Dec 6, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This report appears in what's been described as the oldest daily newspaper in Japan, selling 4million copies daily, nationally distributed with a strong influence on political and business leaders. It's helpful though it has a few significant mis-statements we'll note after the story.
Toyota in the US: Plugging in to a cleaner environment
Mainichi Daily News - Japan
(By Tamotsu Takatsuka/Mainichi Shimbun)
December 6, 2006
Felix Kramer shows off his plug-in Prius hybrid. (Tamotsu Takatsuka/Mainichi Shimbun) A lithium ion battery in the trunk of a plug-in hybrid. (Tamotsu Takatsuka/Mainichi Shimbun)
During his 2006 State of the Union address on Jan. 31, U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to research hybrid, electronic and hydrogen-powered cars with the aim of reducing American dependence on Middle Eastern oil by 75 percent by 2025.
The development of plug-in hybrid cars -- vehicles powered by electric batteries charged by plugging them into household power points -- was one of the pillars of the president's speech.
Plug-in hybrids are garnering support from all spectrums, with conservatives and Republican voters joining environmentalists in backing their development. Support from the right comes from the public security viewpoint of having an energy policy that reduces the U.S.' dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
Toyota has hardly been a positive force in the development of plug-in hybrid cars. It only announced it planned to tackle plug-in research in earnest five months after Bush's speech.
Others in the U.S. have already taken Toyota's Prius hybrid car and turned it into a plug-in themselves.
California Cars Initiative, a non-profit organization in California, was the first to use a Prius plug-in on public roads. Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars, as the organization calls itself, says hybrid plug-ins can lead to dramatic reductions in fuel consumption.
Kramer currently drives a plug-in Prius adapted by a company called Energy CS. This is one of three companies in the U.S. and Canada that adapts hybrid cars to make them plug-ins. It installs a lithium-ion battery in the trunk of the car, bringing its fuel efficiency rate up over 42 kilometers per liter.
The engine in the plug-in Prius doesn't even kick in when driving under 40 kilometers per hour.
It can also travel for about 30 kilometers on the power of its battery alone. The battery is charged overnight simply by plugging the car into a household power point. It barely needs gasoline if used for everyday tasks. Installing the battery also takes up very little trunk space and the plug-ins are practical.
That doesn't mean everything about the plug-in hybrids is good. Lithium ion batteries are still really only in their developmental stages and there are problems with their safety and longevity. Sony sold lithium ion batteries for laptop computers and they had problems with overheating and fires breaking out, prompting a series of recalls. Automakers believe lithium ion batteries need to establish more reliability before they can be used in their products.
CalCars is currently developing do-it-yourself kits that would allow hybrid car drivers to turn their cars into plug-ins. CalCars plans to use Nickel-hydrogen batteries instead of lithium ion, which will allow the plug-ins to travel even greater distances.
Kramer said that companies like Energy CS are struggling to find people interested in turning their hybrid cars into plug-in hybrids. He adds that it will be a long time before automakers are selling plug-ins.
But Kramer says there is still great demand for plug-ins and he wants to get CalCars' kits on the market within two to three months at a price under 5,000 dollars.
Automakers are slowly turning their attention toward the development of plug-ins. Whether Toyota, which led the way with hybrid cars, can play a similar role with plug-ins remains to be seen.
[OUR NOTE: the open-source do-it-yourself project http://www.eaa-phev starts with lead-acid batteries, and EnergyCS is not struggling to find customers -- the opposite is true! The car's low-speed electric-only range is over 40 kilometers, and the engine generally doesn't start under 54 kilometers.]