NYTimes Auto Section on Electro Energy/CalCars PRIUS+
- Here's a sneak preview of an article about the
Electro Energy/CalCars PRIUS+ that's in late
stages of development using industry-standard
Nickel-Metal Hybrid batteries (see October 2005
The article will be in the free-standing Autos
section of The Sunday New York Times in the NY
Metro area; in the back of the Sports section in
the national edition (that's because people care
most about sports, then about cars).
This story appears as a sidebar to a longer story
comparing the new Camry and Accord hybrids, both
written by Jim Motavalli (editor of E The
Environmental Magazine <http://www.emagazine.com>
and author in 2001 of "Forward Drive: The Race to
Build 'Clean' Cars for the Future." We've
included that article below as well. Motavalli
wanted to talk about what's beyond the current
generation of hybrids, so we agreed to show him
the only plug-in hybrid in the NY metro area,
even though it was not yet ready for prime time.
As he points out, the engineering of a conversion
is not trivial, and we have to live within
limitations that will not exist when car
companies do it on their own! We have the car working, but are still debugging.
Look for a new version of our Conversions Fact
Sheet (previously called PRIUS+ Fact Sheet when
we were the only ones doing conversions),
including technical data on this car, and at
or at <http://www.calcars.org/downloads.html>.
The Quest for a Plugged-In Prius
By JIM MOTAVALLI
Published: April 2, 2006
CAPTION: James Landi, left, and Chris Jaeger
reprogramming a Prius to run less on gas.
JAMES LANDI, engineering manager at Electro
Energy, rolled back the trunk carpet in his
company's modified Toyota Prius to reveal two
accessories you won't find on a production
version of the hybrid car: a plug-in battery
charger and a larger-than-stock battery pack
capable of storing six kilowatt-hours of electricity.
You can't plug in a regular Prius, of course, or
any other hybrid on the market. But even six
years after hybrids went on sale, the plug-in misconception is common.
To confuse consumers even more, here come hybrids
that can be plugged in. Developed by small
companies like Electro Energy, Hymotion and
EDrive Systems, they are usually based on the
Prius and exploit that car's ability to run
solely on battery power. While a stock Prius can
go only a couple of miles on batteries, larger
(or auxiliary) battery packs let plug-in versions
stretch their all-electric range to 20 miles or more.
Automakers are wary of the added weight, cost and
complexity, but they are willing to listen,
because a hybrid that could complete short
commutes on its battery charge alone could
achieve the equivalent of more than 100 m.p.g.
Electro Energy, a battery company here, developed
its Prius prototype in partnership with a
nonprofit group, the California Cars Initiative
(CalCars.org), founded by a plug-in enthusiast,
Felix Kramer. "For us, conversions are a
strategy," he said. "They're designed to get
people excited about what the engineers can do."
Plug-in hybrids are gaining attention from
market-building campaigns by the likes of Plug-In
Partners, an umbrella organization of utilities,
environmental groups and local governments that
is pressuring automakers to make such cars.
"Plug-in hybrids are totally available and ready
to be manufactured," said Jennifer Krill, zero
emissions campaign director for the Rainforest Action Network.
But automakers are less enthusiastic. "We think
plug-in hybrids are an interesting concept, but
the batteries aren't ready," said David Hermance,
Toyota's executive engineer for advanced technology vehicles.
Countering that assertion is Dr. Andrew Frank, a
mechanical engineering professor at the
University of California, Davis, who has built
several plug-in hybrid prototypes with his
students. He says such a car can travel 60 miles
on electric power alone, using a 350-pound
lithium-ion battery pack that is currently
available and would last, he says, 150,000 miles.
Toyota may have built plug-in hybrids on its own,
but it isn't showing them. Nor has it cooperated
with companies like Electro Energy that use the
Prius as a base. That poses a big problem for
engineers who, in effect, have to work around a
sophisticated computer that wants to switch on
the car's gas engine. "You're limited to what you
can do if you don't have the source code," Mr.
