Monday, December 3, 2007

Toyota's Plug-In Prius: Not There Yet.

"My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel." - Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai, before his death in 1990, on the coming Middle East oil crisis

I had the opportunity to attend EVS 23 today and see what the world of EVs (and now hybrids, diesels, and fuel cell vehicles as well) has to offer now and in the coming years. I was fairly excited as for some reason Toyota thinks I am VIP enough to have called and offered me a test drive in one of the two prototype plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that they are presently testing (my wife called and assured them that I am not). So without further ado, my thoughts on the show, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sorry to say that you will have to scroll down to The Bad to see the Prius review.

The Good

This is what Toyota SHOULD be doing. This car comes from Danbury Ct where they have made an entirely new NiMH battery system from the ground up and replaced the Prius standard battery with it. It basically drives like a Prius does except for the fact that if you drive up to 34 mph and don't jam on the gas you'll be in all electric mode the whole time. Basically this means you can do all your around town driving on most given days and never engage the gas engine at all. At night, you plug it into 110 and it'll charge up full in under 8 hours. The downside is that right now they have no plans to sell them to individuals, but if they did, on a mass scale, the cost would be about $7000 per vehicle (the upgrade that is, not the vehicle itself). Take that Toyota!

Phoenix Motorcars SUT - SUT stands for Sport Utility Truck, PMs electric vehicle that they have been working on for some time. It seats four and has a payload area in the back, is all electric with a top speed of 95 mph and drives like an electric car should - fast and quiet. Range is about 120 miles or so and charge times are 5-8 hours. In addition, these cars are not privately available. That said, I have been watching these guys for a few years and I think they will be front runners in the coming EV market. They are planning to offer a full SUV version and two others (one most likely a sedan) in or around 2009 and will have an option to double the range by adding more batteries. They have also developed a charger that will charge the batts in 10 minutes. It cost $100K so you and I aren't getting one any time soon, but it means that service stations would be able to buy these making fast charges on the road achievable. As for the cars, Phoenix is tightlipped on price, but the word on the street is low 30's.

OEMTEK's Prius Add On BREEZ (Battery Range Extender EZ) - OK, they need to work on the name. Nonetheless, this was kind of cool. It's an add on battery pack that a certified Prius mechanic can install in a day. This allows you the capability of running on full electric for about 45 miles, more than the average person commutes per day. It'll stay all electric until the battery gets too low or until you hit about 60 mph, but more than enough for around town driving. It plugs into a standard 110v outlet, can charge overnight, and costs $12,500 installed. I asked them if this voided the Toyota warranty and they said that Toyota has not said that it would or that it wouldn't. They pointed out that they have had warranty work done on the cars since the add on but I think I'd need a bit more info than that before I plunk my cash down.

Envisionsolar's Solar Lifeport - This was one of the cooler things at the show even though it's really just a garage. It's a prefab, module oriented, solar car cover that is built to universal code and can pretty much be put anywhere. It has a 4.8 KW solar system which is enough for an average sized house and electric car. The whole thing costs a little under $50K which is a bit steep, but as a concept it's great. One stop shopping and you add on equity to your home and take yourself off the grid (although you can grid tie as well) at the same time. I actually mentioned to them that these would be amazing for orgs like the Red Cross. They could be shipped in, set up in hours, and voila, instant medical center with power. Very cool.

Other cool stuff was the Vectrix all electric motorcycle (zipppeeeee), the Chevy Volt, which was on display only so I didn't spend much time checking it out, and Miles Automotive who claim to be coming out with a $30,000 all electric sedan called the XS500 in 2009 but have been saying that for over a year now. I also had a really cool conversation with the VP of Con Edison about the grid (I know I'm a geek) that I'll save for another time.

The Bad

Toyota Plug In Hybrid (PHEV) Prius - Sad to say but I was fairly disappointed with the PHEV Prius. Toyota afterall started this whole Hybrid ball rolling and committed to it early so you'd expect that the next incarnation, which should be plug in, would be a hum dinger. Not to be. The PHEV Prius is just like the regular one except that it has an EV button near your left knee. Push that in and you can go a whopping 7 miles on pure electric before the gas kicks back in. 7 Miles? You've got to be kidding me. That's the best they could come up with? Sorry Toyota, when the guy from Danbury, Ct 80 feet away has made a better mod on your car than you can, there's a problem somewhere.

Daimler Chrysler's Fuel Cell Prototype - I kind of drove this because I sort of figured I had to so I could say that I had driven a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle. I basically think the whole hydrogen thing is a bunch of hype (more on this down the road I promise). These are basically electric cars that are powered by Hydrogen. The guy from Daimler kept on saying "and it's completely emission free" and when I would point out that the vehicle may be but the fuel source (energy used to compress the hydrogen to begin with) probably wasn't, he got very defensive and told me that they were not in the fuel business. The car itself was fine, but they've got to work on their logic a bit if you ask me.

There were some other honorable mentions specifically the many NEV's (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) that were on show. I guess there are markets for these things but it seems that the average person, unless they live in a retirement community, is not going to feel safe in these things. Mind you, we all need to rethink our transportation priorities, but in all honesty, I can't say I'd feel comfortable putting my daughter in a car that has no reinforced steel, no air bags, and few other safety features when the guy up the block is driving his hummer and texting on his cell phone(more on this another time).

....And The Shockingly Ugly
This really had more to do with aspects of the show than with the vehicles and exhibits. For starters, the show is called "EVS 23-Sustainability: the Future of Transportation" and when I checked in, they handed me a computer bag filled with notepads, dvds, stickers, and brochures. I asked whether anyone else had pointed out the irony that they were handing out a bag made of oil (plastic fabric) at a sustainability conference and they told me that I was the first, but to their credit, agreed with me.

As I checked in they also told me that GM was sponsoring a journalist lunch which was being set up and showed me where I could find it. What I found was about 50 tables like this
each with 10 full place settings, bread, water dessert, etc. Now I didn't eat anything, and I was outside during lunch, but I don't even think there were 500 journalists there, and the amount of food that was being cleared that hadn't been touched at the end of the afternoon was staggering. Sustainability?

Finally, at the ride and drive, Daimler Chrysler had been nice enough to set up boxes upon boxes of plastic water bottles with their names on them for people to drink. The whole purpose of the show is to show an alternative future and here people are drinking water out of single use plastic (oil based) bottles and throwing them away. Of course the show did have a lot of good stuff, and little steps can go a long way, but would you serve meat at a vegan conference? I think not.

Live Sustainably



Anonymous said...

I have been to several conferences that headline with green in the headline and the food and beverage/operations/compulsory marketing shwag shows little or no consideration of sustainability... luckily they have all has evaluations. ...a niche for green meeting planners.

Dave said...

Agreed, this isn't the first time I've seen something like this. I went to a conference at USC a few years back on the future of sustainable energy. It was June and they had about 30 chandeliers lit and the natural gas burning fireplace going yet the room had floor to ceiling windows all around. I mentioned something but shockingly no one really seemed to see a problem with it.

Anna said...

Right on, for calling out the inconsitencies...yes, we must praise the baby steps, but we MUST at the same set the bar high!

Great blog. Keep the fossil-fuel-free fire stoked.