Skip to comments.Hybrid-Car Tinkerers Scoff at No-Plug-In Rule
Posted on 04/06/2005 8:13:35 AM PDT by finnman69
DETROIT, April 1 - Ron Gremban and Felix Kramer have modified a Toyota Prius so it can be plugged into a wall outlet.
This does not make Toyota happy. The company has spent millions of dollars persuading people that hybrid electric cars like the Prius never need to be plugged in and work just like normal cars. So has Honda, which even ran a commercial that showed a guy wandering around his Civic hybrid fruitlessly searching for a plug.
But the idea of making hybrid cars that have the option of being plugged in is supported by a diverse group of interests, from neoconservatives who support greater fuel efficiency to utilities salivating at the chance to supplant oil with electricity. If you were able to plug a hybrid in overnight, you could potentially use a lot less gas by cruising for long stretches on battery power only. But unlike purely electric cars, which take hours to charge and need frequent recharging, you would not have to plug in if you did not want to.
"I've gotten anywhere from 65 to over 100 miles per gallon," said Mr. Gremban, an engineer at CalCars, a small nonprofit group based in Palo Alto, Calif. He gets 40 to 45 miles per gallon driving his normal Prius. And EnergyCS, a small company that has collaborated with CalCars, has modified another Prius with more sophisticated batteries; they claim their Prius gets up to 180 m.p.g. and can travel more than 30 miles on battery power.
"If you cover people's daily commute, maybe they'll go to the gas station once a month," said Mr. Kramer, the founder of CalCars. "That's the whole idea."
Conventional hybrid electric cars already save gas. But if one looks at growth projections for oil consumption, hybrids will slow the growth rate of oil imports only marginally, at best, with the amount depending on how many hybrids are sold. To actually stop the growth of oil imports and potentially even reduce consumption, automakers have focused on developing cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
But fuel cells would require a complete reinvention of the automobile, not to mention the nation's gas stations, and the technology to put them on the road is still a long way from fruition. Advocates of plug-in hybrids say the technology for these vehicles is available now to the point that people are building them in garages.
"All of the relevant technology is at hand," said Frank Gaffney, founder of the Center for Security Policy and an assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration. His group was among a coalition of right-leaning organizations that released an energy plan this year promoting plug-ins as one way to increase fuel efficiency in light of the instability of the Middle East.
"If you're thinking about this as an environmental issue first and foremost, you're missing the point," Mr. Gaffney said. Curbing dependence on foreign oil, he added, "is a national security emergency."
Toyota, however, says the plug-in is not ready for prime time.
"They say this is the next great thing, but it just isn't," said David Hermance, an executive engineer at Toyota. "The electric utilities really want to sell electricity and they want to sell it to the transportation sector because that expands their market. They have an agenda."
But the plug-in hybrid is not just coming out of the garages of enthusiasts in California. DaimlerChrysler has developed several dozen plug-in hybrid vans in cooperation with the Electric Power Research Institute, a group financed by more than 300 utilities, including the New York Power Authority and Southern California Edison. Testing of the vans will start this year, and one will be used by The New York Times on a newspaper delivery route in Manhattan. Several small companies are also developing or have developed plug-in hybrid prototypes.
"We think it's the only way to rekindle interest in electric transportation," said Robert Graham, who manages research into electric vehicles for the Research Institute. "There are no technology hurdles at all. It's simply a matter of getting the vehicle built out on the street and getting people to recognize its value."
For power companies, the notion of people plugging in cars overnight represents not only a new way to make money, but the vehicles would also draw power mostly during off hours which would improve efficiency, because power plants cannot simply shut down at night as demand diminishes.
As it stands, though, modifying a hybrid like the Prius to enable it to plug in would add perhaps $2,000 to $3,000 to the cost of a car that is already roughly $3,000 more expensive than conventional gas cars. Advocates say the costs would be much lower if such cars were mass-produced by a major automaker.
But Nick Cappa, a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler, was cautious, calling the technology one of many the company was exploring. Among its current drawbacks is that the added batteries take up space and make the company's Sprinter van several hundred pounds heavier.
"This is part of a small program investigating these technologies," Mr. Cappa said.
And Mr. Hermance of Toyota said that batteries today were not durable enough to handle the wide range of charging up and charging down that a plug-in hybrid would need, calling that the most damaging thing you can do to a battery.
Edward Furia, the chief executive of AFS Trinity Power, a privately held company in Bellevue, Wash., that develops mechanical batteries called flywheels, agreed with Mr. Hermance, but said that a secondary energy storage technology like a flywheel could solve the problem.
