Hybrids Trick Out, Plug In

By dancurranjr On September 30th, 2008

The owner of Luscious Garage is wondering whether the electric wall outlet will be the “gas tank” of the future.

Drivers of gas-sipping hybrid vehicles are increasingly interested in converting their vehicles from gasoline powered to electric, according to garage owner and lead technician Carolyn Coquillette.

While drivers of conventional gasoline-powered vehicles complain about higher fuel prices, clients of the San Francisco garage are investing big bucks to make their green cars even greener.

That’s being done through plug-in conversions and adding more powerful batteries to currently available gasoline/electric hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius.

“The regular Prius is a gasoline dependent car; it doesn’t get energy from anywhere but the gas tank,” said Coquillette.

“What this [conversion] allows me to do is get energy through an [electric wall] outlet, so [the wall outlet] is like my electric gas tank,” she said.

Coquillette, who has degrees in physics and English, said she gets three or four calls or e-mails a day, asking about the conversion. And, she says, with gas prices at more than $4 per gallon, she expects even more interest.

A lot of the cars that pull in to Luscious Garage are Toyota Prius hybrids, which Coquillette calls, “the Volkswagen Beetle of our times.”

Coquillette showed off the garage’s psychedelically painted Prius, which has undergone the conversion. VideoWatch how Luscious Garage converts hybrid vehicles »

Its original nickel-metal-hydride battery packs have been replaced with lead acid batteries to extend the distance the car can travel on electricity. Coquillette expects to begin conversions to even more efficient lithium batteries soon.

The plug-in conversion costs about $7,500.

“Gas becomes optional,” with this conversion, Coquillette said. “Gas isn’t required to move this car anymore. If you want to drive a really long way, without recharging, yes, gas is required, but it gives you the flexibility of not having to burn gas anymore if you don’t want to. And that’s very liberating,” she said.

The garage itself strives to be green, with much of its power coming from solar panels.

And with gasoline approaching $5 per gallon in the San Francisco Bay area, “plugging in cars make a whole lot of sense right at the pocketbook,” said Korthof, who works for Energy Efficiency Solar.

What kind of people are converting to this conversion?

“We’ve seen such a diverse group of people,” said Coquillette. “We have some people who come in who are entrepreneurs, who are business people, there are some people who are diehard environmentalists, but there are some people who come in, they just want to burn less gas.”

The corporate folks at Toyota don’t have any official position on plug-in conversions. They don’t endorse or discourage it. 

But for hybrid owners who demonstrate exuberant efforts to find more energy efficiency, “we really appreciate the fact that the Prius is the vehicle of choice,” said Jana Hartline, environmental communications manager for Toyota.

Hartline said the Prius was not designed with any conversion possibilities in mind, but she said the company welcomes any technology that pushes the envelope on plug-in batteries.

While the nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery will remain the choice for Prius, Camry and Highlander hybrids, Toyota is doing some research and development with lithium ion batteries.

Hartline said Toyota will be using lithium ion batteries in some commercial fleets in late 2009, mostly to learn more about charging behaviors.

Although the current batteries are “durable and reliable,” Hartline said lithium ion batteries pack more energy into a smaller space.

Much more research is needed, she said, about how hybrid owners would use their vehicles. For example, how often and for how long owners would plug in to the electrical grid, or a solar supply.

Also, as more drivers become interested in alternative energy, they will need to learn more about infrastructure.

For example:

• Will companies, malls or fast-food joints provide charging stations?
• Will they charge for the charge?
• In what other ways will the energy infrastructure have to change?

While the 2004-2008 Prius is the most popular hybrid conversion, it is also possible on 2005-2008 Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape hybrids.

And, as Coquillette says on the Luscious Garage Web site, “Any car can become a plug-in hybrid, if you have enough money.”

And driven customers don’t seem to be letting cost discourage them from the conversion.

“Customers are not coming to me and saying, ‘I’ll do this if there is a rebate.’ People come to me and say, ‘I want to do this right away,’ ” said Coquillette.

Luscious Garage will soon open a second location for the growing number of really green hybrid owners.

“Hybrid technology is one thing. Then there is plug-in hybrid technology, which is the next step, which genuinely removes your dependence on fossil fuel,” said Coquillette.

