Thursday, July 20, 2006

Toyota "Moves"

Toyota Motor Company
Just last month, there seemed to be good evidence that Toyota was looking at producing a plug- in. Now, Toyota is making it official.

Toyota moves to corner the 'plug-in' market

Reversing course, the Japanese automaker reveals it will make hybrid cars that can go even farther on electricity.

By Mark Clayton
Staff writer
The Christian Science Monitor

The plug-ins are coming.

Toyota's revelation Tuesday that it will develop a new "plug-in hybrid" - which uses a wall socket at night to charge and relies on an electric motor to go many miles before sipping any gasoline - could presage a major shift in automotive technology, some industry analysts say.

Detroit's Big Three have each said the technology is being looked at - after years of outright dismissal. But Toyota's announcement was more significant because the company is presumed to have the technology to actually bring such cars to market, they say.

Toyota itself had steadfastly denied any interest in plug-in technology. A senior Toyota engineer told the Monitor early last year the company had little interest.

But gasoline prices have since soared to more than $3 a gallon.

On Tuesday, the president of Toyota's North American subsidiary, Jim Press, said the company is looking at developing a plug-in vehicle that can "travel greater distances without using its gas engine." The technology would "conserve more oil and slice smog and greenhouse gases to nearly imperceptible levels".


But if Toyota's announcement caught some by surprise, it was certainly no surprise to Andy Frank.

Four years ago, the professor at the University of California at Davis and a team of engineering students created a plug-in vehicle. A typical hybrid has a big gasoline engine and a tiny electric motor. The university students reversed the roles by combining a more powerful electric motor that went 50 miles without using any gasoline.

No wimpy econo-box, the modified Ford Explorer was a 325 horsepower "rocket" that still got the equivalent of 100-plus miles per gallon even after a tiny gas engine kicked in, says Dr. Frank.

"The average person who drives 40 miles per day or less wouldn't use any gasoline at all," he says. "The only time would be on weekend trips and vacations across country."

The impact on America's dependence on foreign oil could be dramatic if such technology were widespread, according to energy-security hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey, who has cited the technology as a key to cutting US reliance on Mideast oil. President Bush also mentioned the technology in his State of the Union speech.

Frank's studies suggest a major impact on US oil dependence if most vehicles were plug-ins. While an average person might fill the tank with gasoline about 35 times a year, a plug-in would require perhaps six times.


Gas prices were probably the biggest factor in changing Toyota's stance. But it also probably helped that Daimler-Chrysler has been delivering its first plug-in hybrid vans to big companies.


Another factor might have been the nudge from a group of tech guys working in their garages, modifying a regular Prius into a plug-in vehicle. Such changes voided the warranty, but CalCars founder Felix Kramer says he's pleased if his group has goaded Toyota into making a production plug-in - the group's goal all along.


Despite some concerns that plugging in might stress the electric grid, or actually increase carbon dioxide emissions by relying on coal-fired power plants, Kramer is not worried. Most charging would be done at night, tapping power at a low-demand time. And because electric power is much more efficient per mile, the amount of pollution and carbon dioxide sent skyward would still be far less than an automobile engine, his analysis shows.

"What it gives you is the world's cleanest extended-range vehicle," he says. "If Toyota were to begin selling these tomorrow they could sell as many as they could build."

A leading proponent of Plug Ins now believes that Toyota will have a "plug in" on the market by 2009.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Plug-in Bus

Charging ahead with new LIPA buses
By Jean Paul Vellotti
Long Island Business News
Friday, July 14, 2006

HAUPPAUGE – After five years of planning, research and development, the first plug-in hybrid electric bus built to serve Long Island straphangers is getting ready to roll.

While the outside and interior of the bus look similar to those operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, it’s what’s under its frame that makes this people mover special.
That, and the estimated $2 million it cost to convert the vehicle.

Dubbed the “LIPA BUS,” the 40-passenger El Dorado coach was converted by Hauppauge-based Odyne Corp., a developer and manufacturer of heavy-duty hybrid systems.

The project was initiated by the Long Island Power Authority and co-sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute, a not-for-profit research center based in Palo Alto, Calif.

“We built the bus in the spirit of those efforts. What’s unique about this vehicle is that it is a plug-in hybrid. It takes the best of hybrid technology and marries it with a low-sulfur diesel component.”


