PLUG OK license plate
Multiple PHEV Conversion Solutions Gain Momentum
Nov 12, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
Want more? Become a subscriber to CalCars-News:

We have loads of news about conversions. Retrofits come in three flavors: first, what we did first in 2004: transform HEVs into PHEVs (hybrids into plug-in hybrids); second, ICEs into EVs (internal combustion engine vehicles go electric); and, third and most recently, we're hearing about more and more new companies, many asking us not to talk about them until they're out of "stealth," for ICEs into PHEVs. Find links at "How to Get a Plug-In Hybrid (Mostly Prius)"­howtoget.html and at "Conversions to Electrify World's 900+ Million Cars"­ice-conversions.html .

In the coming months, we will be working to bring to the attention of the incoming administration the critical importance of providing incentives to safe and warranteed conversions, which can scale rapidly and can displace far more petroleum than new plug-in vehicles that will enter the market slowly over many years. Below, we have information on:

  • Electradrive, award-winning company converting existing vehicles
  • Profile of Luscious Garage, specialist in hybrid conversions
  • Update on the Toyota dealers converting Priuses with Hymotion systems
  • Rapid Electric Vehicles, rapidly growing Vancouver company
  • Inventor Dean Kamen's Stirling engine PHEV prototype
  • Rocker/filmmaker/advocate Neil Young's Linc-Volt project

ELECTRADRIVE: This Silicon Valley company (NOT .com), has won the Transportation Award at the 2008 California Clean Tech Open ). From ElectraDrive's profile at CCTO:

ElectraDrive is a technology company in the emerging plug-in vehicle aftermarket. We will enable the rapid conversion of existing cars and light trucks to electric or extended-range electric drive. By doing so, we aim to open up the huge market of existing vehicles to electric conversion. Preliminary customers will be government or wholly-owned fleets and a small but growing number of private consumers. Commercial fleet leasing companies will be able to build the benefits of ElectraDrive into the vehicle leases they offer. ElectraDrive's CEO is Fraser Murison Smith, a utility specialist and veteran of several high-tech start-ups, with a PhD in mathematical biology from Oxford University. ElectraDrive's CMO is Ray Jenks, who brings 20 years' experience in marketing, sales and business development in high-tech and real estate. The company's CTO brings 15 years' RD&D experience on hybrid-electric drivetrains for military applications.­app.cgi/­teams/­directory/­view_team/­1/­243

Here's part of its description on its website:

ElectraDrive will enable the full range of size and functionality available in the existing vehicle market potentially to enjoy the benefits of electric power. An ElectraDrive system will enable all-electric driving around town, while on the highway a gas generator will kick in to charge the battery pack. ElectraDrive's invention, ElectraMount (TM), is designed to rapidly and inexpensively adapt almost any passenger vehicle to electric drive. ElectraMount provides the missing link between electric drivetrains and the huge market of existing vehicles.

With the $100,000 prize in cash and in-kind services from the award, ElectraDrive is raising investment funds for product development. The initial proof-of-concept is likely to be a full-size SUV or pickup, with the aim of reducing fuel consumption by a factor of ten without any loss in performance or range. Initial target customers are municipal fleets, first deliveries being anticipated in the second half of 2009.

The company is a member of The San Jose Environmental Business Cluster which is furthering Mayor Chuck Reed's City's 15 year Green Vision Goal, launched in late 2007­mayor/­goals/­environment/­GreenVision/­GreenVision.asp . See a photo of CEO Fraser Murison Smith and CMO Ray Jenks (a longtime CalCars advisor and volunteer) at the CCTO Awards Galat­photos-groups.html .

"Plug-In Conversion Kit for Priuses Proves a Hot Commodity Despite Frigid Economy," by Scott Doggett October 31, 2008­greencaradvisor/­2008/­10/­

Despite a cool reception by Toyota to the whole idea of modifying the popular hybrid, Westboro Toyota's Website boldly announces that the dealer offers A123 Systems' plug-in conversion kits for Priuses. Doesn't matter that Wall Street is spiking like an EKG and the global economy teeters on the brink of a magnitude-9 collapse. A123 Systems' plug-in conversion kits for Toyota Priuses are finally available, and droves of Prius owners can't hardly wait to plunk down $10,000-plus for the mileage-extending product. "It's like someone's opened the floodgates," said Susan Fahnestock, general manager of The Green Car Company in Bellevue, Washington.