However, most U.S. electricity is created from burning fossil fuels — about 70 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency of the Department of Energy. Just under 49 percent comes from coal-burning power plants, about 20 percent from natural gas and about 1½ percent from burning oil.

Source: CNN

Chevy Volt Debuts to Enthusiasm in California

By dancurranjr On September 29th, 2008

The Chevy Volt made its West Coast debut at the AltCar Expo & Conference in Santa Monica, Calif., drawing curious and enthusiastic onlookers Friday.

General Motors (GM) unveiled the plug-in hybrid electric car in Detroit last week as part of a celebration of its 100th birthday. For the AltCar Expo, which showcases commercial and concept cars, GM shipped the same silver Volt from Detroit and parked it inside the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

GM plans to launch the Volt in November 2010. The automaker has engineered the Volt to drive using only the electric motor, but the four-seat car will use a small gasoline engine to generate electricity to help power the motor for longer distances. The design is different than today’s hybrid-electric cars, such as the Toyota (TM) Prius, which are propelled by both the electric motor and the gasoline engine.

The silver Volt is the only one in North America, said Shad Balch, a GM spokesman at the expo. The carmaker is road-testing the Volt engine and lithium-ion battery pack in Detroit by transplanting them into the body of Chevy Malibu.

The model on display at the expo doesn’t have its battery pack or the gasoline engine, Balch said. It does have a small battery pack to move the motor.

The regular lithium-ion battery pack would weigh 400 pounds and would be located in a T-shape beneath the seats, Balch said. It would take about six hours to recharge, at an estimated cost of 2 cents per mile.

In the current version, electrical charging would take place near the driver-side door, but GM is considering making it possible to charge from the passenger side as well.

The engineless Volt wasn’t available for a test drive, for obvious reasons, but onlookers could open the driver-side door to peek inside the car. Some lucky ones got to sit in the driver seat to get closer views. Volt drew admiring nods and comments from expo attendees – many of them wanted to know how much it would cost to own one.

GM hasn’t announced the pricing yet, but GM executives have talked about a price tag of under $40,000. GM CEO Rick Wagoner had previously said that the company would like to sell the Volt for less than $30,000.

The exhibit took place the same day that GM said it has received a preliminary nod from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] to certify the Volt as the first electric car that can get 100 miles per gallon.

GM had tussled with the EPA over fuel-economy testing and, to a large extent, over whether the Volt will be considered an electric car or a hybrid. The EPA had initially considered requiring the Volt’s battery to be fully charged throughout the test.

Keeping the Volt’s battery fully charged would require its gasoline engine to be running pretty much the entire time, which would likely result in a fuel economy of 48 miles per gallon. The Volt can go 40 miles on a fully charged battery before the gasoline engine has to kick in to replenish it.

The Prius, meanwhile, has a fuel efficiency of 48 miles per gallon in the city and 45 miles per gallon on the highway. The car uses a nickel-metal-hydride battery, which can last only 2 miles per charge.

An EPA spokeswoman told Bloomberg that the agency hasn’t finalized its testing policy for plug-in hybrid electric cars yet.

The AltCar Expo ended Saturday. Click here to see slideshow featuring other green cars.

Source: Seeking Alpha

Honda to Offer Hybrid Motorcycles in 2011

By dancurranjr On September 29th, 2008

Honda Motor Co. will start selling hybrid motorcycles as early as the mid-2010s, and with smaller electric motorcycles coming out as early as 2011, the automaker has announced.

The move is part of Honda’s efforts to cope with rising gasoline prices and global warming by applying its 4-wheeled hybrid and battery technology to motorcycles.

Adding a hybrid engine and battery to a motorcycle’s traditional internal combustion engine was thought to present too many engineering problems, not least that of size. However, Honda believes that it can shrink a hybrid engine enough to be mounted on a motorcycle frame.

The hybrid motorbikes will be available in engine displacements between 200 and 1,000 cc, and, according to Honda, will be 50 percent more fuel-efficient. Production will be cut by using common components in both hybrid cars and motorcycles.

Honda will also be producing a new line of electric scooters, and a successor to the Cub series motorbikes for commercial use, with an engine size of 50 to 125 cc.

Though with a limited range — a smaller electric motorcycle will only be able to run about 30 kilometers on one charge – fuel costs will be smaller than that of a gasoline motorcycle.

