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Summary:

Just as grid parity is the holy grail for the solar industry, price parity with conventional mass-market vehicles is the holy grail for today’s plug-in car makers. Startups like Fisker Automotive, whose CEO Henrik Fisker spoke on a panel today at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference […]

Just as grid parity is the holy grail for the solar industry, price parity with conventional mass-market vehicles is the holy grail for today’s plug-in car makers. Startups like Fisker Automotive, whose CEO Henrik Fisker spoke on a panel today at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Southern California, as well as General Motors, are starting out with higher-end vehicles (Fisker with the $87,900 Karma and GM with the $40,000 Chevy Volt) while working to drive down costs, largely through battery technology. The way Fisker sees it, the future of cleaner cars doesn’t have to be expensive — and not just because of the batteries.

Battery packs tend to hog the spotlight when it comes to opportunities for making plug-in cars more affordable. After all, they’re the most expensive part of today’s plug-ins. Fisker, which has pledged to deliver more affordable plug-ins in as little as two years if a Department of Energy loan comes through, said the engine also represents an opportunity to cut costs. “We are putting an engine in this car that is probably more expensive than it needs to be,” he said on the panel. “In the future, they can be simpler because all they need to do is turn the generator.”

How much more expensive? About $3,000. Fisker told me after the panel that at production volumes above 100,000 units, small engines designed specifically for generators in plug-in hybrids could come down to $500 to $700, as compared with up to $4,000 today. Savings on that level wouldn’t make the difference between an $87,900 Karma and a mass-market vehicle, but it represents one more piece of the puzzle (other pieces include inverters and cabling, Fisker said).

Whether or not Fisker will have government help in assembling that puzzle will be decided within “weeks,” Fisker said, although he emphasized that the DOE funding is not in the bank and the company is not counting on it. Still, he said the startup’s concept for a lower-price model is further along than many concept cars at other companies. “We have the business plan all laid out.” They’re just waiting for the green light.

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  1. A Surprising Spring Bouquet of EVs Pops Up All Over « SmallCapWorld Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    [...] This bright idea (ok, it’s a pun) is a useful vehicle that looks like a slicked-up panel truck, but if you count the number of panel trucks on the road today and add up their gasoline exhausts, there is probably more carbon to be saved on those than on the sexy 2-seaters that are being hawked around by Tesla (http://www.teslamotors.com)  and archrival Fisker (http://www.fiskerautomotive.com).   Fisker said today that a simpler EV power system might hold the combination of cheaper EVs (http://earth2tech.com/2009/04/21/fisker-eyes-simpler-engine-as-one-key-to-a-lower-cost-plug-in/). [...]

  2. The objective is to build dual-fuel vehicles that can run on electrical power and a range of synthesized hydrocarbon fuels.
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    Methanol and isobutanol can be synthesized from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
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    Alcohols can be used in combustion engines and they can also be used as the fuel for fuel cells.
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    A plug-in hybrid can then have a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) instead of an engine.
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    The value of carrying alcohol fuel is that it has greater energy density than batteries can provide. You have the energy to drive that extra distance when your battery state of charge would leave you stranded if you only had a battery.
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    An example is the fuel and hybrid fuel cell systems that soldiers can now carry. The system weighs less than just batteries — and lets them carry more power.
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