CalCars, The California Cars Initiative Clean, Efficient & Practical Vehicles Coming First to California
Subscribe to calcars-news, our low-traffic newsletter
with breaking news about CalCars, PRIUS+, PHEVs

CalCars Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

See Section 2 below for PUBLICATIONS and


Q: What's the fuss about? Give me a quick explanation.
It's like having a second small fuel tank that you always use first. You get to fill this one at home with electricity at an equivalent cost of under $1/gallon. How much under depends on your car and your electric rate. You refill from an ordinary 120-volt socket, with energy that's much cleaner, cheaper and not imported. Or another way of thinking about this: at $3 for a gallon of gas, driving a non-hybrid car costs 8-20 cents/mile (depending on its MPG). With a PHEV, all-electric local travel and communting can drop to 2-4 cents/mile.

Q: Where's a good basic introduction to PHEVs?
Of course, we like CalCars' Vehicles page plus the TIME and IEE articles below, and some of the online publications listed below. We've made some selections from "Oil and Security", a very compelling report by former CIA Director James Woolsey and former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Q: Since plug-in hybrids are only as clean as the electric power we use, and since we use so much coal in the US, won't we worse off if we increase our reliance on electricity?
On the national (half-coal) grid, electric vehicles are still far cleaner than gasoline vehicles. And it's easier to clean central power plants than millions of vehicles. And utilities are increasingly being mandated to increase their percentage of power from renewable sources. For more see Section 3 of Vehicles.

Q: Won't all these cars require us to build even more power plants?
Generally, they'll plug in at night. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that the power grid could handle many tens of millions of cars plugging in at off-peak hours before we'd have any capacity issues.

Q: Where's the payback?
The costs and benefits of cars extend far beyond the individual driver to society as a whole. But when people talk about payback, they refer only to the net dollars to the driver. Because this question never comes up when people pay a premium for features like leather seats, we point out that millions of people want the "environmental feature." Car And Driver's Patrick Bedard writes amusingly but tellingly about that issue: see links to his article; read comments and add your own at the Power, Plugs and People blog.
A2: Beyond that, many variables enter the payback equation: for instance, predictions of gasoline prices, electricity costs (and new rate categories), potential tax breaks and employer benefits. We address this issue at Vehicles and point to EPRI studies showing that, at under $2/gallon gasoline, even without incentives when auto makers build PHEVs in quantity, and they cost $3-$5,000 more than standard hybrids, their total lifetime cost of ownership will be lower than that of any other vehicle type -- so the payback will be there.
A3: We also think that with more people realizing that global warming is our greatest challenge, and that evolving the transportation sector to zero-carbon via cellulosic ethanol plug-in hybrids plus electricity from renewable sources may be our best strategy, the discussions about payback are a narrow answer to big questions. See our Global Warming Page-in-development.

Q: Isn't it misleading to talk about 100MPG and 500MPG cars?
We try to be careful to emphasize in the fine print that PHEVs can get over 100 miles/gallon of gasoline, PLUS electric costs of about 1-2 cents/mile. You get to 500MPG, when 80% of the liquid fuel used is biofuel or ethanol, which quintuples the 100MPG gasoline number, so it's then gasoline PLUS electric PLUS ethanol.

Q: How do fuel cell cars fit into the picture?
Fuel cell cars should be plug-in hybrids so that the fuel cell is used only for extended range, and the fuel cell stack and hydrogen storage can be smaller. (See EnergyCS's Greg Hanssen's Hydrogen Bridges.) We believe, however, that the advantages of flex-fuel PHEVs (and, counting conversion efficiencies, the 4X energy storage advantage of batteries over fuel cells) mean that the commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may never happen.

Q: I love the idea of powering my car from solar power. How about putting PV cells on the roof of a PHEV?
Car rooftops' surface area is too small to make a significant contribution. Unless/until they become more efficient, and are part of the original installation, they will seriously affect the car's aerodynamics and will be far less durable than metal. Photovoltaic arrays belong on stationary rooftops.