Honda Eyes Hybrid Cars Expansion in Europe

By dancurranjr On September 29th, 2008

Honda Motor is counting on hybrid cars and the soaring Russian market to enter its next phase of expansion in Europe, where an economic slowdown in Western Europe is hurting sales more than expected, an executive said.

Japan’s number two carmaker sold a record 376,477 cars in Europe last year – a rise of 22 per cent – with growth in all major markets except Germany as consumers flocked to its diesel cars.

But sales growth has slowed this year due to weaker overall demand, and also because new taxation methods in Italy, Spain and France based on carbon dioxide output prompted buyers to flee to brands with low-emission cars such as Volkswagen.

“There’s been a sudden shift to cars with low CO2 emissions,” Shigeru Takagi, senior managing director and head of European operations, said yesterday.

“European makers are quickly responding to that trend, and right now we’re a bit behind.”

Takagi said overall demand in Europe was shrinking at a faster pace month after month, with this month also starting off poorly.

New car registrations in Britain, Honda’s biggest market in Europe, had their worst August since 1966, while Germany, Italy and Spain also recorded double-digit drops.

About the only bright spot is Russia, where Honda’s sales jumped 157pc in the first six months of this year, single-handedly absorbing the drops in Western Europe. In all of Europe, Honda’s sales grew 7.5pc to 218,925 cars – which represents just over a tenth of its worldwide sales.

At the current pace, Takagi said Honda’s sales in Russia would exceed 100,000 cars in one or two years, from 38,600 in 2007.

The biggest challenge now was supplying enough Civic and Accord sedans to meet swelling demand, despite plans to produce 60,000 cars at its Turkish factory this year – or 20pc beyond its official capacity, he said.

Source: Gulf Daily News

First Hybrid Passenger Car by Mercedes-Benz

By dancurranjr On September 29th, 2008

Mercedes-Benz is launching its first passenger car model equipped with a hybrid drive system in summer 2009: the S400 Blue Hybrid. The new model is based on the S350 and features a modified drivetrain. This encompasses a further development of the 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine, an additional magneto-electric motor, the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission specially configured for the hybrid module, the necessary operating and control electronics, the transformer and a high-voltage lithium-ion battery. Thanks to its compact dimensions and modular design, the additional weight of the overall system is only 75 kilograms – including the comprehensive safety systems.

The combination of a modified V6 petrol engine and a compact hybrid module makes the model one of the most economical luxury saloons with a spark-ignition engine. According to the German car manufacturer the New European Driving Cycle combined fuel consumption is a mere 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres resulting in the lowest CO2 emissions in this vehicle class of 190 grams per kilometre. The 3.5 litre petrol engine develops an output of 205 kilowatts; the electric motor generates 15 kW and a starting torque of 160 Newton metres. The result is a combined output of 220 kW and a combined maximum torque of 385 Newton metres. The compact hybrid module is a disc-shaped electric motor that also acts as a starter and generator. The system offers both fuel consumption and performance. This is partly due to the booster effect of the electric motor, as it powerfully backs up the petrol engine with a maximum additional torque of 160 Newton metres during the high-consumption acceleration phase. The hybrid module also has an electronic Start/Stop function, which switches the engine off when the vehicle is at a standstill. When it is time to move off again, the electric motor restarts the main power unit. When the vehicle is braked the electric motor acts as a generator, and is able to recover braking energy by a process known as recuperation.

The centrepiece of the modular hybrid drive system is the new high-voltage lithium-ion battery, which was specially developed for automotive use. Major advantages over conventional nickel/metal hydride batteries include a higher energy density and better electrical efficiency, together with more compact dimensions and a lower weight. The lithium-ion battery not only stores energy for the electric motor, but is also connected to the 12 Volt onboard network via the transformer to supply power to other standard consumers such as the headlamps and comfort features. The engine management system responds very sensitively to different driving conditions, and optimally configures the drive system for the relevant application, ensuring that both fuel consumption and emissions are kept to the lowest possible level. Dedicated control electronics are required to operate the three-phase Alternating Current electric motor in the 120-Volt high-voltage Direct Current network. The current converter is accommodated in the space formerly occupied by the starter. As the control electronics heat up as a result of electric currents measuring up to 150 ampere, the system is equipped with its own, additional low-temperature cooling circuit.

Source: ATZ Online