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First Crash-Tested Mass-Produced PHEV Conversions from Hymotion/A123

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  • Felix Kramer
    Big news from Hymotion below, but first our overview: Ever since CalCars first turned a Prius into a PHEV in Fall 2004, we ve been promoting conversions as
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 27, 2008
      Big news from Hymotion below, but first our overview:

      Ever since CalCars first turned a Prius into a
      PHEV in Fall 2004, we've been promoting
      conversions as part of a strategy to build
      awareness of PHEvs' benefits and support for our
      main goal: mass produced PHEVs from the world's
      large carmakers. Since then, as people have
      clamored for PHEVs, the pace of conversions has
      been frustratingly slow, with about 150 completed
      both from our EAA-PHEV project and from a few
      private companies. (Many of those cars are listed
      at our Where PHEVs Are page,
      http://www.calcars.org/where-phevs-are.html .)
      Most have gone to utilities, national labs, and a
      few to early adopters. Toyota has even converted
      less than a dozen of its own Priuses. Now,
      three-and-a-half years later, many of the small
      companies and our "do it yourself with the help
      of an engineer" solution have advanced to the
      point when Prius PHEVs are becoming more broadly available.

      * A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journals's
      Senior Automotive Editor Joseph White said,
      PHEVs "have made the journey from the auto
      industry's fringes in near record time," and
      called the PHEV campaign "a victory for the
      technological insurgents who pushed the plug-in
      concept over Detroit and Nagoya's objections."
      * And today, Matthew Wald begins The New York
      Times's exclusive report (full text below) on
      Hymotion's launch of the first mass-produced
      conversions by describing PHEVs as "possibly the
      most sought-after technological innovation since
      Captain Kirk first flipped open his communicator."
      No wonder people have been banging down the doors of the conversion companies!

      This is taken from our How To Get a PHEV page,
      Depending on the choice of battery types, PHEVs
      using lead-acid are now available for $6-$10,000,
      nickel-metal for $8,000 and up, and lithium
      chemistries for $10,000 and up. Conversions are
      mostly for the Prius, with a few for the Ford
      Escape/Mercury Mariner hybrid SUVs. At these
      prices, people are buying the "environmental
      feature" -- they want to be among the first
      owners of the world's cleanest extended-range
      vehicles. They are early adopters, buying
      "Version 1.0" PHEVs with "Good Enough to Get Started" batteries.

      In addition to our someday seeing "from the
      ground-up" PHEVs like the Chevy Volt, Fisker
      Karma, Tesla WhiteStar, and cars from Aptera,
      BYD, Venture and others, we believe carmakers,
      benefiting from economies of scale and far larger
      development resources, will some day extend their
      current hybrid lines with far better PHEVs, and
      we think they will be able to sell them for
      $3-$5,000 more than standard hybrids. At that
      point, we expect the aftermarket companies'
      prices to have come down sufficiently so that
      their conversions will be attractive to owners of
      hundreds of thousands of hybrids already on the road.

      The nonprofit CalCars does conversions to
      demonstrate new designs and provide a platform
      for different batteries; we don't sell
      conversions. We have sponsored the EAA-PHEV
      project http://www.priusplus.org -- our
      Open-Source designs are being used by some of the
      private companies as well as technically advanced
      individuals. We maintain links to the companies
      offering conversions at the CalCars "How to Get a
      PHEV" page, http://www.calcars.org/howtoget.html .

      In May 2007, Canadian company Hymotion was
      acquired by Massachusetts batterymaker
      A123Systems, which thereby became a source for
      aftermarket conversions as well as a vendor
      offering its pto carmakers -- including
      contending for the prize of supplying batteries
      to GM for the Volt and the Saturn Vue. Since
      then, its conversions have showed up at the White
      House, Google and many other locations.
      Now it's announced the launch of its consumer
      product: $9,995 + $400 delivery for a 5kWh
      battery pack. It gives you a 30-40 mile all-speed
      boosted range at 100+MPG plus about a penny a
      mile of electricity. Hymotion has
      not-yet-identified installation centers in
      Boston, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Seattle, San
      Francisco and Los Angeles. It's offering a
      three-year warranty to start, with additional
      possible warranties in the future. (To GM, A123
      says it believes its Nanophosphate lithium
      batteries will to meet GM's criteria of 150,000
      miles/10 years.) Its crash-tested system has
      received federal NHTSA and FMVSS safety approvals
      and conditional California certifications. The
      batteries go under the rear deck, in the area
      usually occupied by a tool tray and the "doughnut" (minimal spare tire).
      The company's revamped website at
      http://www.hymotion.com includes a handy
      calculator where you can enter your driving
      patterns etc. and compare the fuel and greenhouse
      gas results with an internal combustion car and a
      standard Prius. It's taking $1,000 deposits for
      delivery of cars this year. (One of our
      correspondents who signed up on Day One told us he was #114 in the queue.)

