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10 Talking Points for Plug-In Hybrids
Sep 9, 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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We've been refining these for some time, and now we're ready for your comments/suggestions. In particular, it took us years to come up with a simple way to explain PHEVs and their benefit in one sentence -- now that's Point #2.

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10 Talking Points for Plug-In Hybrids

1. Today's hybrids are still 100% gasoline-fueled. They're more efficient than non-hybrids because they don't idle, they use smaller engines, and they recapture braking energy into a battery for use later. It's a great improvement. But tapping the full potential of hybrids can save much more gasoline along with many other benefits.

2. Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) simply add a second cleaner, cheaper, and domestic energy source for your car: electricity. It's like having a second small fuel tank that you always use first. You fill this one at home with electricity from an ordinary 120-volt socket, at a cost equivalent to less than $1/gallon. Assumptions:

  • Toyota Prius: 260 Watt-hours per electric mile at "off-peak" (overnight) electricity rate (8.8 cents/kilowatt hour) equals a cost of 2.3 cents/mile. Multiply this by the 45 miles per gallon of a typical Prius and you get the equivalent of $1.03/gallon.
  • Typical Non-Hybrid SUV: 400 Watt-hours per electric-mile at the off-peak rate of 8.8 cents/kilowatt hour equals a cost of 3.5 cents/mile. Multiply this by this less efficient vehicle's average of 18 miles/gallon and you get an even better $0.63/gallon. (SUVs get low mileage, so they can improve more!) Here's another way to think about it: At $3 for a gallon of gas, driving a non-hybrid car costs 8-20 cents a mile (depending on its miles/gallon). With a PHEV, all-electric local travel and commuting can drop to 2-4 cents a mile.

3. If your batteries have a longer range than your average daily commute, you'll rarely need gas. But if you forget to plug in or you have to go on a longer trip, you still have the same extended range you've always had from the gasoline engine -- and you're still driving a relatively clean and efficient hybrid.

4. Using electricity for your daily local travel improves "energy security." PHEVs have been endorsed by a "neo-con-green" alliance of environmentalists and national security conservatives who see it as the best way to rapidly reduce consumption of imported oil. They want car makers to add the "flex-fuel" feature (at a cost of $150) so PHEVs can run on biodiesel or cellulosic ethanol. This is how PHEVs can get 500 miles/gallon of gasoline (+ electricity + biofuels).

5. PHEVs can provide emergency backup power. Suitably equipped hybrids and PHEVs can serve as mobile electricity generators after natural disasters, providing low-emission 120-volt power for days to emergency centers and individual homes.

6. Electricity is cleaner than gasoline and addresses global warming. Even though over half of the nation's electricity is produced from coal, when you count all the emissions from the oil well or mine to the car's wheels, an electric vehicle produces about half the greenhouse gases of a gasoline car. These excellent numbers improve as laws increasingly require the power grid to get cleaner and more renewable. California's new law requires 30% greenhouse gas reductions in new vehicles within 10 years; PHEVs could double that goal starting in two years.

7. The troubled auto industry needs new solutions. American car makers missed the boat on hybrid technology and are playing catch up. PHEVs offer them the opportunity to leapfrog their competitors. Getting car buyers excited about clean, advanced technology cars could save one or more beleaguered car company. Component suppliers see the opportunity and have formed an Advanced Hybrid Vehicle Development Consortium to demonstrate performance and to speed an automaker's path to commercialization.

8. Mass-produced PHEVs can pay for themselves in higher fuel savings and reduced maintenance costs. Car makers could sell mass-produced PHEVs for $3,000 more than current hybrids, and $5,000 more for hybrid SUVs. Early adopter buyers will pay extra for this "feature," just as current car buyers pay for larger engines or leather seats without expecting a return. The bonus? Projections based on real-world experience from electric car fleets demonstrate that PHEVs have a lower lifetime cost of ownership than any other vehicle type.

9. PHEVs already exist. Dr. Andy Frank pioneered at UC Davis turning Ford and GM vehicles into PHEVs. The Electric Power Research Institute worked with DaimlerChrysler to design small numbers of PHEVs based on the Mercedes Sprinter (15-passenger commercial van), using lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries. They'll be delivered by early 2006 to Federal Express, The New York Times and electric utility fleets. Last year, non-profit CalCars built the first PRIUS+ conversion. Then for-profit EnergyCS built a more advanced version, and launched EDrive Systems to sell installed conversions to Prius owners in 2006. CalCars is now looking at the Ford Escape and other hybrids to meet a fleet market demand we estimate at 10,000-100,000 vehicles.

10. Fleet buyers can lead the way; government can play a role. A local Plug-In Austin Campaign has launched and a national 50-City Plan for a large fleet buy is in the works. And, motivated by high battlefield fuel costs and attracted to the no-heat "footprint" of electric vehicles, the military may be the next big buyer. Former cabinet members and current Senators from both parties endorse PHEVs as the fastest way to significantly cut gasoline use. New hybrid tax credits (not deductions) help buy down extra costs. Some companies are starting to subsidize employee purchases of hybrids. Other legislative initiatives, including incentives to car makers and buyers, will come from all levels of government.

These points are by The California Cars Initiative, a non-profit group of engineers, environmentalists and entrepreneurs that combines technology development and advocacy. Our goal is to get car companies to build PHEVs. Want to know more -- or see links for topics mentioned? One place to start is at CalCars' Frequently Asked Questions. There you can find a 2-page printable flyer version of these Talking Points, and a "recommended packet" of articles about PHEVs and Calcars.

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