Hermance of Toyota conceded. "You have to try and trick the computer."
Electro Energy's Prius incorporates a charge
circuit designed to do just that to fool the
computer into staying in all-electric mode.
Unfortunately, in a test drive around Danbury,
the circuit refused to engage. A quick pit stop
revealed that the pressure switch connector had
fallen off, prompting quick remedial action.
Back on the road, the all-electric mode engaged
but repeatedly failed after a few seconds,
forcing the engineers to conclude that it was
being defeated by a combination of steep road
grades and state-of-charge factors.
The team, with this writer at the wheel, managed
three or four miles in all-electric mode, but any
Prius owner could go half that far by moving slowly and avoiding hills.
A plug-in hybrid designed by an auto manufacturer
would obviously have many advantages, starting
with a properly programmed computer. All the
Prius prototypes switch on their gasoline engines
at 35 m.p.h., simply because defeating that
function would require hacking the onboard
computer and rewriting crucial lines of code. If
any hybrid carmaker allows itself to be wooed and
won over by the plug-in advocates, that problem
will disappear on the honeymoon.
The New York Times
April 2, 2006
Behind the Wheel
Honda Accord and Toyota Camry: Hybrids for Ozzie and Harriet
By JIM MOTAVALLI
RELIABLE, practical and popular, the Honda Accord
and Toyota Camry are as mainstream as white bread
and as exciting as mom's meatloaf. But hybrid
technology has transformed versions of these
family cars from conservative appliances into cutting-edge green machines.
Having redesigned the Camry for 2007, Toyota
joins Honda in offering a midsize sedan with a
hybrid gas-electric powertrain. Honda, meanwhile,
has freshened and mildly restyled its Accords, including the hybrid.
While both cars wear hybrid labels, Toyota's approach is markedly different.
The Accord was the first hybrid built around a
V-6 gasoline engine, and it has emphasized
performance over economy as have the Toyota
Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h that came
later, also with V-6's. But in the Camry Hybrid,
Toyota uses a four-cylinder engine, which it
paired with an electric motor more powerful than
Honda's. The Camry can be expected to attain
significantly higher mileage, especially in city traffic.
The Accord Hybrid arrived in late 2004. While it
carried a fuel economy rating of 29 m.p.g. in
town and 37 on the highway respectable but
hardly breathtaking it was also quicker than
the conventional Accord with a V-6. The hybrid's
3-liter engine produced 240 horsepower, plus 16
from the electric motor. (The horsepower figure
has since been revised to a total of 253 because
of a shift in how the number is calculated.) Half
of the cylinders shut down when power demand is
low (below 3,500 rpm), turning the 6 into a 3.
At a price of $29,990, the original Accord Hybrid
cost some $3,500 more than the similarly equipped
EX V-6 model. It lacked both a spare tire there
was an air compressor and a can of sealant
instead and a sunroof, both sacrificed to save
weight. While Honda expected to sell 20,000 a
year, cumulative 15-month sales through February totaled just 19,021.
For 2006, the improved Accord Hybrid added the
moonroof and a temporary spare and gained 85
pounds. That pushed the car into a higher weight
class for E.P.A. testing and reduced the mileage
rating to 25/34. In the real world, an owner is
unlikely to notice the drop, since new underbody
panels make the car more aerodynamic.
Other additions include a standard electronic
stability control, L.E.D. taillights, a rear
spoiler, new alloy wheels and heated outside
mirrors with built-in turn signals. The price is
now $31,540 including shipping or $33,540 with a navigation system.
The Accord Hybrid uses its small electric motor
mostly for added boost, but the Camry actually
runs on batteries alone at low speeds. Toyota's
approach is different in other ways, too. Instead
of a sizable V-6, it has a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
engine rated at 147 horsepower. But the Camry's
electric motor contributes more than the Accord's.
The Camry reaches 60 m.p.h. in 8.9 seconds, a
decent showing that nonetheless pales before the zippy Accord's 6.9 seconds.
