By on July 26, 2006

Prius2222.jpgWhen the Toyota Prius first came out, I drove one around West Virginia.  When I pulled into a gas station, the owner sauntered out, all curious-like.  “What’s that?” he demanded.  “I never seen one of them before.”  It’s a hybrid, I explained.  You can run it on either the electric motor or the gas engine, or both of them together.  “They ought to have a switch,” he said. “So you can run it only on electricity.”  So much for my Harvard degree.  The guy was way ahead of me.

Toyota should be all over the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) concept like stink on bumwad.  Perhaps their unintentionally non-commercial experience with the all-electric RAV4 EV put them off the concept.  They probably figured that a mainstream motor requiring nightly recharging would be as popular as a compact Cadillac diesel with 8-4-0 cylinder deactivation.  Still, Toyota’s beginning to get with the program— as are Ford, DaimlerChrysler, George Bush and every green-leaning op-ed columnist.  Appropriately enough, the change of heart’s down to a small group of Californians long derided as rich hippies with too much time on their hands. 

These much-maligned Left Coasters are engineers and entrepreneurs rallying around an e-banner called .  They’ve been known to spend an extra $10k to $12k per car to add plug-in capability to their hybrid transportation.  They plug in their Prius at night, charge a special set of drive batteries, roll out of bed and commute and/or run errands entirely on amps.  Their modified Prius won’t fire up its internal combustion (IC) engine until they’re doing 35, provided they stay light on the throttle. 

Obviously, a PHEV isn’t going to help drivers with an 80-mile, 80-mph commute.  But it works for me.  Once every weekday, I loop around the local post office, gym, hardware store, Radio Shack, dentist or whatever.  Give me a range of 35 in-town electric miles and I’m there.  If I deplete my plug-in hybrid’s batteries, I’ll simply go to gas and carry on.

The PHEV eliminates the fatal flaw of electric cars: limited range.  If your commute is reasonably short, plug the puppy in at work and motor back home with a full tank of volts.  You probably won’t need to fire up the IC engine until the weekend trip to Vegas. Based on the American driver’s typical daily runs (they average seven miles each), a PHEV could deliver 100 mpg or more.  People who ride Vespas do half as well.

Toyota’s standard it-won’t-work whine: the Prius’ nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery puts out lots of power for a short time.  It wouldn’t survive daily deep discharge/recharge cycles.  In fact, Japanese and Euro-spec Prii have an electric-only switch, so owners can move their hybrid to the other side of the street [in accordance with local parking laws] without having to start them up, apparently.  That said, a Prius won’t even travel a mile on its standard internal battery.  Bottom line: a useful plug-in hybrid requires a lead acid “energy battery,” which are notoriously heavy and short-lived. 

At first, CalCars’ hackers circumvented this limitation by installing a secondary set of lightweight lead-acid batteries, originally intended for electrical bicycles.  They’ve since moved on to lighter, longer lasting (and more expensive) lithium-ion batteries.  The secondary batteries don’t put out a whole lot of power, but it’s enough to chug a light car along for an hour or two.  Of course, you need controllers and wiring to make it all work.  But as they say, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.

Spare batteries in the trunk, homemade wiring, thousands of dollars per car for electronics, a week’s DIY work… of course the PHEV makes no sense.  But I suspect Toyota, Mercedes or even GM could make it a lot more sensible.  Hey, don’t tell me a society that can develop the Ionic Breeze air purifier and sell expensive pills to reduce stress-induced belly fat can’t invent better batteries…

Yes, I know: electricity comes from “somewhere" and arrives complete with its own environmental costs.  But one huge factor in electricity’s favor— and why it will supplant both gasoline and hydrogen as the power source for future cars— is that amps and volts already have a perfectly good transportation and supply infrastructure: power lines, household wiring and extension cords.  No other source of alternative energy starts with such an obvious advantage.

Best of all, electricity comes from a wide variety of existing, plentiful, independent, domestic sources: coal, nuclear, natural gas, hydro, garbage, even solar and wind power.  Worse comes to worst, I could even recharge my plug-in hybrid vehicle’s batteries by hooking it to my Exercycle, since it’s actually an alternator that provides variable resistance when I pedal.  Try that with diesel, fuel cells, hydrogen, fusion or Kryptonite.  Clearly, the PHEV is a shockingly good idea.

