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1136Woolsey Backs Gas-Guzzler Retrofits; Cheaper Volt?; Ron's Bittersweet Volt Moment

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  • Felix Kramer
    Mar 11, 2011
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      For several years, CalCars has been a near-lone
      voice in suggesting to thought-leaders in the
      energy security and environmental communities
      that we need conversions of existing internal
      combustion vehicles to accelerate the market
      penetration rates for plug-in vehicles. While
      getting a million new plug-ins by 2015 will be a
      near-miraculous accomplishment, it will remain an
      underpowered achievement. And with 250 vehicles
      on the road, so would a subsequent 10-15 million
      more in a decade. So we're encouraged that the
      highly influential James Woolsey is now speaking
      positively of this strategy. Details below. Plus
      an encouraging report that production costs for
      the Chevy Volt could go down! Finally, we
      reproduce an important report by Ron Gremban,
      CalCars Technology Lead, after he refueled his
      Volt for the first time. This includes our
      announcement that he has begun to instrument his
      car to gain more data about the driving
      operations of the Chevy Volt -- which could lead
      to a new open-source project for CalCars.
      Comments and additional info at the URL.

      (Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting
      will also be viewable at
      http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there
      you can add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)

      JAMES WOOLSEY is the former CIA Director, member
      of Vantage Point Venture Partners (investors in
      Tesla and other cleantech companies), founding
      member of the Set America Free Coalition,
      renowned for describing he plug-in campaign as "a
      coalition of tree huggers, do-gooders, sod
      busters, cheap hawks, evangelicals, mom and pop
      drivers -- and Willie Nelson." Here's what he
      said as part of an interview with Brad Berman,
      publisher of PlugInCars.com at

      Q: Given how long market adoption takes, can
      electric cars and plug-in hybrids roll out fast
      enough to make a real impact on energy security?
      A: We've got to have conversions of existing
      vehicles both to FFVs [flex-fuel vehicles] and to
      plug-ins. If you can convert existing vehicles to
      be plug-ins, and come up with something that’s a
      few hundred dollars to convert existing
      vehicles--whether they’re hybrids or not--to be
      FFVs, then you can strike a blow against oil
      really fast because you don't have to wait for
      the automotive companies to tool up, do studies and so forth.

      Q: Short of conversions, you're talking very
      incremental change--single percentage points of new car sales.
      A: The reason we want to look at conversions is
      you can go so much faster. Even if conversions
      don't work for 75 percent of the vehicles out
      there, if they work for 25 percent, that's still
      going 25 times faster than several years of
      waiting for new cars to come into the market.

      OUR COMMENTS: We welcome James Woolsey's support
      for the concept of gas-guzzler conversions! In
      this interview, he combines two very distinct strategies:

      * retrofits of existing vehicles to FFV, which as
      he says, could perhaps be done for hundreds of
      dollars. (Of course, using U.S. corn-based
      ethanol has multiple negative impacts; Woolsey is
      hopeful for cellulosic ethanol, whose progress
      has been far slower than expected.)
      * conversion of the low-hanging 25% of vehicles
      to plug-ins. Obviously the latter is far more
      expensive--north of $20K, which of course argues
      for an equivalent federal incentive given the
      high petroleum displacement benefit.

      CalCars has proposed high-volume,
      fully-warrantied conversions of what Andy Grove
      calls PSVs -- Pickups, SUVs and Vans (and buses)
      to EV or PHEV depending on designs/drive cycles.
      Our general page on with white paper, news,
      links, etc. is
      http://www.calcars.org/ice-conversions.html .
      We've concluded this has to be driven by real businesses rather than advocacy.

