PLUG OK license plate
Detroit News: President/DaimlerChrysler/Toyota/Argonne Labs weigh in
Jul 28, 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.
Want more? Become a subscriber to CalCars-News:

This is in part a roundup of old info, with the following news: President again promotes PHEVs, DaimlerChrysler says they've now built 40 Sprinter PHEVs; Argonne Labs says in 18 months they'll know how far away batteries are, and Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight says, "Obviously, the plug-in has captured the public's imagination." The more stories run in Detroit media, of course, the better.­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20060727/­UPDATE/­607270448 President calls for more hybrid research David Shepardson / The Detroit News Thursday, July 27, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The United States is making good progress on plug-in hybrid battery technology that would allow drivers to travel 40 miles without using any gasoline, President Bush said today.

"We're working on battery technologies," Bush said in Washington at a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers. "They say we're pretty close to a breakthrough in a battery where you can drive the first 40 miles on a battery, and your car doesn't look like a golf cart."

But don't get the checkbook out to buy that plug-in hybrid yet. The big unknowns are cost and battery life.

Plug-in hybrids are gas-electric vehicles that recharge their batteries with an extension cord and a normal wall outlet when parked, and through a regenerative brake system while on the road. Such a vehicle travels farther without gasoline because it has a fully charged battery pack every morning.

Experts and auto manufacturers say getting those vehicles to the driveway is likely a long way off -- and no vehicle on the market can go nearly that far on battery power alone, despite 15 years of government-funded battery research.

Toyota Motor Corp. which announced in June it was conducting significant research into plug-in technology, said current hybrid batteries can't be modified to function as plug-ins.

"The battery technology to achieve the goals (of a plug-in) is several years away," Dave Hermance, Toyota's executive engineer for advanced vehicle technology, said in May.

There has been some speculation that Toyota's 2009 Prius might be made as a plug-in hybrid. Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said the company wasn't ready to make any announcements about that vehicle.

"Obviously, the plug-in has captured the public's imagination," Knight said. "Our engineers are optimistic that there's a normal development curve and with advanced battery technology we will be able to get there."

Some people have modified current hybrids into plug-ins and some companies are selling conversion kits -- a move not endorsed by the manufacturers. Converting a current hybrid to a plug-in puts significant strain on a current Toyota Prius or Ford Escape's nickel metal hydride batteries.

The federal government has been funding battery research since 1991 through the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium.

Michael Duoba, research engineer at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, said the first move is getting lithium ion batteries to be cheaper. He noted that cell phones batteries have moved from nickel metal to lithium ion.

"All of the major technologies exist. The question is it cheap enough and will it last," Duoba said.

The other part will be training drivers. "We've been trained to plug in our cell phones at night. We'll have to learn to plug in our cars too."

While acknowledging that current hybrids cannot go 40 miles on electricity alone, Duoba said, that distance is a significant percentage of most people's daily driving in the United States.

Duoba said in a year to 18 months, researchers will have a better idea of how long it will take to develop a plug-in hybrid.

Last year, the Department of Energy announced it was spending $195 million on battery research over five years through the FreedomCar and Fuel Partnership program, a joint venture with the Big 3 and major oil companies.

Each year, the government spends more than $300 million on advanced automotive research through the FreedomCar program.

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group is the only domestic manufacturer that has a test plug-in hybrid on the road.

The automaker has built about 40 plug-in Dodge Sprinter vans that can go up to 20 miles on a battery, spokesman Nick Cappa said. One is going to the New York Times so they can use it to deliver newspapers, for example.

"The data is not there yet to say how far the vehicles will be able to travel. You don't want to make promises you can't keep," Cappa said. The project's technology "could evolve into a different type of a hybrid, like a two-mode system. We have a lot of different technologies we're looking at."

Ford Motor Co. also is making new moves in the plug-in hybrid arena.

In May, California Cars Initiative said it was in talks with Ford about plug-ins. The intiative plans to "rapidly build a small prototype/demonstration fleet of plug-in hybrids using Ford's Escape Hybrid as a platform."

"First customers for the conversions of several dozen SUVs would be cities, utilities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and celebrities."

Ford said it supported the group's efforts. At the company's annual meeting, CEO Bill Ford said the company was "keenly looking at" plug-ins.

The inventor of the plug-in hybrid works for California Cars Initiative. University of California-Davis professor Andrew Frank in the early 1990s replaced gasoline engines with electric motors and dubbed them "plug-in hybrids."

On Thursday Bush also touted a technology even farther out: hydrogen fuel cells.

"One of these days our children will be driving cars powered by hydrogen. In other words, in order to make sure this country is competitive, we've got to be spending money on technology now, on research and development now, to change our habits."

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662 - 8735 or dshepardson@....

Copyright 2003-09 California Cars Initiative, an activity of the International Humanities Center | Site Map