Monday, April 24, 2006

Plug-It-In, Plug-It-In

Source: Autoweek
[Apr 21, 2006]

Top politicians from President George W. Bush to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch have thrown their weight behind a hybrid variant dubbed the “plug-in hybrid.”

Hatch suggests a plug-in hybrid that burns ethanol could be the “silver bullet” that frees America from dependency on foreign oil. The president’s recent visit to a plant that produces lithium-ion batteries needed for plug-ins—close on the heels of his assertion the country is addicted to oil—was seen as an endorsement of that approach.

Unlike dual-mode hybrids on the road today, plug-in hybrids recharge by plugging into the electric grid. As with the electric vehicles automakers offered in California in the ’90s, such hybrids need more powerful, larger batteries than today’s dual-mode hybrids but don’t suffer the range deficit that killed the battery-only vehicles in the marketplace.

Some proponents have converted Toyota Priuses and other hybrids into plug-ins and boast that such cars go 100 miles or more on a gallon of fuel. Of course this disregards any fuel used to generate the electricity drawn from the grid to recharge the batteries, typically overnight.

Automotive supplier Johnson Controls is edging into the hybrid business by developing lithium-ion batteries that hold promise to store more energy but weigh less than nickel-metal-hydride batteries now used in hybrids.

“We feel that lithium-ion technology is the horse that we want to ride,” Mike Andrew, Johnson Controls’ chief of program management, told the trade journal Automotive News.

Automakers remain cautious. Car companies promote today’s hybrids as vehicles that don’t have to be plugged in. Toyota and Honda, the two biggest hybrid makers, say plug-in technology faces big hurdles. Not only do plug-ins need to accommodate bigger battery packs, but the deep-discharge/recharge process reduces battery life. Honda is not working on such a vehicle, spokes-man Sage Marie says. DaimlerChrysler, however, is producing a small test fleet of Sprinter commercial vans with plug-in hybrid power.

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