PLUG OK license plate
San Diego Welcomes PHEV Conversions; Union of Concerned Scientists Clueless
Jul 18, 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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"Public conversions" are now becoming fashionable -- one yesterday and one today in San Diego captured three columns on the front page of the San Diego Union Tribune today (story below). The photo shows Pat Cadam, founder of Pat's Garage, a hybrid-oriented repair facility in San Francisco, and Nick Rothman, former Toyota technician and veteran of many of CalCars' MakerFaire and other conversions. The story quotes Hymotion's Ricardo Bazzarella, formerly co-founder of Hymotion, now director of engineering for batterymaker A123Systems.

This coming weekend's conversion at the Hybridfest in Madison Wisconsin has been getting attention online; the six PHEVs that will be shown will be the largest assembly yet. (Press release at­cgi-bin/­­www/­story/­07-13-2007/­0004625349&EDATE= and event website at

We describe CalCars as a group of entrepreneurs, engineers, environmentalists and citizens. We remain surprised about the unfortunate slowness of some mainstream environmental groups to publicly acknowledge the practicality, benefits and potential imminence of PHEVs. We've made progress behind the scenes, but still have a ways to go. The San Diego news report shows a national organization that still doesn't "get" PHEVs. Asked to comment, the Union of Concerned Scientists spokesman parrots the "we don't pick winners" apology that for years has let the carmakers off the hook on electrifying cars. This hampers public education and permits lobbyists for hydrogen and corn ethanol -- both offering more obstacles and fewer benefits than electricity -- to control most research dollars and incentives.

UCS launched its elaborate and effective website in February 2006, and it illustrates how the group's "realism" about what is possible in the auto industry skews its position. List readers who are also UCS members will be reassured that as a science-based group, UCS's chart showing different hybrid options ranks PHEVs at the top­hybrid-center-how-hybrid-cars-work-under-the-hood.html. (And we're gratified that, unlike one or two other leading environmental groups, UCS has never perpetuated the misconception that electric miles aren't cleaner than gasoline miles!)

Yet the website's consumer guide says "isn't it great you don't have to plug hybrids in." Delivering this inexcusable message is Bill Nye, the Science Guy -- who as a former owner of a GM EV-1, to whom we introduced PHEVs in 2004, should know better. At­owners/­bill-nye-plugin.html, accompanied by a goofy photo, sounding like a blithe car ad and hinting that electricity magically appears, he says: "You might think that since my hybrid has electric motors, I go home and plug it in. Well, that's not how this one works. It's a gas-powered car. I get the high performance, low emissions, and great mileage without getting electric energy from anywhere but the car's own built-in electrical system. That's what hybrids can do when automakers build, and consumers choose, hybrids that help most at the pump and with the planet..." (We've raised this issue with UCS to no avail since the HybridCenter launched. And PHEVs remain next-to-invisible at UCS's hybrid blog Any help delivering the message within the organization will be appreciated!)

Plugged into public's push for cleaner world
San Diego Union Tribune - United States­news/­metro/­20070718-9999-1n18electri1.html
Electric cars are making a comeback as more
consumers are looking for better technology to help the environment
By Mike Lee
July 18, 2007

Maybe the electric car isn't dead after all.

Nearly four years after General Motors canceled its pioneering EV-1 program, pilot projects and commercial production of electric vehicles are gearing up in San Diego County and beyond.

CAPTION: Pat Cadam (left) and Nick Rothman installed a lithium ion battery pack in the trunk of a Toyota Prius in San Diego yesterday to convert the standard hybrid to a plug-in vehicle.

The latest electric cars plug into conventional power outlets. Some of them - including two that will be unveiled today in San Diego - can travel farther than their ill-fated predecessors because they have back-up gasoline engines.

Boosters said the cars, called plug-in vehicles, can get 100 miles per gallon and recharge on about the same amount of energy it takes to run a hair dryer for five hours.

They also note that the United States has more than enough electricity to recharge the cars at night, and utilities are responding by proposing lower fees for that time period.

"When I was in junior high school, this was (the kind of technology) that we talked about at the lunch table. . . . This is yesterday's tomorrow," said Bill Hammons, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of San Diego.

