PLUG OK license plate
Hybridfest in Madison, WI this weekend features PHEVs
Jul 20, 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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If you're live or know anyone who lives near Madison you or they may consider going to this unique, first-ever event. The news article that follows has errors about Hymotion cars (they come installed, not as kits), but otherwise has interesting info. (CalCars was invited but didn't have the travel budget for it.) For more about the event see­tct/­business/­index.php?ntid=91785&ntpid=0 Beyond oil: Festival touts alternative fuel vehicles By Jeff Richgels

Bill Robbins didn't buy a hybrid Toyota Prius to save money.

"I wanted a car that polluted less, and by the way I saved in gas," said Robbins said, who bought a 2004 Prius in October 2003. "But was it going to pay for itself? That's not why I bought it."

For hybrids ever to break beyond "do-gooders" like Robbins and into the mainstream of car buyers, the cost/benefit formula needs to change so it makes sense economically to buy a hybrid, he believes.

That means either drastically cutting the thousands of dollars extra a hybrid costs over a comparable regular model or drastically increasing the savings of owning one - something soaring gas prices are doing and tax incentives can help with.

"They need to make cheaper, more efficient hybrids," Robbins said.

The thousands of people expected to attend Saturday's inaugural Hybridfest - the nation's first major hybrid car show - at the Alliant Energy Center will get a chance to see the "plug-in" technology Robbins believes may be an answer.

Enterprising "backyard" mechanics have turned hybrid Toyota Prius sedans into plug-in Prius models by adding extra batteries and other electronics so that they can travel up to about 40 miles a day solely on electric power, enabling those who don't drive much to all but forget filling up their gas tank. (Non plug-in hybrids charge while the car is decelerating and at a stop.)

"For a really long-term solution we'll get off of gasoline all together" with technologies like hydrogen, said Robbins, a member of the Madison Hybrid Group that organized Hybridfest. "But for the near-term, the next best solution I think is the plug-in hybrid."

At least two companies are developing plug-in kits and one - Hymotion of Canada - will be at Hybridfest with a couple of plug-in vehicles.

"They say they are going to start selling packages to people to upgrade their Prius'," Robbins said.

However, when they become available most people will need to pay a mechanic to do the work, he added.

"It's never going to be mainstream until the manufacturers are building plug-in hybrids and they have really engineered the car from the ground up as a plug-in," Robbins said.

John Dolan, a salesman at Smart Toyota of Madison who specializes in hybrids, is "really looking forward" to seeing the Hymotion plug-ins.

"The problem is it costs $10,000 to $12,000 to convert to plug-in," Dolan said. "And adding the heavy hardware slows down performance."

Toyota long resisted the plug-in technology, warning that it voided the vehicle's warranty, but this week the automaker announced plans to develop a plug-in hybrid, although it gave no timeline.

The plug-in being pursued by Toyota would be able to "travel greater distances without using its gas engine, it will conserve more oil and slice smog and greenhouse gases to nearly imperceptible levels," Jim Press, president of Toyota's North American subsidiary, said Tuesday in a speech at the National Press Club.

Plug-ins do draw power from power plants, but that results in less greenhouse gas emissions than direct burning of gasoline. And since the charging typically is done at night when power demand is well below day-time peaks, a big jump in plug-in use wouldn't mean a need for new power plants.

Press said Toyota's hybrid technology has long-term staying power because it can adapt to several alternatives, such as clean diesels, biodiesels, ethanol, plug-in hybrids or hydrogen fuel cells.

According to the Electric Power Research Institute, half the cars in the U.S. are driven just 25 miles a day or less.

"A plug-in vehicle with even a 20-mile range could reduce petroleum fuel consumption by about 60 percent," said Bob Graham, manager of EPRI's Electric Transmission program.

Dolan believes hybrids can become mainstream when they reach 10 to 40 miles a day of electric use only.

That may be achievable with improved batteries alone, he added, noting that lithium ion batteries are in development that will be superior to and replace the current NiMH batteries used in hybrids. Dolan said Toyota is aiming to come out with an all-new hybrid design featuring lithium ion batteries in 2008.

But, cautions Dolan, "There is no silver bullet. Toyota is working on a variety of hybrids, trying to make them smaller, lighter and cheaper ... trying to find the way that works the best until some day hydrogen gets worked out."

The Prius, which doesn't come in a gas-only version, has been the best-selling hybrid since it went on sale in 2000, and became the first hybrid to top 100,000 annual sales in 2005.

Hybridfest will feature more than 100 hybrid cars with participants registered from more than 20 states and Canada, Robbins said. Details are available at for the event that runs in conjunction with the Dane County Fair from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday. Parking and admission are free.

Test drives will be available, hybrid owners will be on hand to talk about what it's really like to drive a hybrid, and there will be speakers talking on a variety of topics.

Dolan said Toyota also is sending a "real expensive" exhibit piece - a cross-section of a Toyota Highlander hybrid cut in half showing how its hybrid synergy drive works.

The hybrid vehicles that will be on display include the Saturn VUE Green Line that hasn't hit the market yet and the new Toyota Camry, which Dolan said has been proving extremely popular since they started arriving at Smart in mid-May. The regular Camry has been the best-selling passenger car in the U.S. for eight of the last nine years.

Smart has sold about 10 hybrid Camrys and has about 45 people on the waiting list, which requires a $500 fee, Dolan said.

Those folks may wait quite a while since the Kentucky plant that will produce half of the 100,000 hybrid Camrys a year isn't scheduled to open until October, leaving just a plant in Japan producing the cars.

"We're only going to be getting maybe five a month until things crank up," he said.

The hybrid Camry essentially provides the power of a 6-cylinder engine with the mileage of a 4-cylinder.

Dolan said the hybrid Camry he drove got about 40 miles per gallon in the city and 34 to 35 on the highway. A regular V6 Camry is rated at 31 highway and 22 city.

Hybrid Camrys don't come in "stripped-down" versions. The MSRP on the hybrid Camry with the fewest features is $26,400, Dolan said. A similarly equipped regular V6 Camry LE is $25,900. Fully loaded versions of each are about $30,000, Dolan said.

"We find a lot of people who are buying these cars aren't necessarily just people who want fuel savings - they're also what we call principle buyers" motivated by reducing pollution and America's dependence on foreign oil, Dolan said. "But I am selling more to people who are just looking for better mileage. They're tried of paying for the gas."

That is backed up by a recent Autobytel poll that found that while only 35 percent of car shoppers said their current vehicle gets at least 25 mpg, 71 percent said their next vehicle must get at least 25 mpg, and 43 percent said it must get better than 30 mpg.

E-mail: jrichgels@...

Caption: John Dolan of Smart Motors says the west side Madison dealership has sold about 10 hybrid Toyota Camrys (front) and has about 45 people on a waiting list. The Toyota Prius (rear) will also be on display at this weekend's Hybridfest.

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