A123/Hymotion taking order for Prius Plug in mods this week?

Discussion in 'Gen 2 Prius Main Forum' started by ualdriver, Apr 26, 2008.

  1. ualdriver

    ualdriver Member

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    A123/Hymotion taking orders for Prius Plug in mods this week?

    Found this article on another forum. My apologies if it's already posted.....

    April 27, 2008
    A Plug-In Conversion for Prius

    By MATTHEW L. WALD
    WASHINGTON

    POSSIBLY the most sought-after technological innovation since Captain Kirk first flipped open his communicator is the plug-in hybrid, a vehicle that runs first on a battery charged from house current, and then on gasoline.

    Big car companies have talked about it, but they do not yet sell plug-ins. Beginning this week, a company in the Boston area will be taking orders for what it says is the first mass-produced aftermarket conversion kit. The company, A123 Systems, is starting out with the Toyota Prius, with what it calls a range extender module. The module fits in the well normally occupied by the spare tire, with a charging port installed on the back bumper.

    The A123 conversion will allow a Prius driver to substitute electricity, at about 3 cents a mile, for gasoline at three or four times that price. And it would let the United States shift toward the use of coal, wind or sun energy sources instead of imported oil.

    About 50 converted vehicles are already in service around North America, some for more than a year, but so far they have been available only to fleet or institutional buyers.

    The module carries 5,000 watt-hours of usable energy, compared with about 300 watt-hours for the battery that is built into the Prius, the one that is charged by the engine, or by electricity generated as the car slows down. That one is charged when the car’s brain decides it is time; the one that A123 adds takes about four hours to charge on 120-volt household current.

    Leslie J. Goldman, the Washington lobbyist for A123, opened the hatchback of his Prius, pointed to an orange extension cord coiled in the back and said: “That’s the only infrastructure you need!â€

    In most parts of the United States, a full charge would cost 60 cents or less. How much extra range the car gets depends heavily on the driver — as does everything in the Prius.

    “If you drive like a maniac, you get about double the Prius mileage,†Mr. Goldman said. With a lighter touch, a driver can get a lot more, at least until the charge runs out. In city driving, the battery could give an extra 35 or 40 miles, he said. That may be more miles than the car goes in a day.

    A driver who could plug in while at work could get 60 or 80 miles a day on the electric drive system, although most people have a much shorter daily itinerary.

    The A123 conversion makes barely any changes to the car. Electrically speaking, it sits between the original battery of the Prius and the car’s computer, serving as a buffer for the factory-installed battery. Mostly what it does is tell the Prius that there is still lots of charge remaining, and thus no need to start the car’s engine to recharge the battery.

    Driving around Washington last week, the Prius engine started up as normal whenever the combination of the accelerator pedal position and the grade of the road demanded more torque than the electric motor could deliver. Stomp on the gas, so to speak, and the Prius drew energy from both the internal combustion engine and the combined battery pack.

    Maximizing the value of the extra watt-hours requires the same expert touch that driving a stock Prius does. So I recruited a self-described Prius geek, Charlie Richman, who lives in Bethesda, Md., and drives to his job in the District of Columbia municipal planning department in a Prius that is still equipped as Toyota built it.

    “Very cool,†said Mr. Richman, test-driving the battery-equipped 2007 Prius.

    Mr. Richman said that the car “handles just like a Prius.†But there is a difference. In his own car, when he accelerates gently and drives for extended periods at just below the level that causes the gasoline engine to kick in (though eventually it will to re-charge the battery). With the A123 pack installed, the gas engine never had to do that, at least not in the 10 miles or so that he cruised along North Capitol Street and then New Hampshire Avenue N.W., four or six-lane city streets with a few straightaways and frequent traffic lights.

    The Prius comes with an instantaneous fuel economy gauge that runs up to 99.9 miles per gallon, but A123 installs another with an extra digit. After I drove the Prius for a distance the gauge said my mileage was in the 80’s, but Mr. Richman quickly moved the average back up over 100. (The test car was covered with decals proclaiming 120 miles per gallon.)