Numerous businesses, from startup firms to major automakers, aim to capitalize on the public's growing appetite for environmentally friendly technology. The companies also want to stay ahead of regulations targeting greenhouse gas pollution.

CAPTION: Phoenix Motorcars, a vehicle manufacturer in Ontario, plans to deliver fully electric trucks to commercial customers this year.

In San Diego, for example, vehicle emissions account for more than half of the city's output of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming.

"Everybody's attention is on this because they finally see it as a viable option," said Bryon Bliss, vice president of marketing for Phoenix Motorcars, a vehicle manufacturer in Ontario.

The company plans to deliver fully electric trucks to commercial customers starting this year. The retail cost will be about $45,000.

Yesterday, technicians working for San Diego Gas & Electric Co. converted a Toyota Prius hybrid into a plug-in car in front of fleet managers and hybrid enthusiasts.

This morning, the utility will showcase a pair of plug-in vehicles to the public at the San Diego Regional Transportation Center.

"It's here. It's not something at a science fair that you'll see in 20 years," said Ricardo Bazzarella, director of engineering for A123Systems of Massachusetts.

The company built the lithium ion battery packs for SDG&E's cars. Each pack, which costs about $12,500, takes a few hours to install in conventional Priuses.

Bazzarella wants to push that cost below $10,000 before his business sells the kits to the public early next year.

Electric vehicles remain too expensive for the general public, but cheaper batteries would change the dynamic. Another obstacle is that plug-in hybrids are available only as after-market conversions.

On the upside, electricity is 50 percent to 75 percent cheaper than gasoline as a source of vehicle power. In addition, energy experts said electricity is typically far more environmentally friendly than gasoline.

A recent study for the U.S. Department of Energy said the nation's electricity infrastructure is underused most of the time. The study said the existing power system could recharge about three-quarters of all the cars, pickup trucks and SUVs now on the road.

The idea is that most people would plug in their vehicles at night, when power use is lowest.

But some individuals are most excited about the possibility that homeowners could use rooftop solar panels to recharge their plug-in hybrids, effectively powering their vehicles with sunlight.

"A lot of people (are) waking up and realizing that our cars could be a lot better with existing technology and existing infrastructure," said Felix Kramer, founder of The California Cars Initiative, a Palo Alto-based group that promotes plug-in hybrids.

SDG&E's vehicles are part of a yearlong study to determine the practicality of plug-in hybrids.

The utility will assess the gas mileage, electricity use, driver's experiences, safety and operating costs of the two cars. For comparison purposes, it's gathered information on the Priuses' performance under various driving conditions before they were altered.

"We want a real slice of life so that when we release the data in early 2008, it will mean something to the consumer," said Joel Pointon, manager of clean transportation services for SDG&E.

Despite all the sunny predictions, it remains unclear what ecologically friendly fuel will capture the American market. Hydrogen, ethanol and electricity are among the potential ways to reduce the country's dependence on oil.

"What past experience has really shown is that it's difficult, if not impossible, to pick a winner . . . because technology changes over time," said Don Anair, clean vehicles engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley.

Anair and others said plug-in hybrids have an advantage because they seem to be a logical next step to conventional hybrids.

"We are in a plug-in society, . . . so to me it's a natural thing to be able to plug in your car," Bazzarella said.

Plug-in technology also appears to have piqued interest among major automakers. Several of them are developing electric models.

Last week, for instance, Ford pledged to work with power company Edison International to "unleash the potential of plug-in technology for consumers," the partners said in a joint statement.

Beyond the environmental benefits, there appear to be good business reasons for automakers to embrace more efficient vehicles, according to a study released yesterday by the Consumer Federation of America.

"Great and growing concern about gasoline-related issues helps explain the overwhelming public support for automakers being required to make more fuel-efficient vehicles," said federation spokesman Jack Gillis. "U.S. automakers can no longer defend their lack of fuel economy progress by (claiming) they just give consumers what they want."

Union-Tribune librarian Denise Davidson contributed to this report.

Mike Lee: (619) 542-4570; mike.lee@...

On the Internet Web sites related to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles: - The California Cars Initiative of Palo Alto - Phoenix Motorcars of Ontario - Electric Power Research Institute - grassroots Plug-In-Partners National Campaign - Clean Transportation Program for San Diego Gas & Electric

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