      * Hymotion's letter to those who had asked get their latest news
      * Excerpts form the website's blog discussing California certification, etc.
      * Excerpts from its FAQ about those warranty issues that always come up
      * The New York Times story (complete version)

      Greetings from the A123Systems Hymotion product line team!

      Thank you for your interest in our product line
      and for filling out our Hymotion request
      form. We know that many of you registered for
      updates quite a while back and have been
      patiently awaiting news of our product
      development progress. We apologize for the
      silence over the past year, but assure you that
      we have dedicated ourselves over that time to
      completing development and testing of our first
      product, the Hymotion L5 Plug-in Conversion
      Module (PCM) for the 2004-2008 Toyota Prius. We
      have recently added several new members to the
      Hymotion management and customer service teams
      that will enable us to better respond to your
      questions and orders as we now move into
      commercial production and sale of the L5.

      Over the past year, with the help of our fleet
      and demo partners, we have completed the field
      testing and product development protocols to
      produce the market’s first fully tested,
      standardized and publicly available PHEV
      conversion module - the Hymotion L5. We have
      released the product to mass production and are
      now offering the L5 for purchase by consumers, as
      well as fleets and government programs. Lead
      times for each customer will depend on overall
      demand and product availability, but we expect
      consumer deliveries to begin in July 2008.

      We are happy to announce that our new Hymotion
      website launched today with consumer order
      capability! We are committed to ensuring that
      those of you who have already expressed your
      interest in our products are given priority for
      product delivery. If you are interested in
      purchasing the L5 for your Prius, please reply to
      this email to indicate your purchase intent AND
      place your deposit online on our new website to
      initiate your order. A member of our customer
      service team will respond to you with further
      information regarding your order within 5 business days.

      Thank you for your loyalty and your patience over
      the past year. We appreciate your interest in
      our Hymotion L5 conversion modules and your
      support of plug-in hybrid technology! Again, if
      you are interested in purchasing an L5, please
      respond to this e-mail indicating your purchase
      intent to ensure your priority for delivery of an
      L5 AND place a deposit online to initiate your
      order. We hope that we can serve you as customers soon!

      Other Hymotion Highlights:

      First Hymotion PHEV Conversion for Individual Consumer Completed
      We recently completed the first conversion of a
      privately owned Prius into a Hymotion PHEV with
      our L5 PCM, which we unveiled at the Washington
      International Renewable Energy Conference in
      Washington, DC on March 5th. James Woolsey,
      Former Director of the CIA and ardent
      spokesperson for US independence from foreign
      oil, now has the first privately owned Hymotion
      PHEV in the world. President Bush also stopped
      by our booth to check out the Hymotion PHEV:

      Hymotion Dealer Network
      We are currently establishing and certifying our
      A123 Green CHIP (Certified Hymotion installation
      Partner) dealer network in major cities around
      the country. Initial Green CHIP dealers will be
      located in Boston, Washington, DC, Minneapolis,
      Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

      California Air Resources Board Approval
      In April 2008, in the absence of established PHEV
      certification procedures, the California Air
      Resources Board (CARB) working together with our
      team outlined a path for conditional approval for
      A123Systems to sell up to 500 L5 PCMs in
      California as a means of initiating our rollout
      to consumers. We are now in the process of
      finalizing that approval. Additionally, we and
      others are also working with the CARB to
      establish certification procedures for
      PHEVs. Once those CARB PHEV certification
      procedures are final, we expect to certify our
      Hymotion L5 for sale in California under those
      procedures with no restriction on quantities sold.


      The L5s have a standard 3 year warranty.
      Additional warranty options may be offered at a
      later date. Will the Hymotion conversion alter
      the warranty given by the vehicle's manufacturer?