Last week, Toyota announced that Camry Hybrid
prices would start at $26,480, giving the car a $5,000 edge over the Accord.
The Accord comes loaded a navigation system is
one of the few options and the Camry Hybrid is
nearly as well equipped as the similarly priced
top-of-the-line XLE, from its
Bluetooth-compatible audio system (which includes
a six-CD changer and can also play your MP3 files
and dock your iPod) to its dual-zone climate
control. The Accord throws in the sunroof and
leather upholstery. The Camry counters with a
split folding rear seat a neat trick,
considering how much of the trunk was sacrificed
to accommodate the battery pack (30 percent, versus 18 percent in the Accord).
The Camry's economy edge is significant, with an
E.P.A. rating of 40 m.p.g. in the city and 38 on
the highway. According to the trip computer, my
performance varied: I drove the Camry 269 mostly
highway miles, achieving a "personal best" of
39.3 m.p.g. and an average of 31.7. By
happenstance, I was the first journalist in the
Northeast to drive both the Camry Hybrid and the
freshened Accord Hybrid. The Accord test car came
with only 125 miles on the odometer, and that may
account for my poor indicated mileage: in 192
miles of mixed driving, I averaged 20.8 m.p.g. On
a second tank of gas, it did much better, achieving 28 m.p.g.
While Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system
emphasizes performance, Toyota's Hybrid Synergy
Drive stresses economy. Yet on the road, the cars
are not as different as those labels might indicate.
The Accord is moderately luxurious inside. A
green "Eco" light indicates economy of 25 m.p.g.
or more, usually a sign that three cylinders have
shut down. The Honda's acceleration edge is
obvious, and the extra power will bring out your
inner Mario Andretti. The switch from six to
three cylinders and back is nearly imperceptible;
the slightly rougher engine note is, in fact,
masked by the Accord's ingenious noise-canceling
technology and "active" engine mounts, which anticipate and counter vibration.
The Honda's ride is stiffer, which should help it
handle the extra power. Big bumps can jar its composure.
The Camry handles better than the Accord, with
pin-sharp, well-weighted steering and a
suspension that absorbs rough terrain without
allowing much body lean. It also has slightly more rear leg and shoulder room.
While the Camry feels spacious, it is smaller in
some measures of headroom, legroom and cargo
volume than the less expensive Prius.
Both the Camry and Accord are emissions champs,
scoring as AT-PZEV's ("advanced technology
partial zero emission vehicles") under
California's arcane rating system. The only cars
that are cleaner are those that run on batteries alone.
Toyota also has an edge in styling with the
fresher, sleeker look it shares with all '07 Camrys.
Toyota really wants you to know you're in a
hybrid. A huge real-time fuel consumption gauge
sits where you'd expect a tachometer to be. Set
into the speedometer is a graphic display,
carried over from the Prius, in which arrows show
whether the car is running on its gas engine, its electric motor or both.
An "Eco" button uses several subterfuges, like
limiting energy used by the air-conditioner, to
enable greater use of the "auto stop" feature
that shuts off the gas engine at stoplights.
The Camry that I drove was a preproduction car
that came with a note stating that it might not
meet factory standards. So my 9-year-old took it
in stride when an inside door handle came off in her hands.
But even with parts falling off, the Camry won
handily over the Accord, in my view. Still, both
are good cars. Are they also good values when
compared with conventional vehicles?
Consumer Reports dropped a bomb in its April auto
issue by predicting that none of the six hybrids
it tested would recover their price premiums
within five years of ownership. The magazine did
not test the Camry Hybrid, but said the Accord
Hybrid would cost a whopping $10,250 more to own
over five years than a comparable EX model, and
the Prius would cost $5,250 more to own than a Corolla LE.
A few days after the magazine reached
subscribers, however, the editors announced that
they had overstated the hybrids' depreciation
costs, and they revised the figures. Now,
provided the Prius could qualify for federal tax
credits, the magazine said it would actually save
its owner $406 over five years. The Accord owner
would still be in the hole, but for $4,263 instead of $10,250.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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