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37 Comments on “PHEV’s Rule!...”

  • avatar

    Hydro, nuke and other non carbon emmiting plants are mostly overlooked when people scoff at alternative/electric vehicles. I won an argument in PA a few years ago against a bunch of what people call tree huggers. Actually two. The first argument was that you do not have to plug in hybrids. The second, was that all of them were saying it makes more pollution at the plants to charge the cars. It was easy to win that one, we were 12 miles away from a nuke plant, and I used to live in an area powered by a dam. This is ignoring the toxic waste issue, by the way. But there was a collective, “oh”, then silence. It didn’t take long for people to then attack coal. AS you were in WV, thats how anything here gets power. Most of which do not comply with the clean air act. How we try to tout “clean coal” around teh country to get our mines back up, and not make our own plants comply astounds me. But as it is frequently discussed here, hybrids are a stepping stone. They may not make the individual regain their investment back, but it is mainly about the big picture. the big picture being if everyone was driving a hybrid, national consumption would be down, leading to cheaper oil…or depending on how you look at it, extending our dwindling supply. Good morning everyone! Let the hybrid bashing begin…………

  • avatar

    Preach it. I am so NOT a friend of coal. Go to Morgantown (just under the Mason-Dixon) on a sunny day and see a lovely yellow AND/OR pink haze coming from the powerplant north of town. Hop onto I-79 south and you’ll get the same thing just after you pass Fairmont in the next county. Drive through communities all over and bordering the state and you get the same results. That’s called sulfer dioxide. Can anybody guess what happens when sulfer dioxide comes in contact with water?

    I also just love how they turn coal around and sell you, the taxpayer, the fly ash from these powerplants so they make money on both ends of it. As an owner of a black car, you don’t want me to get started about how much of that corrosive, jagged crap gets dumped on our roads every winter like it’s going out of style. From my experience, beyond cracking windshields and ruining paint jobs it does nothing but turn to dust. Filthy.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Schmu, I’m not sure what you mean about winning the argument “that you do not have to plug in hybrids.” The fact is, of course, that you DON’T plug in hybrids. They recharge themselves via an onboard generator and regenerative braking. The only hybrids you do plug in are the kind I’m writing about–PHEVs–and there probably are only a dozen of them in the world, right now.

  • avatar

    Strange, isn’t it? How acid rain disappeared off the media radar when a much better religious option in the form of global warming came along. Let’s be as clear as Al Gore isn’t. Electric cars need coal, oil or gas to power themselves. Every “electric” car, hybrid or not, has a tailpipe. There are very few exceptions: Quebec and the Scandinavian countries are the largest and most obvious ones. Until nuclear power makes a comeback, hybrids and electric cars are a huge and impractical red herring. (Stand by, now, for a barrage from the tree huggers and the religious right.)

  • avatar

    With plug-in hybrids, various ethanol blends from various feedstocks and a broadening appreciation of diesels, the whole “wells to wheels” energy equation should finally percolate into public consciousness along with overall carbon footprint.

    Worth noting that at the London Motor Show last week, carbon emission was the main thrust from Ford (Focus Flex-Fuel Vehicle), Land-Rover (UK customers will pay real money to offset their new cars’ carbon emissions) and Saab (they tout their EcoPower Hybrid convert as the first carbon-neutral hybrid).

    Toyota’s acquisition of GM’s Subaru stake also got them acccess to Subie’s joint-venture LiIon battery technology, rumored to be among the most advanced. Subaru will do a limited rollout of its B1e fully electric urban car in 2009 or so. Stay tuned for more from Toyota ….

  • avatar
    Dr. JP

    I’m not convinced the current design of hybrids is the correct way to go.

    My thoughts:
    How about a car (say like a Camry) with electric only drive, batteries for an in town range of 50-75 miles, and a small, highly efficient turbine to recharge the batteries. Plug-in charging would also be available.

    In town, the turbine could start recharging the batteries once charge dropped to a certain level and could even recharge when the car was parked.

    At relatively constant highway speeds, the turbine could probably be able to keep the batteries at a relatively high level of charge as the power requirements for a sedan at 70 MPH is probably about 30-40 HP. Most of the energy required is getting up to speed, not maintaining it.

