Automakers Urged to Produce Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles

A new campaign has been launched to urge automakers to accelerate development of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), which combine the fuel efficiency of today’s proven hybrid-electric vehicles with the ability to be charged up for extra mileage from the electric grid, or even one’s own solar photovoltaic system.

According to the new grassroots coalition, Plug-In Partners, PHEVs would combine gas-electric hybrid technology with larger batteries that could provide an all-electric operating range of 25 to 35 miles or more. The result is an 80+ mpg vehicle — with even greater fuel economy possible using biofuels. “Nothing has to be invented to produce a plug-in hybrid vehicle,” said Dr. Andrew Frank, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of California at Davis and Director of the UCD Hybrid Electric Research Center. “Everything needed is available: the power trains, the gasoline engines, the computer systems, electric motors and batteries. All we need is for one of the large auto manufacturers to step up to the plate.” “Plug-in hybrids represent a real near-term solution to America’s over-reliance on foreign oil imports and energy prices that escalate the cost of everything and threaten the very economic life of our nation,” said Mayor Will Wynn of Austin, Texas, who pledged $1 million in city rebates to help citizens and businesses purchase the first wave of plug-ins to roll off assembly lines. In Austin, one of almost a dozen cities in the coalition, 11,000 citizens have signed petitions calling on automakers to produce plug-ins; and soft orders for 600 plug-in vehicles have been received from government and businesses. Last year, U.S. consumers purchased more than 200,000 hybrid vehicles, which have grown from two models in 2000 to 11 models today. Hybrid sales are projected to triple over the next six years, as more Americans demonstrate their desire for better fuel economy and lower emissions. An additional component of the nationwide Plug-In Partners campaign is for electric utilities to help build a pool of funding in their respective communities to provide rebates to citizens and businesses buying the first round of plug-ins. Experts estimate there is sufficient generation in place and available at night to charge up to one-third of all vehicles in America, if they were plug-ins. According to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), half the cars in the U.S. are driven just 25 miles a day or less. “A plug-in vehicle with even a 20-mile range could reduce petroleum fuel consumption by about 60 percent,” says Bob Graham, Manager of EPRI’s Electric Transmission program. EPRI has teamed with DaimlerChrysler AG of Stuttgart, Germany, to design and build a plug-in prototype van that will be tested in a small number of American cities over the next year. The vans, which have a 20-mile all-electric range, will be outfitted with either nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries or lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries. “We have driven our fleet of over 200 electric vehicles almost 12 million miles and have had no major problems with the batteries,” said Edward Kjaer, Manager of Southern California Edison’s Electric Transportation Department. “The new generation of lithium-ion batteries is more powerful and lighter weight and, with reasonable volumes, should provide a price that would allow plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to be competitive.” In addition to the national grassroots coalition of cities including Austin, Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle that have signed on to the Plug-In Partners campaign, more than 100 public power utilities, there is also a number of leading energy efficiency and environmental organizations that are Coalition members including Alliance to Save Energy, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Clean Air Coalition, California Cars Initiative, and The Institute for Environmental Research and Education. “Oil imports and the dark cloud they cast over this country requires dramatic and immediate attention,” said Frank Gaffney, President, Center for National Security Policy. “When that prolonged oil crisis occurs, Americans will pay anything because they will have no choice. Why wait until a catastrophe strikes to get truly serious about addressing the problem?”
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