As for demand, supply cannot keep up with it. Since A123 Systems began delivering kits to installers six weeks ago, The Green Car Company has installed no fewer than 50 of them, Fahnestock said. She said A123 Systems is holding at least five hundred $1,000 deposits for the kits -- Green Car Advisor has heard from a reliable source that the number of deposits is closer to one thousand -- and a good chunk of them are from people in the Pacific Northwest, which Fahnestock's garage serves.

IThe demand is no less impressive in Northern California, which A123 Systems serves through Pat's Garage in San Francisco. Augie Barone, the shop's amiable service manager, says Pat's has installed "dozens" of the kits in the past few weeks. He says there's a long list of people waiting for the kits and as soon as an order comes in, he gives some of those people a call and schedules the installations. Barone says his shop is able to install kits as soon as they arrive -- none is around long enough to collect dust.

All Toyota dealerships in the U.S. are independently owned and operated, but all operate under franchise agreements that bind them to Toyota. If the carmaker wanted, it could be very slow to deliver popular models to a dealership that offended it by selling an outsider's plug-in conversion kit. Although Toyota spokesmen have told us that they gave dealers no cause for concern, cautioning them only to make sure they did nothing by installing a conversion kit that would invalidate the Prius' warranty, that's not what the dealers have told us.

Denny Hecker's Toyota of Inver Grove, Minnesota, offers the A123 Systems kits to its Prius customers but, fearful of harming its relationship with Toyota, the dealership won't do the installations. Instead, it sends its Prius customers and their newly purchased plug-in kits down the street, to Denny Hecker's Volkswagen. Shelley Peterson, service director for the VW dealership, said her service center has done 16 installations in three months -- triple the number she'd expected, given the moribund state of the economy.

Some of the customers are so excited about their kits that they hover over the mechanics throughout the installation process, Peterson said. Including tax and installation, each kit costs its owner $11,050, she said, and so far there's no shortage of people willing to buy them. Part of the reason for that is that if a customer decides when buying a new Prius to get the conversion kit, the dealership will include the cost in the vehicle's financing. The buyer needn't pay more than a fraction of the cost of the kit outright, but instead can spread the cost across many monthly payments.

Westboro Toyota, in Westboro, Mass., is one of the two other dealers offering installations of the A123 kit. It's on the small side as Toyota dealerships go, but its owners take a great deal of pride in the fact that they've been proponents of plug-in conversions for a long time.

Indeed, for several years they've allowed A123 Systems -- located in Watertown, 27 miles away -- to demonstrate its kits at the dealership at no charge. Westboro Toyota also was sponsoring high-mileage motoring competitions long before the events became popular. Unfortunately, only one of the two brothers who own Westboro Toyota is comfortable speaking to reporters, and he was vacationing when we called to see if, perhaps, they also owned a VW dealership and were having the installations done there. You know, out of fear of hurting their relationship with Toyota. Their Website answered that question, though. Right on the home page, just beneath the name of the dealership, appears an advertisement for the kit.

The third dealer that offers the plug-in conversion kit is Jack Fitzgerald, a veteran car salesman who owns a whole bunch of dealerships in various states. He was unavailable for comment for this article, but he had previously told us that he's unhappy with the notion that "all of us go like little lambs to our gas stations and kneel at the foot of the oil producers." If the kits would help reduce America's dependency on foreign oil, he said, he'd sell them even if he didn't make a nickel. We salute you, Jack. And A123 Systems, keep up the good work.

"San Francisco Journal: At Specialty Garage, Making Hybrids Even Greener,"
in the November 5 New York Times, by noted environmental journalist Felicity Barringer, See­2008/­11/­05/­us/­05garage.html for great photos.