    The turbine could be powered by: methane, propoane, CNG, ethanol, methanol, gasoline, just there are lots of options. The turbine recharging system is designed for a single maximum efficiency speed; a lot of the ineffciency of current internal combustion engines come from having to run at a wide renge of speeds.

    Any comments? Has this been thought of before and rejected for what reason (besides the inertia of large bureaucratic corporations)?

  • avatar

    Electric power plants burning fossil fuels are something like 60% efficient, the transmission systems are well over 90% efficient and batteries are also over 90% efficient, if they’re in good shape. Smoke stack to drive wheels, using fossil fuel grid power to run your PHEV/EV is probably a significantly more efficient use of the source fuel (I’ve seen a reporty that concludes same). Regenerative braking makes the HEV/PHEV/EV even more efficient. The CO2 contribution of powering an EV should be substantially less.

    You can supplement fossil fuels with nukes or hydro to run your EV or PHEV. When the economies are there, you can use wind or solar.

    PHEVs are entirely practical. Whether or not they’re marketable for the production cost is a problem for Toyota and others to solve.

    Of course, never mind the PHEVs, it continually amazes me that EVs aren’t common. The HEV sort of solves a problem; EVs are “tethered” to their wall socket. The tether may be 50 miles but it’s still there. The HEV has virtually unlimited range, at the cost of considerable additional complexity.

    Yet, how many of us are multi-car families (we have 4) and could easily operate one EV for local duties? We certainly could. In fact, 3/4 of our “fleet” could be EVs without cramping our style.

    Memo to Toyota: If you build a PHEV, please make the supplemental battery pack user-removable, so the car can be optimized for carrying more cargo on longer trips at need.

  • avatar

    This plugin hybrid idea is almost as old as the Prius. It might work, but we need to THINK THINK THINK about the impact. With the power grid as shaky as it has been in the last three weeks or so, how can anybody, with a straight face, suggest that we all plug MORE things in?

    I know, I know, “plug them in at night when peak usage is off,” you’ll suggest. Well, not everybody will want to (or be able to) charge their car at night. Some people work the night shift, and therefore might need to charge their vehicle during the day; during peak electricity usage.

    I’m a Prius driver. I’m not necessarily opposed to “plug-in” hybrids. But I am pragmatic. And I think there’s a lot more hype than facts at this point. Most people still don’t even understand the Prius, let alone a PHEV version! The limitations of the PHEV system are rather stringint for anybody who lives and works in a busy metropolitan area, such as myself.

    I live in an apartment with no garage facilities; no place to store the charging equipment, and I most certainly won’t be allowed to run an extension cord from my apartment all the way out to my car!

    All of my driving is over 35 MPH, which (due to the Prius’ gearing) would cause the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) to turn on. Much of my driving requires firm acceleration, which would also activate the ICE. Most days, I drive farther than the range of the PHEV secondary battery. Even if I were able to run on the secondary PHEV battery, repeated deep-discharging it will shorten its life expectancy, Lithium Ion or not.

    We also need to address the matter of measuring a PHEV’s energy-usage. It will be misleading for us to be hearing hype-filled car commercials about how some guy gets 1,000 miles per gallon because he only drives 10 miles a day, all on his secondary hybrid battery; the battery that gets recharged by a coal power plant. We need a COMMON and COMMONLY-UNDERSTOOD way of calculating PHEV energy usage.

    As I said, I’m not knee-jerk opposed to the plug-in idea. I just think that there are fundamental problems and limitations at this stage. The present cost of $10,000 to $20,000 is too expensive for such limited benefits, and the technology just won’t work for me with said limitations.

    And don’t forget my first point: We need to figure out how our currently-overworked power grid might be impacted. People are already dying because of the heat. Let’s not make the problem worse by putting additional burdens on the grid during the hot summer months.

    More facts, less hype. Let’s lock a few mathmagicians in a room to analyze this, and let’s improve the technology so that it’ll be usable for more people. Let’s improve efficiencies so that it’s more affordable.

    Then we can talk.

  • avatar

    Were you aware that Saab’s Biopower Hybrid convertible was originally built as a plug-in? I’m sure the one showing in the UK right now has had all the internals removed, but the one that debuted in Stockholm back in March 06 was a plug-in, with the socket supposedly mounted behind the badge on the rear.

