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Andy Grove's Ambitious Conversions Goals at Plug-In 2008
Aug 4, 2008 (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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Andy Grove made waves at Plug-In 2008 , challenging the audience -- including representatives from many auto companies -- to cooperate and use their ingenuity to create a new industry to electrify millions of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars now on the road. In particular, he called for a broad national effort with an ambitious goal: convert 10 million PSVs (Pickups, SUVs and Vans) by 2012. He emphasized that this would have a far more immediate impact than the slow penetration of new plug-in vehicles starting in a few years.

INTRODUCTION: I was honored that Andy Grove asked me to introduce him as keynote speaker to the audience of over 600 at the Plug-In 2008 conference. Here's what I said:

"One day in May, I picked up the phone to find Andy Grove, calling me to hear more about plug-in hybrids. I was thrilled. Not entirely surprised, since last December I'd written on CalCars-News about his pitch for GE to build electric cars. Since then, I've enjoyed introducing one of the world's most strategic thinkers -- to members of the diverse coalition so well represented here today. We're all charged up that he's working with us.

Andy's met many world-class challenges. Fortunately, he's now focusing on scalable ways to speed market penetration of plug-in cars. Today Andy Grove is best known for Intel. May this new passion enhance his legacy. One disclaimer: Andy's not seeking new investment opportunities. He's got some big new ideas, to inspire us throughout the conference. Now, at a time when it's the end of business as usual, to start a new set of wheels turning in our heads, here's Andy Grove."

KEY RESOURCES: You can download his presentation at a CalCars URL­grove-plugin08slides080722.pdf and watch/listen to the half-hour speech at Auto Channel­news/­2008/­08/­03/­095241.html and or EVWorld­article.cfm?storyid=1501 . You can see Earth2Tech's 6:50 abridged version of the speech, showing a few of the 35 slides, at YouTube­watch?v=0zOxi1AGwqg or at the Earth2Tech URL below.

At one of CalCars' photos pages, "Groups and Companies and Converters­photos-groups.html " you can see in close-up Andy Grove with Ali Emadi of HEVT, Andy Frank of Efficient Drivetrains and Felix Kramer . And at "Top Photos­photos.html " you can see a wider photo of the same group along with both converted SUVs . (While most photos on our website are freely reproducible; for these two, see link to Green Stock Media for rights.) In both captions you'll find URLs for the presentation and the video. And you can read his Washington Post Op-Ed at­wp-dyn/­content/­article/­2008/­07/­11/­AR2008071102549.html and his longer article in the American (which was distributed to the conference attendees) at­archive/­2008/­july-august-magazine-contents/­our-electric-future.

We will continue to report at CalCars-News on the growing interest in ICE (internal combustion engine) conversions, which may become a major focus of CalCars. (That goal of 10 million ICE conversions begins to seem a little less unachievable this week as the Senate "Gang of 10" proposes that 85% of US vehicles get off gasoline by 2020.)

RESPONSE FROM INDUSTRY EXECUTIVES AND OTHERS: The possibility that ICE conversions might be feasible was a new idea for most attendees, who were familiar mostly with retrofits of Toyota Prius and Ford Escape hybrids by aftermarket conversion companies, CalCars and the EAA-PHEV project. (Many also knew about Prof. Andy Frank's ground-up conversions over the years at UC Davis .) During his speech, Grove pointed to two adjacent proofs of concepts: Frank's Chevy Equinox conversion and the just-completed Ford F-150 pickup truck by Hybrid Electric Vehicles Technologies .

JONATHAN LAUCKNER, VP of General Motors, speaking before Grove, talked about him. (We assume he had seen the AP/Bloomberg/Washington Post stories -- see­news-archive.html -- that indicated what Grove would be proposing.) In his speech, he said, "I'd like to acknowledge another person who is involved in transforming the energy industry, someone whose words have inspired many people someone whom you'll be hearing from today during lunch, and interestingly enough, was a visiting lecturer for one of the courses that I attended at Stanford. Andy Grove, former CEO and Chairman of the Board, Intel. I personally would like to welcome Andy to the conversation about the electrification of personal transportation. He brings a lot to the table. Like Andy, all of us here today must become advocates for this effort. The electrification of personal transportation is a topic that I know we share and care about very deeply. No doubt there are issues to be overcome in achieving widespread vehicle electrification that affect all of us, whether we're automakers, utilities, NGOs, policymakers or potential early adopters of electrical vehicles. It's not nearly as daunting as sending a man to the moon, but it's requiring equally bold actions."