The fig tree and the philodendron are the first things that meet the eye in the repair bay of Luscious Garage. Then the two Toyota Priuses come into focus — one with a slightly dented rear door, the other on a lift with two tires off and rusty brake rotors exposed. Then comes the eerie sense that something is missing: grime. “You could eat off her floor,” said Sara Bernard, the customer in need of brake repair.

The only hybrid specialty garage run by a woman has opened in the Bay Area, which has more Priuses — 70,000 as of 2006 — than most states. And while its owner, Carolyn Coquillette, has a preoccupation with cleanliness that may not be unique in a mechanic’s shop, her ubiquitous recycling containers (for paper, plastic, rubber, metal and oil) and the solar panels on her roof set Luscious apart. So does its specialty: giving hybrid owners the option of going fully electric.

Here in the district south of Market Street, a kind of harmonic convergence of early 21st-century trends is achieved as the latest incarnation of the car culture meets the new green culture in a feminist and thoroughly wired setting.

Luscious is a secular temple built to serve hybrids, the cars powered by both an electric motor (most often engaged when starting or stopping, thus most efficient in city traffic) and a gasoline engine (most efficient on the open road). But its owner’s forte is converting them to plug-in hybrids, which are functionally all-electric cars that can go 12 to 15 miles on one charge. That’s right. Fifteen miles, maximum. For a mere $6,000. (If you go farther, the gasoline motor kicks back in. )

“People do it because they are ideologically committed,” said Ms. Coquillette, the co-founder and now sole owner of the garage, which employs two other mechanics, one male and one female. She divides her conversion customers into three groups: “Some people are very tech-savvy, so they like it. Some people are extreme environmentalists, so they like it. Some just want to burn less gas.” Donald Chu, who is 65 and a physical therapist, falls into the third category. With a 10-mile one-way commute, he said: “I can go the whole week without using any gas. I can get to work and when I get to work I charge it up and then I go home.” He figures he spent $100 a month for gasoline before his Prius was converted. So it would take five to six years to recoup the cost. But, he said, “you can spend the extra money being green and more efficient, or you can spend the extra money on gasoline.”

Mr. Chu was the 21st paying customer to opt for the all-electric conversion, in which an array of 20 batteries, each the size of a videocassette, are installed in a retractable tray in the trunk. Toyota, for its part, adopts a posture of studied neutrality. Its spokesman, John Hanson, said, “We don’t encourage nor discourage these modifications.” They do not void the car’s warranty, he added — unless company mechanics determine the conversion caused the problem.

Ms. Coquillette, 30, an Ohio native, hopes to become a prophet of the all-electric future that some Californians dream of. The alternative newspaper The San Francisco Bay Guardian named Luscious its “green small business of the year.”

This company opened Canada's first plug-in vehicle showroom on October 27th in Vancouver, British Columbia. We reported on REV in September at­calcars-news/­1003.html when it announced a Ford F-150 conversion. The company, converting vehicles to PHEV and EV, has its first fleet customers and is raising funds. It's focusing its attention initially on millions of Ford F-series, Ranger and Escape vehicles in fleets and has partnerships with Canadian Ford dealers. The prospects in Canada are much improved by the availability of numerous incentive programs at the governmental and provincial level, and by the requirements for municipalities to go "low-carbon" by 2012.

See news clips at­media-coverage.html . Here are excerpts from the Vancouver Courier, "Entrepreneur drives automobile conversion,"­vancouvercourier/­news/­story.html?id=2475117e-24be-42a3-8cbb-a8862a05926c discussing conversions of Ford Ranger and F-150 trucks to EV and PHEV:

Depending upon the battery--REV has plans to install both lead-acid and lithium iron batteries--the resulting vehicle will have a range of 80 to 200 kilometres. The cost for a fully electric conversion using lead-acid batteries is fairly pricey--about $25,000 to $40,000 per vehicle--but the resulting vehicles will cost an estimated one-tenth as much to fuel, and will have fewer maintenance costs.