    The press release was pulled just prior to the Stockholm show and re-written minus the plug-in capability.

    The technology on the Biopower hybrid isn’t ready for release, but here’s hoping GM isn’t a day late and a dollar short (again) when there’s plenty of work done on this.

  • avatar

    I’d like to see them standardize the battery packs in such a way that they could be swapped out at charging stations. If you needed to drive beyond your batteries range you have the option to stop at a station, they drop your empty battery pack out, pop in a fully charged one, and you’re on your way. Cars would be designed with space for, say 1- 4 packs depending on the weight of the vehicle.

  • avatar

    Dr JP, your microturbine idea is good. It’s just that – well – to be honest, you are about 33 years behind Toyota. This was their FIRST electric hybrid car prototype, and I have a photo and description of the car (a Japanese spec Crown, modified, obviously) in a 1973 World Cars book at home right now.

    Obviously, I agree with you – I’d LOVE to have bought a 2005 Prius microturbine hybrid in which I could put kerosene, E85, unleaded, strained grease from McDonalds…. whatever.

    But I think the stumbling block (as with EVs) remains – the batteries- but after over 110 years, this problem may finally have a solution. I do think Toyota are extremely smart to have bought the shares of Fuji Heavy (i.e. Subaru) from GM and I also think that the next generation of Prius due in about 2009 or so, will probably feature LiIon (Fuji) batteries and will be a plug-in hybrid, since Toyota have ALREADY said the next-gen Prius will obtain over 100 mpg using the same IC engine.

    Mitsubishi and Subaru as well as BYD (in China – a manufacturer of cell phone batteries AND cars) are all planning fully electric vehicles for general sale within the next few years (Mitsu and Subie having the ability to sell them world-wide, if they choose; BYD is likely to be limited to China).

    I could live with an EV as long as I also have heat (I live in a northern climate) and AC (it is going to be in the high 80’s today and humid).

    Was rather hoping to buy a Honda FCX fuel-cell car with General Electric’s break-through hydrogen from water and electricity home-hydrogen generating station in 2010, and make the Prius our 2nd car. This idea may take 2nd place to getting a Subaru fully electric car (there are no Mitsu dealers near me).

    My wife and I carpool about 35 miles a day for work, so a fully EV capable of 80 mph (for any passing needs) would suffice.

    C’mon, Subaru. Bring us the fully electric car by 2010 and price it less than the hydrogen fuel cell car, and you’ve got a deal with myself and probably tens of thousands of others per month who will be crying out “I can’t afford to fuel my SUV any more at $10 a gallon!”

  • avatar

    ZoomZoom; by the way. Fully electric cars would be “refuelled” chiefly at night, when peak demand is not needed – this would make good use of power generation facilities already present, and underutilized at night. I do not think it would impact the peak times. In fact, in “problem” areas such as California, it would be easy to only “allow” EV car charging stations to work when peak demand is not present.

    The technology exists right now. My own rural electric cooperative placed a radio controlled box on the circuit for my hot water heater, allowing the power company to turn off my hot water tank when peak power is required – saving me $4 a month on my power bill. I never have noticed a single time when I’ve needed any hot water and haven’t had it.

    Plus, solar panels could be used at recharge stations in sunny California for EVs, right?

  • avatar
    Dr. JP

    “We need a COMMON and COMMONLY-UNDERSTOOD way of calculating PHEV energy usage.”

    I agree and would actually expand that to: we need a better way of calculating energy usage and efficiency of all cars. Simply giving the MPG of a car is pretty much useless.

    We can fairly easily calculate how much energy it takes for a car to go a certain distance. We need mass, acceleration, distance, friction, etc. What we don’t have, and it is unlikely that the manufacturers will give it to us, is the efficiency of the powertrain in converting gasoline into motion. If we had those numbers, simple Newtonian physics could give us an energy usage rating per car that is very transferable between sedan A and coupe B.

    You could then have the total kilowatts needed to move a sport sedan (911) for a year and directly compare that to the Prius. This would also be transferable between all different fuel types (hydrogen, gasoline, E85, bio-diesel) and drivetrains (hybrid, AWD, hydraulic, etc.).

