May 20, 2005
Growth Rate For Electric Hybrid Vehicle Market Debated

An article in the Christian Science Monitor examines a variety of scenarios for the growth of hybrid vehicle sales. The most optimistic scenario has non-hybrids as the exception by 2015.

For example: If consumers keep snapping up hybrids and automakers begin to integrate the technology throughout their product lines - including pickup trucks - then hybrids might quickly reach 20 percent of new vehicle sales by 2010 and 80 percent by 2015, according to another Booz Allen Hamilton report. That's the most optimistic of three scenarios the management consulting firm laid out. In the "high adoption" scenario, hybrids would save 2 million barrels of gasoline a day by 2015; in the "medium adoption" scenario, 800,000 barrels of gasoline.

The Department of Energy offers a less optimistic projection for the rate of growth of hybrids. But Walter McManus, an economist and Director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan Transportation Institute, expects big savings in oil by 2010.

But with gasoline use increasing 1.7 percent a year through 2025, hybrids' impact on oil consumption will be small, according to the latest outlook by the US Department of Energy. It predicts only 1.1 million hybrids will be sold in 2025. Even in the most optimistic case, assuming rapid adoption of hybrid and other car technologies, the US would still chop only 172 million barrels of oil a year by 2025 - about 2.5 percent of expected oil imports that year. On the other side, Mr. McManus predicts more hybrids will be sold in 2010 than the DOE's 2025 estimate.

However, McManus expects Americans to take advantage of efficient cars by driving more.

McManus has a blog Walter's Brain on Sustainable Mobility on the Hybrid Cars web site. There he discusses in greater detail future scenarios for different levels average vehicle fuel efficiency.

"Status Quo Forever" assumes no further improvement in light vehicle fleet fuel economy (so it stays at 20mpg), and a 2% per year increase in the real price of gasoline. This scenario also assumes that hybrids fizzle and stop being built. The rising price of fuel limits the growth of vehicle miles traveled from population and income growth. By 2030 we would be consuming 73% more fuel than in 2004.

"Hybrids (30mpg)" assumes very aggressive growth in hybrids. It makes the same assumption about rising fuel prices. The average hybrid is assumed to achieve 30 mpg, and hybrids are assumed to be available across all segments. By 2015 this scenario assumes hybrids are 50% of new vehicle sales, and by 2030 that they are 100%.

The figure shows that by 2030 there would be significant savings (25%) of fuel compared to "Status Quo Forever," but fuel consumption would nevertheless rise compared to today, but by only 30%. The annual savings would not pass 10% and hybrids would not be more than 50% of all vehicles on the road until 2028.

McManus claims that only 30% of a reduction of fuel consumed per mile becomes a reduction in fuel consumed.

THE 10% INCREASE IN FUEL ECONOMY WOULD RESULT IN ONLY A 3% DECREASE IN GALLONS OF FUEL CONSUMED. Drivers would collectively take most (70%) of the increase in fuel economy in the form of more driving. This is called the "rebound effect" by researchers.

There is some practical limit on how far the "rebound effect" would extend in part because people don't want to spend their entire lives on roads. But more efficient powertrains also enable consumers to move up to driving larger vehicles.

The larger longer term impact of hybrids will come not from greater fuel efficency but rather from a shift toward using electric power outlets to recharge vehicle batteries. The move to hybrids will create such a large demand for lighter weight, higher energy capacity, and longer lasting batteries that the development of battery technology will accelerate. This acceleration of advances in battery technology will usher in the use electric generation plants (whether nuclear, coal, wind, or solar photovoltaics) as sources of energy for transportation.

That electric powered transportation future has already begun. Some Toyota Prius owners already started converting their Priuses to pluggable hybrids that they can recharge at home. Pluggable hybrids lead us down a road away from oil. While oil demand will continue to rise for some years yet to come we are now in the beginning of a shift away from liquid hydrocarbons and toward other sources of energy for transportation. The rapidity of that shift depends on the rate of advance of battery technology. Anyone wishing to accelerate the phase out of oil should support accelerated battery research and development efforts.

Update: McManus corrects his earlier calculation and claims a rebound effect of only 30% of the increase in fuel economy.

Using 2002 as the base again, a 10% increase in MPG would reduce fuel consumption by 7%, rather than the 3% suggested by the crude model.

I stand corrected. The rebound effect would consume 30 percent of the improvements in fuel economy, rather than the 70 percent I claimed in my earlier post.

So most of the increase in fuel efficiency would translate into reduced demand for gasoline. Note, however, that there is an increase in yearly demand due to population growth. The United States population is growing by almost 1% per year.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 May 20 08:26 PM  Energy Transportation

Joseph said at May 20, 2005 9:21 PM:

Hmm I don't see the rebound effect to be as high as they're forcasting. While there has been a decrease in daily mileage, I assume, over the last year I don't think it's a great reduction over what Americans feel is a necessary amount of driving. I do believe the "vacation" option will return again to some extent. It shouldn't impact that highly on total usage though. The biggest limiter on such driving vacations always was lodging cost. In addition package tours have permanently reduced the percentage.

But all in all I find this encouraging. This will bring about the eventual objectives most posters here believe are necessary. Any reduction in import percentage is wellcome. Additionally this gives more time for tech to develope. As a side note if we really had the will we could be fully self sufficent on hydrocarbons, there's still about 1.5~2 trillion recoverable barrels of oil from shale in the western US. Just as well though if we don't have to use it.

Engineer-Poet said at May 21, 2005 5:40 AM:

The scenarios seem to be reality-challenged.  For instance, "Status quo forever" assumes an increasing production of oil.  It is increasingly obvious that this is not only impossible to continue for long, oil production may already have peaked for technical reasons (incompetence and graft in state-owned oil companies reduces it further).

An increase in driving depends on a reduction of costs.  Given limited oil production, the only way that costs can be reduced is to cut the amount of oil required to cover a given distance.  Efficiency is one way, but it only goes so far; eventually, replacement of oil by other sources of energy will be required.

Fortunately it is not overly difficult and becoming easier by the year.

Joseph said at May 21, 2005 1:32 PM:

I've been trying to find some projections of diesel (compression ignition) hybrids. Offhand they should be very effecient with the engine set to it's optimal output rmp. From what I'm seeing post ignitions reformers (for lack of a better word) would resolve most of the nox problems and most of what remained from the particulate flow (reduced by the simple expediant of a steady operating rpm). This has applications if you wish to burn say GTL fuel which unlike hydrogen has the ability to be dumped into a regular fuel tank.

Engineer-Poet said at May 21, 2005 3:17 PM:

Joseph, you may want to look at the results of the PNGV program.  As I recall, all those vehicles were diesel hybrids; the Daimler-Chrysler ESX3 certainly was.

Flying Arrow said at May 21, 2005 3:30 PM:

Wouldn't it be cheap and easy to install an induction coil in hybrids and then lay cables under heavily used roads to power the cars?

gmoke said at May 21, 2005 4:43 PM:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Nancy Hazard,,
413.774.6051 x18

James Dunn,, 508.870.0042 x108

Modified Hybrid Vehicle Breaks 100 MPG Barrier In National 2005 Tour de Sol

Advanced Vehicles Demonstrate Zero Oil-Consumption,

Reduced Climate-Change Emissions

Greenfield, MA - May 16, 2005 - A modified hybrid vehicle, a Honda Insight
driven by Brian Hardegen of Pepperell, MA, has broken the
100-mile-per-gallon barrier over a 150-mile range in the National 2005 Tour
de Sol held May 13-16 in Saratoga Springs and Albany, NY. A student team
from West Philadelphia High School in Philadelphia, PA, has taken top honors
with its purpose-built hybrid vehicle, which uses biodiesel instead of
gasoline and produces 77% less climate-change emissions compared to a
conventional gas car.