NANCY GIOIA, Ford's sustainability and hybrids program director, in conversations after the speech, was doubtful that any such conversions could meet automakers' standards for safety, performance and reliability. But we and others persisted in suggesting that she not rule out some way that well-funded and serious aftermarket companies could gain status from automakers as "super-qualified vehicle modifiers." (QVMs are companies approved by carmakers for far less ambitious modifications. This could represent a new revenue source for carmakers, and could significantly improve both the MPG and resale value of PSVs.) We hope we had an impact. When asked to comment later by Matt Nauman of the San Jose Mercury News, her response in "Grove exhorts conversion to plug-in hybrids"­breakingnews/­ci_9960395 was open-minded: "I don't agree with his (Grove's) specifics, but I don't know if it was as much about his specific proposal as saying this is the kind of quantum discussion we should be having.".

PAT CADAM, owner of Pat's Garage in San Francisco, which converts Prius hybrids into plug-ins, said in the same Mercury News story, "Grove's speech was full of 'great ideas.' 'I like him saying that this kind of plug-in technology (converting Priuses) is valuable, so taking something like an SUV or pickup and converting it is even more valuable.'"

The subject came up repeatedly in the next two days, including at the afternoon workshop on conversions, which I moderated, where several people stood up to describe themselves as currently starting companies to modify ICE vehicles. And at a networking session later in the day, many of them met angel and venture capital investors, some of whom had attended the conferences and others who had came just for this informal event.

At the afternoon panel, discussions were very lively, notably including TOM MOLINSKI, Manitoba Hydro Fleet Manager, who said: "On Andy Grove's thinking, as a fleet manager I'm up here computing. 10 million vehicles at an average of $10,000 a conversion. That's $100 billion. That's not a lot of money. I'll be careful what I'm saying here because I'm a Canadian. How much does the US spend on defense a year? What's $25 billion dollars a year [for four years] to make this happen when you put it in the context of the war in Iraq? It's really not that outrageous when you consider what the stakes are. $100 billion is not a lot of money compared to losing Bangladesh. [Global Business Network's Peter Schwartz said during a plenary that country would soon need to be evacuated because of climate change.] We keep talking about what's the cost of doing these things. At some point we have to start asking what's the cost of not doing these things. And the cost of not doing these things is getting more expensive every time we turn around."

TOM TURRENTINE, Director, PHEV Research Center, University of California at Davis, in the final remarks at the conference, said, "We also heard from Andy Grove just how serious energy security is -- as somebody who actually grew up behind the Iron Curtain for a few years and has a certain perspective on what happens in a crisis."

NEWS REPORTS: The speech received broad attention. Searches for the terms "Andy Grove" and "electric" return 35,700 results at Google, 197 at Google blog search, and 34 at Google News. Here are some we find most illuminating -- in some, short excerpts; in others, just URLs:

GREEN CAR CONGRESS "Andy Grove Calls for Concerted US Effort to Convert Pickups, SUVs and Vans to 40+ Mile PHEVs" with many comments:­2008/­07/­andy-grove-call.html

EARTH2TECH: "Andy Grove Calls for 10 Million Plug-Ins In 4 Years," by Katie Fehrenbacher­2008/­07/­23/­andy-grove-calls-for-10-million-plug-ins-in-4-years/­ Includes a 6:51 minute version of video, showing the slides as well -- also found, larger at­watch?v=0zOxi1AGwqg . Andy Grove, the former chairman of Intel turned plug-in vehicle advocate, set a goal at a conference on Tuesday that the U.S. should have 10 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the roads in four years. Those plug-ins should be converted from vehicles with poor mileage like SUVs, pickups and minivans. Grove threw down the gauntlet before the crowd at the first annual Plug-In 2008 conference. He said that a multi-industry taskforce made up by utilities, auto makers, high-tech companies and academia could drive that goal and present the plan to the next U.S. president on Jan. 21, 2009.

