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Across the Pond

How the Brits deal with high gas prices

Just as I sat down to write this week’s column, the latest issue of the British magazine Car arrived in my mailbox. As I don’t imagine that Car is something a lot of you pick up each month, I thought I’d use this space to let you know about some efficient cars being reported on across the pond which we in North America may, or may not, ever see. But you auto know about them anyway:

iStream T25
Protoscar Lampo 2

Toyota Auris HSD. The HSD stands for Hybrid Synergy Drive. It’s a hybrid. Smaller than a Prius by about eight inches in length, it’s about an inch wider, yet they weigh exactly the same—just short of two tons. They use the same drivetrain, they both seat five, and they have the same top speed (just over 111 miles per hour). But the Prius starts in Great Britain at £19,855 (almost $31,000); the Auris HSD’s base price is £18,950 ($29,502). Now to me, the Auris looks very much like the US Corolla, although it’s a hatchback rather than a sedan. If the hybrid Auris costs about six grand more than a regular Auris, it only figures that in the US it should go for around six grand more than a Corolla. In the US a Corolla starts at $15,450. A Prius starts at close to $23,000. So $21,000 for an Auris hybrid in the US? Two grand is two grand. Personally I think the Auris is not only a better buy, but it’s a better-looking car. Will we see it here? Well, the story is that Toyota is planning on a whole line of Prius models in North America. It only makes sense that this would eventually be one of them.

Then there’s the Lampo 2, built by Protoscar, a Swiss firm which has been involved with clean-car projects for the past 23 years. Unusual looking? Yes. Believe it or not, under than swoopy bodywork is a Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky platform. What’s really different about the Lampo 2 is the powerplant. One at the front and one at the back—Brusca electric motors which combine for a total of 402 horsepower, and make for a top speed of 125 miles per hour, with 125 miles between charges. It is equipped with four different charging modes: single phase for recharging overnight at home, and three other phases with varuious times and charges for use at commercial charging stations. Which we’re led to believe will be as available as the corner gas station. Someday.

And as if the Lampo wasn’t weird-enough to look at, there’s the iStream T25. Designed by McLaren racing’s legendary Gordon Murray, it slightly resembles the smartcar but is smaller yet. The T25 is basically a city car, built with plastic panels set over a metal frame. You can fit three T25s in a normal parking spot, and they’ll fit two-abreast in a driving lane. That’s small. It seats three (God, it must be snug!) and the version Murray is showing right now is rated at 74 miles per gallon (British), while being priced at around £6,000. Murray isn’t planning on producing any cars at all for mass-consumption, but instead is hoping to license it out to someone who’ll put it into production. I certainly can’t imagine this ever coming to the US because of its size, but it’s good to know that someone out there is working to improve the automobile to be more in line with the times in which we’re living.

It’s too bad the major auto makers aren’t in line. I know they exist to make money. It’s just a shame that, now that gas prices have stabilized somewhat, people are once again falling all over themselves to buy a new SUV. We’ve learned nothing. And the automakers are in lockstep with the buying public, giving what they want instead of what they need. To paraphrase Samuel F. B. Morse: What hath cheaper gas wrought?

Read “You Auto Know” every other week in Artvoice and more often on AV Daily at Plus check out Jim’s bolog:

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