Much to the chagrin of hybrid car manufacturers such as Toyota and Honda, independent electric car tinkerers are proving that a plug-in version of an
average hybrid car can be much more fuel efficient than the production models currently available. By adding more batteries and a plug-in option,
these tinkerers have been able to up the fuel mileage of the Prius from the 40 to 45 mpg of a stock model to 65 to 100 mpg for the modified version.
Another tinkerer has used more advanced batteries, and in claiming up to 180 mpg for his Prius.
But the idea of making hybrid cars that have the option of being plugged in is supported by a diverse group of interests, from neoconservatives who
support greater fuel efficiency to utilities salivating at the chance to supplant oil with electricity. If you were able to plug a hybrid in
overnight, you could potentially use a lot less gas by cruising for long stretches on battery power only. But unlike purely electric cars, which take
hours to charge and need frequent recharging, you would not have to plug in if you did not want to.
"I've gotten anywhere from 65 to over 100 miles per gallon," said Mr. Gremban, an engineer at CalCars, a small nonprofit group based in Palo Alto,
Calif. He gets 40 to 45 miles per gallon driving his normal Prius. And EnergyCS, a small company that has collaborated with CalCars, has modified
another Prius with more sophisticated batteries; they claim their Prius gets up to 180 m.p.g. and can travel more than 30 miles on battery power.
"If you cover people's daily commute, maybe they'll go to the gas station once a month," said Mr. Kramer, the founder of CalCars. "That's the whole
Conventional hybrid electric cars already save gas. But if one looks at growth projections for oil consumption, hybrids will slow the growth rate of
oil imports only marginally, at best, with the amount depending on how many hybrids are sold. To actually stop the growth of oil imports and
potentially even reduce consumption, automakers have focused on developing cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
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Car company executives claim that the modifications do have a negative side, however. The addition of more batteries ups the cost of the car and
adds significant weight to the vehicle, where weight is already a concern in an electric vehicle.
A representative for a battery manufacturer states that the constant up and down charging of batteries is very hard on batteries, significantly
reducing their lifespan, but proposes an alternative approach to the plug-in hybrid. In this approach, a flywheel would be used in conjunction with
the batteries to reduce wear on the batteries. He is currently working on a design using this approach that he expects will get several hundred miles
to the gallon.
With some fine tuning, this could be very promising for the near-future of cars, until next-generation fuel sources are widely implemented.
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