By John Addison (8/7/08). Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe spoke about his dream of building a car that could cross the United States on a single tank of gasoline. A plug-in hybrid running on E85 would potentially use only one gallon of gasoline every 500 miles in a blend with five gallons of ethanol, with the rest of the energy being fueled by electricity and biofuel.
In a recent article, I shared the stories of fleets and enthusiastic advocates and individuals who have converted their hybrids to be plug-in hybrids. Most people, however, will wait for vehicles that are designed from the ground-up to be plug-in hybrids. These vehicles will be warrantied by major manufacturers. Future plug-in hybrids will have larger electric motors, smaller engines, lithium battery stacks, and optimized control systems.
GM has announced plans for new plug-in sales by the end of 2010. Toyota is more likely to first deliver hundreds of fleet evaluation cars in 2010 and may follow with sales in 2011. Because both may start with limited numbers of vehicles and long wait times, it may be 2011 before you could get delivery of a new plug-in hybrid.
Toyota has put ten of its prototype plug-in hybrid into test applications in Japan and California. These test vehicles are Priuses with nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Toyota is being a bit secretive about its new plug-in hybrid. The car is likely to be smaller and lighter than the Prius and use lithium batteries. By carrying less weight and more advanced batteries, Toyota can give the vehicle greater electric-only range, possibly 40 miles which would accommodate the daily range requirements of 78% of all U.S. drivers.
General Motors has made clear statements that it will start taking orders for the Chevy Volt from U.S. consumers by the end of 2010. Last December, I attended a General Motors showing of its Chevy Volt – an elegant four-door sedan shown in this photo which I took. One GM designer admitted that the Mercedes CLS gave some inspiration for the Volt. The Chevy Volt can be driven 40 miles in electric-mode using 16kW of lithium batteries, before its small one liter engine is engaged. 16kW is twelve times the storage of my Prius NiMH batteries.
The Volt uses an electric drive system with a small ICE in series that is only used to generate added electricity, not give power to the wheels. GM’s modular E-Flex propulsion could be adapted to various engines including diesel, fuel cells, and potentially battery-electric.
Ford currently has the SUV with the best fuel economy in the Ford Escape Hybrid. A number of fleets have contracted with vehicle system integrators to convert the Escape Hybrid to be a plug-in. Ford delivered twenty of its own Escape Plug-in Hybrid prototypes to major electric utility SCE. The SUV uses a 10 kWh lithium-ion battery pack from Johnson Controls-Saft. The PHEV uses a blended operating strategy, and delivers an equivalent 30-mile all-electric range.
A hybrid battery might use a state of charge depletion window of twenty percent. A plug-in hybrid conversion kit might use a state of charge depletion window of 80 percent, and only be willing to warranty the battery for two or three years. GM will want to offer customers ten year warranties by having 150,000 mile target lives for their batteries. GM will likely use a state of charge depletion window of 50 percent with the Volt. While GM and Toyota see long-term market share advantage by being first to market with a plug-in, other auto makers are cautious.
Daimler is actively expanding the use of electric drive systems in a number of vehicles. The Mercedes Smart Car will be offered as an electric vehicle. The larger Sprinter Van will include a plug-in offer in the future. Several fleets have demonstrated Sprinter Vans converted to be plug-ins. In the future, Daimler may offer its own Plug-in Sprinter.
Plug-in hybrids will face growing competition from electric vehicles, which have more limited range, but have no engine and therefore never require a fuel like gasoline or diesel. At times some of these EV makers have floated the idea of plug-ins in the future. Such comments have come from Nissan-Renault, Tesla, BYD, and others.
In this era of record gasoline prices, people are using many successful approaches to spend less for gas and cut emissions. A record number are cutting personal miles by taking part in employer flexwork programs, car pooling, using transit, and grouping trips. Households are maximizing use of their most fuel efficient vehicles while leaving the gas guzzler parked. More are buying fuel efficient cars. Plug-in hybrids will become a growing part of the solution to save gas and slow global warming.
Plug-in hybrids are destined to be a major success. According to the California Electric Transportation Coalition, if automakers begin producing plug-ins within the next few years, 2.5 million cars could be plug-ins by the year 2020, saving 11.5 million tons of CO2 and 1.14 billion gallons of gasoline each year.
John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.