Jun 30, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Last November, Nancy Gioia took over Ford's hybrid and sustainable vehicles program from Mary Ann Wright, who had run the program for five years. (Gioia's biography is at http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=21922. Her interview with the Chicago Tribune's automotive columnist appear to be her first extended comments on PHEVs.
Plug-in hybrid an answer, probably not the answer Jim Mateja, Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2006
When General Motors introduced the battery-powered car in the late 1990s, environmentalists insisted that the whole auto industry go electric--pronto.
When batteries turned out to have a short cruising range and a long recharge time, some carmakers shifted to gas/electrics as the way to save gas. The cry became convert to hybrids--pronto.
Now that consumers question getting enough mileage to offset the $2,000 to $5,000 premium for a hybrid, the new "answer" is plug-in hybrids.
A plug-in essentially is an electric car with a gas engine as a backup to increase driving range when needed. That should be frequently because the batteries have a range of about 30 miles before an overnight recharge.
So the gas engine comes into play if you want to travel 40 miles and not stop eight hours to juice the batteries.
In theory, you could drive to work and back all week and never consume a drop of gas. Simply plug the battery pack into the wall socket at night and be ready to go again in the morning.
A regular gas/electric uses the batteries to start the vehicle, get it up to cruising speed and provide a power boost when needed, such as passing.
These hybrids recharge the batteries as you drive by capturing the energy used in braking and sending it back to the pack. No need to plug into a socket overnight, but, of course, they burn gas.
Not everyone is convinced plug-in hybrids are the solution.
"We continue to look at it but feel there has been more hype than understanding about their value," said Nancy Gioia, director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid programs at Ford.
"It may be one technology that makes sense for certain customers," she said. "But to run on batteries only for an extended period of time brings down the charge fast unless you double or quadruple the size of the batteries. And if you do, you added 200 to 400 pounds to the weight of the car."
That means added cost, not to mention added space for the battery pack, which robs trunk room now, and lower mileage because the car will need to recharge sooner from the added pounds. Besides, the constant charge/recharge cycles play havoc with batteries.
"Today's nickel-metal-hydride batteries don't like to be fully discharged and fully charged or they start to break down, so it means possible durability and reliability issues, cell failures and costly replacements," Gioia said. "We're looking at lithium-ion batteries that would allow greater energy density in the same size cell for more range with less weight."
But the problem is cost, maybe double the $2,000 to $5,000 premiums of regular hybrids now.
Some suggest a better way to conserve gasoline would be hybrids that run on E85 fuel, the blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas.
"We can make one," Gioia says, "but the challenge is to solve the emissions."
When the gas engine shuts off and the car runs on batteries, temperatures drop in the catalytic converter. But E85 needs higher heat than regular lead-free gas to treat exhaust emissions. For now, Ford offers the Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrids, and will add Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrid sedans for the 2008 model year.