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AMP's Mystery Partner; O'Dell Surveys The Conversion Scene; Birthday News

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  • Felix Kramer
    AMP, one of the emerging companies in the gas-guzzler conversion industry, made an intriguing announcement about an undefined relationship with a major
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 28, 2010
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      AMP, one of the emerging companies in the gas-guzzler conversion
      industry, made an intriguing announcement about an undefined
      relationship with a major carmaker, prompting reports by two longtime
      automotive journalists. And we have news of a birthday milestone!

      (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.)

      HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ANDY FRANK: This year he'll get quite a birthday
      present. Often described as "the father of the modern plug-in
      hybrid," Andy has spent more than half his life imagining, designing,
      prototyping, and educating about PHEVs. He's travelled the world,
      usually on his own dollar, promoting the concept to automakers,
      suppliers, and governments. His continuously variable transmission
      technology has attracted much attention, and some of his dozens of
      patents have been described as fundamental. It's been said that "Andy
      has been working on plug-ins so long, he's solved problems others
      don't even know exist." For decades, he's been on the Mechanical and
      Aeronautical Engineering faculty at the University of California at
      Davis. http://mae.ucdavis.edu/faculty/frank/frank.html His
      award-winning "Team Fate" retrofit projects under the FutureCar,
      FutureTruck and Challenge X programs showed the potential of PHEVs.
      His program's graduates play important roles in the auto and utility
      industries. A few years ago he co-founded and became chief
      technologist at Efficient Drivetrains Inc. to advance these
      technologies. http://www.efficientdrivetrains.com [Felix has been
      pleased to be an advisor to that company.]

      Many who've known Andy have long hoped that PHEVs would come to
      market before he retires. He shows no sign of doing that, and he
      looks, talks, and acts, much younger than 77. So our hopes are met
      and he gets his wish. Now Andy's on the list to get one of the first
      PHEVs off the production line -- he's looking forward this fall to
      driving his own Chevy Volt! (He does have to pay for it himself.)

      company with many industry veterans, some from the original GM EV-1
      team, has signed an agreement with an undisclosed major carmaker to
      electrify one if its SUVs. This is a good precedent for automakers to
      eventually partner with companies to convert some of the vehicles
      they've already sold, or to resell new vehicles converted to electric
      drive. (That's what Solectria Corp. did with some success in the
      1990s.) AMP's CEO Steve Burns nails the most important issue: "Time
      is not a luxury, it's a race to the finish now -- AMP possesses the
      scalability and nimbleness to get an OEM to mass production with an
      already existing model literally within months" in the company's
      press release.

      MEDIA ABOUT AMP: Veteran automotive journalist Paul Eisenstein gave a
      very positive review to the company's conversion of a Chevy Equinox
      into a 0-60 in seven seconds, 150-mile range EV (at a high cost of

      QUICK REACTION FROM GM: Jim Motavalli also got a chance to drive the
      He also got to think about one of the more interesting questions,
      prompting an exchange between the company's CEO and GM:

      Amp could presumably produce cheaper conversions of the Equinox if it
      started with so-called "glider" versions of the car minus their
      gasoline drivetrains. But though the company is seeking such a
      relationship with General Motors, Amp doesn't have one now. "G.M.
      doesn't know if we are friend or foe," Mr. Burns said. "They're
      trying to figure it out." Rob Peterson, a G.M. spokesman, said,
      "We're pro-E.V., and it's a good thing that there others out there
      moving the electric vehicle market forward."

      ONE OF THE BEST ROUNDUPS ON CONVERSIONS came from John O'Dell, Senior
      Editor at Edmunds: "PHEV Conversions Slow to Catch On in U.S., But
      Could Be Big Elsewhere; Low Cost 'Revolo' Hybridization Kit Could
      Boost India's Presence in Gas-Electric Arena. Read it all at
      or see our excerpts below:

      The idea of converting existing gas- and diesel-burners to plug-in
      hybrids with electric-drive systems that augment their internal
      combustion powerplants and boost their fuel economy through the roof
      is a compelling one.

      Selling new hybrids and electric vehicles helps slow our use of oil
      and reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions from transportation, but
      it will take decades to sell enough to meaningfully dilute the impact
      of the nearly 1 billion internal combustion vehicles on the world's
      roads today. But convert many of those existing vehicles to electric
      drive and the impact could be tremendous and immediate. That's been
      the message that plug-in advocates such as CalCars founder Felix
      Kramer and University of California engineering professor Andy Frank
      have been preaching for years.

