The PHEV Letdown Begins

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Feb 28, 2009.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Reality check on plug-in cars

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    Danny Westneat
    Seattle Times staff columnist

    Remember last spring, when Seattle's mayor rolled out the city's first car that could be "filled at the plug instead of the pump?"

    It's called a plug-in hybrid. They are all the green rage — "possibly the most sought-after technological innovation since Captain Kirk first flipped open his communicator," says The New York Times.

    You may have seen the city's cars around town, painted with an eye-catching claim on the rear bumper: "This plug-in hybrid gets 100+mpg."

    Also, a greener boast: "150+City MPG!"

    Not exactly, it turns out. Not even close.

    Try 51 miles per gallon, city and highway combined. Not counting the cost of the electricity.

    It's what 14 plug-in Priuses averaged after driving a total of 17,636 miles. The pilot project is one of the few in the nation to subject plug-in hybrid cars to regular motor-pool duty, as opposed to being driven by hypermilers or alt-energy enthusiasts.

    "We're not putting these cars on a test track," said Scott Thomsen, a spokesman for Seattle City Light, which has three of the plug-ins. "We've got them on hills and wet streets, in the cold and the hot, on short trips and long — all the conditions that real people deal with every day."

    Getting 51 miles per gallon sounds fine compared to most gas cars. But it's a black eye for a technology that trumpets it will get twice that. And which doesn't pencil financially unless it hits at least 80 miles per gallon.

    "That's not anywhere near close to the ballpark of what plug-ins need to be getting," said Therese Langer, of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

    The plug-ins the city is using are only one of many types in development. It's a standard gas/battery hybrid Prius with an extra battery you charge using a 120-volt wall socket. The car runs on the extra battery until it needs to kick on the gas. It theoretically goes about 30 miles on battery alone, using gas only for bursts of acceleration, on steep hills and after the battery is exhausted.

    Obviously, this one isn't working as advertised. It's partly the technology, which is new. And partly that drivers aren't used to the cars, says Jim Francfort, of the federal government's Advanced Vehicle Testing program, which is overseeing the Seattle project.

    He says we tend to accelerate too fast. In a plug-in hybrid, anything but smooth, slow acceleration drains the battery quickly and craters the mileage.

    "How people drive has a huge impact, much greater than it does with gas cars," he said.

    Maybe that can be fixed. Or maybe plug-ins aren't ready to go mass market. There is a green wave building behind them anyway.

    Plug-ins are seen by many as the best way to reduce America's dependence on oil, right away. Barack Obama pledged to get 1 million plug-ins on the road by 2015. Congress is spending billions to ready the electric grid, build charging stations and entice people with tax credits to buy the cars.

    The problem is the extra battery costs $10,000. At 51 mpg, the plug-in saves only about $200 in gas costs annually compared to a regular Prius in the city's fleet (and that's at $4 a gallon.) It would take 50 years to make back the cost of the extra battery.

    Even if the battery cost is cut in half, as some are hoping, you'd have to get 80 to 100 miles per gallon, consistently, to earn back the premium price.

    In its February issue, Consumer Reports road-tested a plug-in Prius and concluded the cost was "more than you could ever expect to recoup in gas savings."

    The search-engine company Google has nine plug-in Prius hybrids in use by its employees. They're getting an average of 54.9 mpg. (You can monitor the cars' performance at a Web site, www.google.org/recharge/dashboard.)

    That exceeds the Seattle figure, yet "Google is now sort of embarrassed about their results," said Tom Turrentine, director of the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center, in Davis, Calif.

    "I think we all need to be more careful," he said. "When we say we're going to get 100 or 150 miles per gallon, then that's setting expectations way too high. It just leads to disappointment. We need to deal in reality."

    That is the reason I'm writing this column. We are in the grips of green mania. Take the federal stimulus bill. It included $60 billion in green spending projects and another $20 billion in green tax breaks.

    I'd love to go all Thomas Friedman on you and say it's a green Apollo project that will launch us to a green moon. But a lot of it will turn out to be hype. The hype is more than just a sideshow — it undermines the goal.

    What I'm wondering is: Can we do anything without pledging 100 and then delivering 51? Green fever feels a lot like dot-com mania. Or the housing craze. The biofuel bust. Divide in half what was evangelized, and that's what we got.

    Hopefully, the plug-in story will end better. Give it time, say smart, reasonable people like Turrentine. Still, the Seattle road tests are hinting at something bigger. That there is no magic techno bullet to going green.

    "Drive less" may be a boring message, not as sexy as "150+ City MPG!" It does have the advantage of not being a pipe dream.