    I would love this type of info, but I bet Joe Consumer would not have a clue how to use it.

  • avatar

    GLENN: The Subaru B1e is a tiny Japanese kei-class car that’s smaller than a Mini Cooper. It will absolutely, positively never be sold in the States (I assume that’s where you are?). Subaru will also test LiIon hybrid technology in a small fleet of Japan-market Legacies by end of next year, so that’s a more likely platform for Subie to launch any kind of electricity in N. America.

    TROLLHATTAN: GREAT link … contributes to an article I’m working on right now. Many thanks!

    I chatted with GM Europe’s HEV integration manager at the London Show last week, and he called the BioPower Hybrid “a learning project” which means they threw in everything and the kitchen sink to experiment with it.

    Saab’s a likely brand to launch the GM dual-mode hybrid in Europe, but practicality dictates you won’t get hybrid + electric AWD + PHEV all at once.

  • avatar
    Dr. JP

    Thanks. I was pretty sure someone had to look at that idea because to me it is so simple.

    Part of the allure of CVTs is that you can tune to the engine to a narrower range of efficient speeds, so why not get rid of “range” and just make it “speed” and use something else to drive the wheels.

    I agree that the battery technology might not be there yet; there are some interesting developments in material science right now that will hopefully radically change things in the near-time horizon.

    Oh, I forgot to add: it would definitely have regenerative braking.

  • avatar

    I predict plugging in an EV won’t be as simple as we fantasize. Since governments will need an electric equivalent of the gas tax, they will probably mandate recharging be done by some bastardized electrical system that will require a separate meter.

  • avatar

    There is always the CA manufacturer based Tesla Roadster… bit pricey but a 0-60 in under 4 sec. and 250 miles between charges are not half bad either!! I see a TTAC test coming up!!!!

  • avatar

    I read this article with a fair bit of amusement as it acts like a new idea. Not quite.

    I’ve got memories of back sometime in 1974 or 75 when some local small-town, blue-colar, real-handy-with-tools-type made the news for a day or two with his “electric” car (back then, the word “hybrid” usually referred to a varient of corn).

    What this gentleman did was take his Plymouth-baged Mitsubishi (Sapporo?), pulled the four banger, added one electric motor to each wheel, a moderate battery pack, alternator, and – ta, da – a lawn tractor level Briggs and Stratton engine to power the alternator.

    The B&S was an electric start version, so he’d start on on batteries, at a certain point start up the engine, and continue to drive a self-recharging electric car. Sounds awful familiar, the only difference is that the driver had to watch a gauge which warned him when the batteries were getting too low, and start the charging motor.

    This level of competency is obviously beyond today’s drivers, thus all the microprocessors to automatically restart the motor.

    Hmmn, OK some redneck yokel does this in his back yard 30+ years ago, and we’re only discovering the concept NOW?

    Deranged Few M/C

  • avatar

    Perhaps the one thing we can (and should) all get together on is – say it with me- diversity.

    Different strokes for different folks. City dwellers’ transport needs are met by a different solution or solutions, than the farmer in rural Iowa.

    Much like putting power into the electric grid (solar, wind, hydro, coal, nuke) we have to diversify the way we power our vehicles.

    There are scenarios in which ‘there is no substitute’ for an internal combustion engine. (One of those scenarios is powering the ambulance driving me to the hospital after the massive coronary I’ll have if I ever read anything as technically innaccurate as ‘V8s Rule’ here again. But I digress.)

    There’s also a *really* significant chunk of America who could commute quite well in a hopped-up golf cart.

    As John and others have surfaced, there are some serious issues that need to be addressed prior to all citizens being required to rebuild their car using nothing but parts out of the Digi-Key catalog.

    We do have the ability to deliver electric power pretty efficiently, to a point. But the internal combustion engine is still far and way the most efficient solution set for most transport questions.

    So, let us not forget diesels powered by straight veggie oil, butanol, small efficient 2 seaters like the Insight, motorcycles, and getting up off your posterior to walk down to the 7-11 for a change.

    There are no magic bullets, or panaceas. All methods of moving humans and their goods around have downsides. Some are really serious and environmentally scary, like hydrogen, once you actually understand the chemistry and do the math. Others, like butanol and straight veggie oil diesels have a good chance of becoming part of the solution matrix.