      It looks like at least a few people have been listening - at home and
      abroad. In India, where air quality can use all the help it can get -
      and where consumers can use all the relief from high fuel prices that
      the auto industry can pass on to them - a pair of major Indian
      corporations have teamed up to develop an aftermarket hybridization
      kit that could someday make its way to the U.S. It may well be that
      countries such as India and China, acting from a sense of urgency
      that wealthier, more developed nations such as the U.S. just don't
      yet feel, will wind up leading the 21st Century transportation parade.

      At home, one of the conversion leaders seems to be a Michigan
      company, ALTe, that has been showing a prototype converted Ford F150
      pickup (above and left) in which the standard gas engine has been
      replaced with a modular system consisting of a smaller internal
      combustion engine and an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack.
      Several others, including XL Hybrids of Boston and Chicago-based
      Hybrid Electric Vehicles Technologies, offer conversion systems that
      use the vehicles' existing engines and transmissions and add the
      necessary batteries and electric drive components. CalCars maintains
      a list of U.S. plug-in hybrid conversion providers
      http://www.calcars.org/ice-conversions.html , although Kramer points
      out that most are start-ups that work on special orders but can't yet
      sell you a completed vehicle out of inventory. "There's no place
      yet," he said, "where you can go and buy a validated, warrantied plug-in car."

      Barriers range from the high cost of components to the relative
      paucity of tax credits to help purchasers of conversions. ALTe, which
      charges about $25,000 for its F-150 conversion, can only qualify for
      a $2,500 federal tax credit while the new factory-built Chevrolet
      Volt PHEV and Nissan Leaf battery-electric vehicle each will qualify
      for a $7,500 credit. That's not smart, says Kramer, who agues that
      encouraging conversion of most of the nation's millions and millions
      of big pickups, delivery trucks and SUVs to plug-in systems would
      save a lot more oil - and cut a lot more CO2 - than selling tens of
      thousands of new PHEVs and EVs. Yet the maximum federal credit for a
      conversion is $4,000 and most- like the ALTe system - qualify for
      much less. The federal formula is a credit of 10 percent of the
      conversion cost up to a maximum of $4,000 - for a $40,000 conversion.

      But things are moving along, albeit slowly. At Alte, company
      marketing director Brian Polowniak told us recently that he expects
      to have several announcements to make by late summer, including word
      on the disposition of his company's application for a $100-million
      loan guarantee from the federal government's advanced technology
      vehicle manufacturing program that will help ALTe build a factory to
      begin turning out a stream of plug-in conversions. Also in the works:
      a distribution deal with a major auto dealership chain.

      And in India, the new aftermarket hybridization kit, called the
      Revolo system (right, taken from "revolution"), is slated to go on
      sale by the end of the year. Its developers claim it can increase the
      typical Indian-market passenger car's fuel economy by 40 percent
      while reducing CO2 output by more than 30 percent. Once the business
      model is proven in India, Pandit told us, the companies expect to go
      global with the system. Company executives have hinted that a Revolo
      plug-in hybrid conversion kit for a small car in Europe or the U.S.
      could cost as little at $5,000 using lead-acid batteries, he said.

      The joint venture is conducting market research to "develop a demand
      estimate," said Pandit , who believes that the low initial price and
      low operating cost of converted vehicles will help make the Revolo
      conversion kit a hit with both private and fleet b=vehicle owners in
      India. It's that kind of low-cost, easy-to-install kit that will be
      needed to make plug-in hybrid conversions accessible to most people
      in the U.S., said Kramer - who also believes that it will take the
      development of smaller and more powerful batteries and inexpensive
      in-wheel electric motors to truly make U.S. passenger car conversions
      work, as there is little room on most cars to day to add an electric
      motor and a battery pack.

      He sees, and he's not alone, the commercial-vehicle segments as the
      immediate markets for conversions. Not only are trucks, vans and SUVs
      larger and better able to accommodate the extra equipment a hybrid
      system require, "it just makes more economic sense to start with big
      vehicles and migrate down," Kramer said.
      Commercial fleets look at total cost of ownership over many years
      and many miles, so a higher initial purchase cost isn't that much of
      a concern if the vehicle saves money on maintenance and fuel." And if
      the U.S. doesn't get on the ball - private business and government
      alike - Kramer worries, pointing to efforts such as Revolo, then
      fleet operators may be purchasing their conversion systems, or
      converted vehicles, from overseas suppliers in the electric-drive
      industry's repeat of the Asian takeover of the small-car business in the U.S.

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