PLUG OK license plate
Electric Avenue--NPR Science Friday interview becomes 6-8th grade curriculum
May 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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Science Friday Kids' ConnectionTM -- in association with Kidsnet
Electric Avenue: Prius Plug-in (April 22, 2005, Hour One)

Program Summary

Toyota's hybrid car, Prius, can get 40 miles to the gallon. How about 100 mph? Shocking, and rightfully so. This dream car would get its boost from electric batteries.

A California non-profit company has designed a conversion kit specifically for the wildly popular hybrid that would improve on the car's "green" engine by making it into a part-time plug-in. The kit's extra batteries plug into an electrical outlet and hold a charge that powers the car entirely on electricity 20-60 miles, after which its hybrid gasoline-electric engine kicks in so you're not stuck on the roadside. The company says it's great for the lower-speed, short commutes that comprise the majority of our automobile use. Less gas consumption, fewer emissions, a cleaner environment.

The hitch: The kit is not a Toyota product, and the auto manufacturer says that owners who install it void the car's warranty, discouraging many Prius owners from trying the kit. Ira's guest is not out to take business away from the auto companies; in fact, he hopes to persuade them to work together with his company to incorporate the technology into a product that would be beneficial and affordable.


Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative in Palo Alto, California

Related Links and Resources

Business Week, April 11, 2005: Giving Hybrids A Real Jolt
California Cars Initiative: Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles
California Cars Initiative: How We Green-Tuned an '04 Prius Into a PRIUS+
Plug-In Hybrid!
Yahoo! Groups: priusplus, April 5, 2005: Hybrid-car tinkerers scoff at no-plug-in rule

For Discussion:

  • How does a hybrid engine work? How does an all-electric engine work?
  • What are the advantages of an all-electric car? What are the drawbacks?
  • What are the advantages of a hybrid car? How does the Prius conversion kit improve on it?
  • What are the objections of the hybrid car manufacturers to plug-in cars or conversion kits?
  • Electric cars were common in the early years of the automobile. Why were they phased out?


Get a real charge out of it. Get the details on the mechanics of an electric car at How Electric Cars Work from and brush up on history at's History of Electric Vehicles. HowStuffWorks also has a good interactive explanation of How Hybrid Cars Work. Because of its dependence on the car, California has always been in the vanguard of pollution reduction and gas conservation; The California Energy Commission's Student's Guide to Alternative Fuel Vehicles discusses Hybrid Vehicles and Electric Vehicles and talks about they have been used effectively by the California government. Have students research the government use of alternative fuel vehicles in your community.

Cross purposes. Hybrid Automobiles, a lesson plan from NewsHour Extra, is a rather technical look at hybrids, but your mechanically inclined students will love it. It has hands-on demos and research projects that compare the various electric and hybrid cars in terms of structure, price, efficiency, gas mileage, and emissions. It also suggests inviting a dealership to bring a hybrid to school for a demonstration.

Out of gas. Car makers say that consumers don't want one that has to be plugged in, but General Motors' EV1 all-electric car of the 1990s had a hardcore corps of fans. Learn about the little engine that could and why GM decided to discontinue it at GM Pulls Plug On Electric Car and GM Crushes Electric Car Hopes. DaimlerChrysler manufactures an electric "neighborhood" car (GEM - "Driving around town has never been this FUN!"), but, as a caller points out, insurance companies won't touch it.

Pucker up. What primes your pump? Gasoline, the sun, corn alcohol, diesel, electricity? How about...lemons! Energy Quest's Lemon Power science project makes a battery out a lemon. Sadly, there would never be enough current to light a flashlight (let alone a car), but you can always make lemonade! Visit Dr. Dan's Lemon Power Web site to try out stuff lemons will run.

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