Plug-In Hybrids on the Horizon

With all the recent talk about how to improve your gas mileage, I thought I’d highlight some of the “coming attractions” in the automotive world. I’m talking here about plug-in hybrids (a.k.a., plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, or PHEVs), which are hybrid vehicles that can be recharged by plugging them into an electrical outlet, thereby reduces their reliance on gasoline.

Here’s a quick look at what’s on the horizon from the major carmakers…

Chevrolet Volt

GM claims that the Chevy Volt will be production ready in 2010, though I recently read that they are only planning on producing 10k units in the first year with an additional 60k coming in the second year. The Volt isn’t a true hybrid, in that it will run entirely on electricity. The on-board battery is projected to give the Volt a 40 mile range on a full charge. If the battery runs down, a small gas-powered motor will kick in to recharge the battery. GM’s goal is to keep the cost of the Volt under $40k.

Saturn Vue Plug-in Hybrid

GM plans to bring the Vue Plug-in hybrid to market in 2010. The Vue Plug-in will be an enhancement to the Vue Two-mode Hybrid that’s expected to hit the market in 2009. This vehicle will have a more typical gas-electric hybrid drive-train, but will also have an electric-only range of 10 miles.

Ford Escape Hybrid Plug-in

The Escape Hybrid Plug-in will combine a hybrid drive-train with lithium ion batteries that are expected to allow the escape to achieve 120 mpg during the first 30 miles of driving at “moderate speed” following a full recharge.

Ford Edge with HySeries Drive

The Ford Edge HySeries is similar to the Chevy Volt, though it use a hydrogen fuel cell as opposed to a gas engine as a backup generator. Like the Volt, the wheels are powered solely by electricity. Ford is projecting a 25 mile range on a full charge with the HySeries being able to go another 200 miles on a full tank of compressed hydrogen.

Toyota Prius Plug-in

There are a number of companies that already specialize in converting the Toyota Prius into a PHEV. On a full charge, these cars can go up to 7 miles at highway speeds using electricity alone. Unlike other plug-in hybrids, which use lithium ion batteries, the modified Prius uses an oversized nickel metal hydride battery. Toyota has since announced that, come 2010, you should be able to buy a lithium ion-based PHEV of some sort direct from them. As an aside, I just read that Toyota will be outfitting the 2009 Prius with solar panels to power the air conditioning. Not a huge step forward, but still… It’s something.

Toyota 1/X

The Toyota 1/X concept car, which was unveiled in 2007, is powered by lithium ion batteries and a small 0.5 liter flex-fuel engine. This car, which sports four seats and weighs in at just 926 pounds (compared to 2, 890 pounds for a Prius) is capable of covering 600 miles on a four gallon tank of gasoline. The car is also partly made of bio-plastics produced from plants.

Dodge Sprinter Plug-in

The Dodge Sprinter is essentially a delivery van, and the plug-in version combines PHEV technology and an efficient diesel engine. The NY Times has added Sprinter plug-ins to their fleet and, after an overnight charge, they can go 20 miles on electricity alone.

Jeep Renegade Concept

The Jeep Renegade concept car, unveiled this past winter at the Detroit auto show, features all-wheel drive, two electric motors (one for each axle), and a 1.5 liter, 115 horsepower, 3 cylinder engine. On a full charge, it can go 40 miles on electricity alone, and it supposedly has a 400 mile cruising range.

*The CNN/Money slideshow lists the wrong mileage for the Toyota 1/X.

Source: CNN/Money*, Photo Credit: abeall

22 Responses to “Plug-In Hybrids on the Horizon”

  1. Anonymous

    You are so cool! I don’t suppose I’ve truly read through anything
    like this before. So wonderful to find somebody
    with a few unique thoughts on this issue.

    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is one thing
    that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!

  2. Anonymous

    We have a lot of electric vans working in the UK now. I think the makers are trying to sell them in the US now (Modec is one example). They tell me that the electricity costs are about 2 pence per mile (for a 5 tonne truck)

  3. Anonymous

    It’s always responsible to shift from gasoline to electricity. of COURSE electricity is “clean” energy! Uhhuh, and I’m a giant purple furry lizard.

  4. Anonymous

    jb:

    What we can do is find other alternatives to producing hydrogen that can be viable. While this article is over a year old, it does give us some insight into the future:

    http://www.physorg.com/news98556080.html

    While electrolysis would have to be used at the local level for some of the conversion, I do find it interesting that they found that long term this could compete with $3 gasoline, a number we have gone way past at this point.

