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Woolsey Backs Gas-Guzzler Retrofits; Cheaper Volt?; Ron's Bittersweet Volt Moment
Mar 11, 2011 (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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For several years, CalCars has been a near-lone voice in suggesting to thought-leaders in the energy security and environmental communities that we need conversions of existing internal combustion vehicles to accelerate the market penetration rates for plug-in vehicles. While getting a million new plug-ins by 2015 will be a near-miraculous accomplishment, it will remain an underpowered achievement. And with 250 vehicles on the road, so would a subsequent 10-15 million more in a decade. So we're encouraged that the highly influential James Woolsey is now speaking positively of this strategy. Details below. Plus an encouraging report that production costs for the Chevy Volt could go down! Finally, we reproduce an important report by Ron Gremban, CalCars Technology Lead, after he refueled his Volt for the first time. This includes our announcement that he has begun to instrument his car to gain more data about the driving operations of the Chevy Volt -- which could lead to a new open-source project for CalCars. Comments and additional info at the URL.

JAMES WOOLSEY is the former CIA Director, member of Vantage Point Venture Partners (investors in Tesla and other cleantech companies), founding member of the Set America Free Coalition, renowned for describing the plug-in campaign as "a coalition of tree huggers, do-gooders, sod busters, cheap hawks, evangelicals, mom and pop drivers -- and Willie Nelson." Here's what he said as part of an interview with Brad Berman, publisher of at­exclusive-ex-CIA-chief-chevy-volt-saudi-arabia-106911.html

Q: Given how long market adoption takes, can electric cars and plug-in hybrids roll out fast enough to make a real impact on energy security? A: We've got to have conversions of existing vehicles both to FFVs [flex-fuel vehicles] and to plug-ins. If you can convert existing vehicles to be plug-ins, and come up with something that's a few hundred dollars to convert existing vehicles--whether they're hybrids or not--to be FFVs, then you can strike a blow against oil really fast because you don't have to wait for the automotive companies to tool up, do studies and so forth.

Q: Short of conversions, you're talking very incremental change--single percentage points of new car sales. A: The reason we want to look at conversions is you can go so much faster. Even if conversions don't work for 75 percent of the vehicles out there, if they work for 25 percent, that's still going 25 times faster than several years of waiting for new cars to come into the market.

OUR COMMENTS: We welcome James Woolsey's support for the concept of gas-guzzler conversions! In this interview, he combines two very distinct strategies:

  • retrofits of existing vehicles to FFV, which as he says, could perhaps be done for hundreds of dollars. (Of course, using U.S. corn-based ethanol has multiple negative impacts; Woolsey is hopeful for cellulosic ethanol, whose progress has been far slower than expected.)
  • conversion of the low-hanging 25% of vehicles to plug-ins. Obviously the latter is far more expensive--north of $20K, which of course argues for an equivalent federal incentive given the high petroleum displacement benefit.

CalCars has proposed high-volume, fully-warrantied conversions of what Andy Grove calls PSVs -- Pickups, SUVs and Vans (and buses) to EV or PHEV depending on designs/drive cycles. Our general page on with white paper, news, links, etc. is­ice-conversions.html. We've concluded this has to be driven by real businesses rather than advocacy.

We've been working with a few companies struggling to get started doing this. We have hopes that at least one company, ALTe, may soon gain the public and private resources to begin working on a scalable plan involving dozens of national corporate customers to convert thousands of large fleet vehicles. Stay tuned!

RE-ENGINEERING THE CHEVY VOLT Dnaiel Howes, business columnist and associare business editor of The Detroit News, has an unconfirmed report that GM's CEO has challenged the Volt team, through a combination of increased production and engineering and technology improvements to cut up to $10,000 in costs from a car that retails for $41,000 (minus federal tax credits) -- and the team is rising to the challenge! We don't expect to hear any more about this for some time, but it is encouraging news. See­article/­20110308/­OPINION03/­103080329/

RON GREMBAN'S BITTERSWEET CHEVY VOLT MOMENT: Read about it at­my-bittersweet-chevy-volt-moment-106861.html . This was posted two weeks ago; since then, in addition to many comments, you'll find four updates and expanded comments from Ron. The CalCars "PRIUS+" conversion project (still found at ) grew out of early discussions similar to this. We are not now proposing to modify the Chevy Volt -- GM has done a great job building the car and will be improving it significantly over time. But that doesn't mean we can't all benefit from a far greater understanding of how the car operates than what is now available in vehicle displays and online apps. Start by reading Ron's original post, then go online for graphic displays, comments, and additions.

My first trip to the gas station in two months. The efficiency tally is 980 electric miles at 2.43 miles per/kWh, and 250 miles at 32.5 mpg.

February 22 marked two months since the December 2010 delivery of my Chevy Volt , number 24 off the assembly line. (See photos from the event.) Once this marvelous vehicle had reached 1,291 miles on the odometer--1,212 miles since I got it--I experienced what car owners all over the world endure far more often: for the first time, I had to visit a gas station. I found this a bittersweet experience. Ron's Volt Efficiency

Bitter because I finally had to do it--my dashboard informed me that gasoline range was down to 34 miles--and helping to fund the oil oligarchy in the process, though only to the tune of $30.61 or $184 a year. Sweet because I used so little gasoline, though I had it available to extend my electric range whenever necessary.

It took 7.7 gallons to fill the tank, an average of 157 mpg (plus electricity)-actually higher, since the tank was not full when I got the car! Because GM used a lot of gasoline testing my car in the 79 miles before I got it, my dashboard indicates "only" 137 lifetime mpg.

In charge-sustaining mode--when the battery is depleted--I have usually been getting 30 - 35 mpg. If we call it 32.5 mpg, it means I drove 250 miles on gasoline and 980 miles or 80% of the time on electricity. Though I haven't yet taken any long-distance trips, I have driven extensively around the San Francisco Bay area. My ChargePoint Driver Portal shows 401 kWh of electricity consumption. I used another 2 kWh charging elsewhere. My electric efficiency from the wall was therefore 411 watt-hours per mile, 2.43 mi/kWh, or 82 mpge (as the EPA calculates it). The overall efficiency was 63 MPGe.

I'm not complaining, but both gasoline and electric mileage are much lower than expected. I'm not sure why, but I'm hoping these figures will improve as the car gets loosened up and the weather gets warmer and drier. I have neither been hypermiling nor acting like a race-car driver. In fact, I've been driving similar to what used to get me 40 mpg in my Prius and 80-100+ mpg when driving it as a plug-in conversion.

I do know three things that have contributed to high electric consumption. First, with Bay Area temperatures between 30-70 degrees F, I've made moderate use of (electric) cabin heat and the Volt's wonderful heated seats. Second, to minimize gasoline use, I've charged almost every time I've arrived back at home, even after just a few miles of driving. I'm sure such top-off charges are less efficient than full charges, because low charge rate and charge balancing inefficiencies occur mostly near end-of-charge. Third, I've seen noticeably higher fuel consumption during the frequent rain we've been having. This is hard to track as 80% of my miles have been electric, and the Volt gives its driver no electric power or energy information--a major oversight in my opinion.

We are initiating a new open-source project to equip my Volt with digital instrumentation that plugs into the vehicle's service port to log, learn, and disseminate important unseen details about this groundbreaking and very complex vehicle's operation, capabilities, and efficiencies in actual consumer hands. If you can provide any technology, information, or financing for this effort, please email info - at-

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