The cost of converting to a plug-in hybrid will be about $15,000 to $25,000. Giraud said his company is working on component kits that will allow it to "cookie cutter" or "Henry Ford" the process, thus speeding up the conversions. It's also working on developing its own drive train, something that should also help to reduce the cost significantly over the next couple of years, said Giraud.

By converting municipal fleets, said Giraud, cities like Calgary--which has a mandate to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012--can keep their promises. And businesses can pat themselves on the back as good corporate citizens. "It's great PR," said Giraud. "Everybody expects you to be green now."

DEAN KAMEN'S STIRLING ENGINE PHEV PROTOTYPE: Two weeks ago we wrote about Segway inventor Dean Kamen's PHEV project at­calcars-news/­1019.html . Sooner than we'd expected, Green Car Congress­2008/­11/­dean-kamen-unve.html reports his unveiling of a prototype series PHEV, the Revolt, which using an ultra-efficient DEKA Research Stirling engines as a range extender. The car is based on a Think City electric car; Kamen says he hopes Think Global or other automakers may use the technology. The PHEV/Stirling combination makes sense especially because this type of engine takes a minute or two to get started.

NEIL YOUNG, SINGER, FILMMAKER AND ADVOCATE (see bio at­wiki/­Neil_Young ) owns many cars, and has gotten increasingly interested in plug-ins. Now he's started a company to promote the idea of "Repowering the American Dream" by converting big vehicles. First up is his beloved 19.5-foot long white 2.5ton 1959 Lincoln Continental Mk IV convertible that has become a series PHEV with a 150-kilowatt electric motor and a natural gas range extension. The project has gotten help from Sun Microsystems and others. His technical partner is Jonathan Goodwin, Wichita-based motorhead from H-Line Conversions­ who converts Hummers and other large vehicles to run on biodiesel and hydrogen. (See a Fast Company profile at­magazine/­120/­motorhead-messiah.html .) We hope soon to have a closer view of the project, including some aspects that are unclear to us. Linc-Volt has entered the X-Prize 100+MPG competition.

See the project's current website at From there, to see the latest, watch a 27-minute video where his ideas are presented to thousands of biz/tech attendees of the annual "Dreamforce" convention, hosted by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff (who has said he wants an F-150 PHEV). Click on the link at the bottom of -- or go to the permalink
and on the pop-up menu, select "Marc Benioff/Neil Young/Closing." At the project's YouTube channel­lincvolt , you can see short films, including Young on Letterman for 10 minutes. Finally follow the links to the new and expanded website at that includes new interactive features and real-time performance data.

Also watch Young on the Charlie Rose Show on July 17, 2008, when he described the Linc-Volt project (about minutes 20-30 of a 53-minute broadcast); the segment starts with a musical biography and includes many other thoughtful comments including "this war will end when we solve the energy problem." His Dreamforce presentation was widely reported, including CNET­8301-13953_3-10081362-80.html . And below are excerpts from the Page 1 San Francisco Chronicle story before the event.

by Al Saracevic, November 3, 2008­cgi-bin/­article.cgi?f=/­c/­a/­2008/­11/­02/­MNLC13S45F.DTL

Leave it to Neil Young to make green technology cool. The rock legend has created a company called Linc Volt Technology to promote the conversion of existing gas-guzzling cars into vehicles that run on alternative energy. But we're not talking about boxy little e-cars here. Young, who likes his cars old and big, is launching his effort by converting a 1959 Lincoln Continental to run on electricity and natural gas. He'll be at's Dreamforce conference at Moscone Center this morning to show off his ride. All 5,000 pounds of it.

For Young, the chance to promote car conversions is much more crusade than career. After 40 years of cranking out soulful ballads and raw classics, the Bay Area resident certainly isn't in it for the money. His dream is to inspire people to repower or retrofit their existing cars, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing the world's manufacturing footprint in the process. His interest comes at a time when the whole world is looking at ways to reduce reliance on oil, for both economic reasons and as a means to combat global warming.

