Building A Simpler PHEV
Via Green Car Congress comes a number of perspectives on Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) adoption fom the 2009 SAE Hybrid Technology Symposium. And there are some interesting lessons to be learned. One consumer study by Dr. Ken Kurani of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies indicates that mainstream consumers favor less PHEV capability than manufacturers are developing. The ITS study asked a sample of plausible early market households (neither pioneers, advocates nor experts) to design their own PHEV, and found that expectations of all-EV range and battery capacity were remarkably low. Says Dr. Kurani, “consumers right now, given the opportunity to manipulate the idea of a plug-in vehicle, are designing not only very different vehicles, they are designing vehicles that are much more possible than the experts are assuming.” How so?
The survey shows most consumers see their battery requirements to be equal to or less than 2kWh, as all-electric range does not rate very high on their priority list. This contrasts sharply with Chevrolet’s Volt project which envisions a 16kWh battery capacity and 40 mile all-electric range. Despite the PR benefits of “40 miles without a drop of gasoline” lines, it seems most consumers in Kurani’s study designed models which emphasized fuel efficiency and blended gas-electric operation.
Meanwhile, Steve Plotkin of Argonne National Laboratory’s Center For Transportation Research argues that PHEVs will face increasing competition from incrementally improved ICE drivetrains. “The competition against PHEVs in 2030 is likely to incorporate a radically downsized, boosted direct-injection engine; an automated manual or 7-8 speed automatic transmission; advanced tires with CR at 0.006 or below; a 30% weight reduction on the glider; advanced aerodynamics with CD of 0.22 or below; advanced accessories; and a mild hybrid drivetrain,” according to Plotkin. He argues that consumer uncertainty tied to unpredictable energy costs means PHEV technology is not likely to be widely enough adopted to justify huge investment or government subsidization.
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