At Plug-In 2008, Grove said that a task force could implement his goal by collaborating and competing in the way companies that developed the Internet did. Grove has previously compared the early market for plug-in conversions to the early PC hobbyist movement. Grove did note a promising collaboration in his speech: As announced on Monday, GM, along with over 30 utilities and the Electric Power Research Institute will work together to promote plug-ins. Grove said if companies in the industry embraced both open-source and standardized technology, the industry for converting plug-in vehicles could flourish. At the same time, Grove did admit that converting that many pickups, vans and SUVs to plug-in vehicles in just four years is “borderline not doable.” But he says he likes the challenge, and if it was easy it wouldn't be interesting. Beyond learning from the development of the Internet, Grove also said that public policy could aid the plan by redeploying tax incentives and giving away electricity for free to converted plug-ins.

HYBRIDCARS.COM: "Converting Standard Cars to Plug-in Hybrids? Unlikely" [This critical story received many comments.]­types-systems/­converting-standard-cars-plug-hybrids-0731.html

GREENTECHMEDIA: "Plug-In Hybrid's New Spokesman: Andy Grove, The former Intel chief extols the virtues of plug-in hybrid electric cars and asks for free electricity and a tax credit to popularize them" by Ucilia Wang­articles/­plug-in-hybrids-new-spokesman-andy-grove-1165.html Not enough effort is going into promoting electricity as a replacement for fossil fuels, Grove said. He called for the public to “transform our energy industry” and showed slides with phrases such as “There will be blood” and “Clear and present danger” to emphasize the urgency and difficulty of accomplishing the goal. “We are at a strategic inflection point in our country and for the $7 trillion energy industry worldwide,” Grove said. “We are, so far, doing the very worse that we can do, which is worse than ignoring that there is a problem.”

EVWORLD: "Andy Grove on American Energy Resilience" [as noted above, this includes links to video]­article.cfm?storyid=1501 He estimates that if the 100 million "large form factor" vehicles that include pick-ups, SUVs and vans where converted to plug-in hybrids, we could cut our oil imports by 50%. "We face a clear and present danger," he stated.

EDMUNDS.COM: "Former Intel CEO Says 'Clear and Present' Energy Danger Can Be Solved by EVs" By Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor­greencaradvisor/­2008/­07/­

If only our elected leaders spoke as directly about our energy problems as does Intel founder Andy Grove. Grove, speaking to a hushed lunchtime audience, said the bloodiest battle in history (the Battle of Stalingrad in which 1.5 million were killed) was fought over the oil fields of Caucasus. The implication is obvious. If we don't kick the oil habit we will wind up fighting more "resource wars" over oil.

Grove wants to see us using electricity to power our vehicles, an obvious choice, he said, because electricity is "fungible," meaning that it can be created in many different ways, transported easily and used in different ways. Throughout the speech, Grove referred to the "Tragedy of the Commons," a phrase popularized by Garrett Hardin in a 1968 essay about what happens when resources that are held in common are overused. Flashing a red powerpoint slide on the screen with the movie title "There Will Be Blood," Grove concluded his speech by saying, "It is up to us to rebuild the commons and make that (the movie title) not be so."

Grove seemed to want to motivate the audience when he called the current problem "borderline undoable." He added, "So far we are doing the very worst job we can do. We are trying to pretend the signs are not there." Conversely, Grove praised an announcement from GM last night that it had teamed with the Electric Power Research Institute to gain the cooperation of 34 utilities in 37 states to prepare of the introduction of electric vehicles.

WIRED: Intel CEO Calls for 10 Million Plug-In Conversions within Four Years By Chuck Squatriglia­cars/­2008/­07/­plug-in-2008-yo.html SAN JOSE, California -- Plug-in hybrids are a great way to ease our oil addiction and do something about global warming. But it's taken 10 years for conventional hybrids like the iconic Toyota Prius to eke out almost 3 percent of the domestic market, and nothing suggests cars with cords will take hold any faster. That, according to Andy Grove, the former chairman and CEO of Intel, simply will not do. He's become one of the country's most high-profile plug-in evangelists, reading from a sermon published last month in The American. Now he's issued a Herculean challenge during the Plug-In 2008 conference that had many in the choir singing "Hallelujah!" He's called on automakers, utilities, researchers and pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley to develop a plan to convert 10 million pickup trucks, vans and SUVs to plug-in hybrids within four years. And he says they should hand it to the next president on Jan. 21.