"All we're doing is showing that you can run a car like this at 100 miles per gallon or more," said Young, standing next to the cream-colored beauty at a South San Francisco auto shop. "Our main focus is on developing the technology. We can tell people how to do it. Or, we can do it for you."

A car to write songs about: Young bought his Lincoln in the East Bay "about 15 years ago, after it had been in a domestic dispute. The guy's wife had poured hydraulic fluid all over it." Ruined paint job and all, Young found himself behind the wheel of a 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV convertible. At 2 1/2 tons and 19 1/2 feet long, it was the longest car built in its era. And let's just say its original gas mileage was best measured in feet rather than miles. But it is the kind of car you could write songs about. Long lines, sturdy carriage and flat-out huge.

The car's conversion to a green machine started about a year ago when Young was feeling guilty about driving his oil-burning behemoth. He'd already converted two of his other cars, a Mercedes and a Hummer, to run on used vegetable oil. And that was his plan for the Lincoln.

He approached a Wichita, Kan., entrepreneur named Johnathan Goodwin and his company, H-Line Conversions, to do the job. But once he got to talking with Goodwin, he became convinced that there might be an even better solution. H-Line had pioneered a new type of alternative-energy engine that makes a car run on a variety of fuel platforms. Here's how it works in a nutshell: For short runs, a car can be plugged in, charged and then run strictly on electricity using a rotary engine and its batteries. For longer hauls, there's also a generator in the car that runs on compressed natural gas. When electricity runs short, the generator kicks in and refuels the batteries. To make matters even more interesting, the car's generator will actually feed electricity back into your home when it's parked and plugged in in the garage. "It's a power generator," Young said. "This thing can power up about a third of a city block. It'll make your meter run backward."

It didn't take long for Young to commit to a full-scale conversion of his Lincoln using Goodwin's methods. As the project progressed, Young decided to make a documentary about the project, and he and Goodwin decided to go into business together to get other folks involved. The company's first goal is to win the $10 million Automotive X Prize being offered by Progressive Insurance. To do so, they have to build a clean, production-capable vehicle that exceeds the alternative fuel equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of gas.

Stars lend support to cause: Goodwin, who is well known in the conversion game and had even converted one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's trucks to electric, has nothing but good things to say about his new business partner. "There's always a benefit to having someone who is famous involved," said Goodwin, whose refurbished cars cost drivers about 5 cents per mile to run as opposed to about 13 cents per mile for standard vehicles. "It always helps. It's great to see these kinds of people stepping up to promote change."

The two entrepreneurs will be taking the stage at the Dreamforce conference today to unveil the newly tricked-out Lincoln and preach the conversion message. Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff, a friend of Young's, has stepped in to support the project, offering the young company a raft of technology support, including a Web site that tracks the Lincoln's mileage and whereabouts online via a wireless feed built into the car.

"I'm going to be their first customer," said Benioff, whose company's new software technology is handling business processes for Linc Volt. "I want to convert my Ford F-150. The boutique cars are fantastic, but I want a truck." A customer such as Benioff could expect to pay from $10,000 to upward of $100,000 for a conversion, depending on the car and the extent of the modification.

Young and Goodwin aren't the only people championing the idea of conversions. Electric car retrofits have been around since the 1970s, and the idea is gaining ground in the current green business environment. Last summer, at a plug-in car conference in San Jose, Andy Grove, former CEO of computer chipmaker Intel Corp., suggested a government program to retrofit existing trucks and sport utility vehicles with plug-in technology.

Felix Kramer, founder of, a nonprofit advocacy and technology demonstration group based in Palo Alto, is all ears. "These are the only cars that get cleaner as they get older," Kramer said.

Young has a simpler reason for loving the idea. His '59 Lincoln is better than ever. "It's just a lot faster. A lot healthier," said Young, staring at the refurbished classic. "It went from being a hog to being a swan."

Online resources: So you want to go green? Here are two sites that can help you get started.: Linc Volt - CalCars -

Copyright © 2003-08 California Cars Initiative, an activity of the International Humanities Center | Site Map