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Important Developments on Hybrid and Gas-Guzzler Conversions
Sep 1, 2009 (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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At last month's Plug In 2009 conference and since, we've seen quite a bit of news about conversions. They confirm the case we've been making: because the world can't wait 10-20 more years to begin to achieve substantial fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas reductions we can't rely solely on new vehicles. To make a difference, given the hundreds of millions of vehicles on the road, we have to step up to the challenge of finding viable ways to convert large numbers of already-built gas guzzlers. Below we start with several significant validations of this view; then we describe promising policy and government actions that can help us get there and offer a look back at cash for clunkers, followed by descriptions of new prototypes and new players entering the internal combustion engine business. We conclude with big news about increasingly affordable and advanced conversions of hybrids to plug-ins, which started the ball rolling and will help us get to the next stage.


IN OUR MAY WHITE PAPER, "Cash for clunkers Paves the Way to Retrofit Gas Guzzlers," (­scrap-or-retrofit.html for web and 8-page PDF versions) we asked what if "business as usual" ended and we ramped rapidly up to a point where 100% of U.S. new vehicle sales by 2030 were plug-ins. Under that scenario, oil consumption that year would drop only 20% -- because new cars would still amount to less than 40% of the entire fleet of vehicles on the road. If you recognize the urgency of reducing CO2 and fossil fuel use in the next two decades and then consider modest current goals that are always described as ambitious and aggressive, you'll see how far we have to go. The U.S. goal of one million plug-ins by 2015 will by then amount to 0.25% of all vehicles. Canada's goal of a half-million by 2018 and Germany's of one million by 2020 will be about 2%. As analysts see the gap, we hope they will start to ask the logical next question: "Can we can do something to fix many vehicles in the existing fleet?"

OIL INDUSTRY GURU'S PROJECTIONS: In the August 31 Wall Street Journal, we find a measured projection of what's likely ten years beyond government-set goals. It's from Daniel Yergin, a leading global oil expert, working on an updated version of his Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power," and chair of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Yergin attended one of the 2005 Oil Shockwave simulations­shockwave_overview.php that helped put PHEVs on the map. Until now, he has been relatively measured on electric drive. Now he's come around on plug-in vehicles and recognizes the market penetration challenge in "Why Oil Still Has a Future: Demand in the developing world trumps new technology"­article/­SB10001424052970203706604574370511700484236.html "For oil, the focus is on transportation. After all, only 2% of America's electricity is generated by oil. Until recently, it appeared that the race between the electric car and the gasoline-powered car had been decided a century ago, with a decisive win by the gasoline-powered car on the basis of cost and performance. But the race is clearly on. Yet, whatever the breakthroughs, the actual impact on fuel use for the next 20 years will be incremental due to the time it takes to get large-scale mass production up and running and the massive scale of the global auto industry. My firm, IHS CERA, projects that with aggressive sales volumes and no major bumps in the road (unusual for new technologies), plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles could constitute 25% of new car sales by 2030. But because of the slow turn-over of the overall fleet, gasoline consumption would be reduced only modestly below what it would otherwise be. Thereafter, of course, the impact could grow, perhaps very substantially."

YERGIN AND GRUNWALD IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS MAGAZINE: As we were reviewing this projection, we saw that Yergin's article is a promotion for a longer piece in the September/October issue of the prestigious Foreign Policy Magazine, whose cover has the theme, "Oil: The Long Goodbye"­issues/­174/­contents . Yergin's lead story there, "It's Still the One"­articles/­2009/­08/­17/­its_still_the_one , probably written months before, does not contain the same endorsement of plug-in vehicles. However, in that issue, highly worth reading is TIME Magazine's Michael Grunwald's "Seven Myths About Alternative Energy,: with the summary, "As the world looks around anxiously for an alternative to oil, energy sources such as biofuels, solar, and nuclear seem like they could be the magic ticket. They're not."­articles/­2009/­08/­12/­seven_myths_about_alternative_energy Grunwald provides a refreshing critiques of many current ideas: trying everything (he says, "why not at least agree that governments shouldn't pick losers to be winners"); current and future biofuels (he cites studies that biomass is better to turn into electricity than liquid fuels); nuclear power; (slow-to-build and very costly) the need for new "breakthrough" technologies (he says we can use what we already have). Grunwald resoundingly endorses starting with efficiency, including incentives to utilities for "negawatts;" a different path for the developing world; and he says, "In the medium term, the world needs plug-in electric cars, the only plausible answer to humanity's oil addiction that isn't decades away.")

