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Spotlight on Conversions: 70 MPH Prius and Hummer PHEVs; Gas Guzzlers; CA Air Board Regulations

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  • Felix Kramer
    Even as we get closer to new mass-produced PHEVs, those converting vehicles continue work that shows future possibilities and has a strong impacat on important
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 2009
      Even as we get closer to new mass-produced PHEVs, those converting
      vehicles continue work that shows future possibilities and has a
      strong impacat on important decisionmakers. Who would have ever
      expected to see a PHEV Hummer? Who'd have guessed the leading state
      government air quality regulatory agency would find a way to
      accommodate conversions? Who'd have predicted independent engineers
      would invent a way to get a Prius driving all-electrically at 70 MPH?
      For this and other conversion stories, read on...

      (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.)

      first conversion of a Prius (and before that as we spotlighted Dr.
      Andy Frank's conversions of multiple vehicles), we've always seen
      their value as primarily strategic, helping to build awareness and
      support for mass-produced plug-in cars. But as our understanding has
      grown that new plug-ins won't contribute significantly to overall
      petroleum use for 10-15 years, we're now emphasizing the potential of
      the companies building businesses around conversions to go beyond hybrids.

      The small aftermarket companies offer previews of a giant new
      industry to convert millions of internal combustion engine (ICE)
      vehicles to plug in. We're working to make the case for broad
      government and corporate support of that approach as a second path to
      achieving all the benefits of electrifying transportation. For these
      retrofits, our goal is tested, validated, warranted designs, ideally
      done in partnership with carmakers. In April CalCars released an
      eight-page White Paper on the subject. Now we have a new 21-slide
      presentation, downloadable
      at http://www.calcars.org/calcars-beyond-new-plug-ins.pdf that
      includes slides on some of the small ICE-conversion companies that we
      hope will emerge as players in this far larger opportunity. Links to
      both are also at the top of the CalCars home page.

      bigger the vehicle the more the benefit in switching to electricity,"
      we weren't thinking of Hummers, which may go down as one of the
      follies of the first decade of this century. Yet now Raser
      Technologies has taken an H3 (the smallest Hummer) and turned it into
      a series PHEV with a 40-mile all-electric range. The most significant
      aspect of this vehicle may be that GM cooperated with Raser and
      integrator FEV, making available design information that helped them
      in the conversion and an efficient EcoTec engine for range extension.
      We hope this is a preview of automakers recognizing that conversions
      can provide them and their dealers with a revenue stream for cars
      they've already sold!

      See details at
      and an "open road" video at
      This Utah company, which promotes its efficient electric motor,
      brought the car to Washington DC with the help of Senator Orrin
      Hatch. Then Raser gave a drive to California Governor Arnold
      Schwarzenegger (who was instrumental in encouraging AM General and GM
      to bring the giant military Humvees to consumers). See report and
      video of Sacramento press conference at
      http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2009/05/29/463397.html . Then the
      vehicle, which gets 100MPG for 60 miles/charge, came to San Francisco
      and San Jose. Now that the Hummer line is being sold to a Chinese
      company, Siichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co., at a time
      when the Chinese government is promoting electrification of vehicles
      and raising taxes on vehicles with large engines
      http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2009-06/05/content_8254577.htm ,
      it's not clear whether this conversion may be a factor in Hummer's future.

      50,000 PICK-UP TRUCK CONVERSIONS BY 2013? Electric Motors Corporation
      and RV manufacturer Gulf Stream Coach have announced they are looking
      for federal funds to build a company converting pickup
      showed the Hi-Pa Drive F-150 at the 2008 Specialty Equipment Market
      Association (SEMA) show.
      . They expect to have prototypes in September and look to invest $80
      million and create 1,600 jobs by 2012 in hard-hit Elkhart County,
      Indiana, the "RV Capital of the World."

      (and those who've driven Toyota RAV4-EVs for over 100,000 miles) have
      long felt that NiMH's day was not over: like advanced lead-acid
      solutions, this proven technology still has life (as well as proven
      safety and durability records). Now Plug-In Conversions Corp. (PICC).
      of Poway, CA, which recently received an investment from large
      international battery maker Gold Peak, has a solution that replaces
      the original Prius battery. Its $12,500 conversion may be the design
      with the longest EV range. PICC has tested its system at Argonne
      National Labs with positive results including SULEV-level emissions,
      and intends to fully crash-test and validate its designs. PICC
      announced its new offering this week at the Advanced Battery
      Conference; its press release is reprinted at
      http://evworld.com/news.cfm?newsid=21189 , and see an EVWorld
      interview with company founder Kim Adelman at
      http://evworld.com/blogs/index.cfm?authorid=12&blogid=753&archive=1 .