During the National 2005 Tour de Sol - the 17th annual sustainable-energy
and transportation festival and competition -- over 60 hybrid, electric and
biofueled vehicles from throughout the U.S. and Canada demonstrated that we
have the technology today to power our transportation system with zero-oil
consumption and zero climate-change emissions. Each vehicle showed new ways
to reduce our dependence on foreign oil while reducing harmful pollutants.

"Each year, the Tour de Sol highlights the largest innovations in
alternative-energy technology and advanced fuel vehicles, showcasing the
future of the clean-energy and transportation industry," said New York State
Gov. George E. Pataki. "Over the last 10 years, we've invested unprecedented
funding into the research and development of clean-fuel technology and
currently deploy more than 4,300 clean-fuel vehicles in our state-operated
fleets. I'm proud that many of the cars and components featured in this year
's Tour de Sol are being developed right here in New York State, creating
new markets and jobs for the 21st century while helping to clean our air and
reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

"The students, businesses, New York State government officials, auto
companies producing advanced vehicles, and people using new hybrid and
biofuel vehicles in the Tour de Sol are the new American heroes of the 21st
century," said Nancy Hazard, executive director of the Northeast Sustainable
Energy Association in Greenfield, MA, organizer of the Tour de Sol. "Every
American is a winner because of their efforts to design, build and use
advanced vehicles that aim to reduce imported oil and climate-change
emissions today - offering an alternative solution to the energy and
climate-change crises that threaten life as we know it"

Thousands of people came to see the vehicles and talk with the people
participating in the three exciting competitions held during the National
2005 Tour de Sol. There were 41 entrants in the new Monte Carlo-style Rally,
with several participating in the 100 MPG Challenge. The top-placing
vehicles in the Monte Carlo-style Rally were: a Honda Insight driven by Mike
Lewis of Portland, ME, averaging 79 MPG; a Toyota Prius driven by Jean Couto of
Marlboro, MA, with 61 MPG; and a biodiesel Volkswagen Passat, delivering 77
MPG over a 500-mile range.

"We were very pleased by the performance of the various production vehicles
entered in the Monte Carlo-style Rally and 100 MPG Challenge," said James
Dunn, CEO of the Center for Technology Commercialization in Westboro, MA.
The overall average performance of the 29 Toyota and Honda hybrid sedans
exceeded 60 MPG, with a modified Honda Insight from Brian Hardegen of
Pepperell, MA, delivering 107 MPG and a "plug-in" Toyota Prius from Valence
Corp. in Austin, TX, averaging 102 MPG over a 150-mile range. The average of
the 5 biodiesel vehicles was nearly 53 MPG, including the 20 MPG average of
the Ford F250 pickup truck entered by Vogelbilt in West Babylon, NY. Two
remarkable production vehicles were new Ford Escape hybrid SUVs from the New
York State Energy Research and Development Authority as well as RadAir in
Parma, OH, achieving 35 and 43 MPG, respectively.

The most interesting overall vehicle was the novel "plug-in" hybrid
demonstrated by Valence Corp. and EDrive in Monrovia, CA. This is a modified
Toyota Prius with a much larger battery pack than the normal Prius, and
charged with external grid power. On a 150-mile run, this vehicle achieved
102 MPG on the gasoline used, but also used 9 kilowatt-hours of electricity
required to charge the special lithium-ion batteries, which cost less than
$1 to recharge. Although this vehicle would be relatively expensive to buy
if available today (due to extra battery cost) plug-in hybrids may become a
viable future technology.

In the Tour de Sol Championship, which showcases concept vehicles built by
students and entrepreneurs as well as some production vehicles, all but two
of the entrants approached zero oil use by powering their vehicles with
biodiesel, electricity, solar or natural gas. Of these, St. Mark's High
School in Southboro, MA, and North Haven Community School, North Haven, ME,
demonstrated true zero-oil consumption and true zero climate-change
emissions with their modified electric Ford pick-up and Volkswagen bus,
respectively, At home, they recharge their vehicles from wind and solar -
demonstrating what can be done when electric vehicles are recharged by
"clean electricity", which can be purchased throughout the U.S.

Three top-placing teams -- West Philadelphia High School, Quebec Advanced
Transportation Institute (ITAQ) in St. Jerome, Quebec, Canada, and Western
Washington University in Bellingham, WA -- demonstrated incredibly low
greenhouse-gas emissions by running their vehicles on biodiesel. The ITAQ
entry got 67 MPG in a diesel Mercedes SMART vehicle.

The E-bike and NEV Competition attracted over a dozen vehicles ranging from
recumbent electric tricycles, to stand-up scooters, electric bicycles, and
4-wheeled /4-passenger NEVs (neighborhood electric vehicles). What all these
vehicles have in common is that they run on electricity and are designed to
meet our needs for local "around town" trips. The incredible efficiency of
these lightweight vehicles truly demonstrates what can be achieved in the
field of fuel efficiency. OptiBike of Boulder, CO, took first place with
their pedal-assisted electric bike.

In addition to the vehicles participating in the National 2005 Tour de Sol,
there were over 30 displays from auto, bus and NEV manufacturers, business
and government leaders, all working together to produce clean transportation
solutions for the U.S., Canada and beyond. Displays included: Toyota's
hybrid Prius, Highlander SUV and Lexus RX 400h; Honda's three hybrid
sedans -- Insight, Civic, and Accord -- its natural-gas Civic GX, and the
FCX, one of its 30 hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles; natural-gas, propane and
hybrid buses and trucks; emission-reduction technologies for new ceramic
brakes; biodiesel suppliers; and lithium-battery manufacturers.


Monte Carlo-style Rally & 100 MPG Challenge

The Monte Carlo-style Rally was created this year to offer advanced vehicle
owners the opportunity to demonstrate what their vehicles (production-line
or modified) can deliver as well as to compete for up to $10,000 in prizes.
To compete for the 100 MPG Challenge (which no entrant achieved this year)
entrants began at one of the 11 official stating sites around the U.S. and
Canada and drove a minimum of 500 miles to Stewart's Shops in Saratoga
Springs, NY. Other entrants traveled a minimum of 150 miles to Saratoga
Springs, for other prizes.

Key Monte Carlo-style Rally organizers are the Automotive Career Development
Center and the Center for Technology Commercialization, with Stewart's Shops
and biodiesel supplier Environmental Alternatives providing the fuel for all
the entries. This year, 40 teams entered the new Monte Carlo-style Rally.

E-Bike and NEV Competition
The E-bike and NEV (neighborhood electric vehicle) competition was created
last year by RunAbout Cycles in Sunderland, MA. E-bike and NEV
manufacturers, distributors, entrepreneurs, hobbyists and students are
invited to participate in this two-day event. This year, over a dozen
entrants went through technical specification checks, displayed their
vehicles and participated in a range events of one, two or three hours.

Tour de Sol Championship
Over a half million consumers have visited the Tour de Sol since its
creation in 1989 by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA),
and over 40 million print- and electronic--media exposures accrue from the
Tour each year. The Tour de Sol provides a key platform for vehicle
manufacturers, students and entrepreneurs to demonstrate future designs and
current products that aim to reduce oil and carbon emissions to zero. The
event provides news media the opportunity to provide timely and topical
updates on the status of sustainable energy and mobility. This year, over a
dozen teams participated in the Tour de Sol Championship which began in
1989. It aims to inspire students and businesses to design, build, showcase
and use concept vehicles that push the envelope and work toward the ultimate
goal of the event.


The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Center
for Technology Commercialization are the event's Premier Sponsors. Key
Sponsors are the U.S. Department of Energy, the New York Power Authority,
Toyota, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New
York State Parks, Honda, Environmental Alternatives, and the Federal Highway

NESEA - NESEA, the nation's leading regional education and advocacy
association, is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. NESEA aims to
accelerate the deployment and use of renewable energy and energy efficiency
by producing major sustainable-energy events that inspire and motivate large
numbers of people to get involved and make a difference.

