Jun 19, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
CalCars, Prof. Andy Frank and others have long said Toyota could sell a PHEV version of the Prius for a $3,000 premium in mass-production quantities.We've never heard a number in response. EDrive and Hymotion will sell as many at $10-$12,000 as they can deliver. Now through their main spokesperson, Cindy Knight, Toyota floats the number $10,000 -- and confirms they're focused on lithium-ion. (Still unclear: is this the component cost or low-volume retail selling price?) As we saw in Toyota's official statement and then press conference last week, "commercial viability" is the main issue http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/438.html. Clearly the buyers are waiting at that price. Given how far they've come, Toyota now has every reason to begin building and distributing small demonstration test fleets.
To really save on gas, hybrid car grows tail
Monday, June 19, 2006
By Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ryan Fulcher was so intent on getting more than 100 miles a gallon that he drove his Toyota Prius overnight to a technology fair in California, changed the wiring, and installed an extra battery in the trunk.
He returned to Washington as the owner of a "plug-in," a car that consumes even less fuel than an ordinary hybrid.
The additional battery serves as a spare fuel tank, except it supplies electrons, not gasoline. Each night, Fulcher recharges it from a wall socket at his Federal Way home.
Then, the engine can run all-electric for 30 miles before taking its first sip of gas. A Prius that normally attains 50 mpg can achieve hundreds of mpg at low speed.
Fulcher may be a pioneer in a potentially large-scale shift to plug-ins, which are gaining momentum with politicians and environmentalists as a route to energy independence.
So far, automakers have built a market for hybrids by reassuring buyers their new Insight, Prius, Civic or Escape won't need to be plugged in.
But to some people, a car hasn't truly evolved until it grows a tail.
Evangelists for plug-ins say they would reduce global warming and unplug the nation from imported oil. Cars supplied by a regional power grid would pollute less than cars that burn fossil fuels individually, and the energy price is equivalent to $1 per gallon, they say.
Fulcher's car was modified by CalCars Initiative, a nonprofit team whose goal is to dazzle people with the technology and to prod the auto industry to build plug-ins. About a dozen Priuses have been converted by CalCars and other groups.
After dismissing plug-in cars last year, Toyota now acknowledges that its engineers are working on them.
"Our position has kind of evolved on this," spokeswoman Cindy Knight said. "It is something we are seriously looking at. We think this kind of thing does have potential, under the right circumstances, to increase fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions."
DaimlerChrysler has outfitted a small number of Sprinter delivery vans with extra batteries for experimental plug-in use.
Bellevue-based AFS Trinity Power is developing an "extreme hybrid" drive system, expected to get 250 mpg.
The company anticipates finishing a demonstration model within 24 months.
Unlike a plug-in Prius, which requires a gasoline infusion at 34 mph, Trinity's power system will run at freeway speed for 40 miles on the battery, according to Chairman and CEO Ed Furia. "Ours will work. Ours will achieve the promise," he said.
In an ordinary hybrid, a gas engine works in tandem with an electric motor. The car is recharged from within - as it rolls, kinetic energy from the wheels replenishes the battery.
By adding a second, plug-in battery, Fulcher reduced the role of the gas engine. Besides saving fuel, he gets a smoother ride.
"There's this whole different experience, of silent and swift electric torque," said Fulcher, who works at the DigiPen computer-animation school in Redmond. "You take off and it throws you back in the seat. There's no exhaust, no noise, no vibration."
The downside: His experimental battery will last just a couple of years. Costs of a longer-lasting one are high.
Toyota is testing a new lithium-ion battery meant to last a decade, Knight said, but costs could reach roughly $10,000.
Andy Frank, a University of California, Davis professor who advises CalCars, thinks mass production could reduce the figure to $3,000, which drivers could recoup through fuel savings.
At a recent forum sponsored by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center, former CIA Director James Woolsey and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., touted plug-ins as a relatively quick road to energy independence.
Would they mean more pollution from coal-fired power plants? No, backers say, because power plants have enough unused capacity at night to charge millions of vehicles. Frank suggests adding solar panels to parking shelters to feed the outlets.
"We have an infrastructure for a plug-in hybrid," said Frank. "It's called your extension cord."
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@...
CAPTION: Ryan Fulcher shows where a lead-acid battery has taken the place of the spare-tire compartment in his Prius. Fulcher says with its modifications, his car now gets 100 mpg.
Information CalCars Initiative (to promote plug-in Priuses): www.calcars.org AFS Trinity (Bellevue-based firm working on an "extreme hybrid" prototype): www.afstrinity.com
NOTE: P.S. Fulcher's batteries are not experimental: they're reliable low-cost lead-acid batteries used primarily for demonstration purposes.