PLUG OK license plate
Business 2.0 on Prius Conversions; NYTimes Op-Ed on Coal
Jun 23, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
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Business 2.0 (a Time-Warner publication), July 2006 (not yet online), story includes a large photo of an EnergyCS car with a plug, captioned, "PLUG-AND-PLAY: Nortman's modified Prius gets 100 mpg." And below, today's New York Timies has an important Op-Ed on coal that talks about PHEVs.

What's Next: Autos The Hack-a-Hybrid Kit by David Kushner Rising gas prices and booming sales of the Toyota Prius mean a big opportunity for Pete Nortman. A year and a half ago, the Monrovia, Calif., engineer hacked his Prius by replacing the battery with a lithium-ion version and adding a system that plugs into an ordinary 110-volt socket. After charging in the garage overnight, the souped-up Prius gets about 100 miles per gallon-roughly twice what a regular Prius gets at best. "this is just the beginning," Nortman says.

Now EDrive, the startup Nortman co-founded, and Hymotion, a competitor based outside Toronto, are set to turn such tinkering into cash. They're the first two companies to market PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) kits for Prius drivers. The EDrive kit will debut by December with a price of $12,000, installation included. Hymotion's kit, also due later this year, will cost $12,500, a figure that co-founder Ricardo Bazzarella plans to drop to $6,500 by this time next year. He estimates profit margins of 20 to -25 percent and says the success of his business hinges on public awareness.

In that, the hybrid hackers get an assist from nonprofits like Palo Alto-based California Cars Initiative. The group holds public PHEV demos and predicts a market for as many as 100,000 plug-in vehicles (260,000 Priuses have been sold in the United States). "The goal is to make carmakers build these cars," says the group's founder, Felix Kramer. Toyota's response: "We admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the people making conversions," says spokeswoman Cindy Knight. "This is something we're seriously investigating ourselves."

Also today, a long New York Times Op-Ed, Our Black Future, by Jeff Godell, author of "Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future,".­2006/­06/­23/­opinion/­23goodell.html,also in the International Herald Tribune­articles/­2006/­06/­23/­opinion/­edgoodell.php, asks, "Is the bridge to energy independence paved in black? It talks about the coal-to-liquid solution. Then he says, "Put aside the question of whether raising fuel efficiency standards for vehicles could achieve the same goal at far less cost. Instead, let's consider the wisdom of substituting one fossil fuel for another." He goes on to explore the consequences for air quality, water use, and greenhouse gases. Here are the concluding paragraphs:

Coal-to-liquids plants might make sense for generating back-up fuel for the military. And there are certainly ways coal can play a role in reducing the demand for oil without destroying the climate. Instead of building coal-to-liquids plants, it would be smarter to push for the development of plug-in hybrid cars, which have larger batteries than conventional hybrids, allowing them to replace gasoline with grid-generated electricity and to emit 65 percent less carbon dioxide than conventional cars. But coal boosters are less interested in promoting this path, in part because it would undercut the industry's goal of becoming "the OPEC of coal." The very phrase suggests the industry's monopolistic impulses.

The biggest problem with our bounty of coal is not what it does to our mountains or the atmosphere, but what it does to our minds. It preserves the illusion that we don't have to change our lives. Given the profound challenges we face with the end of cheap oil and the arrival of global warming, this is a dangerous fantasy.

If we had less coal, we might replace the 19th-century notion that we can drill and burn our way to prosperity with a more modern view of efficiency and sustainability. Instead of spending billions of dollars each year to subsidize tapping out yet another finite resource, we'd pour that money into solar energy, biofuels and other renewable resources.

We'd be creating jobs in new industries, not protecting them in old ones. And we'd understand that the real fuel of the future is not coal but creativity.

Jeff Goodell is the author of "Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future."

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