Q. How long will batteries last? What will replacements cost? Are they recyclable?
A. We have information on standard Prius Panasonic batteries. Their replacement cost now is under $3,000; they're waranteed for 100,000-150,000 miles in different states. By then, they'll probably cost well under $1,000. We can extrapolate similar trends for PHEV batteries. Toyota's Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries are considered "non-hazardous waste" -- see "high voltage electrical systems" Toyota has had a battery recycling program since 1998 and even offers dealers a $200 "bounty" to dealers to ensure batteries aren't just thrown away (described at end of linked document). Lithium-Ion batteries share many characteristics with Ni-MH.

Q. What about PHEV battery longevity and safety? I've heard lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous if they overheat.
Nickel-metal hydride batteries, proven for many years in hybrids to be safe, could go into PHEVs today -- they would be designed more like the ones Toyota put in its 2002 RAV4 EV compact all-electric SUV than like current hybrid batteries. (Engineers' note: hybrids need "power batteries," PHEVs need "energy batteries.")
The performance, longevity and safety of lithium-ion batteries are improving rapidly. The Electric Power Research Institute says that lithium-ion batteries are ready now. DaimlerChrysler is using them in some of its prototype PHEV Sprinter commercial vans. And the Valence Technology li-ion batteries in the EDrive Systems conversions include a phosphate additive that makes it nearly impossible for them to burn or explode.

Q: Why are there so many different names for these vehicles?
At various times, they've been called grid-connected hybrids, full or strong hybrids, electric, pluggable, gridable and many others. In the past five years, the most prevalent name has been plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Objections have come from those who say that this name puts advocates on the defensive to auto industry views that plugging in is bad. (All ads for hybrids emphasize that "you don't have to plug it in.") Some advocates began calling them "gas-optional" (GO-hybrids), which describes a benefit rather than a feature. Objections come from those who say that this is inaccurate, since the vehicles do require liquid fuel (currently gasoline). We probably won't have a universal name for them until an automaker spends millions of dollars on focus groups and marketing studies. On this page, we stick with PHEV.


Q: How can I help?
A: See August rundown of What Can I Do To Help? and urgent request for support at CalCars-News Archive.
Spread the word.
* Tell people to watch our favorite WNBC-TV 6-minute clip (scroll down to "Free Video".
* Watch a 1-hour speech plus Q&A on the CalCars campaign.
* Download to read and print, then distribute to others the following individual PDF files -- for news clips, see complete list at CalCars Kudos.
* Or grab our latest 32-page Recommended Mix -- includes items with *asterisk below (7MB PDF) or either of the 2-sided flyers listed below:

Q. How else can I help?
Make a tax-deductible contribution at Sponsor.
A. See how you can help at Actions.

Q: How can I stay up to date?
Subscribe to CalCars-News where we post information about all major new developments, and browse the CalCars Kudos page.

Q: What are Calcars' goals?
Our initial goal is to build awareness that PHEVs represent the fullest, strongest form of popular hybrid technology, and to persuade and incentivize auto makers to build plug-in hybrid cars. We're getting the word out to many people who are now hearing about PHEVs for the first time. With our partners, we're creating actual vehicles, prompting increasing number of important organizations and individuals to voice their support, and helping to build demand among individual and fleet car buyers. Longer term, we are looking ahead to flex-fuel, then cellulose-ethanol PHEVs, then to adding other advances, including lightweighting and other optimizing methods. We aim to see all these technologies become part of the standard automotive platform for future vehicles. And we have even more ambitious plans to use the citizen-buyer demand model of Calcars to address other global warming strategies.

Q: Who's involved in plug-in hybrids?
We work frequently with organizations including:
Utilities: The California Electric Transportation Coalition (CalETC), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Electric Vehicle Departments of Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric and Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, Austin Energy and the Plug-In Austin campaign (here's AE's Blog)
Government: the California Air Resources Board, the California Energy Commission, the South Coast and the Bay Area Air Quality Management Districts
Hybrid Component Companies: Electro Energy Inc., the Plug-In Hybrid Consortium
Technology integrators: Edrive Systems LLC (joint venture of EnergyCS and CLean-Tech), the Hybrid Center at the University of California-Davis, AC Propulsion, Aerovironment
Energy policy and advocacy groups: Bluewater Network (of Friends of the Earth), Jumpstart Ford (by Rainforest Action Network and Global Exchange). Center for Energy & Climate Solutions/Joe Romm, Center for a New American Dream, DontBeFueled
Media partners: Free Range Studios, Americans for Energy Independence
National security policy groups: Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, Set America Free, Securing America's Future Energy
Electric vehicle advocates: the national Electric Auto Association and its 30 local chapters, the Plug In America Campaign
Online publications:,, Green Car Congress, World Changing/Sustainability Sundays
Online hybrid discussion groups: PRIUS+ Plug-In Hybrid Conversion Group, EAA-PHEV Conversion Group, PriusChat,, and Yahoo Discussion Groups including Gridable Hybrids, Prius-2G, Prius_Technical Stuff, Power, Plugs and People, CalCars Founder Felix Kramer's blog.