    A123 uses a battery technology it calls lithium ion nanophosphate, developed at M.I.T. It stores 5,000 watt-hours in a 140-pound module. In comparison, Toyota’s nickel metal-hydride battery weighs about 100 pounds and holds 1,300 watt-hours.

    But to increase the longevity of the nickel metal-hydride battery, the powertrain control control of a standard Prius keeps the charge from falling more than a few percentage points below 50, so its 1,300 watt-hour battery is effectively much smaller. A123 says its battery will withstand 7,000 cycles of full charge and then discharge. At a charge a day, that is longer than the likely life of the Prius.

    The warranty is a bit more modest, at three years. David Vieau, president and chief executive of A123, said the battery had been tested in hot and cold conditions, and was legal to install because it reduces the already-low emissions of the stock Prius. He also said that it would not void the Toyota warranty because it does not alter the function of any Toyota system. Toyota, though, has yet to be heard from on that point, he acknowledged.

    (Martha Voss, a spokeswoman for Toyota, said that an after-market part would, in fact, void the warranty if Toyota decided it was responsible for the failure that occurred; this would be determined on a case-by-case basis, she said. Toyota is working on its own version of a plug-in, she said, using in-house engineering.)

    A123’s long-term goal, though, has always been to sell its batteries to companies like Toyota. Mr. Vieau said he had gotten into the aftermarket parts business backwards.

    “It’s hard to sell to the car guys unless you are already in mass production,†he said, so the company began with a smaller market: power tool manufacturers. Soon, though, it found that a tiny Toronto company, Hymotion, was buying its batteries and assembling them into conversion kits for the Prius. Mr. Vieau said his company was worried that untrained mechanics could build an unsafe car.

    So A123 bought Hymotion, which had done only a handful of conversions but had extensive experience in hybrid vehicles. Now A123 has six approved installer companies around the country and is planning to add more, he said.

    But selling to General Motors (A123’s batteries are being tested in G.M.’s development program for the Volt plug-in hybrid) or other manufacturer would make life simpler, said Ric Fulop, A123’s founder and vice president of business development; that would simplify charging systems, cooling systems, packaging and other aspects, he said.

    As an add-on, the A123 module is a bit cumbersome and quite expensive, $9,999. Using a calculator on the company’s website, Hymotion :: Enabling the new generation of hybrid owners to maximize their fuel efficiency, a shopper can enter his anticipated daily mileage and see the savings in fuel and carbon dioxide. For example, a 16-mile-each-way daily commute, half city and half highway, and a total of 12,000 miles a year, saves about 162 gallons a year compared to an ordinary Prius. (A problem in a way, is that the A123 module is an add-on to an already-efficient car, and thus saves a substantial fraction of a number of gallons that is small to begin with.) That indicates a payback period of more than 17 years. If a shopper anticipates a tax on carbon dioxide of, say $20 a ton, that reduces the payback period by about a year.

    But a shopper who drove more miles and could recharge at mid-day, and who expected gasoline prices higher than the mid-$3 range over the lifetime of the car, might find the economics better.

    “If the price of fuel stays at $3.50, we’d agree that for most people this is a marginal case,†said Mr. Vieau. The target market is clearly first-adopters with some disposable income.

    As with all great energy innovations, the next thing the inventors want is a tax credit for their product, just as the Prius and other hybrids got. That would allow manufacturers to build volume and cut costs, they say. A123 says costs could fall 20 or 30 percent in the next few years just on volume.

    For Mr. Richman, the conversion might not be cool enough to justify the $9,999 price. “If I had $10,000, I’d be half way to a new minivan,†he said, adding that he would like to find something more efficient than his Honda Odyssey. Strictly speaking, the Prius itself may not have been an economic choice, he said, “but I convinced myself it was almost neutral†in dollars, and worth it because it reduces the family’s carbon footprint, he said.

    But for the time being, the discussion of how best to spend $10,000 is hypothetical, he said, because “I don’t have $10,000; I have children.â€

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/a..._r=2&pagewanted=1&ref=automobiles&oref=slogin
     
  2. ualdriver

    ualdriver Member

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  3. Godiva

    Godiva AmeriKan Citizen

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    I saw this being installed on an SDGE fleet car at our local Ford Alternative Fuel Center.