For more information on all of the winners in the National 2005 Tour de Sol,
visit or contact NESEA at 413.774.6051.

NOTE TO ALL MEDIA: All results as well as photos are available upon request.

Joseph said at May 21, 2005 6:06 PM:


Thanks for the keywords, made a big difference on searches.

Okay, the diesel looks very good. The most effecient, two cycle, still has emission problems but should be doable. That would also lower cost noticeably. I do wonder about the major auto manufacturers, in particulare GM. Since they've expressed a drive for FC vehicles a lot of the design and tech requires for hybrid vehicle should allready be developed. In a series configuration the only real difference would be the type of powerplant used and some exhuast/cooling system changes. Of course GM's "skateboard" wouldn't transfer to easily as currently envisaged. Electrical systems should be interchangeable. But perhaps I've simplified it to much. Logic would dictate evolving more electrical storage capacity for onboard fuel savings. I don't know, I'd like to think those corporate leaders are simply playing things close to the chest rather than fully missing all the possibilities.

I found the experience of the use by NY of hybrid diesel busses informative. Overall savings and emissions reductions plus the steep curve in price/maintenance cost reductions. I'm still a bit bemused by the marketing pundits statements. If people can justify higher cost of product with an eventual savings or other benefit they'll buy the item. I'm not surprised that the Japanese auto makers "suddenly" decided to ramp up hybrids. I would be very surprised if the US manufactures didn't suddenly have their own surprise rollout.

Engineer-Poet said at May 21, 2005 11:08 PM:

Flying Arrow:  No, neither cheap nor easy.  Further, with lingering health concerns about magnetic fields, not likely to get anywhere.  Even after a century of progress the way to do that sort of thing is by putting vehicles on rails (eliminates the need to actively steer them) and using overhead wires for power.  Yes, still.  Just because a technique is old does not mean it isn't the best solution to a particular problem.

Joseph:  Particulate traps and catalytic NOx reduction are coming; there has been progress with the use of urea as a source of ammonia for reduction of NOx to N2, and I seem to recall another technology to produce a reducing agent directly from fuel.

But really, is it necessary?  If we went with existing ULEV and SULEV engines we'd reduce economy from ~70 MPG to perhaps 50 MPG.  Quadruple that by running 3/4 of all mileage with electricity instead of petroleum and you can easily wait 15 years to address what's left of the problem.

I'm not sanguine about Detroit.  Where would they have gotten the money for the new models?  How could they have kept them secret?

gmoke:  GREAT press release!

Joseph said at May 22, 2005 2:09 AM:


Ahh simply a comment was all on Detroit. The tech they've allready explored wouldn't be hard to use for a decent hybrid (I'm not really impressed with the Ford model currently on the market). As far as money well GMC has 25 billion in cash. I know they have huge pending liabilities for retirement/health coverage for the sweetheart deal the autoworkers got but for the moment they have cash to gamble. Stranger things have happened.

I'm not sure the marketing pundits are doing either the public or the automakers any favors with their drive to remove the "stigma" of a plug. I sent a query to Ford asking when they'd produce a plugable hybrid and got a long winded lecturing form letter back preaching about not needing a plug. Oh well the market will decide.

Hmm vehicle heating. I wonder how much electrical capacity would be needed to heat a small truck cab at -60F while going 65 mph....Might get interesting. Would probably be better to use a small combustion heater like the old volvos/mercedes used.

Engineer-Poet said at May 22, 2005 7:42 AM:

If you need auxiliary heat it may make more sense to burn fuel in the engine, turn 30% of it into motive power and capture some of the remaining 70% as cabin heat than burning fuel for heat alone.  You can use electric heat for short trips, and the overall efficiency of hybrid is likely to be much higher than electric drive + chemical heat (depending how much heat is lost).

I've seen firsthand the difference between experimental vehicle gear and product.  Detroit has produced a number of hybrids for PNGV (they should have been produced for CARB, but CARB dropped the ball) but their hardware is not production-ready.  Further, I'll bet that the teams involved in them have moved on to other tasks.  Gearing up to make PNGV-level vehicles after four years of emphasis on big trucks is not going to be fast, easy or cheap.  Unfortunately, we need these vehicles now and we can't afford another fiaso like the Oldsmobile diesels of the 70's.

Had Bush not been so blind (or worse than just blind) we would not be in such a bad situation.

J i O said at May 22, 2005 12:56 PM:

Engineer Poet,

Invented in Australia the Vanadium Redux Battery (now using Vanadium Bromide) has been developing since 1985 and seems to be entering the roll-out phase world-wide. From the Treehuggers blog (some comments are informative, as well):

"A new mass energy storage technology is on the cusp of entering mainstream society. The Japanese are currently using it on a grand scale, the Canadians have comprehensively evaluated it and soon Australians will have the opportunity to replace their old lead-acid batteries with a Vanadium Redox Battery alternative. There are no emissions, no disposal issues, no loss of charge, the construction materials are 'green' and the battery can be charged and discharged simultaneously. So, is the Vanadium Battery as good as it sounds and more importantly, is it the solution to our energy storage problems?

Quite simply...Yes."

gmoke said at May 22, 2005 6:19 PM:

Tour de Sol has been doing this kind of work for many years now, ignored by most of the rest of the world. The whole thing is organized through NE Sustainable Energy Association which some here would call "professional environmentalists." Yet they've provided a platform, accurately tested, and promoted real alternatives that are gradually coming to market. Some of these folks work themselves down to the bone and beyond as volunteers, for zero dollars. I guess that makes them Communists.

If you think that "professional environmentalists" only complain, that none of them are working are real alternatives, then you are ignorant idealogues and less "scientific" than prejudiced.

Joseph said at May 22, 2005 7:48 PM:

I consider most professional enviro's as complaining self centered inflatable dummies who've substituted gia worship for common sense. A naturalist is a differenct creature however and I can respect them even while we both may disagree on some aspects. But I'm an ignorant idealogue gmoke so what do you claim to be?

Okay the redux system has been known for quite awhile. I believe it was an English researcher around 1910(?) who origionally
evisaged the concept (I cannot fully trust my memory on this but that's how I recall it from readingsa couple of decades ago). Modern tech advances are making it practical. The question is, like with other battery systems, will it become economically practical in other but special circumstances? There's also a method using zinc/borax that has higher density but some other diffculties associated with it which escape me at the moment. But anyhow, if it works, that's great. Most people here agree that battery tech would be a massive enabler for future developements. As a stationary power storage/leveling system and especially in the area of making solar/wind reliable, at least for short term, when linked to the primary grid.

But disdain me as much as you desire gmoke. It won't change the simple fact that while there are engineers, scientists etc who happen to be naturalists there's also the far more common and recognisable enviro who simply wants people to worship nature and not touch it. I doubt if your disdain for me will ever reach the level of my disdain for enviros.

Braddock said at May 23, 2005 5:48 AM:

Engineers are doing the work, not the professional "environmentalists." The activists are professional Cassandras who leverage their doomsaying into tax-free donations. Brilliantly wicked, what?

Redox systems are still better suited for large scale stationary applications. The american giant TVA recently cancelled a project for a grid scale redox storage system, due to technical difficulties with the technical development company from europe or australia(?). Not ready for prime time, sadly. Not yet, but soon.

Plug-in hybrids are a great idea. If a particularly charismatic politician made the case directly to the public, bypassing media and activist naysayers, he could probably convince a majority of voters to support a massive project to exploit new generation nuclear power plants. Powering north america's massive transportation network with nuclear power would send shockwaves through the complacent petroleum cartel.

