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NY auto show: Ford-Microsoft deal, Hyundai hybrid

Wed, 03/31/2010 - 2:30pm
The Associated Press

Ford Motor Co. says buyers of its electric vehicles won't have to pay extra for software that will help them save money when recharging their cars.

On Wednesday at the New York auto show, the automaker announced a partnership with Microsoft Corp. to develop a computerized link between houses, electric cars and utility companies to help manage energy use.

The companies say it's the beginning of a smart system that will help customers control electric bills.

The Ford-Microsoft system, called Microsoft Holm, would start with the all-electric Ford Focus compact car that is scheduled to go on sale in late 2011. It will allow utilities to vary their rates based on the time of day. A computer would determine the best time to recharge the car at the lowest cost and the least burden on the utility's generating system.

Charging an electric car can double a household's energy use, and utilities worry about taking on the increased burden. But charging the cars late at night, when appliances and other big electricity consumers aren't being used, can help manage the load.

The companies have time to work out details of exactly how the system will work, figuring out electric rates and loads on generating systems, said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's global product development chief. Microsoft already has the technology for home thermostats and appliances to manage electricity use, he said.

"We're doing a lot to bring vehicles to market, but there has to be a lot of other work done from both a consumer and utility perspective to make this viable and affordable," Kuzak said

Many utilities and other companies have been working on similar smart home technology for several years.

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Other news from the New York International Auto Show:

Hyundai to sell hybrid version of midsize Sonata

Hyundai unveiled a gas-electric hybrid version of its popular Sonata midsize sedan.

The 2011 model will get an estimated 39 highway mpg and 37 city mpg. It also can run fully on electricity at speeds up to 62 mph, said Hyundai Motor America President John Krafcik.

Most hybrids typically do better in city driving because of braking technology that recharges the car's battery in stop-and-go traffic. But Krafcik said Hyundai engineered its hybrid to get greater highway mileage because that's where most driving is done.

The Sonata Hybrid will go on sale around November or December. Pricing will be announced later.

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Acura hopes sporty wagon will catch on

Honda Motor Co.'s Acura luxury brand hopes to counter the station wagon's stigma of 1960s boredom with the new TSX Sport Wagon.

The company says the wagon will balance hauling capability with efficient performance. It is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a five-speed automatic transmission and can get up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

The five-seat wagon has a removable side panel in its cargo area so it can handle wide items such as golf clubs, and it has bins under the floor for hidden storage.

The price was not announced, although Honda says it will be somewhere between the four-cylinder TSX sedan at a base of $29,310 and the V6 TSX at $34,850.

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After showing electric car, Nissan unveils Infiniti SUV

Nissan Motor Co., which announced pricing for the all-electric Leaf on Tuesday, moved to the other end of the fuel-economy spectrum Wednesday with the debut of the 2011 Infiniti QX56 full-size SUV.

Nissan said the 2011 QX has 25 percent more horsepower and 10 percent better fuel economy with its new 5.6-liter V8 engine with direct injection and a seven-speed transmission.

The 2011 QX, which goes on sale this summer, will start at $56,700, the same price as the 2010 model.

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Mazda to price new subcompact under $14,000

Mazda Motor Co. says it will sell its new subcompact, the Mazda2, for a starting price of $13,980 when it arrives in showrooms this summer.

The company also announced that two new gasoline and diesel engines will debut in the U.S. next year, boosting the automaker's fuel efficiency.

The tiny Mazda2, designed to compete with the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris subcompacts, will have a 1.5-liter, 100 horsepower four-cylinder engine. The base model has a five-speed manual transmission, but buyers can get a four-speed automatic. It can get up to 35 mpg on the highway.

Mazda says the car will go on sale in July.

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