      Federal consumer protection laws do not allow a
      vehicle's OEM to void a consumer's warranty for
      installing a Hymotion module unless the Hymotion
      module is the direct cause of an otherwise
      warranted problem. For example, Toyota shouldn't
      void your warranty on your headlights for putting
      a module in your trunk. The Hymotion L5 is
      engineered not to adversely affect any
      OEM-warranted system. Our product field testing
      of over 200,000 miles of real life driving did
      not show any otherwise warrantable problems on
      the stock vehicle caused by the L5. If a
      vehicle's OEM denies a Hymotion customer warranty
      service due to a problem caused by a Hymotion
      module, A123 will pay for the otherwise warranted
      repair. SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market
      Association provides guidance on understanding
      the legal protection for aftermarket products,
      specifically the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Click here for more information.

      [This is the online version; the print version
      was half as long and lacked the zingy intro]
      A Plug-In Conversion for Prius By MATTHEW L. WALD

      WASHINGTON: Possibly the most sought-after
      technological innovation since Captain Kirk first
      flipped open his communicator is the plug-in
      hybrid, a vehicle that runs first on a battery
      charged from house current, and then on gasoline.

      Big car companies have talked about it, but they
      do not yet sell plug-ins. Beginning this week, a
      company in the Boston area will be taking orders
      for what it says is the first mass-produced
      aftermarket conversion kit. The company, A123
      Systems, is starting out with the Toyota Prius,
      with what it calls a range extender module. The
      module fits in the well normally occupied by the
      spare tire, with a charging port installed on the back bumper.

      The A123 conversion will allow a Prius driver to
      substitute electricity, at about 3 cents a mile,
      for gasoline at three or four times that price.
      And it would let the United States shift toward
      the use of coal, wind or sun energy sources instead of imported oil.

      About 50 converted vehicles are already in
      service around North America, some for more than
      a year, but so far they have been available only
      to fleet or institutional buyers.

      The module carries 5,000 watt-hours of usable
      energy, compared with about 300 watt-hours for
      the battery that is built into the Prius, the one
      that is charged by the engine, or by electricity
      generated as the car slows down. That one is
      charged when the car’s brain decides it is time;
      the one that A123 adds takes about four hours to
      charge on 120-volt household current.

      Leslie J. Goldman, the Washington lobbyist for
      A123, opened the hatchback of his Prius, pointed
      to an orange extension cord coiled in the back
      and said: “That’s the only infrastructure you need!”

      In most parts of the United States, a full charge
      would cost 60 cents or less. How much extra range
      the car gets depends heavily on the driver — as does everything in the Prius.

      “If you drive like a maniac, you get about double
      the Prius mileage,” Mr. Goldman said. With a
      lighter touch, a driver can get a lot more, at
      least until the charge runs out. In city driving,
      the battery could give an extra 35 or 40 miles,
      he said. That may be more miles than the car goes in a day.

      A driver who could plug in while at work could
      get 60 or 80 miles a day on the electric drive
      system, although most people have a much shorter daily itinerary.

      The A123 conversion makes barely any changes to
      the car. Electrically speaking, it sits between
      the original battery of the Prius and the car’s
      computer, serving as a buffer for the
      factory-installed battery. Mostly what it does is
      tell the Prius that there is still lots of charge
      remaining, and thus no need to start the car’s engine to recharge the battery.

      Driving around Washington last week, the Prius
      engine started up as normal whenever the
      combination of the accelerator pedal position and
      the grade of the road demanded more torque than
      the electric motor could deliver. Stomp on the
      gas, so to speak, and the Prius drew energy from
      both the internal combustion engine and the combined battery pack.

      Maximizing the value of the extra watt-hours
      requires the same expert touch that driving a
      stock Prius does. So I recruited a self-described
      Prius geek, Charlie Richman, who lives in
      Bethesda, Md., and drives to his job in the
      District of Columbia municipal planning
      department in a Prius that is still equipped as Toyota built it.

      “Very cool,” said Mr. Richman, test-driving the battery-equipped 2007 Prius.

      Mr. Richman said that the car “handles just like
      a Prius.” But there is a difference. In his own
      car, when he accelerates gently and drives for
      extended periods at just below the level that
      causes the gasoline engine to kick in (though
      eventually it will to re-charge the battery).
      With the A123 pack installed, the gas engine
      never had to do that, at least not in the 10
      miles or so that he cruised along North Capitol
      Street and then New Hampshire Avenue N.W., four
      or six-lane city streets with a few straightaways and frequent traffic lights.

      The Prius comes with an instantaneous fuel
      economy gauge that runs up to 99.9 miles per
      gallon, but A123 installs another with an extra
      digit. After I drove the Prius for a distance the
      gauge said my mileage was in the 80’s, but Mr.
      Richman quickly moved the average back up over
      100. (The test car was covered with decals proclaiming 120 miles per gallon.)