Gary and the Samoyeds said at May 23, 2005 6:49 AM:

I don't see people increasing their mileage with hybrids. What I see instead is that they will buy slightly larger cars (and trucks). This is what happened with fridges: people simply bought larger ones and paid the same electric bill.

I don't see any alternative to the IC engine in the next couple decades for moving people. Nothing is more effective at getting people around than cars on a road network. (Fixed rail lines are especially poor.) And nothing can compete with the IC engine for all-round versatility. Hybrids may have their place, but we won't really know until (1) companies can move down the mass production learning curve, and (2) all the special tax breaks are removed. Then we'll have a accurate cost/benefit measurement.

However, moving CARGO around is an entirely different matter. Trains are extrememly efficient at long-haul freight. It would be a huge capital cost, but electrifying the rail lines with nuclear plants would greatly reduce our diesel consumption. We also should build more rail lines; In the West, they are running full-out, and many companies have to send stuff by truck, not because they want to, but because there is no spare railcap.

jerry said at May 23, 2005 7:09 AM:

I am sure I am probably repeating a previous comment here. Diesel engines are more fuel efficient then hybrids both at the point of consumption and production. The Jetta TDI has a realized mpg that is higher then either the Prius or Civic hybrids. Furthermore, you do not have to "manage" your power requirements as if you were operating a U-boat and the diesel engine has far greater long term reliability then gasoline-electric vehicle. The energy savings do not end there. A distillate fuel like Diesel (#2 Kerosine) take less energy input to produce then gasoline. because it primarily produced in the atmospheric distilation process and does not need to be "cracked" like gasoline. The hybrid is a shrewd marketing gimic by Toyota and Honda to catch the attention of "green" drivers who equate electric with reduced polution and greenhouse gas emmisions. Sorry, 50 mpg produces roughly the same amount of pollution whether produced by a gasoline-electric hybrid or a modern automotive diesel engine.

Jamie said at May 23, 2005 7:37 AM:

Few are the times when I wish I were an engineer, but this is one of them... Fascinating discussion.

Jerry: Thanks for making the often-overlooked point about the "green"-ness of hybrids.

As to the press release, I actually only made it through the first couple of paragraphs, got to the phrase "climate-change emissions" and quit. When a press release chooses that type of language over the more accurate "CO2 and other emissions that may be implicated in climate change" or "that many researchers point to as agents of climate change" or similar, I know the way the rest of the piece will go.

hejde said at May 23, 2005 7:58 AM:

Irrational exuberance (a.greenspan™)

Hybrids represent a "feel good" technology garnering points in the faculty club & Hollywood. When the TOTAL costs are calculated they MAY be of benefit in short-haul low weight situations, i.e. city commuting, where energy demands are fluctuating rapidly. When a more steady state situation exists, other solutions still tend to be more economical. The real life MPG figures are enlightening.

The picture becomes much less beneficial to hybrids (& electrics) under present technology, when total costs are calculated. Five years out and without arteficial support of replacement costs maintenance & replacement of batteries and electronics will offset (and dwarf) any gains. and.... 'the elephant in the room', the potential litigation nightmare when the first claims of being injured by batteries (shorts, explosions, heat, cosmic rays or whatever the 'legal highwaymen/women' can dream up & get away with) will likely make the manufacturers wish they had produced cars made of asbestos & run on cigarettes.

Until such time this can be delivered for less overall present petroleum technology will prevail. Political pressures can change this if people are willing to pay the price regulatory, economically and otherwise.

Doug said at May 23, 2005 8:12 AM:

Couple of points on this thread:

1) Toyota has made quite substantial improvements in the efficiency of their hybrid technology over the past six years. The Honda post from the Tour de Sol already in this thread suggests Toyota is not alone. With new technologies, it is likely that the rate of improvement will continue to be much faster than the historic norm with internal combustion only cars for the near-future. Hopefully, the threat of elimination by hybrids will spur faster innovation in both the diesel and gasoline engines as well, generating substantial efficiency benefits for consumers of all the types of engines.

2) Gary notes above that "Hybrids may have their place, but we won't really know until (1) companies can move down the mass production learning curve, and (2) all the special tax breaks are removed. Then we'll have a accurate cost/benefit measurement." Note that gasoline transport has been subsidized for decades, both in terms of the fuel and the provision of a massive transportation network that doesn't come very close to covering even its direct costs. For an accurate cost/benefit measurement, you'd want to compare all alternatives stripped of subsidies.

3) A number of posters have discussed the benefits of plug-in hybrids. Given the huge conversion losses in converting fossil fuels to electricity and transmitting it long distances, do the numbers support plugging in your car at home as a cost-efficient strategy? Others have said that if the power comes from nuclear, we'd have an efficient transportation network. This point also ignores the massive subsidies existing nuclear plants have received at every stage of the fuel cycle: uranium mining, enrichment, plant construction and operation, accident risk insurance, security, waste management, remediation and cleanup, and research into core technologies. Without these subsidies, the power source would never have been competitive. A new wave of plants are being pushed hard, yet the economic "problem" remains, and massive taxpayer subsidies will be needed to make these new plants economic. It is useful to ask whether the full cost of new nukes (paid by consumer plus that paid by the taxpayer) is the most cost-efficient way to reduce our dependence on imported oil. My guess is that it is not.

V the K said at May 23, 2005 8:17 AM:

There is a certian flavor in this analysis of the apocryphal pundit who predicted in 1880 that New York CIty would be buried in horse manure by 1935. The study does not (and can not) take into account the possibility that some unanticipated technological development will result in a paradigm shift in transportation or energy production that would dramatically alter the condition of reliance on hydrocarbons.

Randall Parker said at May 23, 2005 8:21 AM:

Hybrid costs depend in part on how long the batteries last. Here the news is encouraging. NiMH battery maker Ovonics in Michigan says their hybrids in cars produced a few years ago are lasting longer than they expected and their latest rev of NiMH battery design brings a substantial increase in longevity. I don't have any numbers on this.

I'd really like to hear from anyone who comes across some good car hybrid battery lifetime information. Also, what is the cost for a replacement set of batteries for a Prius?

The problems with diesel are higher NOx and higher particulate emissions. Most (all?) of the diesel cars can not be sold in California and a few other states for this reason. Strides are being made to lower diesel emissions though. But NOx reduction is hard due to the higher compression in diesel versus gasoline engines. Under higher pressure more NOx forms.

Jack Wayne said at May 23, 2005 8:55 AM:

The last study I saw that compared total energy consumption of hybrid versus gasoline concluded that hybrid used more btu of energy than gasoline. Once you plug a battery in to recharge it you are wasting energy on the conversion of hydrocarbons to electricity to a battery.

Brian said at May 23, 2005 9:03 AM:

Hello, all. I'm new here; hope you don't mind me interjecting.

Doug asks, "Given the huge conversion losses in converting fossil fuels to electricity and transmitting it long distances, do the numbers support plugging in your car at home as a cost-efficient strategy?"

The answer, friend, is emphatically no. Even at today's prices, the energy in gasoline is an order of magnitude less expensive than energy from the electric grid. The reason for this is, as you correctly note, the huge Second Law cost of converting and transmitting electric power. It's worth noting, though, that while charging a vehicle from the grid won't save money, it will save oil. Grid power comes mostly from coal, of which the United States has gigantic reserves. So there are political advantages to using grid power for cars even though there are economic costs.

That said, gas/electric hybrid vehicles themselves have the same basic problem. Causally converting energy to and from electricity can only hurt, and never help, total efficiency. Add this basic fact to the woeful state of battery technology and you get a real mess. As a result, the *only* thing about hybrids that makes them fundamentally more ifficient than pure IC cars is the regenerative braking system. Most of the other fuel economy gains from hybrid vehicles are smoke and mirrors; if you look at manufacturers' descriptions of why the cars get better MPG you'll see lots of stuff about aerodynamics, light weight materials, power banding, and other technologies that could be put in a normal, IC-powered car. By most reckoning, the regenerative braking system results in a native efficiency increase of only 10-15% relative to a truly comparable IC car. This gain is real, but it costs an awful lot; very few hybrid drive trains will ever pay for themselves.

