PLUG OK license plate
Details on CalCars' Prius+/Escape Conversion Project
Jan 17, 2007 (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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Late last year, we announced we had received a $205,000 contribution to expand our conversion projects, responding to the large unmet need for demonstration PHEVs. This was designed as a matching program, so we could maximize the impact of our conversion efforts by also scaling up complementary advocacy efforts. We are continuing to raise those funds. Fortunately, we get to apply the full amount of the contribution to our conversion program and aspects of our current operation that support it.

Here are more details of our plans.

We have begun a project to design and convert two Priuses and two Ford Escape hybrids with lithium-ion batteries. Following Phase 1 reference designs, in Phase 2 we will work with existing integrators or even a new company to enable volume delivery of conversions as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the non-profit will continue its advocacy and partnership projects. (Technology Lead Ron Gremban will spend most of his time on the new project; I expect to be involved in both.)

We now have funding to create four prototypes, setting the stage for volume production. In Phases 1 and 2, we will have many challenges as we develop:

  • technical solutions to integrate the batteries into the car's hybrid systems;
  • refinements that enable conversions to be produced efficiently in volume;
  • user-friendly interfaces and controls that show the technology to best advantage;
  • pricing, warranties, service and support that will give customers what they need;
  • fast-track development, efficient installation and rapid delivery of conversions.

Our first PRIUS+ conversion in 2004 and two more conversions in 2006 used B&B Battery lead-acid batteries from ElectricRider. In our work to enable "do-it-yourself" conversions, we're still using the most affordable lead-acid solutions. In early 2006 we worked to install Electro Energy Inc. bi-polar nickel-metal hydride batteries in a Prius. We are comparing notes with lithium-ion battery-maker Electrovaya on its Escape project for New York State, and we talk frequently with many battery makers

For our new program for prototypes and large volume conversions, we've picked batteries from Valence Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ: VLNC)­. Valence makes the advanced, safe, lithium-ion phosphate batteries used in Segways. A dozen Priuses converted by EnergyCS, including the one I drive daily, are now on the road with Valence batteries.

The Phase 2 effort will differ in three ways from the existing after-market conversion efforts. (See­howtoget.html for information on EnergyCS, EDrive, Hymotion, Hybrids-Plus and EAA-PHEV.):

1. WE EXPECT TO SPEED THINGS UP. To be frank, we still have no good answer when we're asked all the time, "How can I get a PHEV?" Several companies and one open-source project have produced excellent prototypes since May 2005 and have since shipped a small number of cars (see­where-phevs-are.html). Yet many people want a PHEV (the world's cleanest, extended-range, 100+MG car) like they've wanted no other car. The slow pace of deliveries (for many reasons) has frustrated hundreds of fleet buyers from cities, utilities and other companies -- and uncounted individual early adopters. 2. WE MIGHT SECURE COOPERATION FROM AN AUTO-MAKER, though that remains a long shot. 3. WE WILL REFLECT CALCARS' ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT. The start-up/venture environment that have always characterized will now be harnessed to a production goal. And as we continue working cooperatively with the conversion companies, we expect to complement their efforts.

The "conversion community" is unusually cooperative. Our PRIUS+ was born out of the efforts of a pioneering group of advocates and engineers. We organized ourselves into the PRIUSPlus Discussion Group. Later we helped found the Electric Auto Association-PHEV group. Recently, NYSERDA awarded initial single-car contracts for an eventual $10M program to convert hundreds of state fleet vehicles. To help compress into weeks a process that could otherwise take too long, CalCars and one or more contract winners post information about aspects of the Ford Escape Hybrid at the "open-source"-style­wiki/­Escape_PHEV_TechInfo. We continue to juggle our responsibilities to ensure the success of our projects, the goals of EAA-PHEV, and the strategy of encouraging conversions to create enthusiasm and support to motivate car-makers to build PHEVs.

The contribution comes from Carl Berg, a long-time Silicon Valley investor and SF Bay Area commercial real estate developer. Berg is a Director and major shareholder of Valence Technology. in Phase 1 and the successor entity for the Phase 2 project will become customers for Valence's batteries. Of course, Carl Berg hopes that getting many cars out on the road will help Valence!

We're actively exploring ways to remove the battery's lifetime as a risk factor from the equation for manufacturers and buyers, to accelerate PHEV commercialization. We're proceeding on several tracks involving government requirements and third-party warranty concepts. We believe we can develop terms acceptable to the pioneering fleet buyers and early adopters who will get early cars from both converters and car-makers. We intend to use this program as a proving ground for these efforts.

As we move forward, CalCars will announce further plans and what we need in resources, facilities and people. Stay tuned!

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