CALCARS' "21ST CENTUREY CAR INDUSTRY: FIXED IN THE USA" opinion piece, distributed at Plug In 2009, has been well received. It was originally published at, where it attracted some comments, and at AutoBlogGreen­2009/­08/­11/­is-retro-fitting-older-vehicles-the-solution-to-accelerating-ele/. And Plug In America has released video of the conference's Public Session, where panelists Bill Nye the Science Guy, Chris Paine and Chelsea Sexton from Who Killed the Electric Car and its sequel, called on Felix to explain conversions, which turned into an unexpected extended explanation of gas-guzzler conversions. You can jump in the 78-minute YouTube streaming video to 57:20-63:30 for Felix and Ron Gremban at 68:30.


THE JAPANESE POSTAL SERVICE has begun a world-first project to convert 25% of its 22,000 delivery vehicles to all-electric vehicles. Partners include Ener1 for batteries, Think Electric for drivetrain, and ZeroSports­DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/­www/­story/­07-27-2009/­0005066356&EDATE=.

THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE's Office of Inspector General has just issued a report, "Electrification of Postal Service Delivery Vehicles,"­FOIA_files/­DA-WP-09-001.pdf proposing a pilot program that would position it to become a "national laboratory for testing of electric vehicles." Its 146,000 long-life delivery vehicles average 10 MPG. The report estimates it could reduce costs per mile from $0.33 to $0.05. It makes the case based on its fleet's average 18-mile/day drive cycle (95% are under 40 miles). However, the Postal Service has no funds available for vehicle acquisition; it's hoping to get federal funds to acquire several thousand vehicles and offer early testing facilities for vehicle-to-grid demonstration projects (potentially gaining revenues from V2G)..

The Postal Service report does not include scenarios involving EV conversions for its existing vehicles, but its breakdowns of the age of its fleet show how possible this could be. Most were built between 1988-1994. 70% of these sturdy vehicles (aluminum bodies built by Grumman, a GM chassis based on a Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck) have at least five years of life left. We would expect that once converted, their lifetime could extend further than their projected 24 years as internal combustion vehicles. We hope any future analyses or prototype development projects will take this option into account.

ONTARIO: In July, we noted the provincial plan for a "1 in 20" campaign (1 of 20 cars by 2020 will plug in) including rebates from C$4-10,000 (US$3,575-$8,938)­2009/­07/­ontario-rebates-20090715.html. We've begun a dialogue with Canadian advocates to extend those incentives to conversions, and we will be making the case now and in our presentation in Montreal at Plug-In 2009 (see­events.html). This level of incentive could go far in jump-starting a large conversion industry and in enlisting automakers as partners. (By the way, upon hearing that the Chevy Volt would be eligible for more than the $7,500 incentive in the U.S., Toyota, left behind with its meager commitment to build a 500-vehicle low-range PHEV test fleet worldwide by 2010 complained to the provincial government. Toyota Canada Managing Director Stephen Beatty said, "We're not entirely convinced that the technology is a winning proposition for consumers today"­2009/­07/­17/­canadian-government-gives-10000-chevy-volt-subsidy-angers-toyota/.)

CASH FOR CLUNKERS RETROSPECTIVE: As the $3 billion program concluded, with 700,000 vehicles scrapped, some analysts including Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl see the brief boost to new car sales followed by a "hangover" -- a subsequent plunge in sales. We're still hoping any future version will include "cash for conversions" as well as for scrapping. Meanwhile, in remarks at a "National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas" held at the same time as Plug In 2009, former President Bill Clinton suggested getting "as close to cash for clunkers as you can" with a $10,00 credit for electric vehicles, shown in 45 seconds at­2009/­08/­10/­wjc-c4c/ and discussed at­files/­2009/­08/­bill-clinton-national-clean-energy-summit-electric-cars-for-clunkers-las-vegas.php, A thoughtful posting at the Quotidian Blog,­2009/­08/­04/­what-cash-for-clunkers-could-have-been-used-for/ talks about PHEVs and "what could have been." A NYTimes evaluation, "Clunkers Don't Come Cheap"­2009/­08/­31/­opinion/­31mon4.html , described the program as "a spectacularly inefficient way to implement environmental policy." In predicting the new vehicles will be driven more than the old ones, the editorial comes close to recognizing a point we've been making about measuring environmental benefits: the new car (often 25-30MPG) should logically be compared to multi-car households' former "first car," (often 20-25 MPG) used for everyday driving, rather than to the previously rarely-used 15 MPG clunker. The Times highlights the program's cost per ton in the hundreds of dollars of carbon saved and says the program could have been improved, though the best solution would be a gas tax with rebates for low-income drivers, or, embracing the near-universal assumption that a gas tax is always political suicide, a revenue-neutral "feebate" program.