There is good news, though; EPA and GM have developed an alternative regenerative braking system that works hydraulically and stores energy in gas cylinders. The efficiency of the system competes with that of the gas/electric hybrid braking system, but the whole thing adds only a few hundred dollars to the cost of the vehicle. It's not as sexy as a gas/electric system, but if y'all really want a look at the immediate future of automotive efficiency, that's where you should start.

tdracer said at May 23, 2005 9:22 AM:

One thing that I seldom see discussed with electric cars and plug in hybrids is:
Where are we going to get all that electricity? It's not like we have a huge surplus in the electric grid, and the typical household would DOUBLE it's electric usage using an electric car. And unless we start building nukes again, most new electrical production is going to be coal. So switching to electric cars doesn't eliminate pollution, it just changes it.

The primary advantage of a hybrid is during around town, stop and go type driving - there is minimal benifit while cruising down the highway at 70 mph.

The engineers have done a fantastic job of improving the gasoline IC engine over the last 30 years. 15 years ago, I dragged around my 4,000 racing trailer with a 1973 Chevy van - 350 V8 4bbl carb. It was rated at 145 HP, and on a good day I got 8 mpg pulling the trailer, and on most hills it couldn't even hold the 55mph speed limit. Now I drag that very same trailer around with a 1999 GMC Savana van 350 V8 EFI. The van, empty, weighs nearly a ton more than the Chevy did (long wheelbase with a full passenger interior vs. a short wheelbase cargo van), the engine is rated 255 HP. It will easily do the 70 mph speed limit up all but the steepest grades, and gets ~12 mpg doing it (which is about what the Chevy did without the trailer!). While 12mph isn't going to win any awards, it's not exactly shabby for a 10,000 lb combo with aerodynamics only slightly better than a barn door. That is also a 50% improvement in mileage and a 75% improvement in power output compared to the 1973 version of the same basic engine!

BTW before you rip me for driving something that gets 12 mpg, that's only used to go racing. The car I normally drive gets ~30 mpg.

Kevin L. Connors said at May 23, 2005 9:54 AM:

I posted on the subject a few days ago. J. D. Power and Assoc. has a far more dismal prediction for the growth in hybrid sales - topping out at just 3% of the market. The problems are in the high initial price premium for hybrids, and that owners are reporting far lower "real world" milage gains then EPA estimates.

Michael H. said at May 23, 2005 9:55 AM:

Hi Randall
I think hybrids will definitely take over in the next ten years. The point you made that "The larger longer term impact of hybrids will come not from greater fuel efficency but rather from a shfit toward using electric power outlets to recharge vehicle batteries." is the key. The cost of off-peak electricity from the grid is less than 15% of the cost of electricity generated by a car's gasoline engine. Even if I can only run a hybrid on pure electricity for 20 miles before I have to switch to gasoline power, I could cut my weekly gas cost by more than 50%. That is very tempting.

I think the reason why hybrids might not reduce gas consumption as much as people would hope is simply because it will help sell SUV and other gas guzzlers. A hybrid SUV is just a diet soda with your candy bar.

Alex said at May 23, 2005 10:05 AM:

The idea that increases in fuel economy will be totally consumed by increased use is almost exactly analogous to the Laffer curve theory of supply-side economics, namely that tax cuts will stimulate the economy so much that they will pay for themselves. Experience has shown the latter to be untrue, and I have strong suspicions its fuel-efficiency correlary is untrue as well. However, there will surely be some increase in driving as a result of greater efficiency.

AMcA said at May 23, 2005 11:35 AM:

Mark me sceptical about hybrids. Those big, high-tech fancy batteries they use are fantastically expensive. A Prius battery, I understand, has a $4000 price-tag. Ouch. I suspect they are fantastically expensive because what goes into them is fantastically expensive because it's rare stuff (just what does go into a lithium ion battery, anyway?) that requires huge quantities of energy (is this making sense now?) to mine, refine and fabricate.

I'd love to see someone run the numbers on that . . . how much energy goes into making a Prius battery?

gmoke said at May 23, 2005 11:39 AM:

My understanding of the data is that since the end of the last oil scare, the early 1980s, the amount of miles driven has doubled while fleet fuel efficiency peaked in something like 1986. If my understanding is correct, then historically increased use has offset any increased efficiency. Doesn't mean it always has to be that way but that seems to be the way we in the USA are working these days.

john bigelow said at May 23, 2005 12:09 PM:

Renewed emphasis should be placed on train transportation, because for the weight carried it is the most energy efficient transport and we need alternatives now. I wish I could cobble together some sort of electric hybrid car for myself though. I quit working on cars because all I do is hurt myself and in my youth I occasionally kicked in the quarter panels. A super high miles to the gallon diesel Volkswagen Passat or Jetta TDI electric hybrid now would be great! Doesn’t Europe have tougher diesel particulate emission standards than the US? Don’t diesels outsell everything else in Europe? Is this really an obstacle?

Storage batteries won't necessarily have to be dangerous obstacles either.

To repeat what JiO posted: "A new mass energy storage technology is on the cusp of entering mainstream society. The Japanese are currently using it on a grand scale, the Canadians have comprehensively evaluated it and soon Australians will have the opportunity to replace their old lead-acid batteries with a Vanadium Redox Battery alternative. There are no emissions, no disposal issues, no loss of charge, the construction materials are 'green' and the battery can be charged and discharged simultaneously. So, is the Vanadium Battery as good as it sounds and more importantly, is it the solution to our energy storage problems? Quite simply...Yes."

More politicians have noticed a change in the air, not sure how particularly “charismatic” U.S. Representative Roscoe Bartlett (Republican, Maryland) is, though he is speaking up on Peak Oil. Among many points he makes, “The market will, indeed, signal the arrival of peak oil. To wait until it does, however, is like waiting until we see a tsunami: by then it may be too late to do anything.”

I like investments. Some interesting related things I’ve learned include 90 percent of the world transportation is fueled by oil, and we don’t have 20-30 years to transition from our oil dependant technologies(one problem with waiting for corporations to tender you market oriented transportation alternatives). Oil prices might continue chop back down for a year or so, but then the real depletion/demand squeeze comes right back. Oil companies already know about and have developed most of the oil not held by various OPEC families and Russia. There may be some still undiscovered mega fields (>500 million barrels) in the China Sea or Antarctica. But in hoping there are some, we are not even in the realm of P50 probable reserves. Recently new Saudi oilfields are in the works, but they are the least desirable heavy/sour deposits needing special refineries.

“As always in such circumstances, it is best to go back to the basics: total new discoveries have been steadily declining for 40 years, and world consumption has outpaced newfound reserves for nearly a quarter of a century. The global economy today now uses more than four barrels of oil for every new one discovered.

In fact, according to a report by the industry consultants, IHS Energy, only 50% of the world's oil production has actually been replaced by new field discoveries. Annual discoveries have now fallen behind total consumption every year for the past 20 years. The consultants reported that all but three of the top-20 non-OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil-producing countries failed to replace their production with new discoveries.”

“In fact, oil prices might drop back below $20/barrel before 2005 is over - depending on circumstances. Several new large fields should come online this year, adding extra capacity. These are the last of the 500 million barrel mega fields, since none has been discovered in the past few years. Eighteen new mega projects are due to start producing this year, followed by eleven more is 2006. However, 2007 will see the opening of only three new projects, followed by three more in 2008. This will not keep up with declining production in older fields, much less the increase in demand.”