Q: What do car companies say about PHEVs?
Here's our roundup of their comments in the media recently. We see evidence of evolving views.

Q What do environmental groups think of PHEVs?
Bluewater Network <> and Rainforest Action Network <> have been active, vocal proponents of PHEVs. While other national and international organizations have been supportive at government hearings, they haven't yet begun to advocate for PHEVs. Many continue to pay more attention to far-off hydrogen fuel cells than to this immediate solution. We welcome the National Resources Defense Council's endorsement of the SetAmericaFree agenda, and the Union of Concerned Scientists' Hybrid Center's inclusion of PHEVs in their comparison chart and in their Blog
Readers of this FAQ can encourage local chapters and national organizations to begin public activities educating and promoting PHEVs.


Q:What cars can be converted?
At the moment, only 2004-2006 Priuses. Older "Classic" Priuses lack the low-speed electric-only mode and the battery storage space that makes this possible. Honda Insight, Civic and Accord use an entirely different design: the electric motor never runs without the gasoline engine running at the same time. Other hybrids, including Ford Escape, Toyota Highlander and Lexus 400H, are possible future candidates. We are not exploring PHEV versions of gasoline-only (non-hybrid) cars.

Q: What's the relationship between CalCars and EDrive Systems?
We're non-profit; they're a private company. EDrive Systems LLC is a partnership of two companies, EnergyCS (who helped us with the technology for our PRIUS+ Conversion), and Clean-Tech. We work to gain attention for their pioneering efforts to "commercialize" (bring to market) PHEVs. (See our posting at <>. They're focused on delivering retrofits of Prius and,perhaps in the future, other vehicles. In addition to our advocacy work and efforts to incentivize automakers, CalCars continue to pursue technical development and to explore using different batteries and other components, both on the Prius and perhaps soon, the Ford Escape or other hybrids.

Q: When can I convert my Prius?
EDrive Systems Prius conversions will be available in 2006: see EDrive's FAQ. is not in the business of selling conversions. Also see the new EAA-PHEV Conversion project sponsored by the Electric Auto Association. This is focused on "do-it-yourself" conversions of Prius (and perhaps later other hybrids) by people with the technical background to safely work on high-voltage components.

Q: How do I find out more about Prius conversions in general?
The key information is found in links at the top of our PRIUS+ page: the latest version of our Fact Sheet, links to pages with photos, etc., and at CalCars-News.

Q. What's next for CalCars in technology and conversions?
See our 2006 Goals. CalCars hopes to catalyze the creation of a new company to meet the expected fleet demand for Escape or other vehicles in the near future, as described at CalCars Opportunity. We've also begun a project to demonstrate that nickel-metal hydride batteries (in use in all current hybrids) can work for PHEVs (the EDrive conversions use more advanced lithium-ion batteries).

Q: How can I get an all-electric vehicle?
Unfortunately you can no longer buy a new highway-capable production electric vehicle in the U.S. You may be able to buy a RAV4 EV at eBay (if you think Prius resale values are high, wait until you see $40K prices for these precious cars.) Contact your local chapter of the Electric Auto Association to find out more -- including do-it-yourself conversions and places online where EV owners and fans congregate. We expect that EVs will return to the market after PHEVs are commercialized.

Q: How do I catch up with your technical discussions?
Read the PRIUS+ Fact Sheet (latest version at PRIUS+; look at the message archive of our PRIUS+ Technical Discussion Group (here's a Development Chronology). The discussions are open to the public; as the group's home page makes clear, we limit membership (and posting privileges) to people who meet somewhat strict criteria.


Q What if I have items that belong on this list or comments?
Write us at

© 2005, California Cars Initiative.     Last updated Site Map