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Articles: Technology Review on PHEVs in DC; CNET on Hacking Prius
May 25, 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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Technology Review, the world's oldest technology magazine (owned by MIT) had a reporter at our Capitol Hill event. His photos give a clear shot of the Electro Energy car.­read_article.aspx?id=16922&ch=biztech Technology Review Wednesday, May 24, 2006 Plug-In Hybrids Are on the Way Cars with advanced batteries get 100 mpg and boast far greater range than all-electric vehicles. By Kevin Bullis

CAPTION: A new nickel-metal hydride battery design cuts battery size and cost. Using it, this retrofitted Prius gets over 100 mpg. (The battery pack is located under the green controller box.) (Photo by Kevin Bullis with a Treo 650 camera phone.)

Last week in Washington, DC -- even as top executives from Ford, Chrysler, and GM asked lawmakers to subsidize the installation of more ethanol pumps at filling stations -- makers of new battery systems were letting U.S. senators test-drive prototype cars that get over 100 miles per gallon, but don't require any new infrastructure.

The vehicles in this road show, which are called plug-in hybrids, were Toyota Priuses retrofitted with large advanced battery packs that can be charged overnight and used to power the cars electrically for short trips. "If you look at how people typically drive cars, about half of the driving that you use gasoline for you could be using the electricity that comes out of your wall," says Martin Klein, CEO of Electro Energy of Danbury, CT, which developed the battery pack and control system for one of the cars on display in Washington. What's more, he says, the existing power grid means that "the infrastructure is all in place." [Click here for some shots of plug-in hybrids.]

Ordinary hybrids get all their energy from gasoline, but they are much more efficient than conventional cars because extra energy from the engine and braking is stored in a battery pack, which powers an electric motor to boost acceleration and even fuel the car completely for short distances at low speeds. The boost allows hybrid automakers to use a smaller, more efficient internal-combustion engine without sacrificing performance. And hybrids also save gas by turning off their engines when stopped in traffic or at a stoplight. Overall, the fuel economy of a conventional Prius is around 50 miles per gallon.

Plug-in hybrids have a larger battery pack, which allows them to run on the electric motor much longer -- for 20-25 miles in the case of the Electro Energy car. The battery is charged from an ordinary electrical outlet. Thus, a commuter who drives 10 or 15 miles to work on city streets could recharge the battery at night and make the commute entirely on electricity. Others would need the gasoline engine at highway speeds, but could rely on the battery while driving in the city. When the energy stored up overnight runs out, the car slips into conventional hybrid mode until the next charge. This gives the vehicle an advantage over all-electric vehicles, which have been hampered by limited range due to limited battery storage capacity.

The retrofitted plug-in hybrid is still far from mass production, however. Mark Verbrugge, director of the Materials and Processes Laboratory at GM, says developing a new kind of car costs about a billion dollars, so automakers want to be sure that it will actually sell. In the past, attempts to introduce electric vehicles have not been commercial successes. The primary concerns about plug-in vehicles include the cost of the system and the safety and lifetime of the large battery packs. Electro Energy's Klein estimates that the company's batteries will need to be replaced every five years -- well short of the 10 to 15 years automakers think would appeal to consumers.

Electro Energy engineers replaced the nickel-metal hydride battery used in the Prius with a battery using the same chemistry, but assembled in a much simpler, more compact way. Klein estimates that if automakers were to integrate the new batteries into cars from the beginning, the cars would cost about $5,000 more than a conventional car. As it is, the conversion kits will add $5,000 to the cost of a Prius, which already sells for thousands more than a conventional car in the same class. Electro Energy plans to retrofit more demonstration cars in the next 12 months, with the possibility of ramping up production to thousands of units in the following year.

Another company developing plug-in electrics is EnergyCS of Monrovia, CA, which uses lithium-ion batteries developed by Valence Technology of Austin, TX. Lithium-ion batteries currently cost more than nickel-metal hydride ones, but they're lighter, which could increase efficiency. The company is marketing the system through EDrive Systems of Los Angeles and plans to start retrofitting Priuses for under $12,000. A Toronto company, Hymotion, expects to offer consumers plug-in hybrid kits for a variety of hybrids by later this year; the Prius kit will cost about $9,500.

Includes a photo of our car and a link to an April C|NET story about
CalCars at the Maker Faire.­Hacking+your+Prius/­2100-11389_3-6074671.html?tag=st.num
Hacking your Prius
By Daniel Terdiman
Staff Writer, CNET
Published: May 22, 2006, 4:00 AM PDT

Heaven knows, Prius owners love their hybrid cars.