“Chris Skrebowski, a board member of Odac, has analysed all planned oil field projects worldwide with reserves of more than 500 million barrels and concluded that, on current timetables, output from new fields will be insufficient to offset more major oil producers moving into net production decline.”
“Another Bank Sees Oil Price Doubling But Cites Depletion As Cause”

David Foster said at May 23, 2005 12:17 PM:

1)I question the argument that people will just use up the extra efficiency by driving bigger vehicles. Someday, people will notice that SUVs are ugly and cumbersome. This is all largely a matter of fashion.
2)There have been comments in various places that battery manufacture is so energy-intensive that it scarfs up all the savings from a hybrid in its first 10 years or so. Can't find any credible data on this...anyone?
3)Re the question "where do we get all that electricity" for plug-in hybrids...GE is now selling coal-to-gas plants in which the coal is converted to gas before being burned, thus providing lower emissions. Also, nuclear will surely play a larger role.

Joseph said at May 23, 2005 12:34 PM:

Reference redox battery. I'm seeing an energy density of 20 watt hours per liter for the electrolyte. The reference I found was mentioning an 8 million watt hour system needing 400,000 litres. I didn't find any real breakdown on the requirements for the electrolyte other than a reference to 50% of volume for the water portion. Ferro vanadium goes for around $5 per lb on the market with about 185 million lbs used each year in the US for steel. A bit pricey and vanadium is a borderline nominee for a strategic metal which means it's not hugely abundant. Still not show stoppers but it might impact practicality on a large scale.

Energy use from the grid now. Please realise that the main concern is what energy stream we use. Electric potential via renewables and nuclear is vast. If we lose some effeceincy in conversation that's still acceptable. I'm willing to accept initial high costs in batteries (as long as they have a decent cycle life). Whatever system you attribute to the creation of petroleum (biological origon or constant process within the deep crust) the overall demand approaching will cause shortages. When speaking of hybrids it still makes sense if there's savings. I'd recommend looking at the NYC use of hybrid busses as an example for a benchmark. Such large, heavy vehicles had no real benefit in the form of lighter materials yet still went from about 4.3 to around 5.8 mpg average consumption (very respectable when all is considered). Anytime you have an IC running at a steady, optimized rpm it will be more effecient. Mass production will of course bring down costs pretty rapidly.

Thinking of engines..while cruising through what I consider the fruitloop fringe websites I found a reference to this
Supposedly this tubine design has achieved very impressive effeciencies using multiple fuel types. I mention this because while the claims seem a bit out there the Navy (normally fairly hardheaded) did give them a grant for a large scale demonstration unit for shipboard power generation. I will admit it interests me because I allways wanted to have a turbine engined car :)

john bigelow said at May 23, 2005 12:44 PM:


Randall Parker said at May 23, 2005 12:58 PM:


As for energy required to extract and refine the materals in NiMH batteries: My guess is that once the battery wears out the nickel can be recycled for a very small fraction of the energy that it took to originally mine and refine it. So the initial energy investment might be paid back in the longer run. Mind you, I'm just guessing, but seems plausible.

Also, as I have argued: I expect a larger market for rechargeable batteries to lead to more investment in battery technology development. Eventually lithium polymers and other lithium approaches or perhaps some nanotech battery will displace NiMH in hybrid vehicles.

John Bigelow,

Europe has historically lagged the United States by many years, even decades, in adopting car emissions reduction standards. California has historically led the US in adopting tougher car emissions standards. Some other states, particularly in the more densely populated Northeast, have begun adopting California's car emissions standards. So many cars that can not be sold in California also can not be sold in the Northeast. This is especially the case for diesels.

Randall Parker said at May 23, 2005 1:08 PM:

Some have opined here that electric from electric power plants is not an efficient way to power cars due to energy losses in transmission lines and when charging batteries. A few things are worth pointing out here:

1) IGCC and other technologies are boosting conversion efficiency of fossil fuels burning electric power plants. It is far easier to optimize burning at large electric generator plants than in cars due to less constraints on size, weight and other materials quality. Also, a technically skilled staff can keep the equipment much more optimized. Emissions control is much easier for the same reasons.

2) Superconductor technologies continue to improve and will lead to further reductions in transmission line losses in the future.

3) As battery technologies improve I expect improvements in the efficiency of their charging as well.

David Layman said at May 23, 2005 1:13 PM:

I am seriously looking at a Prius for my next vehicle. If I get one, it will NOT be in order to drive more miles, but in order to fill up the darn gas tank less often.

Walter McManus said at May 23, 2005 1:20 PM:

Thanks for the coverage and links to my blog.

I received some thoughtful criticism of the (crude) analysis you cited from a reader I call NAME WITHHELD (10% improvement but a 7% rebound leading to only 3% reduction of fuel consumption) and I posted a revision: May 18, 2005: Revised Estimate of Rebound Effect. Controlling for population and GDP reduces my estimate of the rebound effect to 3%. As I said in the blog, "I stand corrected. The rebound effect would consume 30 percent of the improvements in fuel economy, rather than the 70 percent I claimed in my earlier post. Thanks again, NAME WITHHELD, for pointing out my omission."

j.pickens said at May 23, 2005 2:04 PM:

Quote: "Mark me sceptical about hybrids. Those big, high-tech fancy batteries they use are fantastically expensive. A Prius battery, I understand, has a $4000 price-tag. Ouch. I suspect they are fantastically expensive because what goes into them is fantastically expensive because it's rare stuff (just what does go into a lithium ion battery, anyway?) that requires huge quantities of energy (is this making sense now?) to mine, refine and fabricate.

I'd love to see someone run the numbers on that . . . how much energy goes into making a Prius battery?
Posted by: AMcA on May 23, 2005 11:35 AM "

Actually, it is far worse than that, and the other poster about Nickel being recovered is false. The Prius and Civic hybrids use Lithium metal hydride batteries, and are almost totally non-recyclable from an energy input perspective.
So the batteries actually cost $5000. Let's do some math:

When you take into account the electrical energy used to produce the lithium ion batteries in all models of hybrid vehicles, you effectively deduct another 10 to 15 mpg from the apparent fuel efficiency.

Think about it, the lithium battery pack in a Toyota Prius sells by itself for approx. $5000. For energy intensive devices like these batteries, somewhere between 30 and 50% of the retail cost of the battery is in the energy used to produce it. For batteries produced in Japan and China (where ALL these batteries come from) the electricity used by the factories is produced by BURNING FOSSIL FUELS!!!!!

So, think about how much electricity is purchased with $2500, and divide it over the estimated 150,000 mile life of the vehicle. How much gasoline (wholesale) can you buy with $2500? Approximately 1500 gallons. Over the 150,000 miles life of the batteries, You would have to add 1500 gallons of "Hybrid Equivalent Gasoline" to your ecomomy estimates.

For instance, using Consumer Reports Data, a Toyota Prius averages 40 to 50 mpg.
Over the 150,000 mile battery life, the car consumes 3333 gallons of gasoline.

Now add that 1500 gallons of "Hybrid Equivalent Gasoline" and it consumes 4833 gallons.

150,000 miles / 4833 gallons is THIRTY ONE MILES PER GALLON!!!!!

150,000 miles / 1500 gallons "Hybrid Equivalent Gasoline" = Ten to 20 Miles Per Gallon in true energy cost.

I could buy a 1500 gallon gasoline tank and tow it behind my car, and "enhance" the gas used from the tank with this extra "Hybrid Equivalent Gasoline Tank" and get the same results with a much more powerful conventional car.

This is all "Feel Good Pseudoenvironmentalism" and has NOTHING WHATSOEVER with actually saving energy or reducing CO2 emissions.

David Foster said at May 23, 2005 3:00 PM:

j pickens...any links on the energy consumption in battery manufacturing?

