Nov 12, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Friday was another red-letter day for PHEV supporters hoping carmakers will accelerate their move toward PHEVs. As we noted Saturday in CalCars-News as part of our round-up of California State news, http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/874.html , Toyota delivered the two PHEVs to UC Irvine and UC Berkeley that had been announced July 25. You can also read about it in the Toyota Open Road Blog posting by Irv Miller http://blog.lexus.com/2007/11/let-the-studies.html , where the first four comments all basically say, "I want one."
Bigger news came Friday when Ford delivered its first prototype PHEV to Southern California Edison -- eagerly-awaited since its July 9 announcement, which had no schedule for when SCE would get the first of 20 vehicles. At a time when a standard Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner/Mazda Tribute gets 19/24 city/highwy and a hybrid gets 34/30, it's refreshing to read about one journalist's initial estimates of this car's 50-60+MPG of gasoline (plus electricity).
We're looking for more technical specs, but here's the start: a battery that's much larger than Toyota's first prototypes: 10 kilowatt-hour, 280-volt lithium ion battery pack that replaces the standard Escape hybrid's 2 kWh, 300-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack. Using the power-dense lithium ion batteries "gives us five times the power with just 20 percent more weight," said Tamor. The batteries weigh in at 120 kilograms – 264.5 pounds.
The story below includes a graphic showing Ford partner Southern California Edison's vision of a grid-connected future: advanced metering, grid-connected solar power, a consumer control interface, all in a "Home Area Network."
This week, Ford gave car enthusiast Jay Leno a quick peek and test drive of the car, http://www.prdomain.com/companies/F/FordMotor/newsreleases/200711848807.htm as a prelude to a feature story on the car in Popular Mechanics (where Leno writes). And on Oct. 24, the popular blog Jalopnik noted that Ford had trademarked the name "Extend" and speculated it might be part of its future branding plan for PHEVs http://jalopnik.com/cars/la-auto-show/ford-files-trademark-for-extend-plug+in-hybrid-314827.php
Ford's Plug-In Escape Hybrid Arrives for SoCal Test
John O'Dell, Senior Editor Nov 9, 2007 4:00 pm
It won't go very far at speed in an all-electric mode, but Ford's prototype plug-in Escape hybrid will go a long way on a gallon of gas.
You have to try hard to get much under 60 mpg fuel economy on a short trip in the pearly white sport-ute.
Ford has a little graphic in its information package suggesting that a typical driver commuting 30 miles a day and plugging in for an overnight recharge each evening could average around 50 miles per gallon. That would be an impressive 750 miles on the SUV's 15-gallon tank of gas.
(A note for those who just have to know: A real featherfoot who doesn't mind keeping it below 35 miles an hour might be able to eke out 40 miles in electric mode from a fully charged battery. After that, the plug-in Escape would revert to regular hybrid mode, delivering a combined city-highway average of almost 30 miles per gallon.)
If you live in a region of Southern California that gets served by the Southern California Edison Co., you might even be able to drive one someday.
Over the next two years, Ford will place 20 plug-in hybrid Escape SUVs into the electric company's fleet for real-world testing.
First Look, First Drive
The initial vehicle was delivered this week, and Green Car Advisor was there for an exclusive look at the vehicle and a test-drive -- albeit a very brief one -- in the utility company's parking lot and on a few nearby residential streets.
Most of the plug-in Escapes will stay in the electric company's fleet, but SoCal Edison will be selecting a few of its residential customers to be test drivers as the program wears on, said Ed Kjaer, manager of the utility's electric vehicle transportation division.
When, and how, hasn't been decided. Edison won't be getting all 20 vehicles at once because the purpose of the test program is to identify bugs and ways to improve the vehicle's operation and to use that data to make improvements.
"They'll probably be coming in throughout the whole two years, because we'll be updating and improving as we learn things," said Mike Tamor, head of hybrid research for Ford.
Ford likes the idea of rechargeable battery-electric vehicles, he said, "because of all the alternative fuels we all talk about, electricity is the only one with a nationwide infrastructure already in place."
The tall, bearded engineer beams like a new father when he talks about the plug-in Escape.
It is a pretty baby, sporting a gleaming white paint job and bright grille and set apart from other Escapes by the "plug-in hybrid" legend on the rear fascia and emblazoned on a chrome badge on the tailgate.
Other clues that this isn't a production -- and plug-less -- hybrid include the two brushed stainless fuel doors on the driver side -- one on the rear haunch for gasoline, and one just forward of the front door for the plug. Both are backlighted with electric blue LED lighting -- a treatment repeated on the flush-mounted, pop-out door handles that Ford intends to use exclusively on its high-tech "HySeries" family of fuel cell and electric vehicle prototypes.
