24 September 2007
Souped up Prius
Mark Holland

This is interesting.

Like how the iPod created an industry of add-ons, the Prius is doing the same.

Unlike most after market products for cars, which are about sporting up the performance or look, the Hybrid aftermarket is in superior batteries and charging. The improvements are impressive.

“We can improve the energy density, accelerate more quickly, and all without taking up too much space.” Translation: A 45 mpg hybrid can now get up to 125 mpg. Today, about three dozen vehicles equipped with A123Systems cells are prowling the cul-de-sacs of chichi suburbs.

As ever the early adopters are carrying the burden in order to be first.

Naturally, cost is an issue. It takes 64 years of gas savings to pay off the extra investment a Hybrids Plus conversion entails.

Thanks to their taking one for the team, when mass production reduces the price the possible benefits could be amazing.

In August, A123Systems signed a deal with GM to help develop a fuel cell for the Chevy Volt. GM believes a plug-in hybrid like the Volt, which could be in showrooms by 2009, could render the average daily commute—about 40 miles—gas-free. Such efforts could ultimately lead American firms to create what would have been unthinkable a few years ago—a car not powered with fossil fuels. As we speak, at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley—where a massive solar-generating installation went live in June—four Priuses converted to plug-ins are being recharged by the sun.

I’d still want a Tesla Roadster, but meanwhile this is still very cool technology and another positive step in weaning us off of the black stuff.


  1. Is there a technical reason why Toyota built it with a petrol engine, rather than diesel, or is it just because they expected the big market to be in the US?

    Posted by dearieme on  25 September 2007 at 10:59 pm

  2. The original idea behind the Prius was as a gas-engine alternative to zero-emissions vehicles—the California, USA mandate for electric cars.  The emphasis was on using the hybrid drive to achieve ultra-low emissions, and the emphasis on CO2 as a regulated emission and on high gas mileage was secondary.  So it was more than the U.S. market—it was the California market with the idea of persuading the CARB (California Air Resources Board) to waive the requirement for electric cars and permit hybrid-electric cars as a substitute, which is what happened.

    The Prius uses no ordinary gasoline engine—it is valve-timed for something like 14:1 expansion ratio—the more expansion than compression is called “Atkinson Cycle.”  It also has lighweight pistons and connecting rods to reduce engine friction (and reduce gas consumption in the process), and it is rev-limited to about 4000 RPM.  As such, this highly power and torque derated gas engine relies on the electric portion to get adequate performance.

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison project car, called the Moovada because Wisconsin is “America’s Dairyland” as proclaimed on auto license plates, and based on a GM CUV offering, is a Diesel-electric hybrid as were the PNGV (Partnership for Next-Generation Vehicle—program with a goal of 80 MPG) prototypes.

    I believe you are right that the ultimate in fuel efficiency will require combining Diesel with electric hybrid drive.  But just as the hybrid drive adds cost to a car, the Diesel adds cost, and with Diesel it is still hard to achieve the low emission levels achievable with gas, so I believe the Prius was meant to be a “Bridge Not Too Far” as a practical but intermediate step to an ultra-efficiency vehicle so Toyota could test the waters of consumer acceptance.

    Posted by Paul Milenkovic on  26 September 2007 at 06:04 am

  3. Thanks, Paul.

    Posted by dearieme on  27 September 2007 at 12:24 am

  4. 4 Actually, one thing.  When you say “gas” do you mean gas or gasoline?

    Posted by dearieme on  27 September 2007 at 12:26 am

  5. Sorry, “gas” is U.S. slang for gasoline, although there are some CNG (compressed natural gas) and propane cars in fleet usage.

    Posted by Paul Milenkovic on  01 October 2007 at 06:56 am

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