[Paleopsych] 250 miles per gallon? They're doing it

Steve Hovland shovland at mindspring.com
Tue Aug 16 00:31:59 UTC 2005

Tinkerers fiddle with hybrids to increase efficiency

Bottom of Form 1
CORTE MADERA, California (AP) -- Politicians and automakers say a car that 
can both reduce greenhouse gases and free America from its reliance on 
foreign oil is years or even decades away.
Ron Gremban says such a car is parked in his garage.
It looks like a typical Toyota Prius hybrid, but in the trunk sits an 
80-miles-per-gallon secret -- a stack of 18 brick-sized batteries that 
boosts the car's high mileage with an extra electrical charge so it can 
burn even less fuel.
Gremban, an electrical engineer and committed environmentalist, spent 
several months and $3,000 tinkering with his car.
Like all hybrids, his Prius increases fuel efficiency by harnessing small 
amounts of electricity generated during braking and coasting. The extra 
batteries let him store extra power by plugging the car into a wall outlet 
at his home in this San Francisco suburb -- all for about a quarter.
He's part of a small but growing movement. "Plug-in" hybrids aren't yet 
cost-efficient, but some of the dozen known experimental models have gotten 
up to 250 mpg.
They have support not only from environmentalists but also from 
conservative foreign policy hawks who insist Americans fuel terrorism 
through their gas guzzling.
And while the technology has existed for three decades, automakers are 
beginning to take notice, too.
So far, DaimlerChrysler AG is the only company that has committed to 
building its own plug-in hybrids, quietly pledging to make up to 40 vans 
for U.S. companies. But Toyota Motor Corp. officials who initially frowned 
on people altering their cars now say they may be able to learn from them.
"They're like the hot rodders of yesterday who did everything to soup up 
their cars. It was all about horsepower and bling-bling, lots of chrome and 
accessories," said Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman. "Maybe the hot 
rodders of tomorrow are the people who want to get in there and see what 
they can do about increasing fuel economy."

Plugged or unplugged?
The extra batteries let Gremban drive for 20 miles with a 50-50 mix of gas 
and electricity. Even after the car runs out of power from the batteries 
and switches to the standard hybrid mode, it gets the typical Prius fuel 
efficiency of around 45 mpg. As long as Gremban doesn't drive too far in a 
day, he says, he gets 80 mpg.
"The value of plug-in hybrids is they can dramatically reduce gasoline 
usage for the first few miles every day," Gremban said. "The average for 
people's usage of a car is somewhere around 30 to 40 miles per day. During 
that kind of driving, the plug-in hybrid can make a dramatic difference."

Gremban promotes the CalCars Initiative, a volunteer effort encouraging 
automakers to make plug-in hybrids.
Backers of plug-in hybrids acknowledge that the electricity to boost their 
cars generally comes from fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases, but 
they say that process still produces far less pollution than oil. They also 
note that electricity could be generated cleanly from solar power.
Gremban rigged his car to promote the nonprofit CalCars Initiative, a San 
Francisco Bay area-based volunteer effort that argues automakers could mass 
produce plug-in hybrids at a reasonable price.
But Toyota and other car companies say they are worried about the cost, 
convenience and safety of plug-in hybrids -- and note that consumers 
haven't embraced all-electric cars because of the inconvenience of 
recharging them like giant cell phones.
Automakers have spent millions of dollars telling motorists that hybrids 
don't need to be plugged in, and don't want to confuse the message.
Nonetheless, plug-in hybrids are starting to get the backing of prominent 
hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, President 
Reagan's undersecretary of defense. They have joined Set America Free, a 
group that wants the government to spend $12 billion over four years on 
plug-in hybrids, alternative fuels and other measures to reduce foreign oil 
Gaffney, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, 
said Americans would embrace plug-ins if they understood arguments from him 
and others who say gasoline contributes to oil-rich Middle Eastern 
governments that support terrorism.
"The more we are consuming oil that either comes from places that are bent 
on our destruction or helping those who are ... the more we are enabling 
those who are trying to kill us," Gaffney said.

Now vs. later
DaimlerChrysler spokesman Nick Cappa said plug-in hybrids are ideal for 
companies with fleets of vehicles that can be recharged at a central 
location at night. He declined to name the companies buying the vehicles 
and said he did not know the vehicles' mileage or cost, or when they would 
be available.
Others are modifying hybrids, too.
Monrovia-based Energy CS has converted two Priuses to get up to 230 mpg by 
using powerful lithium ion batteries. It is forming a new company, EDrive 
Systems, that will convert hybrids to plug-ins for about $12,000 starting 
next year, company vice president Greg Hanssen said.
University of California, Davis, engineering professor Andy Frank built a 
plug-in hybrid from the ground up in 1972 and has since built seven others, 
one of which gets up to 250 mpg. They were converted from non-hybrids, 
including a Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Suburban.
Frank has spent $150,000 to $250,000 in research costs on each car, but 
believes automakers could mass-produce them by adding just $6,000 to each 
vehicle's price tag.
Instead, Frank said, automakers promise hydrogen-powered vehicles hailed by 
President Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though hydrogen's 
backers acknowledge the cars won't be widely available for years and would 
require a vast infrastructure of new fueling stations.
"They'd rather work on something that won't be in their lifetime, and 
that's this hydrogen economy stuff," Frank said. "They pick this kind of 
target to get the public off their back, essentially."

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