"If you've got a flywheel with your chemical battery, you can draw down the chemical battery, but when it's time to do a heavy lift, to accelerate or absorb energy, the flywheel is doing the acceleration or the absorption, not the chemical battery," said Mr. Furia, whose company is developing its own plug-in hybrid that it says will get several hundred miles per gallon.
While many environmentalists support the technology, some say in terms of emissions, electric cars would only be as good as the power plants that produce electricity.
"The concern on plug-in hybrids is that we not substitute addiction to one polluting fuel for addiction to a more polluting fuel," said Dan Becker, the head of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program. "Coal is more polluting than gasoline, and nearly 60 percent of U.S. electricity is generated by burning coal."
Roger Duncan, a deputy general manager of Austin Energy, a utility owned by the City of Austin, Tex., said that "it's hard to say what impact it will have on the nation as a whole," but that in regions that use cleaner-than-average power sources, like Austin or California, it would provide a clear emissions benefit. Mr. Duncan even imagines a day when drivers could be paid to return energy to the grid during times of excessive demand.
Plug-in hybrid prototypes have been around for several years, but the idea of modifying a Prius stemmed from the curiosity of some Prius owners in the United States, Mr. Kramer said. They were aroused by a mysterious unmarked button on their Prius and discovered that in Priuses sold in Europe and Japan, the button allows the car to drive for a mile in electric-only mode. Mr. Hermance said the feature was disabled in Priuses sold in the United States because of complications it would have created in emissions-testing rules.
Mr. Kramer said "a bunch of engineers reverse-engineered it in the United States and figured out how to hack it."
But they soon wanted to travel on batteries for more than a mile and began to collaborate through CalCars on adding batteries to the Prius that would allow for longer pure electric travel. With the help of dozens of volunteer engineers collaborating online, the group retrofitted a Prius in Mr. Gremban's garage to travel about 10 miles on nothing but battery power.
Mr. Duncan said the plug-in hybrid was "very realistic, because it's not that big a leap in technology."
"Look what Felix has done with Prius off the street," he added. "This isn't rocket science."
"I've gotten anywhere from 65 to over 100 miles per gallon," said Mr. Gremban they claim their Prius gets up to 180 m.p.g. and can travel more than 30 miles on battery power.
"If you cover people's daily commute, maybe they'll go to the gas station once a month," said Mr. Kramer, the founder of CalCars. "That's the whole idea."
That has to lead to amazing savings, with electricity being free and all.
"That has to lead to amazing savings, with electricity being free and all."
The American way.
When you plug your hybrid into an outlet you are poisoning the planet!!!!!
And everybody who reads Time "knows" nuclear power is bad.
Oh, and it's GREEN, too (nevermind the CO2 and/or radioactive waste).
No doubt. I wonder if people realize that electric cars still use fuel, it just gets burned at the power plant.
No problem with aftermarket mods as long as you stay street legal.
And here in PG&E land, electricity ain't cheap at all.
Wait till people discover electricity is more expensive than gasoline.
But if it goes that way, let me warm up my Baker Electric.
"a small company that has collaborated with CalCars, has modified another Prius with more sophisticated batteries; they claim their Prius gets up to 180 m.p.g. and can travel more than 30 miles on battery power." Now that sounds impressive. The maker of the better battery is going to make a lot of money.
Has anyone ever contemplated what would happen when one of these hybrid cars is in a major accident? I'm certain the hundreds of pounds of batteries pose some environmental danger if ruptured or burned and likely some danger to the occupants and rescuers. I have also heard that fire departments and rescue squads are being warned about removing the doors from these vehicles to rescue trapped occupants as there are high voltage cables in and around the doors that could pose serious hazards if cut.
You got that right. Our electric plants are already near capacity. If we need to build new plants they will probably be nuclear, something I'm not looking forward to.
The savings come in when the Prius owners take a 100' extension cord and plug into their neighbors' outside receptacle.
You are absolutely correct.
People - legislators - are idiots. They are not engineers and scientists, much less thoughtful 1s. Hence, they have NO RIGHT in any way (never mind moral, natural rights) to tell others what they must produce.
Yeah, but out of sight, out of mind. Besides, that fuel is being burned in Red States, so it's their fault that Mother Earth's Precious Resources® are being depleted at an alarming rate.
It is if you don't plug it in at home. Brother can you spare a few KWh?
Now we just need to build more windmills to make the electricity.
I'm on the same page you are. In addition, what is the actual environmental impact. Seems to me the energy required to produce the electricity would end up offsetting any savings in oil reduction......