      A123 uses a battery technology it calls lithium
      ion nanophosphate, developed at M.I.T. It stores
      5,000 watt-hours in a 140-pound module. In
      comparison, Toyota’s nickel metal-hydride battery
      weighs about 100 pounds and holds 1,300 watt-hours.

      But to increase the longevity of the nickel
      metal-hydride battery, the powertrain control
      control of a standard Prius keeps the charge from
      falling more than a few percentage points below
      50, so its 1,300 watt-hour battery is effectively
      much smaller. A123 says its battery will
      withstand 7,000 cycles of full charge and then
      discharge. At a charge a day, that is longer than the likely life of the Prius.

      The warranty is a bit more modest, at three
      years. David Vieau, president and chief executive
      of A123, said the battery had been tested in hot
      and cold conditions, and was legal to install
      because it reduces the already-low emissions of
      the stock Prius. He also said that it would not
      void the Toyota warranty because it does not
      alter the function of any Toyota system. Toyota,
      though, has yet to be heard from on that point, he acknowledged.

      (Martha Voss, a spokeswoman for Toyota, said that
      an after-market part would, in fact, void the
      warranty if Toyota decided it was responsible for
      the failure that occurred; this would be
      determined on a case-by-case basis, she said.
      Toyota is working on its own version of a
      plug-in, she said, using in-house engineering.)

      A123’s long-term goal, though, has always been to
      sell its batteries to companies like Toyota. Mr.
      Vieau said he had gotten into the aftermarket parts business backwards.

      “It’s hard to sell to the car guys unless you are
      already in mass production,” he said, so the
      company began with a smaller market: power tool
      manufacturers. Soon, though, it found that a tiny
      Toronto company, Hymotion, was buying its
      batteries and assembling them into conversion
      kits for the Prius. Mr. Vieau said his company
      was worried that untrained mechanics could build an unsafe car.

      So A123 bought Hymotion, which had done only a
      handful of conversions but had extensive
      experience in hybrid vehicles. Now A123 has six
      approved installer companies around the country
      and is planning to add more, he said.

      But selling to General Motors (A123’s batteries
      are being tested in G.M.’s development program
      for the Volt plug-in hybrid) or other
      manufacturer would make life simpler, said Ric
      Fulop, A123’s founder and vice president of
      business development; that would simplify
      charging systems, cooling systems, packaging and other aspects, he said.

      As an add-on, the A123 module is a bit cumbersome
      and quite expensive, $9,999. Using a calculator
      on the company’s website, www.hymotion.com, a
      shopper can enter his anticipated daily mileage
      and see the savings in fuel and carbon dioxide.
      For example, a 16-mile-each-way daily commute,
      half city and half highway, and a total of 12,000
      miles a year, saves about 162 gallons a year
      compared to an ordinary Prius. (A problem in a
      way, is that the A123 module is an add-on to an
      already-efficient car, and thus saves a
      substantial fraction of a number of gallons that
      is small to begin with.) That indicates a payback
      period of more than 17 years. If a shopper
      anticipates a tax on carbon dioxide of, say $20 a
      ton, that reduces the payback period by about a year.

      But a shopper who drove more miles and could
      recharge at mid-day, and who expected gasoline
      prices higher than the mid-$3 range over the
      lifetime of the car, might find the economics better.

      “If the price of fuel stays at $3.50, we’d agree
      that for most people this is a marginal case,”
      said Mr. Vieau. The target market is clearly
      first-adopters with some disposable income.

      As with all great energy innovations, the next
      thing the inventors want is a tax credit for
      their product, just as the Prius and other
      hybrids got. That would allow manufacturers to
      build volume and cut costs, they say. A123 says
      costs could fall 20 or 30 percent in the next few years just on volume.

      For Mr. Richman, the conversion might not be cool
      enough to justify the $9,999 price. “If I had
      $10,000, I’d be half way to a new minivan,” he
      said, adding that he would like to find something
      more efficient than his Honda Odyssey. Strictly
      speaking, the Prius itself may not have been an
      economic choice, he said, “but I convinced myself
      it was almost neutral” in dollars, and worth it
      because it reduces the family’s carbon footprint, he said.

      But for the time being, the discussion of how
      best to spend $10,000 is hypothetical, he said,
      because “I don’t have $10,000; I have children.”

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