, we will look back and wonder why anyone (John included) was questioning the early work and research done.

  9. C-Tech Says:

    Christie please note that most people do not have enough “spare money” to afford an electric car. Even if I did, I’m not going to run an extension cord from my 2nd floor window, across the garden, and into the parking lot to recharge the thing daily (if the curious kids don’t mess with the plug!). If you really want to get economical and earth friendly transportation, use what I use. A Cannodale road bike and New Balance sneakers. I do not have to plug them in daily, the Concerned Scientists approve, my budget really approves, and my doctor approves.

  10. C-Tech Says:

    @ #7
    When the earth runs out of gas, I’ll switch to alcohol.

  11. C-Tech Says:

    It would have been nice to see the Sonic’s interior. Was that the Kia’s interior shown?

  12. C-Tech Says:

    Can someone explain why beige, brown, or some othe bland shade gets the voters hearts pumping?

  13. C-Tech Says:

    If Europe passes this “unsound” proposal, then the muffler replacement business will grow.

  14. motorman Says:

    “The Union of Concerned Scientists”is a left wing organization that has nothing to do with science and all about saving the planet.

  15. Kit Gerhart Says:

    It looks like car interiors are getting more “colorful” than they have been recently, but it seems like most cars only offer beige, light grey, and dark grey.

    I bought my MINI “off the lot,” but if I ordered one, it would get all the available “red option” on the dash and doors panels. I like the use of body color in car interiors, as the Beetle does. I still don’t understand why car companies were able to offer 6 or 8 different colors of interiors in the ’50′s and 60′s, but now we get a choice of grey or beige.

  16. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Alcohol is a true multi-purpose substance. You can run your car on it, and you can drink it.

  17. HtG Says:

    Car interiors may also be that dark grey color because that’s the color of road dirt. Come to think of it, haven’t I ranted a bit about dark grey painted exteriors? Spot the trend? I even see darker shades on wheels, maybe for the brake dust camo.

  18. C-Tech Says:

    @ #16
    Renewable and tasty. Can you say that about your electricity?

  19. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Dark colored interiors are definitely good for not showing dirt. The black vinyl in my MINI is hard to beat, if I accidentally get grease on it. I have to be real careful not to get anything on the light beige cloth in my Prius. Beige paint is hard to beat, though, for not showing dust, water spots, etc. on the outside of a car.

    My Malibu had chrome plated wheels, and they showed brake dust a lot. Worse than that, the dust stuck to them and would not wash off, at least not with dish washing detergent and water.

  20. ACunningham Says:

    Yes! A green car coup while John was gone.

    I appreciate the realistic point of view that John and Peter share but sometimes their attitudes and stories of choice seem to suggest they want hybrids and electrics to fail, not just that they believe many will.

  21. dcars Says:

    Alcohol based beverages are too tasty to waste fueling my car! And if you think about it, to expensive. A pint of beer costs upwards of three dollars in a bar.

  22. Chuck Grenci Says:

    I still have hopes for celluotic ethanol, algae based petroleum, etc. Liquid still maintains the highest density of power per unit size (which even translates to liquefied natural gas, propane, etc., though those have their own challenges); it (liquid) is also the easiest to transport and store. Electricity is a ‘player’, and got a lot closer with the Li ion battery, but it is still second fiddle to liquids. (And, for the most part, we are still using those liquids, as well as solids and gases, in making that electricity)

    Let me digress a little here: why in the world can’t someone use the tides, especially the river tidal flow, to create electrical energy by the trillions of gallons of water passing (twice a day) incoming and outgoing similarly to how they use turbines to create electricity via damned water.)

  23. pedro fernandez Says:

    #19 on the other hand, dirt is very visible in the black surface.

  24. Kit Gerhart Says:

    There is some tidal hydro. The biggest installations are one each in France and S. Korea, of about 250MW. That’s about 1/7 the output of a 2 reactor nuclear plant south of me. It’s an interesting concept, and there is a lot of water moving around to harvest, but 20 mile long dams aren’t cheap, and, like everything else, there are environmental issues.

  25. HtG Says:

    Hey Kit, would you like to share your impressions of the NY show?