Inside, the plug-in Escape looks like its more traditional brethren, except for yet another "plug-in hybrid" legend, this time across the top of the center stack's power management display screen.
Li-Ion Makes It Possible
There's a big change under the cargo area, though. That's where Ford has tucked a 10 kilowatt-hour, 280-volt lithium ion battery pack that replaces the standard Escape hybrid's 2 kWh, 300-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack. Using the power-dense lithium ion batteries "gives us five times the power with just 20 percent more weight," said Tamor.
The batteries weigh in at 120 kilograms – 264.5 pounds.
"The extra energy and power lets us run in charge depletion mode rather than charge-sustaining" so the batteries can be drawn down quite a bit more than in a typical hybrid: up to 70 percent depleted versus 30 percent to 60 percent for a charge-sustaining pack.
Tamor cautions, though, that the batteries aren't ready for mass production yet, that there's still a lot of work to be done on reliability, and cost reduction, before a retail lithium-ion battery pack from Ford is feasible. It's the same caveat almost all carmakers give as they step up their plug-in hybrid research and development work.
The plug-in Escape handles and rides with the same competence the standard Escape hybrid has displayed. The principal difference is that the rechargeable lithium ion batteries provide power enough to drive a substantial distance at residential district speeds without ever kicking on the gas engine.
A 133-horsepower, 2.3-liter gas engine and 94-horsepower electric moor combine to give the plug-in hybrid a top speed of 102 miles an hour, same as the plug-less Escape hybrid.
Ford has programmed the power management to run the plug-in Escape pretty much as a gasoline-assisted electric drive vehicle. In most situations the electric motor provides more of the power than the gas engine. Exceptions are when passing, climbing hills or any instance when the driver demands rapid acceleration of the 3,900-pound, five-passenger vehicle.
Two indicators on the instrument panel point this out: Give the plug-in Escape's accelerator pedal a jab and the battery power meter jumps farther and faster than the tachometer.
"We've designed it so the gas runs at constant power in the most efficient range," Tamor said.
"We want you to deplete the batteries every day, so you have a reason to plug in at night and recharge, that's the design. Otherwise, you're hauling around a lot of expensive battery that's not being used."
Battling Battery Philosophies
That philosophy is in tune with hybrid leader Toyota Motor Co., but at odds with rival General Motors Corp.
GM is developing a series hybrid system -- which it prefers to call an extended-range electric drive system -- in which rechargeable, or plug-in, batteries would provide power to propel the vehicle, at highway speeds for up to 40 miles before an internal combustion engine turns on. The gas, or diesel, engine would work only as a generator to produce electricity to continue powering the car's electric traction motor while recharging the batteries.
Motorists who drive less than 40 miles a day and plug the car in to recharge its batteries each night might never use the gas engine, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has said. First use of the system could be in a car called the Chevrolet Volt that GM is expected to begin producing by the end of 2010.
The GM vehicle requires more battery power than the Ford plug-in, but would deliver better fuel economy. GM has suggested that many drivers would average nearly 100 miles per gallon. GM also has said it is confident it can bring the Volt to market for $30,000 or less. Ford hasn't priced a potential plug-in Escape and won't say whether it intends to develop a retail model.
In tests using the EPA's city cycle driving program, Ford found that the plug-in Escape "uses about 20 percent of the gas that the regular Escape uses," Tamor said. "That's not zero, but we're a good long way to using 100 percent less fuel, and without having to engineer an entirely new vehicle."
Potential Beyond Transportation
Kjaer said Edison will use the cars in its fleet, racking up miles and experience with the various technologies on board. Much of the "magic" of the plug-in system is in the software that runs the power management system, and Edison's charge in the test is to figure out the best ways to link the car and the power grid.
That covers a lot of territory, including the best times to charge, the best method of physically connecting car and grid, the best metering and monitoring systems.
About the only thing that's been resolved so far is that charging should be done with common household current -- 120 volts -- rather than with the 240-volt charging systems used on prototype batter-electric vehicles in the late 1990s.
Edison, which stands to become the next Exxon-Mobile if rechargeable batteries become the standard fuel for car and trucks of the future, also wants to examine the plug-in hybrid's ability to use stored energy as backup power for individual households.
The utility also is interested, Kjaer said, in ways the automotive battery packs could be recycled and scaled up -- and perhaps linked to solar- or wind-powered generating stations -- to become powerful stationary power storage devices for homes and businesses after their automotive life was over.
Add bi-directional capabilities, he said, and "batteries in a box" could put unused energy back into the grid when power demand was high.