The scale of what Grove has suggested would be difficult to overstate. After all, Toyota's been cranking out the Prius for a decade and only recently saw it's one-millionth model leave a showroom. General Motors is throwing nearly everything it has at the Chevrolet Volt so it can start selling them -- in the low tens of thousands at most and at what undoubtedly will be a loss -- by the end of 2010. So how does Grove -- and those who hailed him for his chutzpah -- propose doing things any faster? By making it a national priority along the lines of the moon shot. Or a program akin to the New Deal. Only that level of commitment -- and investment -- will overcome the challenges to so radically transforming the nation's transportation fleet, they say. Grove's suggestions include:

  • A federal tax credit covering half the cost of retrofitting a vehicle, funded by licensing fees on all vehicles, boats and airplanes.
  • Free electricity for plug-in hybrids for as long as two years.
  • An open source approach (which some advocates already employ for home conversions) to developing the technology, and a new federal court to handle intellectual property issues stemming from the development of such vehicles.
  • Greater investment by venture capitalists to spur innovation in the field.
  • Support from the Small Business Administration and others to help launch the industry.

Supporters of Grove's idea suggest starting with the fleets -- taxi cabs, delivery vans, municipal vehicles. They get lousy mileage, so the return on investment through reduced operating costs will come much faster, and economies of scale will reduce costs. And since a relatively small number of models - the Ford Crown Victoria, variants of Ford's F-Series trucks, etc. -- comprise the majority of fleet vehicles, it'll minimize R&D costs. That's the approach John Dabels, CEO of conversion start-up EV Power Systems, has taken. "We are focusing on trucks because trucks consume more fuel and, frankly, no one else is doing this," he says. The company is beta-testing a kit that bolts right on behind the transmission with no modification to the engine, emissions system or other major components. Dabels claims the $11,000 conversion delivers a 33 percent increase in fuel economy and "we're reasonably comfortable with getting to 40."

Once the conversion of fleets and hybrids is underway, plug-in proponents say, you go after everyone else. "The low-hanging fruit is out there," says Felix Kramer, founder of the plug-in advocacy group Cal Cars. "There are millions of battered vehicles out there to be converted." He and other conversion advocates say converted vehicles will hasten the day when automakers fill their showrooms with plug-in hybrids by providing them with a wealth of data regarding how the vehicles perform, how consumers use them and what's needed to keep them going. But where are we going to get the batteries? How do we ensure converted vehicles meet federal safety standards? Who's going to perform all these conversions, who's going to provide the training to do it and what guarantees will consumers have that the cars will keep running five or 10 years down the line? And perhaps the biggest question of all - what's it going to cost and how are we going to pay for it?

"Ten million conversions at a cost of $10,000 (each)? That's $100 billion," says Tom Molinski, manager of emerging technology for Manitoba Hydro. "How much does the U.S. spend on defense? How much has it spent on Iraq? At some point we have to ask, 'What's the cost of not doing this.'"


ANDY FRANK IN PRINT AND VIDEOS: Greentech Media's Michael Kanellos has a print and video interview with Frank about his views and his new company,­2008/­08/­01/­a-new-plug-in-hybrids-start-up-amid-hybrid-wars/­ and before the conference, the Christian Science Monitor's Mark Clatyon (who wrote one of the first stories about Prius conversions) travelled to Davis for a profile of Frank: "Can plug-in hybrids ride to America’s rescue? The engineer behind many electric-car advances says oil’s days may be numbered"­innovation/­2008/­07/­18/­can-plug-in-hybrids-ride-to-america%E2%80%99s-rescue/­

SILICON VALLEY LEADERSHIP GROUP: The press conference the day before the conference session got attention to SVLG's conversions for members of Here's a link to an ABC local news story, "Hybrid conversions getting nearly 80 mpg" and 2:00 video with cars:­kgo/­story?section=news/­local&id=6278746

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