BRIGHT AUTOMOTIVE PHEV CONVERSION: At Plug In 2009, this Anderson, Indiana startup by industry veterans announced its consulting services for designs of PHEV and EV conversions of existing vehicles. (This spring, the company unveiled the Bright IDEA, a reconceptualized commercial delivery van scheduled for large-scale production in 2013. We described that vehicle, the company, and its origins as a spinoff of the Rocky Mountain Institute in our April 24, 2009 posting to CalCars-News­calcars-news/­1057.html .) It takes a long time to raise money (it's received $20 million from Google, Alcoa and Duke Energy and others, and is seeking $450 million in loans from the US Department of Energy) and then to bring a new vehicle to market. Bright, wanting to deploy its expert team productively, has decided to offer a preview of its technology. The "stepping stone to the IDEA" in 2010 will be a prototype built on the Volkswagen Transporter T-5 platform. This relatively lightweight vehicle, globally popular but not sold in the U.S.­wiki/­Volkswagen_Transporter_%28T5%29 , comes in cargo, cab-chassis/pickup and passenger versions. The conversion program described at­solutions/­vehicle-conversions.html includes a flyer comparing 15-22 MPG vans available. Specs for the Transporter conversion give it a 22 mile all-electric range, and 57 MPG for a 50-mile daily drive cycle (the optimized IDEA will get 100 MPG). See coverage and comments at­2009/­08/­bright-transporter-20090811.html and­article/­20090820/­AUTO03/­908200367/­1149/ .

RAPID ELECTRIC VEHICLES EV CONVERSION: At Plug In 2009, this Vancouver, British Columbia company unveiled its 100 mile all-electric range 0-100 mile/hour in seven seconds conversion of the Ford Escape. It partnered with Coulomb Technologies to show "Level 2" (240-volt) charging in 3.5 hours. The vehicle then made a West Coast tour, stopping at multiple cities to meet with prospective customers. (Initial prototypes of the vehicle will sell for over $60,000, with the goal of reducing that to $30,000 in volume.) REV, also focusing on Ford F-150 and Ranger pickups, says it is making rapid progress in "productizing" its prototype so it can be installed quickly and easily by mechanics anywhere, and will announce relationships with suppliers and U,S. and Canadian industry partners. For more about the company and its business model, see a broad-ranging roundup story, "Fleets Likely to Spur Clunker, Guzzler Conversions to Plug Ins"­profiles/­blogs/­fleets-likely-to-spur-clunker (including quotes from us about the market opportunities) and­2009/­08/­13/­rapid-electric-vehicles-rev-offering-45-000-ford-fleet-vehicl/.


ENGINER sells complete 2kWh and 4kWh lithium battery systems for $1,995 and $2,995. This lowest-priced of all conversion options can uniquely also be installed in Generation 1 (pre-2004) Priuses. Enginer has installer partners and offers do-it-yourself instructions. The MIchigan-based company is a consortium between AutomationTech Inc, USA and Australia-owned Enginer Environmentech Ltd., China. AutoBlog Green describes the Enginer system­2009/­08/­11/­enginer-claims-to-have-2-000-plug-in-prius-conversion-kit-ready/. See link to photo of 2002 Prius conversion screen converted February 2009 at­where-phevs-are and we're adding links to this company at our popular "How to Get a PHEV" page http://www.calcarsorg/­howtoget.html .

PLUG-IN CONVERSIONS/LUSCIOUS GARAGE: See an eight-minute interview­x-7102-LA-Alternative-Transportation-Examiner~y2009m8d17-Plug-In-2009-Luscious-Garage with Carolyn Coquillette, whose Luscious Garage is the exclusive San Francisco installer for the Prius conversion from Plug-In Conversions, using Gold Peak nickel-metal hydride batteries and offering all-electric driving at highway speeds. (A PICC system is being installed in CalCars' Ron Gremban's car, which has been a platform for demonstrating multiple technologies since it became the "world's first Prius PHEV" in November 2004.)

CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD REGULATORY LANGUAGE: The ARB has just posted drafts for rulemaking about PHEV test procedures and aftermarket certification requirements at­regact/­2008/­phev09/­phev09.htm .Most relevant are the Notice of Availability of Modified Text and Attachment 5's final language for the criteria approved May 28, which we reported on at­calcars-news/­1061.html , Conversion companies and the public can submit comments for 15 days, until September 14, at­lispub/­comm/­bclist.php .

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