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Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles - PHEVs

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) help extend the range of the common hybrid car, truck, van or whatever.

For the past several years a small group of forward-thinking automotive engineers have been figuring out how to squeeze the most mileage out commercially available hybrids.

Because of their work, Toyota and General Motors are now developing plug-in hybrids, expected to be demonstrated in 2007.

Let's Be Frank

One such person is Dr. Andy Frank, Director of the UC Davis Future Automotive Technology and Engineering Center for Hybrid Electric Vehicles. Professor Frank along with Dr. Paul Erickson, run the Team Fate group, which is an advanced Hybrid Vehicle research group at the University of California at Davis.



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Dr. Frank advocates for plug-in (grid-connected) Hybrid Electric Vehicles or PHEV's. The difference between the PHEV and the regular HEV is that the battery pack on the PHEV is optimized for greater range. In addition, the battery pack for the PHEV can be plugged in to an outlet in your garage for overnight, off-peak charging.

Longer ranges (80-250 mpg) and less fuel consumed and less toxins put into the environment are the main advantages. Some would argue that plugging in a vehicle to a household outlet would mean the electricity would have to come from another source and not necessarily a clean one. Most electricity now days is generated by a combination of sources, from the burning of fossil fuels, to solar, wind and hydroelectric power to nuclear generation plants. With recent advancements even the fossil fuel burning plants produce less pollution than what comes out of a comparable number of automobile tailpipes.

Engineering Feat

Another pioneer in the PHEV field is the California Cars Initiative. With the help of Felix Kramer, Founder and Technology Lead Ron Gremban plus a group of dedicated electrical engineers from Corte Madera, California, the Initiative has figured out a way to squeeze 80 mpg out of a production model Toyota Prius by utilizing 18 brick-size batteries stack in the trunk.

According to an Associated Press article, Gremban says, "The value of plug-in hybrids is they can dramatically reduce gasoline usage for the first few miles every day. 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."

Drive For Success

A company called EDrive Systems, based in Monrovia, California is offering the first and only commercially available PHEV retrofit hybrid system. Their system is currently only available for the Toyota Prius, but retrofitting for other models is currently under development. The EDrive system replaces the existing Prius NiMH battery and Toyota battery control computer with a larger Valence Saphion lithium-ion battery and a proprietary battery monitoring and control system developed by EnergyCS. The new system allows the Prius to be charged at home using a standard 110/120V home outlet. Averages of 100 mpg and upwards can be expected on this system.

According to EDrive Systems, "EDrive Systems LLC aims to prove the concept for those early adopters willing to show the world that vehicles can be renewably powered without compromise and that we can move towards a cleaner, more renewable future. Many others may choose PHEV's as a solution that can be powered by U.S. energy sources without paying the hefty price of supporting countries that might not have our best interests in mind."

Many automobile manufacturers have been reluctant to develop their own PHEV programs, not wanting confuse consumers with the message that hybrid vehicles don't have to be plugged in to work (a big selling point for most). The entrepreneurs on the leading edge of automotive technology however as making the big automakers take notice. With ever-rising gasoline prices and the right marketing strategy, plug-n-play hybrid vehicles may just be a commercial reality sooner than we think.

Toyota recently has reversed their position on plug-in electric hybrid vehicles saying that they now intend to develop one or more such vehicles. With pressure from Team Fate and the California Cars Initiative along with the fact that DaimlerChrysler is starting to deliver plug-in hybrid electric vans to large companies, Toyota has stated its desire to lead the consumer car market with plug-in vehicles. This has started to create a domino effect as GM is also developing a plug-in hybrid vehicle in order to keep up with Toyota and DaimlerChrysler.

General Motors formally announced at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show that it is developing plug-in hybrid capabilities to be part of its Green Line Vue vehicles. The Green Line with plug-in hybrid capabilities will be available in 2008. GM's North American president, Troy Clarke has boldly predicted that the Green Line Vue SUV plug-in hybrid will get 70 mpg.

For further information see Significant Market Potential and CalCars.org as both of these sites provide insight and important info regarding the future of the PHEV.