    On The Learning Channel, they had this professor on a few months ago, and there was a demonstration of a motorcycle that was using this pellet technology.

    My point being that we need to follow and develop these technologies, but in the meantime use hybrids as a stop-gap for our dependence on foreign oil. At lease PHEVs would use a local energy resource (as unclean as it may be) versus a foreign energy resource, which is much more risky from a geopolitical perspective for the US.

  5. Anonymous

    Jay,
    I was not aware that the Energy Information Agency within the Department of Energy was not a legitimate source. Obviously they wouldn’t know anything about the current state of power generation…

    I will apologize for my earlier number of 43% of power being generated by coal…it is 49% now. Feel free to check out this “quasi-governmental” statistic: http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epa_sum.html. Renewables (not including hydroelectric) is 2.4% of power generation.

    Can you explain to me how, from your PERSONAL experience, you can use renewables to produce the 4,065 MWh that the US needs (as of 10/07)? Any time frame on that, which doesn’t include the use of the word “decades”?

    I guess also, if we are employing NIMBY we need to eliminate wind. Ted Kennedy didn’t want it in his backyard…

  6. Anonymous

    Steve,
    Hydrogen cars are just the same as plug-ins – you are simply transferring where you are using hydrocarbons and putting out emissions.

    Hydrogen does not occur alone on earth, we must seperate it from either water or hydrocarbons. Currently, 95% of hydrogen is produced through steam reforming – separating hydrogen from methane (natural gas – a fossil fuel) and results in the production of greenhouse gases. Electrolysis is separating it from water, but that requires passing electricity through it, and we all know where that comes from.

  7. Anonymous

    I would think before anyone advocates nuclear energy, they’d do a little homework as to why we stopped building facilities. NIMBY is a legitimate complaint in this case! Also, coal MINING is a nasty, nasty business with terrible environmental and human costs. Again do a little [legitimate] research. I simply wouldn’t believe any statistics coming from a governmental or quasi-governmental source right now. There is an obvious political agenda controlling what is advocated and published.
    Personal experience: you CAN produce enough electricity from alternative sources. It just takes will, conservation, and foresight. All apparently in short supply.

  8. Anonymous

    yup, since we haven’t built a new nuclear power plant, and since so many regions are already tapped out on capacity, this is the next impending major problem that will drive electric prices up when people start buying more plug in hybrids. bad, bad, bad. no one has the foresight these days to realize this, just like oil.

  9. Anonymous

    I agree with t. If you are looking toward plug-in hybrids as a way to decrease so called greenhouse gases, you are looking in the wrong direction. The overwhelming majority of power plants in the US are coal-fired (43% according to the EIA). And we are a long ways out from having considerable renewables as part of our electricity generation (again according to the EIA). Also, no one is doing any CO2 removal and sequestration at power plants. It is estimated that electricity bills will increase approximately 50-60% if this begins (I have the documentation if you would like to see it).

    If you are looking at this as a way to combat reliance on foreign oil, it is decent, and hopefully batteries can progress. But there are better options. Focus would need to be shifted to coal for power and natural gas for heating and transportation (especially in mass transit). And possibly nuclear if we can get it going in this country (it already accounts for 14% of power generation, but could be so much more). Hopefully renewables can fill in gaps until they are more significantly more efficient.

    Also, KC makes a good point, MOST importantly (at least for me) why spend extra money if you aren’t going to get the return in fuel savings?

  10. Anonymous

    These are the first steps…and I think they are good ones. If we can envision the transition in phases, going to electric (which is produced locally) while we are developing other sources (such as efficient microalgae biofuels or compressed hydrogen) is simply the first phase.

    Right now the main problem is the dependence on foreign oil and the problems that has on both an economic and geopolitical scale in the US. Getting things back to stored electricity at home while we work on both a newer fuel source and infrastructure is a step in the right direction.

    Honda has already produced a compressed hydrogen zero emissions car that is ready for the production lines. Five are being sold in the US to wealthy people. Once that type of car can be massed produced, and once the US can have a distribution infrastructure for compressed hydrogen, we can then ween ourselves off of the electric cars. However, that could take 10-20 years to get into place, and I don’t think we realistically have that kind of timeline for fossil fuels. While I am not a peak oil advocate, I would rather we spend our resources getting that infrastructure into place with a realistic stop-gap of electric cars than try to spend our resources and time looking for possible oil prospects at home.

