PLUG OK license plate
NPR All Things Considered + 2 related stories
Feb 10, 2006 (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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It's another banner week for the growing interest and support for PHEVs. After you read or listen to this 4 minute story --and the two items below -- go to our blog, Did Toyota Blunder Today?­blogs/­power/­did-toyota-blunder, to see why we ask that question -- and say how you think we all might respond.­templates/­story/­story.php?storyId=5199197
National Public Radio
All Things Considered (national afternoon news show)

Website text and photo:
Can You Get More out of Your Hybrid?
by Martin Kaste

WEBSITE TEXT: A tiny group of enthusiasts in California say they've demonstrated how to push your Prius to get as many as 99.9 miles per gallon -- if you're willing to plug it in overnight. Toyota says that although the idea is intriguing, it's not ready for prime time. PHOTO CAPTION: Ron Gremban shows off the power cord and extra batteries on his "hacked" '04 Prius, which he says gets him more than 100 mpg in city driving. LINK: LISTEN (4 minutes)

TRANSCRIPT (Thanks for rapid help to Greg Willey from Fair Oaks, CA)

Announcer: 50 miles a gallon is not uncommon for hybrid owners, but for a handful of tinkerers in California 50 miles per gallon is nothin'.

They say they've doubled the fuel efficiency of a Toyota Prius with the help of an extension cord. NPR's MK reports.

Martin Kaste/NPR: Electrical engineer Ron Gremban has been dreaming about electric cars since at least 1968, when he and some other Cal Tech students took on MIT in a cross country race.

Ron Gremban: It took eight and three quarters days to drive day and night across the country electrically, and the three of us in the Cal Tech team became the first three people to cross the continent on electric power.

MK: The Cal Tech vehicle was a VW bus loaded with 2,000 pounds of batteries. Very 1960s but not quite ready for the showroom. In the decade since Gremban has been trying to find ways to bring electric cars to the American consumer. But he could never figure out how to raise enough money to do the job right. But now as he drives his 2004 Prius around San Francisco, it would seem that Toyota has done the job for him.

RG: Oh, this is a dramatically nicer car.

MK: Actually, Toyota has done most of the job.

RG: Basically we've got a really good mass-produced car that we've just made minor changes to, to make it much more electric-centric.

MK: Grembran has added a plug. Hybrids aren't supposed to have plugs, they charge their batteries internally from the engine and the breaks, but Grembran says, "Why not charge it even more?" By replacing a computer and installing bigger batteries he's made a Prius that doesn't bother to turn on its gasoline engine until you hit 34 miles an hour. The result is a dashboard display with some pretty impressive numbers.

RG: Look at the mileage right now. We've gone 3 miles, we've got an average of 93.8 miles per gallon.

MK: Grembran helps run a non-profit called CalCars which is trying to convince car companies to build plug-ins. The group says such cars could cut oil use dramatically, shifting much of our transportation energy needs to the electrical grid. They say plug-ins are a lot cheaper to drive than regular hybrids, especially because most of the charging would happen at night when power is sold at off-peak rates. Toyota's response to the hacked hybrids has been ambivalent at best.

Toyota Representative Cindy Knight: You can certainly make a vehicle that will run, but you can't necessarily make a vehicle that people will buy.

MK: Spokeswomen Cindy Knight says Toyota does not think the concept is ready for prime time, at least not until there's a technological breakthrough in batteries that are lighter, more durable and cheaper. She doesn't rule it out for Toyota, but she says that the company also has to keep certain marketing concerns in mind.

CK: Toyota went to great lengths to address the drawbacks of battery vehicles so that people do not have to plug our hybrids in, and our customers tell us that that is one of the features they like about the vehicle, they don't have to plug it in.

Felix Kramer: We're turning that whole, "you don't have to plug it in" around and we're saying "you get to plug it in".

MK: Felix Kramer, a co-founder of CalCars, says the fact that plug-in hybrids have gas tanks makes them more flexible than previous all-electric cars. Even if you forget to plug it in he says, you can still drive to the mountains for the weekend.

FK: It's about the open road and going wherever you want whenever you want. I kind of figured that electric vehicles aren't going to make it, until I discovered plug-in hybrids and I realized this is the best of both worlds.

MK: The catch? Price. A company called EDrive Systems in Los Angeles will offer Prius plug in packages starting this spring, for as much as $12,000. Fans of the technology say drivers can make this money back in saved gas, but it will be a good test of just how far hybrid drivers will go to goose that fuel efficiency number on the dashboard display.

Martin Kaste NPR News.

We have been tracking automakers' responses to individual and media questions about whether they will build PHEVs...see­carmakers.html. Here's the latest: a "Toyota Customer Experience" Service Rep's response to an individual email: Thank you for contacting Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. We appreciate your interest in Toyota. We apologize; we do not currently have any announced plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid Toyota vehicle in the U.S. We are, however, aware of consumer interest in this type of vehicle and have documented your comments at our National Headquarters under file #200602070564.

3. AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20060209/­UPDATE/­602090452 Detroit News February 9, 2006

Chicago Auto Show: Toyota introduces the 2007 Tundra pickup John McCormick /

Calling it the biggest, boldest, bad-ass truck in Toyota's history, company President. Jim Press introduced the 2007 Tundra pickup.

"This is Toyota's biggest product launch ever. It is a gargantuan leap to the head of the pack," said Press.

The new Tundra is 10 inches longer than the current model and comes in 30 different model configurations -three powertrains, 4.0 liter V-6, 4.7 liter V-8 and 5.7 liter V-8 will be offered when the truck goes on sale in a year's time.

Among the vehicles highlights are a maximum towing capacity in excess of 10,000 lbs., a ULEV capable 5.7 engine, and three cab and cargo bed configurations.

Toyota expects to sell 200,000 Tundra's in the first full year with the vehicle being produced in Texas and Indiana. No pricing was announced but Press promised the new Tundra will continue to offer the "best value in the market."

Read reactions and offer your suggestions for how we can respond to these events at CalCars "Power, Plugs and People Blog: Did Toyota Blunder Today?­blogs/­power/­did-toyota-blunder.

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