But some of the most passionate among them are finding there are certain factory-set features they don't like, and they're increasingly finding ways to take matters into their own hands to change them.

They're the do-it-yourself Prius hackers, many of whom likely are more comfortable in front of a computer than in a garage. But unlike early generations of car buffs, they're more interested in saving the planet than winning a drag race.

"It's the new breed of hot-rodders," said Phillip Torrone, an associate editor at do-it-yourself tech journal Make Magazine. "In the 1950s, it was all about getting more speed. Now, instead of getting more horsepower, it's about getting more miles per gallon. So your hot-rodders are going to be your hot-greeners."

Jacob Gordon, a writer for the online publication Treehugger who has covered several kinds of Prius hacks, said that today's high gas prices and widely publicized energy crisis mandate such behavior.

"People want environmental technological solutions, and they want them faster than the market can necessarily dish them out, so they take things into their own hands," said Gordon. "With hacking the Prius, a lot of it is looking at your energy consumption, and a lot of stuff in the Prius is latently available, because the Prius has such an advanced computer system, but much of it is not available to the driver until you start messing around with it."

It became a pretty tight-knit community. So ideas are passed back and forth. --Dave Watson president, Coastal Electronics Of course, it's not just about the mileage. On late-model Priuses, for example, when the car is in reverse, there is a loud beeping sound. There's also a similar sound when the driver or the front passenger isn't wearing a seat belt. Some people want to turn off the beep.

Though Toyota said there is a method described in the Prius' manual for overriding the backup beeping sound, some say the procedure is not easy to find.

"It's not something they advertise (and) whether it's buried someplace or not, I don't know," said Patricia Pizer, a Los Angeles video game designer and Prius owner. "But they're not very upfront about it."

So what do you do about it? Pizer took advantage of what she said was a relatively simple hack. "It's quite a few steps, and you have to turn the car on and off, and you have to get the sequence right, (but) it was a piece of cake," said Pizer. "It reminded me of beta testers. Beta testers in a game will have a 20-step sequence for finding an exploit, and they're bizarre, bizarre sets of steps. It was very much like that, and I loved the idea of people figuring it out."

Other hacks include making it possible for a Prius to drive mostly on battery power and in the process get nearly 100 miles per gallon, and driving an American Prius in all-electric mode at low speeds--a standard feature on European and Japanese models.

Another hack makes it possible to use the car's onboard navigation system while driving, something that is impossible on a Prius right off a showroom floor.

Dave Watson, president of Coastal Electronics, which markets several Prius modification kits, said that the hybrid car owners generally have the know-how, motivation and connection to other Prius owners to search for the latest hacks.

"The early (Prius) adopters were typically a very high-tech crowd, and there were such long lead-times (to get a Prius) and short supply," Watson said, "that they grouped together, and it became a pretty tight-knit community. So ideas are passed back and forth.

For its part, Toyota recognizes that some Prius owners will want to hack their cars, but the company doesn't condone the behavior.

"There are people out there who have hacked into the system," said Bill Kwong, a Toyota spokesman. "The tech is out there for technicians. But we don't encourage consumers to do that."

Speaking about the hack that allows Prius owners to use the navigation system while driving, Kwong added, "It is hazardous. It's like talking on the phone or shaving while you're operating the vehicle."

But to Watson, whose company sells a system that allows use of the navigation system while driving, that's exactly the point.

"It's an odd situation," Watson said, emphasizing that Coastal Electronics thinks the system should only be used by the passenger in a Prius. "You can use the radio (and other equipment while driving). It's an arbitrary thing as to what is safe and what is not."

Pizer is also a fan of the hack that allows American Prius owners to switch their hybrids to all-electric mode while driving locally at low speeds. She hasn't installed the system yet that enables the on-the-fly switchover, but expects to soon.

And she's perplexed as to why the button that automatically performs the switch on European and Japanese Priuses is missing in the U.S.

The fact that the feature isn't available in the U.S. may have to do with the way the Environmental Protection Agency measures fuel efficiency in the U.S., and that such a dual-power system would upset such measurements, said Coastal Electronics' Watson.

Kwong said Toyota doesn't offer the switch to electric mode because of U.S. laws mandating that it offer a minimum eight-year warranty for the car's power system. Thus, he said, by disabling the switch, the company is able to ensure a longer battery life.

Torrone said that he thinks Prius owners are likely to keep the hybrid car among the most popular vehicles for hacking for the foreseeable future.

"I think that this might be the new hackable car platform, as there's more (and more) information out there" about the Prius' electronic systems, said Torrone. "Some of this is dangerous, but that's OK. So was modding cars in the 1950s. I think it's all the same, there's just more electricity involved now."

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