Wave Magazine: Pimp My Prius
Vol. 5 No. 22, November 2-15
Along with 2006 Hybrid buyer's guide, The Wave Magazine, a weekly from San
Jose, CA, ran a feature,
Pimp My Prius
When car companies scrapped their electric-car pilot programs and hopped on
the hybrid bandwagon, it didnt take long for Silicon Valley techies to
figure out how to make hybrids even greener. California Cars Initiative
(www.calcars.org), a Palo Alto-based nonprofit, is part of a small but
growing movement to pimp hybrids with bigger batteries so they can be
plugged in to charge up, getting more than 100 miles per gallon.
Calcars calls them plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, but its
easier to think of them as Toyota Priuses that can be recharged like giant
cell phones. Felix Kramer, founder of Calcars, believes plug-ins are the
next logical step in the evolution of hybrids.
Its like having a second small fuel tank in your car, Kramer told The
Wave. You fill it at home by plugging it into the socket at night and it
gives you transportation around town for the equivalent of less than $1 a
Calcars is on a mission to get car companies to build PHEVs. The benefits
are obvious. They combine the best features of electric cars and hybrids.
Recharge nightly and youll rarely need gas for instance, if your
batteries have a 25-mile range and your daily round-trip commute is 20
miles, youll drive gasoline-free, Kramer explains. If you forget to plug
in or you go on a long trip, you have the gasoline engines extended range
and youre back to driving a pretty clean, efficient hybrid.
To critics who say they are merely shifting the pollution from tailpipes to
coal-dependent electricity plants, research refutes this. Californias
power grid relies only 20 percent on coal. Even on the half-coal U.S. grid,
studies done by national labs showed an electric vehicle produces at least
45 percent less in greenhouse gases than a gasoline car. The people who
are saying its no cleaner that youre just substituting one crummy fuel
for another theyre relying on old information or misinformation, Kramer
Calcars also estimates that carmakers could sell mass-produced small PHEVs
for just $3,000 more than regular hybrids. But Toyota and other companies
are not sold on the idea, citing reasons like cost, convenience and the
safety of plug-in hybrids. David Cole, chairman of the Michigan-based
Center for Automotive Research, thinks it boils down to economics. The
primary reason is the size of the battery required. The battery for the
current hybrids is large and very expensive and must be several times
larger to achieve much energy storage from the grid, he told The Wave. I
believe that until we can find better, less expensive batteries that
plug-in hybrids will have a tough time gaining acceptance. There is no
question that they would work, but the economics are a problem.
Nonetheless, plug-in hybrids have gained high-level endorsements from the
likes of former CIA director James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, President
Reagans undersecretary of defense. Both are members of Set America Free, a
group that wants the government to spend $12 billion over four years on
plug-in hybrids, alternative fuels and other measures to reduce foreign oil
dependence. The city of Austin, Texas also recently launched Plug-In
Austin, a community-wide campaign to promote the mass production of
plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Until automakers get the hint and start cranking out plug-ins, hybrid
owners who want a greener option will have to count on Los Angeles-based
Edrive Systems, a company that plans early next year to offer an
aftermarket kit that converts a Toyota Prius into a PHEV for an estimated
$10,000 to $12,000. The tradeoff? It adds 180 pounds, leaves no room for a
spare tire and potentially voids your Toyota warranty.
The DIY route is not for novice garage tinkerers, Kramer warns. You could
electrocute yourself. Thats why weve been very careful to advise people
not to do it unless they know what they are doing and do it as part of a
group. The good news is: The national Electric Auto Association
(www.eaaev.org), with chapters in Silicon Valley, announced on Oct. 25 the
formation of a special interest group for PHEVs
(www.seattleeva.org/wiki/EAA-PHEV) to help folks with advanced technical
skills make their own hybrid-to-plug-in conversions.
Should automakers make the switch to plug-in hybrids? Email us at
thebuzz@... or call the anonymous Buzz hotline at (408) 467-3255.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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