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NYTimes Auto Section on Electro Energy/CalCars PRIUS+

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  • Felix Kramer
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2006
      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
      Published: April 2, 2006
      DANBURY, Conn.
      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

      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.

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