PLUG OK license plate
TIME, Comedy Central, Chrysler Zeo, Another F-150; Another Book; Fisker $
Sep 20, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Below we include:

  • A pointer to an entertaining video clip when GM's Bob Lutz appeared on the Colbert Report
  • Analysis of TIME Magazine's print story
  • Chrysler working on Zeo, series PHEV
  • News on a book on energy with a strong plug-in section by Rainforest Alliance's Michael Brune
  • News of Fisker raising money
  • Announcement from a second company converting Ford F-150 pickup trucks

COMEDY CENTRAL: GM's Bob Lutz put himself through the gauntlet -- 6 minutes with Steven Colbert, who loves to play the ultra-conservative -- not sure if it will help the car, but you'll probably laugh!­the-colbert-report-videos/­185021/­september-17-2008/­bob-lutz

CHRYSLER WANTS TO CATCH UP The Wall Street Journal­article/­SB122177751102554321.html reports that privately-owned company is "scrambling to develop" a PHEV, and is expected on Tuesday to tell dealers gathered in 100 locations across the US about its plans for the Zeo, a 40-mile range series PHEV. The article makes clear the company expects to outsource much of the production, hasn't selected partners, and has no timetable.

TIME MAGAZINE: two days ago at­calcars-news/­1001.html we posted two stories from We didn't know if either would make it into the print edition. Neither did, exactly. Despite the global financial crisis, the magazine's cover said: "Can GM's Electric Car Save the World?" "Plugged In. GM's Volt could get the company--and the country--off petroleum" has the same byline, and has pieces of the other stories. (The online link from "contents of current issue" goes to one of the earlier stories.) It's worth reading in print, in the issue dated September 29.

HIGHLIGHTS: HEADLINE: CAPTION: It's electric! The Chvey Volt, due to hit showrooms in late 2010, is a leap forward for fuel efficiency. GRAPHIC: large collage of Volt includes a plug that starts on the right-sided page 55 and travels through the story on the flip page 56. GRAPHIC brings to the general public the race between the announced Volt series PHEV and the planned Toyota parallel PHEV. With a title, "Hybrid vs. Hybrid. How the cars of the future compare," it says:

  • TOYOTA: The original hybrid uses both gas and electric engines to get the best fuel economy of any car in the U.S. today -- and it costs less than the Volt's target price. WHAT'S NEXT: Future versions will be plug-ins -- but are unlikely to have the Volt's all-electric range.
  • GENERAL MOTORS: The Volt is an extended range electric vehicle: it's powered by electricity, with what amounts to a gasoline-fueled electric generator for longer drives. A QUESTION OF COST: Critics love the Volt technology -- but they wonder if the car will be affordable.

THREE NOTABLE QUOTES show how uncomfortable the prospects of the Volt's success make experts who have to backtrack but are mired in traditional thinking:

  • "If you can get the costs down, it becomes very attractive," says Dan Sperling, director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis. "If not, it's going to be a slow slog."
  • Menahem Anderman, founder of Total Battery Consulting, doesn't believe the 2010 deadline can be met at any price and predicts it will take GM four to five years to develop and test new lithium-ion packs. "I'd like to be wrong," he says.
  • And some experts believe the best method of increasing fuel economy lies in simpler, cheaper improvements to existing gas engines. "That will give you the biggest bang for your buck," says David Friedman, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Clean Vehicles Program.

OUR COMMENTS on all three:

  • Sperling, reflecting his 25-year-long experience with the stop-and-go progress of clean cars, and his frustrating wait for hydrogen, doesn't factor in the likely public incentives at the national and state levels, as well as private incentives. (Yet when he wears his second hat, as one of the most influential of the 11 Members of California Air Resources Board, he develops plans that are based on an end to "business as usual." because of the urgency of reducing fossil fuel use.)
  • Anderman for the first time suggests that his repeated predictions for a slow commercialization of plug-ins could be worst case and overly cautious.
  • Friedman's comments are the most egregious. Plug-in advocates have suggested that many environmental leaders, worn down by the opposition of the auto industry, have shown signs of the so-called "Stockholm Syndrome," where victims become loyal to those who have taken them hostage. (Flashback: we first saw this on April Fools' Day 2005, when The NY Times ran its exclusive report on our first Prius conversion­calcarsnews/­14.html . We were floored when the only criticism came from Dan Becker, then running the Sierra Club's energy and global warming program. Citing US electricity's high reliance on coal, he said "The concern on plug-in hybrids is that we not substitute addiction to one polluting fuel for addiction to a more polluting fuel." Becker's statement was then echoed by automakers for years until disproven by multiple studies.) Friedman's "experts" sound like arguments from the most reluctant automakers. Honda (and to a lesser extent Ford), cite the abilitiy to improve internal combustion engines (ICEs) as an argument against plug-ins. Yet displacing oil with electricity from clean energy sources is a quantum leap beyond finding ways for engines to use less oil. (The only thing better is to entirely reduce vehicle miles travelled. And of course, we want better ICEs, to improve PHEVs' fossil-fueled range extension.)

