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100-mpg plug-in hybrids

100-mpg plug-in hybrids popping up in US

September 10th, 2008 by Lisa Zyga

The Advanced Vehicle Research Center is converting Toyota Priuses into electric plug-in hybrids foracost of $10,400. Image credit: The Advanced VehicleResearchCenter.

Although many people would like to drive morefuel-efficientvehicles, most of us have to wait for the largevehiclemanufacturers to mass-produce affordable cars that runonalternative power. In the meantime, a handful of smallercompanieshave begun taking the energy crisis into their own hands.Byretrofitting hybrids like the Toyota Prius with a secondbatterypack, they´re converting these cars into hybrid plug-insthat canrecharge from a wall outlet and drive a short commute onallelectric power.


A recent article in North Carolina´s The News & Observer has highlighted aRaleigh-basedcompany, Advanced Vehicle Research Center (AVRC), thathas fouremployees and can retrofit a Prius in about four hours fora costof $10,400. The AVRC is one of eight US companies authorized to install lithium ion batteriesmanufacturedby 23 Systems, a Massachusetts company.

AVRC´s converted Priuses can get from anywhere between 60 and100mpg, depending on driving habits, which roughly doubles thegasmileage of a standard Prius. Advanced Energy, aRaleigh nonprofit research organization and one of AVRC´s customers,haseven exceeded 200 mpg in a test under optimal conditions.

The conversion process is relatively uncomplicated. Themechanicsremove the spare tire in the trunk, and replace it with a170-poundlithium ion battery pack, like a much larger version of acellphone battery. A plug from the back of the bumper can beinsertedinto a conventional wall outlet, where a full charge lastsabout3.5 hours and costs less than 75 cents.

The modified Prius draws from the new battery first, giving thecara range of about 35 miles on all-electric power, makinggasolineoptional on short commutes. When the battery is depleted,the Priusruns like a standard hybrid, using its gas engine andregenerativebraking to charge its nickel metal hydridebattery.

According to the Plug-In Hybrid Coalition of the Carolinas, there are about 150 plug-in hybrids on US roads today. Most oftheAVRC´s customers have been corporations with large fleets, buttheyrecently made their first conversion for an individual.Theirclients include Progress Energy, Duke Energy, the cityofRaleigh, and North Carolina State University´s AdvancedTransportationEnergy Center. These organizations are tracking andsending data onthe cars to the Idaho National Laboratory, a federalresearchinstitute that is studying plug-in hybrids.

The plug-in modifications aren´t authorized or endorsedbyToyota, which plans to make its own Prius plug-in commerciallyavailablein 2010 in the US. Also in 2010, Chevrolet plans to release the Volt (which runsonthe same 23 lithium ion battery used by AVRC), which is expectedtobe more economical than AVRC´s conversions.

The AVRC acknowledges that $10,400 is a hefty price tag fortheaverage driver - AVRC founder and president Richard Dellestimatesthat it could take 140,000 miles to recover the costthrough fuelsavings. But the important thing is that they´vedemonstrated thatthe technology is viable and available right now."It´s given usmore confidence that it´s not a matter of if plug-invehicles willhappen, but when," said Mike Rowand, Duke Energy´sdirector ofadvanced customer technologies.

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