Joseph said at May 23, 2005 3:10 PM:

At this point in technology the energy cost is only relevent when the type of energy is considered. It might take X amount of energy to creat a battery yet if the energy is derived from renewable/nuclear then it shouldn't be considered a debit. Especially in the case of batteries, which should be considered components just the same as the engine block and the tires, energy imput is a null quantiety. Batteries aren't an energy source or an energy carrier (such as electricity or hydrogen) they're a device, a piece of hardware. Arguments trying to equate batteries as an energy sink are the same as argueing shock absorbers are energy sinks I mean really do they contribute any appreciable increase to mileage over the energy input to manufacture them:)

Arguments relating to energy balance should only apply to actual fuels. Even there the issue is shady. It's been widely touted that ethanol is a debit fuel. I got curiouse and looked at some of the statistics used. After allowing estimates for all things unrelated to the farmers side of production I could only reach one conclusion. If farmers ran things like that character at MIT computed we would have all starved to death a few centuries ago.

Treat the hybrid/FC batteries as you would your normal auto battery. A necessary part that has a noted lifespan. Now yes the batteries need to be affordable and have a minimum life expectancy, just like the vehicle engine.

Randall Parker

Found your perfect battery if anyone can ever figure out how to make it rechargeable. Lithium thionyl chloride, estimeated 700 watt hours per kilogram density. So there's still potential out there I guess:)

Jim Rockford said at May 23, 2005 3:13 PM:

Jerry is right IMHO about Hybrids being mostly hype:

1. They have complex, two powertrain systems that require lots of management by drivers and because they are more complex they are more likely to break down.

2. Low volume manufacturing and specialty design means replacement parts (and tight space) plus labor of maintenance will be prohibitively expensive for average consumers (not trendy celebrities).

3. Over-dependence on software makes the hybrids more prone to software issues such as already experienced by the Toyota Prius (engine stops at 60 mph which is horrifically dangerous).

4. Weight being shaved everywhere and the car still being 200 lbs heavier than it's non-Hybrid cousin means the car has lightweight aluminum and magnesium panels instead of steel, along with extremely heavy batteries and electric motors that are likely to be launched into the drivers compartment in certain collisions. Crash worthiness is certainly an issue with lightweight vehicles carrying heavy batteries and motors.

5. Performance in real-world aspects such as accelerating to speed on Freeway on-ramps in the Prius is not good (it is reportedly good in the Honda hybrid). This is a real world safety and comfort issue.

6. Battery technology will always have a "weight problem" ... batteries are heavy, more weight is used to store energy/power than a liquid fuel. Betting on a quantum change in technology is a poor strategy to address the fundamental problem of power to weight ratios in engineering vehicles.

Conclusion: Hybrids have serious hidden costs for consumers long term (lots of cash for maintenance) and safety/performance issues making them poor values for many drivers. Diesel as Jerry points out seems a better value (automakers already know how to manufacture these for safety, performance, value). Europe already has low emission diesel (through low-sulfur fuel) and of course there is bio-diesel which can run on cooking grease! among other things. Portland has a fleet of bio-diesel buses running on IIRC sunflower oil.

Randall Parker said at May 23, 2005 3:28 PM:

j.pickens erroneously claims:

Actually, it is far worse than that, and the other poster about Nickel being recovered is false. The Prius and Civic hybrids use Lithium metal hydride batteries, and are almost totally non-recyclable from an energy input perspective.

When I said that Prius uses NiMH I did so because I'd read that in numerous places. Both Toyota and Honda use NiMH batteries from Panasonic.

The Toyota Highlander hybrid also uses NiMH batteries.

Both Highlander Hybrid and RX 400h combine Toyota’s 3.3-liter V6 with two electric motor/generators to increase efficiency. Four-wheel-drive versions get a third electric motor mounted on the rear axle powering the rear wheels. The rear motor spins only when the vehicle dynamics integrated management system senses slip and wants to route torque to the rear axle.

The V6 puts out 208 hp and 212 lb-ft of torque. The first electric motor acts as a generator, converting stopping power to charge the 288-volt NiMH battery pack under the middle row of seats.

The Nickel Institute is proud that nickel is used in most hybrid vehicles.

Nickel magazine, March, 2004 -- Technological development has reduced the size, weight and cost of the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery packs used in hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). Relatively compact in size, they now have sufficient power, reliability and life expectancy to have been selected for the majority of mass-produced HEVs, such as the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius.


Further improvements will increase the number of HEVs from the hundreds of thousands that are now on the road to millions in the future. The NiMH battery has made possible a large reduction in vehicle pollutants, while improving the utilization of scarce energy resources. In the future, when renewable energy is used to generate hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles, a hybrid design using NiMH batteries will be key to achieving efficient energy usage and to powering sustainable transportation.

Papers presented by Panasonic and Toyota at the symposium detailed advances in the latest generation of NiMH batteries. The prismatic module construction of the new battery allows superior heat-releasing performance and ease of installation. Used for the 2004 Toyota Prius, this battery, at 30 kilograms, is 25% lighter than its predecessor. It is warranted for eight years, but the expectation is that it can last 15 years.

15 years is a long time.

At the time of introduction in 2001 Popular Mechanics discussed the NiMH batteries in the Prius.

The hybrid electric powertrain of the Toyota Prius has a 274-volt stack of 38 nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery cells. A computer-controlled cooling system is in place just for those batteries.
Randall Parker said at May 23, 2005 3:42 PM:

Jim Rockford,

1. They have complex, two powertrain systems that require lots of management by drivers and because they are more complex they are more likely to break down.

Lots of management by drivers? What are you talking about? Are the drivers switching between power trains manually? Are you just making this stuff up?

3. Over-dependence on software makes the hybrids more prone to software issues such as already experienced by the Toyota Prius (engine stops at 60 mph which is horrifically dangerous).

Speaking as someone who develops software development tools for the auto industry I have a news flash for you: Computer controllers in cars control engines, brakes, transmissions, door locks, and lots of other components. The software has gotten way more sophsticated than it was 30 years ago. Instead of 6809 variants they use fast DSPs with Ph.D.s figuring out control algorithms and more sensors.

6. Battery technology will always have a "weight problem" ... batteries are heavy, more weight is used to store energy/power than a liquid fuel. Betting on a quantum change in technology is a poor strategy to address the fundamental problem of power to weight ratios in engineering vehicles.

Panasonic just shaved 25% off the weight of their NiMH batteries for the Prius in just 3 years. I'm betting on Panasonic to make more strides. I'm also betting on Toshiba to make more strides with their new and greatly improved Lithium design that they hope to sell to car makers.

jerry said at May 23, 2005 4:17 PM:


You are a victim of first order thinking here. There are several second order effects that have to be considered before declaring that the hybrid has better emmision characteristics then the diesel. As I noted before, distilate fuels require less energy to produce then gasoline. The extra energy it takes to run a catalytic cracker must come from somewhere and this source, unless it is from nuclear or renewable sources, will add its share of pollutants and greenhouse gases. Ditto for a plug-in hybrid.

Furthermore, the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy) insures that it takes more energy to get 100 hybrid horsepower versus 100 IC horsepower. All engines convert fuel into power and waste heat. The IC engine does this most efficiently. By using the IC engine to charge a battery you waste a some energy of the charge in heat loss. The direct tranfer of the latent energy in fuel to useful energy in the IC engine involves only one loss. Diesels, because of their higher operating temperatures, convert more fuel into useful energy then gasoline engines. Hybrids can use a variaty of techniques to recapture the energy of motion into the battery. However, the sum total of useful energy must be less then that of the IC engine alone. Otherwise, you will have developed the technology to make a perpetual motion machine.

Hybrid technology is an interesting approach to marketing fuel economy because of its pseudo-green image. However, it is inferior technology to the IC engine. It is more complicated and less energy efficient. That is why the 100 horsepower 1.9 Turbo-Diesel in the Jetta outperforms the current generations of hybrids on every level.