    The only ‘one true answer’ is that there is no ‘one true answer’.

    I think we have pretty well demonstrated what putting all your eggs in one basket can do for/to you.

  • avatar

    I just wanted to congratulate all of the post-ers (so far) on this subject for not degenerating into the usual internet version of ‘my-dog-is-better-than-your-dog’ kind of argument.

    Keep this up, this has been one of the more interesting strings that I’ve followed lately…

  • avatar
    Fred D.

    Instead of a hybrid, how ’bout this:

    A four cylinder engine with 4 independent crankshafts? Creeping around town and under low loads, only one or two cylinders should be needed. Step on it, and all four kick in.

    The only magic required is figuring out how to connect 4 crankshafts to the tranny.

  • avatar

    Hi JV. I wouldn’t be so sure that Subaru won’t offer their kei class electric B1e in the US at some point, especially if crude oil moves to the wrong side of $6 to $8 a gallon for fuel.

    I was in the UK on vacation last year and fuel costs were the equivalent to $6.50 per US gallon. People generally drove vehicles several size-classes smaller there than were typical in the US.

    In Canada, on vacation a while back, I also noted that despite being a rather northern climate, Canadians eschew all-wheel drive SUVs as a foolishly wasteful extravagance, and that minivans seem to be more popular than in the US – including 4 cylinder short wheelbase Chrysler minivans which aren’t even on the sales radar in the US (yet). People tended to drive, on average, at least one size-class smaller than Americans.

    We Americans tend to over-react when we do things. Look at what happened after the 1973 fuel crisis. Detroit nearly died. All of it. The move to small cars was unprecidented, although short-lived, and Japan was able to send boatloads of cars over, as were the Germans (VWs Rabbit just then becoming popular and replacing the original Beetles).

    Thus, I think people may well be willing to move to a car as small as a B1e. I just hope this time, we learn the lesson for keeps and don’t go back to buying 5000-8000 pound Gashogus-Americanus.

  • avatar

    Fred, your idea is interesting, but in a sense, “it’s been done” (1980’s Cadillac V8-6-4) and is being done right now with variable displacement V8 and V6 engines which run on 1/2 of their cylinders at some points (and the non-functional pistons do still move up & down, with a tad of waste).

    But, I get your point. It’s true that an engine is more efficient running under higher load with a wide-open throttle. Hence, my Prius is very efficient, because it is an Atkinson Cycle engine, which, with the continuously variable effects of the “non-transmission that is” (hybrid syergy drive system), makes the car supremely efficient.

    You should go try one out. The Mercury Mariner hybrid and Ford equivalent hybrid also use Atkinson cycle engines, but being clunky SUVs, cannot get anywhere near the MPG that the Prius can.

    By the way, people always refer to my Prius as “that LITTLE Toyota.” Well, it is only little “outside” not inside. Inside, it is a mid-sized car – i.e. Malibu, Taurus, Sonata, nearly as large as Camry, Accord…. yet more flexible than most, because of the hatchback.

    I’ve gotten a brand-new SNOWBLOWER in the back 1/2 of my Prius and taken it to my folks 45 miles away as a Christmas gift. Try that with a Camry.

  • avatar

    GLENN: Your overall theme is entirely right, but I would be shocked if any kei-class car is ever sold in the US.

    Remember, they are limited to 3.4m long, 2m high and 1.5m wide–shorter than a Mini Cooper, narrower than even the Smart ForTwo. If the Smart is a runaway success in the (very) few markets where it’ll be sold, maybe we’ll get more European “A” class cars here. But keis are even smaller than that!

    Your comments on Canadians are right on the mark, as my (Canadian) better half often reminds me–and as I saw in person when I drove through Canada from NYC to Detroit for the auto show in January.

    As for $8/gallon gasoline, absent massive government tax increases (imagine, a government with a social policy), ain’t gonna happen. There’s a great deal of petroleum that’s economical for the global energy industry to recover at prices lower than that. We’d be awash in the stuff.

  • avatar

    Hmmn, OK some redneck yokel does this in his back yard 30+ years ago, and we???re only discovering the concept NOW?

    EVERYTHING has already been invented by some backwoods crank. But if you don’t bring it to market, generate awareness, and make a difference, it doesn’t matter. Much like my UK friends who always claim some Brit actually invented this or that, and then just didn’t do anything with it — hey, it just doesn’t count.