      This and other retrofits are likely to be eligible for up to 10%
      federal tax credits, but we have not yet heard of anyone getting one
      for a conversion. We've partially updated our "How to Get a PHEV"
      page http://www.calcars.org/howtoget.html to reflect these new designs.

      converters have found ways to circumvent the Prius limitation that
      starts the engine above 34 MPH, raising that number above 50MPH. In
      "forced stealth" mode. the car has to be turned off and restarted to
      go at higher speeds--hardly simple or practical -- and there are
      potential emissions complications. Now Chicago's Ewert Electroniics
      has announced a proprietary electronic solution that enables some
      converted Priuses to drive up to 70 MPH all-electrically, and in
      general consistently exceed 100MPG at highways speeds during the
      battery's range. (The company was co-founded by Chris Ewert, team
      member for CalCars' second Maker Faire conversion in 2007 and key
      member of the CalCars-co-sponsored Open SourcElectric Auto
      Association PHEV Discussion Group.) Ewert has an exclusive
      distribution agreement with PICC (above), in part because its
      replacement battery can provide more energy to the system than do
      add-on-battery conversions. News at the EVWorld URLs above and at
      http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/06/picc-20090610.html and at
      messages 3623 and 3625 at the EAA-PHEV discussion list
      http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/eaa-phev/ , where you can also
      see technical discussions.

      CASH FOR CLUNKERS LEGISLATION: With compromises between Congressional
      sponsors of multiple "scrappage" bills, successive versions of the
      legislation are increasingly disappointing. The goal of boosting
      demand for new vehicles has generally eclipsed the motivation of
      improving fuel economy or cutting CO2 and other emissions. While our
      White Paper, "Cash for Clunkers Paves the Way to Retrofit Gas
      Guzzlers" http://www.calcars.org/scrap-or-retrofit.html shows a
      replacement vehicle needs to have twice the MPG of the scrapped
      vehicle to have a net energy benefit (including the embedded energy
      in building the vehicle), the proposed legislation (House, Senate
      bills and the provisions included in Markey Waxman) requires far
      less. See an update, including a report on Senator Feinstein's role
      and comments by environmentalists,
      and an update on the measure that just passed in the House at
      . CalCars has suggested the measures expand to make the payments of
      up to $4,500/vehicle available to converters as well as crushers, but
      we regret that we haven't had the resources or staff to effectively
      intervene in the discussions.

      CONVERSIONS: If you've been following this issue from past postings
      at CalCars-News, you'll be glad to hear the relatively happy ending.
      In late January the California Air Resources Board considered
      proposed regulations for hybrid conversions. CalCars and others made
      the case that these regulations were too early and would put small
      innovative companies out of business. CARB then OKd a delay for some
      months to allow for discussions with the aftermarket companies. At
      its May 28 hearing, the Board reached a decision, a compromise
      between its staff recommendations and the provisions proposed by
      converters, that the companies say they can live with. First a look
      at the testimony at the May hearing from auto industry
      representatives that shows how far we've come, then some details on
      the results.

      See http://www.arb.ca.gov/lispub/comm/bccommlog.php?listname=phev09
      which includes the testimony at both the January and the May
      hearings. (Or see our a single file with all the May comments
      combined to make them easier to read, plus links to several PDFs,
      available at http://www.calcars.org/all-may-phev09-comments.html .)

      We draw your attention especially to comments #174 from Ford and 175
      from Toyota and 178 from GM. We're especially happy with this from
      posting #166 from the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, the trade
      association of 11 carmakers:

      "With respect to plug-in vehicle conversions, the Alliance
      understands the early interest in PHEVs and can support reasonable
      methods for expanding the introduction of this relatively new
      technology in the US vehicle market. Conversions as a mechanism can,
      in general, have a place in our market to help promote the growth of
      a technology and the infrastructure that supports it. However, it is
      imperative for conversions to be achieved in an environmentally
      responsible and safe manner."

