August 23 News: Ford and Toyota to Co-Develop Hybrid Drivetrains; Enviro Groups Sue BLM Over WY Coal Leases

Derrick Kuzak, Ford group VP, Global Product Development, and Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota EVP for R&D sign a MOU to co-develop a new rear-wheel-drive hybrid system for pickups and SUVs.

Ford and Toyota to jointly develop hybrid drivetrains for pickups and SUVs

Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. said they will work together to develop an advanced hybrid drivetrain system for light trucks and sport-utility vehicles.

The move represented a strategy by both companies to improve fuel economy in larger vehicles long before stricter federal fuel economy rules take effect with the 2017 model year, said Brian Johnson, an analyst with Barclays Capital.

The new standards are expected to provide extra credits toward meeting fuel efficiency targets for companies that develop hybrid gas-and-electric drivetrains for pickup trucks.

Johnson noted that General Motors Co. had already experimented with hybrids on light trucks and large SUVs and has developed electric boosts, or so-called mild hybrids, in some Buick sedans.

Ford and Toyota have worked independently on rear-wheel drive hybrid systems. The hybrid powertrain will bring greater fuel efficiency to new trucks and SUVs without compromising the capability drivers require in their vehicles, Ford said.

Ford and Toyota said their collaboration would allow them to offer hybrid technologies on these vehicles sooner and more affordably than either company could alone.

Environmental groups sue BLM over coal leases in Wyoming

Three environmental groups are suing the Bureau of Land Management in federal court over the recent leasing of two tracts of coal in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife filed a lawsuit Aug. 16 against the agency in federal court in Washington, D.C., over the environmental effects of the 350 million tons of coal contained in the tracts.

The groups contend the BLM didn’t properly conduct its assessment of the environmental impacts of mining, transporting and burning the coal.

The Belle Ayr North tract, which contains 221.7 million tons of coal, sold to a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy July 13. The Caballo West tract, which contains 130.1 million tons of coal, sold to a subsidiary of Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha Natural Resources Aug. 17.

“Alpha and Peabody are coal companies, and we can’t expect them to look out for anything other than their bottom line,” said Adam Kron, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, in a news release. “But BLM is a federal agency and a steward of our public lands and has no excuse for approving this reckless and short-sighted deal.”

Canada follows U.S. by proposing emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles

Following the lead of it’s neighbors down south, Canada has developed proposed emissions and fuel efficiency guidelines for heavy-duty vehicles. Environment Canada’s proposed regulations to limit emissions from heavy-duty vehicles are virtually identical to ours, with the differences being so minute that you could essentially say Canada copied the U.S.’ recently announced heavy-duty vehicle standards.

The proposed Canadian regulations will reduce emissions from on-road heavy-duty vehicles, including full-size pick-up trucks, combination tractors, buses and a wide range of vocational vehicles. Environment Canada says the guidelines effectively include all on-road vehicles built from 2014 on with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of more than 8,500 pounds.

The proposed regulations would set emission standards that are aligned with those of the United States and it is Canada’s goal to have a common North American approach so that automakers can manufacture and sell heavy-duty vehicles in either county without having to make any emissions-related modifications. Environment Canada expects the heavy-duty vehicle standards to be approved by the end of 2012.

Maine oil company fined by EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency says a Maine heating oil company has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle claims it violated the Clean Water Act and federal regulations designed to prevent oil spills from reaching waterways.

The EPA said Monday that Fabian Oil Inc. failed to maintain and fully implement spill prevention plans at three facilities where it handles heating oil, gasoline and other petroleum products. Fabian Oil is based in Oakland and has facilities in Augusta, Jay and South Thomaston .

There was no oil spill at the Fabian properties, but the EPA says the company was not fully prepared to deal with oil spills or prevent them from having potentially serious environmental consequences.

The agency says Fabian has now implemented updated spill prevention plans.

Driverless ULTra electric podcars already cutting emissions at London’s Heathrow Airport

While robotic vehicles out on the open road move forward in prototype form, a system of driverless electric podcars with dedicated tracks is now operational at London’s Heathrow Airport. The system, which has been operating on a trial basis since April of 2011 and is entering regularly scheduled service this summer, connects Heathrow’s Terminal 5 with two stations in parking lots 1.2 miles away.

So far, the transport pods have received positive reviews from passengers who say the driverless coaches whisk along the dedicated pathways smoothly and without making a peep.

ULTra-PRT, the firm behind the podcars, says the system has 21 vehicles and makes the 1.2-mile journey in less than six minutes. In a capacity test, the podcars have made 164 trips in less than one hour. When pods arrive at a station, they stop off the track, meaning others can pass by. With traditional rail, trains typically get backed up at stopping points.

The electric-powered pods replace diesel-fueled buses that used to run the route between the terminal and the parking lots. A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport says the podcars’ efficiency gains stem from the shift to electric and the on-demand nature of pod transport. The spokesperson says the pods use 50 percent less energy than diesel-burning buses.

Northeast Corridor gets $745 million for upgrades to tracks, construction to ease congestion

The federal Department of Transportation is putting $745 million toward rail projects that will allow trains to travel up to 160 mph in some sections of the Northeast Corridor and construction that will allow Amtrak trains to avoid a congested rail junction in Queens.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the funding on Monday. About $450 million will be used to upgrade electrical systems and tracks between Trenton, N.J., and New York City. The upgrade means Acela Express trains will be able to get up to a top speed of 160 mph between Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J.

About $295 million will be used to construct a flyover at the Harold Interlocking rail junction in Queens. It will separate Amtrak from Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter trains, easing congestion.

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