Now if we went nucular!
I could hook it to my solar panel which is free. If I had one. Which I don't. So I can't.
But nothing scares them more than the idea of free fuel. Go buy a solar panel for an RV and create your own fuel.
" If we need to build new plants they will probably be nuclear, something I'm not looking forward to."
I am. Nuke plants are cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuel plants. The effing hippies protesting them is what makes them expensive and rare. Maybe $3 a gallon gas will shut them up and we can finally get on with it.
"The electric utilities really want to sell electricity and they want to sell it to the transportation sector because that expands their market. They have an agenda."
I'm more excited about solar than wind. Advancements in nanotechnology should continue to help solar development.
Too bad solar panels suck, too.
I'm waiting for the hippies to plug in the hybrids and charge them up for the drive to the nearest proposed new nuclear power plant in order to protest it.
Not only that, but they are demonstrably safer and LESS POLLUTING, per Kilowatt, than coal or oil fired power plants.
The luddites have no friggin clue.
It can be if you plug into your neighbours outside plug
What's funny about this statement is that EVERY1 involved has an "evil agenda"!!!!
It's all moot. All the industries' "agendas" ultimately cancel each other out. In a free marketplace (arguably we don't have that anymore), the best will win out, regardless of agenda.
Reality check. The cheapest and easiest way to get hydrogen for a fuel cell is to crack it out of gasoline. What were they saying about reducing oil consumption again?
Maybe they could put a small generator on board the engine, so that when the engine turns, it produces its own electricity!
You're right. What an inane comment. Walmart has an agenda to sell stuff too. Who doesn't?
No, in that part the claim is that the 180 miles comes from a better battery.
"They have not been allowed (by their own political leadership) to add any additional generating capacity to their electrical grid since the Diablo Canyon plant came on line in the early eighties.
"Plus, they have rate caps which prevent them (by Cal. law) from raising rates to adjust for increased generation costs.
"Yet they now have increased to an additional 13-15 million electrical consumers in the last 25 years.
"That's what has led them into rolling brown/blackouts, and reliance on energy traders who sold them excess power at market prices, forcing the utilities to lose billions of dollars just to keep the lights on."
See my post #16. Legislators (nor judges!) have no call to tell any1 what to do when it comes to technology. You just proved the point, again.
Yeah, but say bye-bye to your warranty.
The same mileage as a conventional Toyota Echo, which costs thousands less. Hybrids are a bad investment.
It is expected that most cars would be charged OVERNIGHT, where there is much less demand for electricity and there is generating capacity simply being wasted. Thats why the Electric companies would LOVE for us to have electric cars. More money for them with a minimum investment on their part.
My question for these "180mpg Prius" owners is, how many kilowatt-hours worth of energy are they using to charge their cars? I pay 7 cents per KW-hour, so I wonder how much this is costing them overall. I am curious, not neccessarily sceptical.
I guess it depends if the power generated by power plant is cheaper per unit than power produced by gasoline in a car engine.
I suspect that it is, just because power plants more much more electricity, so you get savings from bulk sales/purchases.
I thought of that too. I wonder what it does to your electricity bill. I do see a future with expanded nuclear power generating electricity to power up electric cars and/or hybrid/hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
What the pressure on scumbags like Harry Reid to open up the Nevada Yucca Flats site to store nuclear waste.
Time to check out that electric car.
Maybe they are now? But do you really want to drive around in an Echo?
The article is a bit unclear on it, but if he's plugging his Prius into an outlet each night, the numbers he cites as "gasoline mileage" are absolutely pointless.
You have got to love the Times staff. All their reporters have masters degrees in Deconstructionism, Queer Theory, or Suffering Ethnic Victim studies -- and a third grade grasp of science and engineering.
Poor Danny Hakim probably thinks flywheels are a novel concept. They're actually incorporated in all cars for the last hundred years, and have a very important role in hybrids.
Changing the subject, this kind of modification, I believe, is why GM only leased, and then destroyed, the EV-1 -- which is the principal reason the EV-1 was a disaster. GM lost six figures per unit produced. That's what happens when you let the lawyers run the company.
And.. .electricity is free if someone else pays for it for you. That would describe most of the Times's political party.
In the long run, of course, the only answer is nuclear power. The left will have an epiphany when it starts actually costing them something, which considering that they are mostly insulated from the market by dint of being welfare leeches, university drones, or bureaucratic payroll patriots, means that the rest of us will hurt more, first.
Criminal Number 18F
Notice that the author identifies everyone but left leaning organizations as having an agenda.