    The only thing that worried me was the lack of a spare. I was told the driver's would have a can of that goo stuff that ruins your tire but temporarily fixes a flat.

    Well, yesterday I had a blowout on the freeway. 28,000 miles on the tires. I had picked up a nail somewhere and on the way home from work the tire got so flat it blew. There was a two inch slit in the tire. No way that tire repair stuff would fix that. And if I didn't have a spare, I'm looking at getting towed.

    So now I have mixed feelings about losing my spare to an extender module.
     
  4. Jiipa

    Jiipa MGySgt USMC (Ret)

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    Does that "repair in a can" stuff affect the TPMS?
     
  5. ualdriver

    ualdriver Member

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    Maybe you wouldn't be necessarily losing your spare. I don't own a Prius yet, but wouldn't the spare fit in the trunk/hatchback? Or perhaps one could buy one of those small donut spares?
     
  6. Sheepdog

    Sheepdog C'Mere Sheepie!

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    The Prius already has a darned donut tire. It is one of the few things I dislike about my car. I dont think the 10K price is a good one. It takes way too long to recoup the costs to be useful. 1K sure as heck would, but 10?

    no way.


    :third: honorable mention only
     
  7. SeniorDad

    SeniorDad Junior Member

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    The Dinner Table Conversation (at breakfast), just happened here.

    At ten grand (plus tax and $400 Delivery) including installation the only way I could justify it is to use the upcoming Prius plug-in's probable price, not losing the depreciation of our 2007 Prius with only 4,000 miles and the l-o-o-o-o-ng wait for the Chevy Volt as factors in Hymotion's favor.

    So, I'm on the fence here, and PHEV capability (and the need to get rid of a 2006 Honda Odyssey that was the biggest Lemon ever made) are the only reasons I bought the Prius in the first place.
     
  8. chogan2

    chogan2 Senior Member

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    Thanks for posting the links.

    I sure hope their competence as engineers exceeds their competence as website developers. I signed up for their mailing list just so I would get word when they were available. I did get at least one email in the past, but no notice that I could actually put my money down. Went to make a deposit, can't tell whether the credit card transaction is secure or not (page reads as HTTP not HTTPS, although the text description says its secure. Tried to use their calculator (using the latest edition of Firefox) and got a blank screen. The main page still lists obsolete information, only the products page has notice that they're starting non-fleet installs soon.

    I put my money down anyway. And yeah, I realize it's not cost-effective. I'm calculating the net cost will be about $40/month, undiscounted, over the life of the vehicle, with $4/gallon gas, for my wife's driving pattern. Gas would have to be about $9/gallon for it to be breakeven, which seems unlikely. I spend that much per month on beer, I can afford to spend it on reducing gasoline use.

    I'm the opposite of a frivolous spendthrift, so I need to offer several plausible excuses for my behavior.

    First, my wife's birthday is next week, and I didn't know what to get her. (Guess what I got you for your birthday, honey? Snow tires!) No, really, she'll be thrilled. I think.

    Second, they're the first to the market offering me a convenient EV to meet my needs. I've said I'd buy the first one offered.

    Third, I've researched it enough to realize it's not a panacea, but it for around-town driving will result in considerable reduction in carbon outputs. We buy wind power, so in theory out electricity is carbon-neutral, and our substantially larger power bills from using this car will mean more support for wind power, so it's a two-fer.

    Fourth, if I look at what my likely options are going to be 2010 or so, I don't see any clear deal-breakers there. There are several planned EVs that don't really meet my needs (and which would mean selling a car before it wore out, which I've never done before). There's a chance of a Chevy Volt at >$30K (and so > the price of Prius plus conversion, with far less interior space). And there's maybe a 2010 stock Prius PHEV, which by rumor will be better integrated but probably lower capacity and will cost several $K more than the non-plugin (and which would require me to sell a car before I'd worn it out).

    I hate buying new cars anyway. And I've pretty well run out of significant ways to decarbon my lifestyle further. I'm going to upgrade what I've got. And feel somewhat guilty about the expense.
     
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