  11. Anonymous

    Nice overview! I do believe this is one of the paths of the future. In our household we’re moving towards all electric, having invested in solar panels a few years back. We’re now looking into wind turbines, as a supplemental source of power.
    We had a plug-in scooter, but were very unhappy with its performance. I am certain, however, that autos will be well veted for performance before they’re ever put on the market. We would definitely make it a high priority to purchase a plug-in when we need to replace our current car.
    If the direction is towards electric, perhaps more folks will be motivated to generate their own power.
    Well done, and thanks for posting this information.

  12. Anonymous

    a prius is the prime example of utter lack of power i was speaking of.

    a false dichotomy or the easier way to look at the bigger issue? the bottom line is, which is more fossil fuel dependent? at this point in time it remains to be seen, so by breaking it down in to everybody or nobody you can see the issue more clearly.

    i agree there needs to be a way to become less dependent on foreign oil. there are some ways i find way too inefficient (i.e. ethanol fuel — you use 2 gallons of diesel fuel per gallon of ethanol produced. no, those numbers aren’t exact or probably anywhere near accurate, but i do know that it’s a huge net loss as far as energy goes). i have a feeling hybrid vehicles will turn out to be the same type of problem once studied further… what needs to be developed instead of hybrid cars are viable solar panels, more efficient wind farms, efficient geothermal power, utilization of the domestic coal supply. i guess you can say it would stop putting the cart before the horse

  13. Nickel

    Yes, the humor was lost because these vehicles are already getting up and down hills (with the exception of the concept-type cars that have yet to hit the market). Adding the plug-in capability will do nothing to reduce power of, say, a Prius.

    As to your other point… The problem with gas is two-fold, and you hit them both. You’ve also managed to construct a false dichotomy of either nobody buying or everybody buying. The bottom line is that things need to change going forward, and this is a step in the right direction. While electric power has problems of its own, at least there are potential solutions. And like I said, in the interim, it’s far better (from a pollution standpoint) to rely on centralized power generation where you can minimize pollutants rather than burning fossil fuels up and down the streets of America.

  14. Anonymous

    i was speaking to the utter lack of power in electric cars… i guess the humor was lost.

    so is the issue with gasoline because it’s from oil or because of it’s pollutants? either way, what’s worse for right now: 1. nobody buys a hybrid and burns gasoline or 2. everybody buys a hybrid and our power plants go in to overdrive to charge electirc batteries every night burning extraneous amount of coal/natural gas because as much as you try you can’t make the wind blow, the sun shine, or the river flow higher.

  15. Nickel

    Ron: Excellent question. With all the focus on saving gas, not much attention is being paid to how efficient these things are when it comes to energy in general. Perhaps we’ll eventually start seeing metrics like miles per kilowatt hour. 🙂

    t: Not sure what you’re talking about. These things can go up and down hills. Sure, it uses more energy, but the gas motor will kick in if you start running low on juice.

    As for the coal/nuclear comment… The only way to get gas is from oil. But electricity can be produced in many, many ways — some cleaner than others. While coal (for example) isn’t exactly clean, at least the power is being produced in a centralized location where steps can be taken to capture pollutants. And in the long run, you could envision switching over to clean power entirely. That simply won’t happen with gas powered vehicles.

  16. Anonymous

    I still have the same questions I had when my husband and I were shopping for cars last year (due to an accident totaling one of our cars). Why should I pay a premium for a hybrid/electric? Will I have any realized savings due to the premium price paid? Who will work on this car when it breaks? Will it be more expensive to fix?

    The batteries in the hybrid we looked at were $3000 each. My personal mechanic said he didn’t know enough about hybrids to work on one confidently (which means work will be done at the expensive dealer). Considering all of our miles are city miles I determined that we wouldn’t realize much if any savings by buying a premium priced hybrid right now.

    Maybe electric is the future, but right now the premiums placed on these cars still makes gasoline powered engines the better purchase for most consumers.

  17. Anonymous

    my question is if you live in san francisco how you’re ever going to go uphill to get home…

    oh and if you feel better or worse about using a car that is less reliant on gasoline but more reliant on coal and/or nuclear power…

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