BEST END: following Friedman's comment, the author and then Bob Lutz conclude the story by making exactly this point: "Friedman may be right in the short term, but if the U.S. is to truly break its addiction to oil, electric cars are the way to go. GM deserves credit for taking a risk, because risk-taking is the only way we can change a transportation system that is sinking us economically an environmentally. 'We're thinking beyond what others are thinking,' says Lutz. That's the right place to be."

CORRECTION: The story includes one key error, stating that a traditional Prius can drive 7-8 miles on electricity. In fact,under optimum conditions, today's Priuses can eke out a mile or two electrically at low speed. The higher numbers are the EV range of the dozen or so Priuses Toyota converted to PHEV to stay in the race; there's no telling what performance Toyota will deliver in the hundreds of leased evaluation PHEVs it now promises in 2009.

MICHAEL BRUNE'S NEW BOOK: The executive director of Rainforest Action Network is the author of the just-published "Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal" (Sierra Club Books,$14.95 -- we'll soon have a link to it at­books.html ). It includes more than 10 pages solely on plug-in cars, and references throughout the book. The book includes profiles/quotes from UC Davis Prof. Andy Frank, plug-in advocate Chelsea Sexton, former CIA Director James Woolsey, CalCars' Felix Kramer, A123Systems' David Vieau and Tesla Motors' JB Straubel and Elon Musk) See an excerpt, "Wake Up Detroit: The Time Has Come for Plug-in Hybrids" at­environment/­99519/­wake_up_detroit:_the_time_has_come_for_plug-in_hybrids/­ .

FISKER RAISES $65M for its Karma PHEV. The Irvine, CA company has built three prototypes; it aims to get its $80,000 PHEV into production in the fourth quarter of 2009. It's raised almost $100M from Kleiner Perkins and Palo Alto Investors, with most of this third round coming from Qatar Investment Authority. Read two short reports with links at­2008/­09/­09/­fisker-gears-up-with-65m-for-karma/­ and­2008/­09/­10/­high-end-electric-car-company-fisker-gets-a-65m-boost/­

Especially since the emergence of former Intel CEO Andy Grove as an advocate for retrofitting PSVs (Pick-ups, SUVs and Vans), we're very encouraged at the growing interest in this strategy. We'll be working with all the companies and organizations looking at this opportunity. We'll soon add them to our page at­ice-conversions.html . Here's the press release at­news.htm

Plug-in Your Truck: Envia Converts FORD F150 to Get 48 MPG and Cut CO2 by 63%

Sept 18, Vancouver BC, Today Electric Vehicle conversion company Envia announced its REV-H plug-in FORD F150 hybrid conversion, turning the world's most popular pickup from 15 to up to 43 miles per gallon, while reducing carbon emissions by 63%.

The world's automakers and media are recognizing the benefits of plug-in hybrids. Plugin Hybrid Vehicles (PHEVs) recharge large batteries from the electric-grid (mostly at night when demand is low) and use it to charge a large battery. The cars and trucks can run partially on electricity, dramatically reducing gas consumption and carbon emissions. Their gasoline tank still gives them extended range. This is ideal for many of the 30 million fleet vehicles in North America, which operate mainly over short distances in cities.

"Fleet Managers in B.C. are very interested in the REV products," states Ken Zutz, Commercial Sales Manager of Metro Ford, one of the largest Ford fleet sales dealers in BC. "With the concerns over fuel costs and the regulatory environment, demand is very high for these trucks. My customers want to know when they can get their hands on these in significant quantities."

Envia's REV-H plug-in FORD F150 offers 20 kiloWatt-hours of battery power for an all-electric range of up to 38 miles. The conversion costs $15,000 to $25,000 depending on range, which fleet managers can justify over five years through reduced fuel and maintenance costs -- not even counting various government purchase incentives.

"Many people think the problem will be solved when the big auto makers finally launch their plug-in hybrids. That will fix a small number of new cars. What about the 275 million cars on the road in North America, many of which are viable for conversion?" says Jay Giraud, Founder and President of Envia. "To put one million converted plug-in hybrids on the road, the logistics, production and supply issues are all manageable. This requires no new technology or infrastructure. What's missing is the economic incentive and the current price of gas just gave us that."

Felix Kramer, founder of, a plug-in advocacy organization, says, "The challenge is how to get millions of plug-in cars on the road ASAP. Along with new vehicles from the world's carmakers, plug-in conversions of large gas-guzzlers in fleets make sense. That's a great way to quickly reduce both dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gases -- and a major business opportunity."

About Envia - Envia is a new Canadian company based in Vancouver, which produces highway-capable electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Envia specializes in converting and selling original equipment manufacturer (OEM) vehicles into all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles under its REV and REV-H (rapid electric vehicles) brands. Partnering with one of British Columbia's largest fleet sales company and largest Ford dealer, Envia is focusing on the private and government fleet markets with consumer markets to follow. The company has a proven technology and works with companies with over 20 years of conversion experience.

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