      We've been working with a few companies
      struggling to get started doing this. We have
      hopes that at least one company, ALTe, may soon
      gain the public and private resources to begin
      working on a scalable plan involving dozens of
      national corporate customers to convert thousands
      of large fleet vehicles. Stay tuned!

      business columnist and associare business editor
      of The Detroit News, has an unconfirmed report
      that GM's CEO has challenged the Volt team,
      through a combination of increased production and
      engineering and technology improvements to cut up
      to $10,000 in costs from a car that retails for
      $41,000 (minus federal tax credits) -- and the
      team is rising to the challenge! We don't expect
      to hear any more about this for some time, but it
      is encouraging news. See

      about it at
      http://www.plugincars.com/my-bittersweet-chevy-volt-moment-106861.html . This was posted two weeks ago; since then, in
      addition to many comments, you'll find four
      updates and expanded comments from Ron. The
      CalCars "PRIUS+" conversion project (still found
      at http://www.priusplus.org ) grew out of early
      discussions similar to this. We are not now
      proposing to modify the Chevy Volt -- GM has done
      a great job building the car and will be
      improving it significantly over time. But that
      doesn't mean we can't all benefit from a far
      greater understanding of how the car operates
      than what is now available in vehicle displays
      and online apps. Start by reading Ron's original
      post, then go online for graphic displays, comments, and additions.

      My first trip to the gas station in two months.
      The efficiency tally is 980 electric miles at
      2.43 miles per/kWh, and 250 miles at 32.5 mpg.

      February 22 marked two months since the December
      2010 delivery of my Chevy Volt , number 24 off
      the assembly line. (See photos from the event.)
      Once this marvelous vehicle had reached 1,291
      miles on the odometer--1,212 miles since I got
      it--I experienced what car owners all over the
      world endure far more often: for the first time,
      I had to visit a gas station. I found this a bittersweet experience.
      Ron's Volt Efficiency

      Bitter because I finally had to do it--my
      dashboard informed me that gasoline range was
      down to 34 miles--and helping to fund the oil
      oligarchy in the process, though only to the tune
      of $30.61 or $184 a year. Sweet because I used so
      little gasoline, though I had it available to
      extend my electric range whenever necessary.

      It took 7.7 gallons to fill the tank, an average
      of 157 mpg (plus electricity)—actually higher,
      since the tank was not full when I got the car!
      Because GM used a lot of gasoline testing my car
      in the 79 miles before I got it, my dashboard
      indicates “only” 137 lifetime mpg.

      In charge-sustaining mode--when the battery is
      depleted--I have usually been getting 30 - 35
      mpg. If we call it 32.5 mpg, it means I drove 250
      miles on gasoline and 980 miles or 80% of the
      time on electricity. Though I haven't yet taken
      any long-distance trips, I have driven
      extensively around the San Francisco Bay area. My
      ChargePoint Driver Portal shows 401 kWh of
      electricity consumption. I used another 2 kWh
      charging elsewhere. My electric efficiency from
      the wall was therefore 411 watt-hours per mile,
      2.43 mi/kWh, or 82 mpge (as the EPA calculates
      it). The overall efficiency was 63 MPGe.

      I'm not complaining, but both gasoline and
      electric mileage are much lower than expected.
      I'm not sure why, but I’m hoping these figures
      will improve as the car gets loosened up and the
      weather gets warmer and drier. I have neither
      been hypermiling nor acting like a race-car
      driver. In fact, I've been driving similar to
      what used to get me 40 mpg in my Prius and
      80-100+ mpg when driving it as a plug-in conversion.

      I do know three things that have contributed to
      high electric consumption. First, with Bay Area
      temperatures between 30-70 degrees F, I've made
      moderate use of (electric) cabin heat and the
      Volt's wonderful heated seats. Second, to
      minimize gasoline use, I’ve charged almost every
      time I’ve arrived back at home, even after just a
      few miles of driving. I’m sure such top-off
      charges are less efficient than full charges,
      because low charge rate and charge balancing
      inefficiencies occur mostly near end-of-charge.
      Third, I’ve seen noticeably higher fuel
      consumption during the frequent rain we've been
      having. This is hard to track as 80% of my miles
      have been electric, and the Volt gives its driver
      no electric power or energy information--a major oversight in my opinion.

      We are initiating a new CalCars.org open-source
      project to equip my Volt with digital
      instrumentation that plugs into the vehicle's
      service port to log, learn, and disseminate
      important unseen details about this
      groundbreaking and very complex vehicle's
      operation, capabilities, and efficiencies in
      actual consumer hands. If you can provide any
      technology, information, or financing for this
      effort, please email info - at- calcars.org.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
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