  • avatar

    JV: “Your comments on Canadians are right on the mark, as my (Canadian) better half often reminds me???and as I saw in person when I drove through Canada from NYC to Detroit for the auto show in January.”

    It is certainly true that Canadians drive smaller cars than Americans, though there are plenty of Full size pickups and SUVs during the daily commute. I think a big reason for the smaller cars, aside from slightly higher gas prices, is the disposable income difference between the two countries. I have to work almost half of the year for the government, and there are nice high sales taxes and goods and services taxes that I have to pay all year long.

    I drive an Acura EL for my commute to work. It is basically an Acurized Honda civic. Acura felt that the four door Integra was too expensive for Canadians, so they wanted a cheaper entry level car. It has been replaced with the CSX as of last year.

  • avatar

    the CSX is still an Acurized Civic by the looks of it, I think the name change was to bring the letter combo in line with the rest of the Acura vehicles.

    I thought we still bought more pickups and SUVs per capita than the US? Might be more prevalent outside of large cities.

    Small cars are more popular though, partly because of the price/income difference perhaps. More Civics than Accords, more Corollas than Camrys to be sure.

  • avatar

    Another note about Canada: it isn’t so bad now, but when the $$ exchange rate was 1.5 the Accord V6 that a guy in Detroit paid $20k for was selling for damn near $30k across the river in Windsor. So if incomes are comparable, you could afford much less car in Canada. If you had $20k to spend, in other words, you were probably buying a compact car, or a base model mid-size, rather than a full-size or optioned-up mid-size.

    And Canada never really bought into the car-centric culture of the US. We don’t ascribe nearly the same status value to big, powerful vehicles. I suspect this is because a higher percentage of Canadians live in cities, and we tend to have shorter commutes. We don’t have as extensive a highway network, and we are less likely to take road trip holidays. MHO.

  • avatar

    Toyota’s decision on no plug in is correct. A battery designed for shallow cycle will not last long and be efficient in deep cycle operation like the plug in. Yes, electricity is cheap and clean (relatively speaking), and can be used during non peak hours, but replacing a $3k battery pack because you want to save a few dollar on fuel is not going to be worthed.

    When I was in university doing hybrid research, the decision to put an NiMH pack in our car (Taurus hybrid) with 16kwh worth of Ovonics’ custom blend cost about $200k, yes, it was prototype back then in 1997, but in today’s cost it will still be about $50k.

    If you think a hybrid is expensive, think again, because a deep cycle battery pack is going to cost more.

  • avatar

    stephen: yes, i know. the people I was arguing with were basically saying a hybrid was an electric car. i told them that it generates its own electricity. i wasn’t the one thinking otherwise.

    the comment about the deep cycle versus shallow is interesting. didn’t soimeone say that teh plug is on the foreign models though?

  • avatar

    No plug-in on foreign model/other market Prius’s Schmu, it is actually an “EV” button which allows a (very short) forced electric mode.

    Prius cars in other markets (Japan, UK) actually have an option where the car more-or-less parallel parks itself (with the rear camera, computer, electric power steering and “okay” and double-check input from the driver, who thankfully is not yet totally redundant). The company probably won’t sell it here due to the fact that we are so sue-happy here, and of course, there is a chance that somebody does something wrong or runs over some joggers toe while the system is in operation (the driver controls the brakes in the “self-parking” mode, I understand, so is ultimately in control). (“Birds fly, fish swim, lawyers sue….”)

    The Euro-market and UK market Prius also has 1″ taller multi-spoke alloy wheels with wider aspect ratio tires (thus same overall tire height) and rear disc brakes instead of drum brakes. Nice.

    When I researched this car, I did so for some 18 months – about 1/2 way through the process, I put in an order for my car (and it took 9 months to deliver it to me). I obtained UK Prius brochures in the UK on vacation, and have been on websites for Toytota of Australia, New Zealand, Europe, UK, Canada – there are subtle differences in various markets, just as any other car sold world-wide.

    This was no doubt the most researched car I ever considered for purchase. I read EVERYTHING I could about it, and literally have stacks of magazines with Prius articles now put away for posterity, or something. I did HUGE amounts of internet research on my lunch hours, as well. I’m still looking at information about the car just out of interest, as well as other hybrids. It’s fascinating.

