PLUG OK license plate
Will CalCars Start a PHEV Company?
Sep 5, 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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In June 2005, Silicon Valley venture capitol reporter Matt Marshall wrote an article for his paper, the San Jose Mercury News and his blog, SiliconBeat, "Cars that run on overnight charge catch valley VC's eye." He revealed our idea for a "qualified vehicle modifier" partnership with automakers. Soon thereafter we had six months of discussions with Ford about that approach, which we disclosed in May.

Now we're at the next stage. We're concluding that our goals can best be achieved through a for-profit company.

Meanwhile, Matt Marshall has moved on. Last week, SiliconBeat became "VentureBeat" and we were invited to post. In one of its inaugural blogs, we just announced our plans. A text-only version, without hyperlinks, is below. You can if you choose post a comment at VentureBeat­contributors/­?p=11, where the entrepreneurs hang out, or at our Power, Plugs and People blog­blogs/­power/­new-company-for-phevs, where clean car enthusiasts gather.

And if you're in the Bay Area, looking for the GreenTech opportunity into which to pour all your business/technical experience (and ideally, some automotive background) to help us go from concepts to a business, accumulating valuable intellectual property and accelerating the commercialization of PHEVs -- or if you're a potential six-figure investor -- please contact us by email.

Just before we get to the blog, a P.S.: Marshall also just picked up on our story about the VC and entrepreneur trip to Sacramento that helped set the stage for passage of the AB 32 legislation on global warming -- see his post at­?p=1789 and our report at­globalwarming.html. (The latter also has the correct URL for our blog where you can comment on that story.)

Plug-In Hybrid Cars Enter the Fast Lane -- We Hope

In 2002, I founded CalCars as a company to advance cars that get over 100 MPG of gasoline. They're called "plug-in hybrids" (PHEVs), because you can just plug in to 120 volts at home.. Electric for commuting, gasoline-fueled for longer drives, they're a quantum step beyond today's hybrids.

It took us four years to make largely unknown PHEVs a recognized path for automotive development. We built awareness and enthusiasm. Our open-source-style PRIUS+ conversions proved what's possible.

Along the way we morphed into a dot-org -- a "non-profit startup." We became PHEV evangelists and helped catalyze a national movement. In a great cross-country policy stunt, our prototypes showed up at the U.S. Capitol.

Our timing has been on target. PHEVs respond to three national preoccupations: skyrocketing fuel prices, global warming and addiction to oil. When people hear about "cleaner, cheaper, domestic" PHEVs, the lightbulb goes on.

So why have car-makers remained reluctant to embrace our technology, and try to make a bundle off it? They're reactive, work in long product cycles. and don't believe people will pay more up-front. And they can't see beyond resolveable technical concerns, especially on batteries.

How can we go further? Wise voices have long urged us to start a company. "Change the auto industry by proving your solution can make money." It helps to have people like top VC John Doerr tell us, "Plug-in hybrids are a really big deal. They are practical, profitable and urgently needed."

So now we want to launch an ambitious for-profit. We're talking with other leading PHEV innovators about combining talents and acquiring funding to operate in the high-stakes world. We're hatching plans to rapidly deliver PHEV conversions to fleets and individuals; work on original designs; license our intellectual property; and keep innovating.

We'll make customers and partners out of car-makers, suppliers and integrators. Ford, GM and others could get a boost from PHEVs, as could emerging Chinese entrants. (Toyota could do it now, but may wait until 2010.)

Meanwhile, as an industry in a tailspin drags its heels on innovation, PHEV engineers continue to patent answers to technical challenges that car-makers haven't yet encountered.

Washington is deciding how to make the President's words come true when he says, "You've got your car, you pull in, you plug it right in the wall." (Like I do every night.) And a half-dozen states are about to put tens of millions into PHEV programs.

PHEVs help GreenTech become the next big thing. The Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) organization is getting involved. VC partners have driven our cars and talked about them as examples of innnovation.

We've started evaluating potential partners and markets. We're talking with angels and VCs about borrowing an entrepreneur-in residence, helping to recruit auto industry veterans and getting seed funding. We try to involve people who've already made their fortunes and are looking to build useful profitable companies. We invoke the spirit of Steve Jobs' recruitment pitch, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life -- or do you want to change the world?"

We're teeing up opportunities. Progress can be frustrating and difficult -- like any startup. But we're having the most fun of our lives!

I'm the world's first consumer owner of a PHEV. Wherever I park, people say, "I want one. I'll pay almost anything. Can I get one?" I answer, "Not yet," then, "How about a tax-deductible contribution or a seed investment so we can make it all happen?"

The for-profit company I want to build will have a better answer: "Yes."

# # #

Felix Kramer, founder of The California Cars Initiative, is a communications, marketing, business development and strategy executive who builds ambitious, unique and "first-ever" projects. He's made a successful career of promoting innovative ideas, events, products and services relating to energy and technology. He's been a Congressional speechwriter, a journalist, run a fee-for-service energy conservation nonprofit, was an early desktop publisher and wrote the first book on the business of desktop publishing. He became one of the first online marketers in 1994. In 1997, he moved to the Bay Area, secured angel financing, assembled an international staff and built the world's largest searchable directory of web builders. In 2001, he sold and became involved with Hypercar, Inc., founded by Amory Lovins. Then a change in focus to immediate solutions led to the 2002 CalCars. A graduate of Cornell University, he lives in Silicon Vallley, and blogs at

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