Plug-In 2008: Detroit, Meet the Startups

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At a time of record high gas prices and presidential candidates who are fighting over energy platforms, what could be more prescient than a conference highlighting plug-in vehicles? The first annual Plug-In 2008 conference kicks off this morning in downtown San Jose, and it looks to have hit a nerve. At least for the automakers and startups building the next-generation of technology.

Big Detroit has a major presence at the show, as the major automakers have started to embrace more fuel efficient vehicles in the face of difficult times for their businesses. Last night we reported that General Motors will be working with a consortium of over 30 utilities and the Electric Power Research Institute to push standardization, customer education and policy issues for plug-ins. Ford, which reports quarterly earnings this week and is reportedly shifting its focus to smaller vehicles, has representatives speaking during the show, and there will be two Ford plug-in vehicles on display: a Ford Escape at EPRI’s booth and an F-150 at Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies booth.

Much of the floor will be taken up by younger startups with technology for smart charging, quick charging, and plug-in conversion kits. A123System’s Hymotion is displaying its technology, and smart-charging startup Coulomb Technologies is demoing its tech on a Saturn Vue plug-in. Venture Vehicles plans to show a pure electric Alpha prototype (update: looks like Venture Vehicles cancelled) and Zap is expected to show off its Xebra and electric scooters.

One of the big highlights will be a lunchtime keynote from former head of Intel turned plug-in vehicle advocate Andy Grove. Grove, now 71, tells Bloomberg that in his speech he will discuss his concerns about global warming and reiterate his call for 10 million vehicles that can run 40 miles on all-electric battery power before the gas engine kicks in, within four years. Bloomberg also says Grove will advocate tax credits and interest free loans for plug-in conversions.

We’ll be blogging the events and taking video footage of the vehicles at the show. Stay tuned.

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Hans Borchardt

Katie, great report.
Here is what I’m circulating locally (mid-Delaware) to try to create awareness of plug-ins.

The cost of oil would presumably drop with increased supply or reduced demand. The only story the media is covering is increasing supply: should we or should we not drill in environmentally sensitive areas?

So let me talk about what others aren’t talking about, namely, decreasing demand. First, some facts:
• At current consumption, we will run out of oil within the lifetime of today’s children and young adults; estimated world reserve is 45 years.
• Some critical products such as pharmaceuticals are made from oil.
• Over 2/3 of the oil we use is burned to move ground vehicles creating pollution and global warming, a job that could be done cleanly with non-polluting electricity.
• Cars that run primarily on electricity will become available in 2010.
About Electric Cars
These are not glorified golf carts but sporty vehicles that get to 60 mph in seconds and can cruise silently at 70-80 mph. There are 3 kinds:
1. ZEV, zero emission vehicle; an all electric car. At this time, Nissan is the only major auto maker that plans to offer these in 2010. They have a limited range, 30-40 miles.
2. PHEV, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, also called a 2-stage hybrid. It differs from a conventional hybrid in that the batteries can be charged from an electric outlet. It functions like a ZEV if driven within the range of the batteries. Toyota, GM and VW have announced offering these in 2010. The VW announcement reports performance of over 90 mpg over a 62-mile route.
3. CONVENTIONAL HYBRID. These have been around for some time. The 48 mpg Toyota Prius is the most efficient and best known.
What People Can Do
(1) Commit to having your next car be one of the electrics (plug-in hybrid preferred) thereby contributing to —
o a reduction in consumption of oil.;
o reducing air pollution and global warming;
o saving oil for critical uses like pharmaceuticals;
o saving oil for future generations;
o freeing ourselves from dependence on oil from unfriendly sources.
If everyone did this consumption could be reduced by as much as 2/3 and oil prices would plummet. But even if you’re alone at this and prices remain high, you will be using so little oil that cost hardly matters.

(2) To make this work, we need a COHERENT NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY to replace the current “hodgepodge of government incentives — the handiwork of lobbyists, with all the inconsistency and irrationality that involves” (quote, John McCain). Ask your representative for an energy “master plan”
which includes
• electrification of our transportation system, both private and public;
• regulation of electricity cost, particularly to provide lower cost during low usage periods;
• generous incentives for low income buyers of low emission vehicles;
• cutting off funding for unproductive programs such as ethanol biofuel from corn (1) and hydrogen fuel cells (2);
• using the aforesaid funds to finance the low emissions incentive program;
• accelerated construction of power plants that produce no emissions such as nuclear.
and which avoids
• becoming riddled with concessions to the oil and farm lobbyists.
(3) Oppose drilling in sensitive areas to save these oil reserves for future generations.

For more information see

Hans Borchardt
July 2008

(1) Fuel from corn is a net energy LOSER requiring 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel itself actually contains according to David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University who has been studying grain alcohol for 20 years, and Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

(2) “In the President’s State of the Union Message President Bush announced a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative — President Bush is proposing a total of $1.7 billion over the next five years to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cells —”
Mr. President, how long will this program take? Answer, a “car driven by a child born today could be powered by fuel cells.”

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