  26. Alex Kovnat Says:

    > The mother ship, WardsAuto.com
    > reports the European Commission
    > is calling for a drastic reduction
    > in vehicle noise levels. They’re
    > shooting for a limit of 68 decibels
    > for cars and 70 for trucks, but
    > cutting the racket isn’t cheap.

    Ironically the kind of regulation-happy people who want cars to be more quiet, are the same kind of people who will complain when there’s an increase in the number of blind people struck down by overly-quiet electric vehicles.

  27. Jesse W. Henry Says:

    I wonder why it is that they used a car getting 27MPG as the comparison for EV savings… all the current EV’s on the market right now are compacts and most modern compacts do a bit better than 27MPG combined.

  28. Brett Says:

    ““The Union of Concerned Scientists”is a left wing organization that has nothing to do with science and all about saving the planet.”

    Saving the planet! Those bastards!

  29. mj Says:

    That EV ford is not attractive very boring looking..

  30. pedro fernandez Says:

    Re the European “quiet” demands, most scooters and motorcycles are a lot noisier than your average car, so there!

  31. CRC Says:

    Please John, no more Christie! She comes across as a snooty elitist who is desperate to push her green agenda on us.

    At least when John has a personal or political view, I can take it better because he presents it with a little more tact.

  32. Jim Haines Says:

    Ford is rolling out another golf cart for a market that is not moving cars. I still think the Volt is the only EV that makes any sense.

  33. aliisdad Says:

    Hybrids–YES; EV’s–NO!!!!

    By-the-way, I have owned two white cars and white is a great color for a car…You would think that white would show dirt badly, but I found it actually could get pretty dirty before really showing it too much…I also have found silver gray and red pretty good, also…Black cars look great, but the couple of black cars I have had showed dirt bad, were hard to polish well, and showed small scratches…Oh, but black cars look soooo cool!!

  34. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I didn’t spend as long at the New York show as I would have liked; we were on a “tight schedule” with touristy things, so I missed the “truck” section.

    I think I had read too much about the show, here and elsewhere, so there were no real surprises, but it was fun to see all the cars at one place, and some pretty girls next to them. As far as the cars, I thought the MKZ looked better “in person” than in the pictures, at least from the front, but they had it locked “for my safety,” so I couldn’t really check out the interior. I thought the new Malibu looked pretty good, but the interior, while functional, seemed a little underwhelming. I mostly ignored the Hyundai stuff, but I kind of forgot about the new Azera which I should have checked out. The Dart looked ok, but when I see pictures of the Alfa it’s based on, all I can think is, “why didn’t they just bring that one over here”? It looks so much better, and is even a hatch which I like much better than a sedan. I liked the looks of the candy red ATS, but, unless I missed it, the only one there was on a turntable, and I couldn’t see what the interior looked like.

    It seemed like flat paint is “in,” as there were several concepts with flat paint, and I think an Audi that may have been a production car. How do you fix flat paint, other than by repainting the whole panel, or maybe the whole car if it is more than a year or two old?

    I was there Monday afternoon, and, even then, it was crowded enough that you had to wait in line to sit in the more interesting cars and check out interiors, but I suspect it would have been more crowded over the weekend.

    All in all, it was interesting, and was my first time at one of the “big” shows. I’ve been to the Indy show a couple times, but that’s it. If you want to check out current production cars, a dealer is a better place, because you don’t have the crowd to deal with, but it was cool seeing the future stuff, and to see a few exotics, Bentleys, and a Rolls, even though they were behind ropes.

  35. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I wonder if Ford had thought of putting a gas engine and generator in that Focus EV so it could keep going after the battery runs down. Wait, somebody has already done that.

  36. Bob Aubertin Says:

    Hello Christie,
    1.)The Fiat 500 has color keyed interiors before the intro of the new Beetle.
    2.)You prefered to show the UGLY Kia interior instead of the 300 Luxury edition with Real Wood.
    3.)Hybrids & LPG will be the future to compete with gasoline Forget the Electrics
    4.)I think you would be the perfect spokesperson for Kia car interiors.
    5.)Bring back John QUICKLY!!!!

  37. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Just in from AutoWeek, (or maybe I missed it somewhere else), but GM is going the have dual fuel CNG/gasoline vehicles. Unfortunately, they will be monster pickups, not cars, and will sell at an $11K premium. See: