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Waco Tribune on Plug-In Austin and PHEVs
Sep 5, 2005 (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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"If there is any validity to the law of supply and demand, any automaker with a lick of sense will start cranking out PHEVs."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

How does 250 mpg sound?
Rowland Nethaway, Senior editor

Car manufacturers should crank out plug-in hybrids

Just as shade-tree mechanics made an industry out of boosting the power of automobile engines, engineers and tinkerers now modify hybrid cars to get amazing gas mileage results.

While the typical showroom Toyota Prius hybrid, regarded as one of the best hybrids on the market, can get in the range of 45 or better miles per gallon, depending on the type of driving, modified plug-in models of the Prius have gotten three to four times better gas mileage.

The fast-growing cottage industry of modifying hybrid cars into plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) is gaining such popularity that the city of Austin has announced plans to set aside $1 million to help people buy these new plug-in hybrids.

Austin Mayor Will Wynn is trying to promote demand for PHEVs. He not only wants to help citizens buy these super fuel-efficient vehicles, he wants his city to join with other local governments in adding plug-in hybrids to their vehicle fleets, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Unfortunately, only modified versions of production hybrids now are available.

Wynn is leading a petition drive to encourage automobile manufacturers to start cranking out plug-in hybrids once they know that motorists and governmental entities are lining up ready to buy PHEVs.

If there is any validity to the law of supply and demand, any automaker with a lick of sense will start cranking out PHEVs.

Current hybrids are powered by internal combustion engines and batteries that are charged during braking and coasting.

Plug-in hybrids add more and better batteries that extend the time the vehicles can be driven with electric power. The batteries can also be recharged by plugging the vehicles into regular electric wall sockets. Experimental plug-in hybrids have gotten up to 250 mpg.

Some of the engineers tinkering with modified hybrids believe the technology now exits to run biofuels such as ethanol in the plug-in hybrids' internal combustion engines and completely eliminate reliance on petroleum products.

The problem with turning current hybrids into PHEVs is that the conversions currently cost several thousand dollars, and the extra batteries add some weight and take up some space. Perhaps most importantly, the modifications likely void the manufacturer's warranty. Still, conversions gain in popularity.

This is not dream technology. It exists today.

Wynn said the technology that can be employed by plug-in hybrids promises to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality and save motorists money by lowering gasoline bills.

What's more, the new energy bill President Bush recently signed into law contains a hybrid tax credit that will shave $1,700 to $3,000 off of tax bills, depending on the model vehicle. The size of the tax credit increases as the fuel efficiency of the hybrid increases.

The hybrid tax credit, which goes into effect Jan. 1, is more helpful than the old hybrid income-tax deduction that was being phased out since credits represent a direct dollar-for-dollar reduction in the purchaser's tax bill.

Fortunately, one car manufacturer is responding to the growing wail of motorists demanding plug-in hybrids. Austin officials expect DaimlerChrysler AG to deliver the first manufactured plug-in hybrid vehicles to their city and others sometime next year.

City officials estimate that 70 to 80 cents on electric bills will provide as much energy as a $2.50 gallon of gasoline. According to the American-Statesman, Austin officials also estimate that plug-in hybrids will travel 35 miles without burning gasoline and could cut national gasoline usage by 70 percent.

If the demand for plug-in hybrids is as strong as it appears, DaimlerChrysler stockholders should be in for a pleasant ride of their own.

Then again, if gasoline prices drop back to $1.50 a gallon, hybrid demand will plummet. So we are left to root for high gas prices and more hybrids or low gas prices and more Hummers unless there is a plug-in Hummer on the drawing board.

Rowland Nethaway's column appears Wednesday and Friday. E-mail: RNethaway@...

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