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  2. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    By Edward Niedermeyer
    February 23, 2009

    Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times apparently wasn’t taken in by the “This Car Gets 100/150MPG!” signage on Seattle’s test fleet of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). And it seems that his journalistic incredulity was rewarded with some disappointing numbers from Seattle’s real-world testing of the much-vaunted PHEVs. Sure, a converted plug-in Prius might get 100 mpg in the hands of a fanatic hypermiler, but in daily use by untrained city drivers, the PHEVs return much more moderate results. Westneat reveals that Seattle’s 14 plug-in Priuses actually averaged about 51 mpg after driving a total of 17,636 miles in all kinds of conditions. And the Seattle case is no fluke.

    Google’s “Recharge” fleet of PHEVs returns similarly underwhelming results on average, specifically 37.7 mpg from a plug-in Ford Escape and 54.9 mpg from several plug-in Priora. Now, clearly 37-55 mpg is an improvement over their standard hybrid equivalents, but with Prius PHEV upgrades retailing fom $10K and up the cost of plugging in works out to around $1K per mpg improvement. According to Westneat’s math, even if battery prices were cut in half PHEV Priora would have to hit 80-100 mpg to overcome the shocking plug-in premium. And that’s not great. Are PHEV’s evolving technology? Sure. Will changes in driving style help improve those numbers? Probably. But does slapping “This Car Gets 100 MPG) on the side help the cause when those numbers don’t translate to reality? Not so much.
     
  3. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    It's still a good place to start. Real progress won't be made until the infrastructure is in place and people are using them en-masse. The same thing happened with gas engines.
     
  4. CJPA

    CJPA New Member

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    I support plug-in vehicles if their power source comes from a Nuclear plant...

    But Nuclear Power supplies less than 20% of our nation's electricity, so the majority of PEHVs will just be spewing more coal bullshit into the atmosphere
     
  5. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Even unfiltered coal plants are cleaner per-watt than gasoline engines are.

    That being said, I agree; nuclear power should be one of our first options for power, not one of our last.
     
  6. dr.zed

    dr.zed DR.ZED OT Supporter

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    1. Aging electrical grids.
    2. Cost of producing viable in country electricity to use without having to purchasing from other countries en masse.
    3. Battery technology and the "carbon footprint" (boy do I hate saying that) of designing, manufacturing and disposing of current batteries.

    Focusing on cleaner burning and better exhaust treatments on gas and diesel vehicles is the way to go. Direct injection gas, exhaust treatment diesels (my 09 TDI doesn't have an ounce of black smoke from the back of it, its pretty amazing) is the future.

    Every auto mfg needs an exotic prototype to help look towards the future (plug ins) but the infrastructure is simply not in place to support it.

    Have you seen the technology that ignites gas like diesel? A controlled knock combustion process? There are some amazing technologies out there that use the resources we're getting better at harnessing.

    Ever looked at world stock of oil? Interesting how the paranoia of peak oil has died down since people literally slowed down on driving SUVs for only 12 months. Unreal.
     
  7. z284pwr

    z284pwr OT Supporter

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    From an enthusiast's standpoint it'll be interesting to see what comes with these new technologies. The gas engine provides endless amounts of fun and the amount of power you can produce is crazy. It'll be interesting to see if anything ends of replacing these or if it's nearing the end of fun cars :wtc:
     
  8. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Electric motors can produce the exact same HP from 0rpm to redline. Imagine a 400hp car that makes 400hp at 5mph, at 50mph, and at 150mph. That sounds like a fun car to me.

    Just gotta come up with a way to store all that power. My vote is for rechargeable fuel cells.
     
  9. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    dr.zed, most PHEVs will be charged at night, when power usage is low.
     
  10. art_VW_shark

    art_VW_shark OT Supporter

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    You have to be kidding if you think vehicle speed and HP are related. please tell me you meant to type rpm
     
  11. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Electric motors produce the same HP-per-input-watt at any RPM, so the gearbox ratio is irrelevant in their case; for electric cars, vehicle speed (not counting wheelspin) and HP are related.
     
  12. z284pwr

    z284pwr OT Supporter

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    That is exactly the problem. Then take in the consideration of cost of doing so, plus the Gubment is nut sack riding the MPG thing, if you want MPG and cost efficiency, the third option (power in this case) goes away. It will almost turn into the next generation of the Power, Cost, Reliability triangle.

    I don't know a whole ton about these systems so forgive me if this sounds retarded.
    How exactly are the drive wheels turned with electric motors then? Is it basically a direct drive system? The Tesla Roadster for example as a single gear (8.2752:1) transmission. If someone were to modify and change this gear, wouldn't it in turn change the HP vs. MPH as you are now using a different multiplier for the gear ratio?
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2009

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