The LIPA bus had its massive, rear-mounted engine removed. In its place, a new four-cylinder Volkswagen diesel was installed. But this tiny power plant won’t move the bus – it couldn’t if it tried. Instead it will serve as a generator to recharge and top off two trays of batteries that power a large electric motor mounted to the drive wheels.


Even with all that weight, the LIPA bus can travel up to 40 miles on batteries alone, without any power from its generator. With the generator, the bus would drive just like a normal running diesel-powered vehicle, said Slotkin.

Unlike hybrid passenger cars such as the Toyota Prius, which do not use plug-in power to recharge, the bus can use the same type of outlet as a stove or clothes dryer.


Bob Graham, program manager of the Electric Transportation Research Institute at EPRI, said projects such as the LIPA bus will help solve the challenge of bringing the plug-in vehicle to our roads.

But it will take time to see a change in the vehicles people drive.

“Our mindset has started to change with the introduction of hybrid vehicles from Japan,” Graham said.

“The American marketplace will adapt and grow. What we need is time to get operating data to fleet managers to show how much they can save using plug-ins.”

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Friday, July 07, 2006

The Road to Independence

Here is a guest editorial from a plug in partner city that appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

The Road to Independence
Sunday, July 2, 2006
Guest Columnist

An economic earthquake is poised to shake the globe. By preparing now for a future of scarce world oil supplies, we can build an economy with a more resilient foundation for jobs and prosperity.

As economics guru Alan Greenspan recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "Even before the devastating hurricanes of last summer, world oil markets had been subject to a degree of strain not experienced for a generation. Today ... the buffer between supply and demand is much too small to absorb shutdowns of even a small part of the world's oil demand."

The American economy is like a car without shock absorbers. The next hurricane that slams into the Gulf Coast could send prices up at the pump again. But the next car bomb that successfully explodes at a major Saudi oil facility could send fuel pump prices above $5 or $6 per gallon.

A doubling of oil prices from such a shock could cause a 2 percent to 5 percent slump in GDP, for one of the worst recessions since World War II.

While U.S. energy policy has seemed like a deer petrified in the headlights of oncoming calamity, leaders spanning the spectrum are moving serious proposals for greater energy self-reliance.

Just as President Kennedy challenged our nation to land on the moon within a decade, citizens across the country -- trade unionists, farmers, security hawks, entrepreneurs, and state and local officials -- are by word and deed challenging our nation to implement a new Apollo Project -- to achieve clean energy independence within a decade.


There is more, however, that we in Washington state can do to help reduce oil use by a transportation system 97 percent dependent on oil. In so doing, we can help lead America toward clean energy independence that protects our economy, our environment and our security.


Outcompeted by gasoline in the early days of the car, electricity is returning in the form of gasoline-electric hybrids that significantly reduce fuel use. The next stage is the plug-in hybrid charged not only by car systems but also by standard wall sockets.

Because plug-ins run on electric charge longer than most people drive daily, liquid fuel use could drop as much as 85 percent. A Prius converted by the CalCars group gets more than 100 mpg of petroleum. A flex fuel plug-in car could be nearly oil free.

Plug-In Partners is a national grass-roots initiative working to demonstrate to automakers a market for flex fuel plug-ins exists.

Plug-ins could make a big dent in global warming pollution. A UC Berkeley study shows 1,000 megawatts used to charge plug-in hybrids will displace 770 million gasoline gallons yearly. Since plug-ins would be charged at night during off peak hours, they would use electricity that is otherwise wasted.

Plug-ins could be virtually carbon free if Washington develops its significant undeveloped renewable power and energy efficiency resources. Passage of I-937, the Clean Energy Initiative, this fall would help ensure that Washington taps its clean power potential.

A State Plug-In Hybrid Task Force could help advance demonstration projects and identify opportunities for state businesses in plug-in manufacture. Significant oil reductions can also be made by electrifying truck stops, and running port cranes and docked ships on electricity, which is being done at our ports.

Now we are called to secure our independence from politically unstable regions and oil companies with a long record of resistance to alternatives. Disruptive oil shocks are barreling down on us.

We will either hang economically as individuals or join in a bold agenda to replace petroleum fuels." (more)

We think the latter is a better plan.

Big News GM Plans Plug In

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