  • avatar

    The foreign Prius models don’t have plug in, rather, a switch that turns off the gasoline motor and lets you drive around in EV mode for a few miles. The risk is that you can deep discharge the batteries, shortening their life. I thought that Toyota did this to be able to warrant US Prius batteries for 8y/100k mi.

    My brother once ran out of gas driving home from work, putting his Prius into EV mode that way.

  • avatar

    I’m don’t particularly want to buy and drive an electric dorkmobile when other options are available. However, remember that the Prius and friends are Gen 1 technology, which is about at the same level as the internal combustion engine-based car was in 1920. Gen 2 hybrid and phev technology is right around the corner, and Gen 3 is on the drawing board. Electric, electronic, and computer-based tech usually advances logarithmically, while cast iron and steel-based tech does not. So what does that mean? Well, you’re sure not going to need lead-acid batteries for this, lithium-ion batteries for that, and Energizers for the other thing. And the environmental impact of making all the juice? Check it out–nukes are catching on in southern states, and solar/wind appears to be finally making an impact. Now, how long will it take for the highway department to figure out how to add the gasoline highway tax to your light bill?

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Glenn, the Toyota self-park apparatus will appear here on the 2007 Lexus LS 460 that I recently tested. It’s a useless PoS. Lexus “demonstrated” it with a parking space that was eight feet longer than the car, whcih to me is an empty mall, not a parallel-parking spot.

  • avatar

    Hi All,

    Its reported in various websites that Gasoline requires Electricity to Refine. And the scuttlebut is that a Prius requires only a little more electricy in electric mode, to go 50 miles, as the electricity required to refine a gallon of gas that the Prius would otherwise use to go that same 50 miles. Or in other words – How to achieve the Kyoto protocolls at $.60 per gallon equivalent fuel economy! A car like the GM EV1 would be even better (better CD, smaller and lighter). If this is so, PHEV’s would only require a small increase in Electricity generation, as the Refinery would not need as much electricty.

    Oh, and the latest Electric Dorkmobile (GS450h) from TPC just cleaned up the competion in a Autobild luxo-sedan performance test. Including cars with V8’s.

    The real problem with all-electric cars is that bosses require people that do not have heated garages to come to work when its below 20 degrees. And those that do have heated garages to park their cars out in 20 degree overcast weather while they are at work. Batteries being chemical devices have a real problem with cold weather. The Prius battery only has around 200 watts of power around 0 F, versus 25 KW (33.5 hp) at 80 F.

    This is not a problem in some areas of the US, China, India, Central and South America, and other places with the “Mediteranean” climate. While I think GM thought this was a problem. As these areas are growth zones in the 2000’s, maybe this problem was really an oportunity missed ?

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Stephan, as you likely remember, last year Csaba Csere sent Barry Winfield in the direction of one of the key proponents of plug-in hybrids in California. Knowing that Barry is a man who believes that we humans need to take care of the earth (and endangered species) with more care, he didn’t set to do a hatchet job. He’s too good a journo for that. But the guy he talked to, never wanted to allow him to drive a plug-in hybrid and was evasive as can be.
    There’s a fellow I met who is a member of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, who has built a plug-in hybrid version of his Prius. He claims 100 miles-per-gallon from his car; and I believe him. However, he admitted in a private conversation with me – as opposed to what he told a journo with the Seattle Times looking for a story – that he tricks the system so it keeps runnng beyond the point when the IC (internal combustion) engine should switch on. It’s admittedly hard on the batteries – think decreased life – and negates the Toyota warranty.
    The jury on plug-in hybrids is still out.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Terry, I’m not surprised Fritz Kramer (which is who I think it was) didn’t let Barry drive the car, or that the guy in Seattle has to fiddle with the car to make it run. These are all individual enthusiasts doing their best to keep from electrocuting themselves, and I think all it shows is that the jury is still out on homemade PHEVs. All they’re trying to do, and they’ll be the first to admit it, is to prod somebody who knows what they’re doing into undertaking the project rather than them–somebody like Toyota or Ford.

    Beats the shit outa me, as Bedard used to say, how anybody can say the concept is a lousy idea.

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