PLUG OK license plate
PG&E's Demo PHEV Starts Making News
Sep 3, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
CalCars-News
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Now that PG&E has taken delivery of an EnergyCS converted Prius, with CalCars' two vehicles and one at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, there are 4 demo PHEVs in Northern California. That helps the "buzz."

PG&E spokespeople keep making clear that utilities don't make money selling more power....but that's not what everyone thinks. (How often do you hear, "the oil companies are just interested in selling gasoline?") And who better than a Toyota spokesperson should know that the PHEV Prius's batteries have nothing to do with rear seat space.

PG&E plugs in to hybrid movement During a Valley stop, utility urges car manufacturers and consumers to consider a vehicle that fills up at a socket.

By Robert Rodriguez and Bethany Clough / The Fresno Bee Business Section (Updated Saturday, September 2, 2006, 5:19 AM) http://www.fresnobee.com/­business/­story/­12667379p-13367658c.html

CAPTION: Brian Stokes, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. clean air manager, demonstrates Friday in Clovis a Toyota Prius that has been turned into a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Brian Stokes drove his new car into a Clovis garage Friday, pulled out an electrical cord and filled up - with electricity, that is.

Stokes, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. clean air manager, was in the central San Joaquin Valley demonstrating one of the newest energy-efficient vehicles, a plug-in hybrid electric.

The car, a Toyota Prius, has been retrofitted to accommodate rechargeable batteries that double the car's gas mileage, up to 100 miles per gallon. Plugging into a standard 120-volt electric socket overnight is all that is needed to recharge the additional batteries.

Supporters of the new technology say that plug-in hybrids have enough battery life to power the vehicle from 20 to 60 miles on a single battery charge. And considering that half the cars on American roads are driven 25 miles a day or less, a plug-in would eliminate gasoline for millions of cars, according to Plug-In Partners, a national organization created to encourage automakers to produce the plug-in hybrids.

One of those partners is PG&E.

Stokes' vehicle is driven across the state to demonstrate the technology and promote plug-in hybrids.

Millions of PG&E customers will soon be receiving information about the new cars and how they can urge the auto industry to produce them.

"Toyota is doing their market research," Stokes said. "They are doing their due diligence. But this is not a stretch to make this happen."

A Toyota spokesman agreed that the company is studying the technology, but said it may be several years away from rolling out a plug-in hybrid.

There are several issues that prevent the conversion kits from being practical, including the space the extra batteries take up in the trunk and back seat and the additional $10,000 to $15,000 cost, said Bill Kwong, spokesman at Toyota Motor Sales USA in Torrance.

The base price of a regular Prius is $22,000.

With California already having energy supply issues, thousands of hybrids hooking up to the grid would be a huge issue, Kwong said.

For those reasons, Toyota won't sell a plug-in hybrid any time soon, though he didn't rule out the automaker adopting the technology, he said.

"It does make sense," he said. But "it's probably a good eight to 10 years away."

PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said added energy consumption is not a problem.

"That is not a concern of ours," Smith said. "An overwhelming majority of users would be charging at night when the cost is less, and it would not be during peak hours."

Auto companies marketing the cars would create a demand for them in much the same way Toyota's and Honda's support of traditional hybrids did, said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

"I think there's a chance that it would reach a much greater degree of popularity than it has now if some manufacturers would get behind it," he said. "That's what it's going to take."

The car would be more marketable, particularly for commuters, if its batteries last longer, he said.

However, the car is better designed than older electric-only plug-in cars that failed to achieve popularity because they didn't have gas as backup.

Smith said PG&E is supporting the effort because it believes in energy efficiency and protecting the environment.

"We think it is very important to be environmentally conscious," Smith said. "Our customer base is environmentally conscious, and we need to be in tune with their needs. They expect it and demand it."

But Nerad said more than just environmentalism is driving PG&E's efforts.

"I think there's some public relations benefits to pushing the technology," he said.

"This is an entity that sells electricity, so it has an intrinsic interest in pushing electric products."

The reporter can be reached at brodriguez@... or (559) 441-6327.

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