First Crash-Tested Mass-Produced PHEV Conversions from Hymotion/A123
- 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,
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.
SOME MEMORABLE TURNS OF PHRASE BY JOURNALISTS:
* 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!
HERE'S HOW WE SUMMARIZE TODAY'S CONVERSION OPTIONS:
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 .
WE SUMMARIZE TODAY'S NEWS FROM HYMOTION/A123
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.)
BELOW WE INCLUDE:
* 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 markets 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!
FROM HYMOTION'S BLOG
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.
FROM HYMOTION'S FAQ: WARRANTY ISSUES
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.
THE NEW YORK TIMES EXCLUSIVE STORY APRIL April 27, 2008
[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 cars 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: Thats 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 cars
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 cars 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 80s, 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, Toyotas 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.)
A123s 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.
Its 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 (A123s 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, A123s 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 companys 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, wed 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, Id 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 familys carbon footprint, he said.
But for the time being, the discussion of how
best to spend $10,000 is hypothetical, he said,
because I dont have $10,000; I have children.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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