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(Details at How '04 Prius Can Become a Plug-In Hybrid)

CalCars Aims to "Green-Tune" Popular Hybrid to Build "PRIUS+"

Palo Alto, CA, April 2004: The California Cars Initiative (CalCars), which has been promoting Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs) as "the transitional vehicle for the next decade," is announcing a campaign to convert a few of the popular 2004 Priuses to encourage car companies to build the next generation of hybrids. PHEVs are hybrids with more batteries that can be recharged from the power grid.

CalCars' just-unveiled plans aim to recruit celebrity and entrepreneur sponsors, plus individual early adopters for the first custom Prius conversions as well as organizations and companies that want the cleanest available mini-fleet

"Thousands of drivers enjoy an advanced, high-performance, fun-to-drive vehicle that gets about 50 mpg," says Felix Kramer, nonprofit CalCars' founder. "Now a few pioneers can join the fast and furious group of 'tuners' who pump up car performance. They get the chance to soup up their Priuses -- and pave the way to the next generation of cool cars."

The PRIUS+ campaign builds on the grass-roots efforts of over 10,000 Prius owners who are connected in global online communities. Within that group, drivers now compare notes about ways to get up to 80 mpg in standard '04 Priuses. Recently, engineers have found ways to enable the"electric-only" mode that Toyota built into the Prius (it's standard in Japan and Europe, but disabled in the US).

"Imaginative experimenters have added batteries and are now moving on to recharging methods. Once that's solved, the main elements needed to convert the vehicle to PHEV will be in place," says Kramer. CalCars also collaborates with experts who have build prototype PHEVs at corporations and universities.

Because the Prius's electric motor isn't designed to work at high speeds, the conversion PRIUS+ can't be a "full" PHEV. It will drive all-electric (what owners call "stealth" because there's no engine noise or exhaust smell) for short local trips (and in highway traffic jams and slow city streets). When it hits the highway, it will go back to driving like any other new Prius -- with 0-60 acceleration in a respectable 10 seconds and over 500 miles range on a tank of gas. (Motor Trend thinks enough of the '04 Prius's performance to name it Car of the Year and Consumer Reports gives it high ratings.)

CalCars hopes PRIUS+ will get people talking about PHEVs. The group aims to inspire Toyota to give future Priuses the plug-in capability, and make PHEV versions of the more powerful hybrids it will ship later this year. "Lexus RX and Highlander can be full PHEVs at highway speed. These vehicles can be all-electric for most people's daily commutes. And with rising gas prices, people will love going to a gas station less than once a month, except when they take off for long trips," says Kramer.

Plugging in offers lower operating costs and reduced pollution. Electric-only mode is the equivalent of over 100 mpg, from power generated from domestic fuels. A PHEV is the best of both worlds -- a battery electric means zero-emissions and high efficiency, and the unlimited range of a gasoline hybrid means drivers have no fear of getting stranded if they can't get to an outlet. And no special chargers are needed -- just 110 volts in the garage, mostly at off-peak rates.

"The Prius is taking the world by storm. Ford is buying the technology. And people are thinking about all sorts of ways to improve or transform the car. Toyota has built three prototype Prius racers. And we're inspired by a new government plan in Southern California to convert three dozen Priuses to run on hydrogen," says Kramer. "That program gears up for a hydrogen future. Meanwhile, PRIUS+ will cost less to build and operate, can gas up anywhere, and conversions can be on the road in six months."

For more information, follow the link below to other pages about the PRIUS+ campaign, find "everything you need to know about PHEVs at www.calcars.org, or contact us at priusplus@calcars.org 650.520.5555.

(Details at How '04 Prius Can Become a Plug-In Hybrid)


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