      In general, they are sympathetic to the impulse that leads people to
      convert cars, while of course warning that any failures or negative
      experiences with conversions could represent a setback for the
      industry, and emphasizing that PHEVs are best coming from
      mass-production with full engineering, testing and validation, and
      all saying they plan to deliver plug-in vehicles.

      Here's CalCars Technology Lead Ron Gremban's report on the event, as
      posted at http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/eaa-phev/message/3605

      History was made at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) hearing
      last Thursday, May 28, 2009. The board adopted rules for the
      certification and sale of plug-in conversions of hybrid vehicles,
      thereby legitimatizing the physical process that we at CalCars
      started five years ago and that eaa-phev.org has been all about. We
      commend the CARB, along with the rest of California's government, for
      being vigilant about continuing to clean our air while supporting and
      legitimatizing the nascent plug-in vehicle conversion business that
      could grow to become the most effective means for California,
      national, and worldwide reductions in oil consumption and
      transportation greenhouse gas emissions for the next two decades.

      Though of course no one got everything they wanted, the board did
      modify their staff's latest proposal in two ways very helpful to
      conversion businesses before accepting it. I, along with several
      conversion kit companies, testified. Two people from 3Prong Power
      spoke, about the big picture and about how the pollution potential of
      larger than staff-recommended numbers of Tier 1 and 2 conversions
      could be minimized by retrofitting them to Tier 3 once the
      manufacturer has received a Tier 3 certification.

      A main point of my testimony was that HEV-to-PHEV conversions are
      important not only for all the usual reasons, but also because they
      presage the coming ICE-to-PHEV conversions that have the prospect of
      ramping up to significantly reduce the oil consumption of the
      nation's existing fleet of 250 million light vehicles far sooner than
      we can possibly replace them with new plug-in vehicles.

      John White of Hymotion responded, when asked, that they currently
      have around 480 conversions in California, but that they have 3,800
      more orders as well as potentially tens of thousands of more yet as
      part of the stimulus package's 'Clean Cities' program, which requires
      CARB to act immediately because those conversions must be certified
      by California or the federal government, which doesn't yet have a
      certification program at all. This forced the board's hand in acting

      Though the board acted directly only upon Hymotion's testimony to
      decrease the warranty requirement for a supplemental conversion
      battery from 10 to 5 years, I believe everyone's efforts were of
      value. The other change the board made was to increase the number of
      conversions that could be sold under the laxest Tier 1 rules from
      just 10 to 50. Tier 2 is then vehicle #51-100, after which full
      testing, warranty, and durability assurance requirements apply.

      COMMENTS FROM COMPANIES we gathered since the ruling:

      * LUSCIOUS GARAGE (hybrid service and PHEV installations) Carolyn
      Coquillette wrote: Luscious Garage recognizes the Air Resources Board
      for its participation in the plug-in hybrid movement, promoting the
      technology's march from demonstration to production, and protecting
      Californians against conventional criteria pollutants as well as
      carbon dioxide.

      * POULSEN HYBRID (ICE-to-PHEV conversion company) Frank Kuchinski
      wrote: The plug-in hybrid conversion industry wants to be a part of
      President Obama's goal of putting one million plug-in hybrids on the
      road by 2015. In the future, regulations for ICE conversions need to
      be balanced so that this goal is obtainable.

      * 3PRONG POWER (aftermarket conversion company) excerpt from its
      letter to its mailing list: After we testified, the CARB board voted
      on our suggestion to increase the Tier I cap to 100 vehicles and
      ended up with a split vote, 4 - 4, which meant the measure did not
      pass. But then there was a second vote, on increasing the Tier I cap
      to 50 vehicles. This one did pass, on a 6 - 2 vote in our favor.
      Even though 50 is not all we asked for, it will allow us to continue
      offering Plug In Hybrid conversions in California while we raise the
      resources to complete the full laboratory emissions testing. It is
      extremely rare for the Air Resources Board to grant this type of
      concession; in fact, it might be the first time in history. We are
      very pleased that the CARB board recognized the unique potential of
      Plug In Hybrids and was willing to allow for unprecedented
      flexibility in their certification process, to encourage small,
      innovative California businesses such as ours.

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