Randall Parker said at May 23, 2005 5:18 PM:


My mental model is a lot more complicated than you give me credit.

I do not see the choice as between diesel cars and gasoline hybrid cars. I see the choice as between future improved diesels that generate less pollution at the expense of slightly lower fuel efficiency, diesel hybrids that combine increased costs from both diesel and hybrid components, and gasoline hybrids.

Currently diesel cars are not available in California and several other states due to particulates and NOx pollution. Supposedly a new diesel fuel formula hitting the market in a year or two combined with advances in diesel engine emissions control technologies will allow diesel emissions to drop low enough to get diesels available in more states. But that is not certain.

It looks like all diesel cars are currently banned in California and New England.

Because of strict pollution rules that limit harmful emissions, such as soot, the sale of diesel-powered vehicles are banned in California, the nation's largest auto market, and in New England.

Diesel faces big environmental obstacles.

Makers of diesel engines have yet to demonstrate the ability to meet nitrogen-oxides pollution restrictions for the required 150,000 miles. They are confident that the restrictions on particulate matter can be met with added exhaust filters, but the nitrogen-oxides restrictions are more challenging. Meeting both sets of restrictions would make diesel as clean as gasoline, and would satisfy Federal regulations, but may not be enough for California and the Northeastern states that follow California's stricter requirements. Engineers are working diligently to develop the components needed.

As an indication of how significant the pollution problem still is for current diesel engines consider that the diesel Jetta is rated 4 on the EPA's Air Pollution Scale (1 to 10 with 10 lowest pollution) whereas the gasoline Jetta is rated 8. On the same scale, Prius earns a 10 and Escape Hybrid earns an 8. The stricter pollution standards for diesel engines do not fully take effect until 2007, so, if one is very concerned about not contributing to pollution, then one should wait until then to consider diesel.

While hybrid designs add cost so do diesel designs. Diesel adds $1750 to the cost of a small sized vehicle and $2500 to the size of a full sized vehicle.

Compared to gasoline engines of the same size, diesel engines today get 35% better fuel economy and produce 25% more power (torque). In meeting future tighter pollution limits, diesel engines will have their fuel economy advantage fall to between 30% and 33%.

You can also see at that last link tables on hybrid costs and how much fuel economy is improved by various types of hybrid designs.

Tom said at May 23, 2005 5:20 PM:

I for one wouldn't drive any more if gas were free. I spend enough time behind the wheel. Of course, I spend 2 hours a day commuting...

Engineer-Poet said at May 23, 2005 5:52 PM:

Brian shows himself very careless with the facts (or is that full of cr*p?):

Doug asks, "Given the huge conversion losses in converting fossil fuels to electricity and transmitting it long distances, do the numbers support plugging in your car at home as a cost-efficient strategy?"

The answer, friend, is emphatically no. Even at today's prices, the energy in gasoline is an order of magnitude less expensive than energy from the electric grid. The reason for this is, as you correctly note, the huge Second Law cost of converting and transmitting electric power.

Fact time:

1 kWh = 3.6 MJ.
1 BTU = 1054.4 J.
1 gallon gasoline: 114,950 BTU = 33.7 kWh.

At $2.109 for regular, gasoline costs 6.26 cents/kWh for the raw energy.  If you allow for 20% engine efficiency, the power at the crankshaft costs you 31.3 cents/kWh.  It takes some serious on-peak pricing to get grid electricity to 30 cents/kWh; solar panels are competitive at that price!

The GO-HEV Prius conversion uses 262 Wh/mile in all-electric mode.  (I believe that's measured at the input to the charger.)  At 15 cents/kWh, that's about 3.9 cents/mile for energy.  That's some seriously cheap driving; my diesel car costs about 5 cents/mile even when I can find cheap fuel.

Is j.pickens any better?

Let's talk battery cost.  Suppose you were going to build a Prius-equivalent battery pack out of NiMH C cells (AA's are cheaper but C's have roughly the correct AH rating, so I'm going with those).

You can get an 8-pack of 5000 mAh C cells for $25.99.  At 1.2 volts nominal, that's 1.85 watt-hours per dollar; a 2 kWh battery would run you about $1100 for the cells.  Note, that's retail. Today's retail, in a battery that's full of nickel.

The iron-phosphate chemistry is going to get rid of the cobalt in lithium-ion batteries, as well as the thermal runaway problem.  Li-ion is set to undercut NiMH in just about every respect:  cost, current capacity, lifespan.  Battery prices have nowhere to go but down, and performance is going to go up for a while.

Hybrids and GO-HEVs are the the next 20 years.

Engineer-Poet said at May 23, 2005 6:10 PM:

Goodness, this is turning into a target-rich environment!

Jim Rockford sez:

Furthermore, the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy) insures that it takes more energy to get 100 hybrid horsepower versus 100 IC horsepower. All engines convert fuel into power and waste heat. The IC engine does this most efficiently. By using the IC engine to charge a battery you waste a some energy of the charge in heat loss.
F=ma insures that it takes more fuel to get the required energy out of an engine sized for acceleration than an engine sized for average demand.  A bigger engine means larger journals and bigger, heavier pistons.  Larger journals mean more viscous friction in the oil; heavier pistons means greater side forces against the cylinder walls and more friction there.

Having to vary engine speed to follow demand means you can't optimize any of that.

The hybrid has the luxury of pulling power from the battery as desired, dumping power to the battery as desired, and a parallel hybrid can even cycle the engine on and off to run it only at the optimum power level.  Then there are the idling losses...

My 2.0 liter TDI gets 38-42 MPG depending, but I can kick the trip-computer average into the stratosphere with boost-and-coast driving:  accelerate to 70 MPH, drop to neutral, coast to 60 MPH, engage drive, wait for the torque converter to lock up, accelerate to 70 MPH.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  The thing being optimized here is losses in the transmission and engine; a hybrid drivetrain would be able to do this without my intervention and while holding a constant speed.

Engineer-Poet said at May 23, 2005 6:29 PM:

Oh, and for those who think that electric generation is a limitation:

Average electric generation in the US in 2003 was about 440 GW (divide total generation in billion kWh by 8760 hrs/year to get terawatts, multiply by 1000 to get gigawatts).

Total summer net generation capacity in the US in 2003 was over 900 GW, or more than twice the average consumption.  IOW, the average plant ran at less than 50% capacity factor.

Total power consumption by all petroleum-fuelled vehicles in the US is less than 200 GW.  Existing plants and wires could meet this demand in the off-peak hours without breaking a sweat.

We have limitations on hydro and gas-fired plants due to limited energy supplies, but we can mine more coal in the short term, increase coal efficiency by ~35% using IGCC in the medium term, and probably install wind turbines for the foreseeable future.  Even solar cells yield power at less than the cost of gasoline power at the crankshaft.

Jon Ravin said at May 23, 2005 11:08 PM:

Question (marginally off topic): can someone explain to me why current hybrids have 2 drive trains? wouldn't it be more efficient to have electric motors ONLY and use the gas engine as in diesel-electric locomotives - solely for generating electricity? This would save the weight and complexity of the gas drive train (transmissions are very heavy), wouldn't it? The current hybrid technology seems like a kludge to me.

Engineer-Poet said at May 23, 2005 11:19 PM:

It depends how you mean "efficient".  I'll let you look up the difference between series and parallel hybrids on your own, but going on from there:  a series hybrid gets greater drivetrain flexiblity at the expense of all power having to go through the motor (the motor limits the total power at the wheels), while the parallel hybrid can drive the wheels with the sum of both the engine and motor power at the expense of less flexibility.  Parallel has somewhat greater efficiency in some regimes because gears have lower losses than motors, but these gains can be lost due to less-than-optimal engine operating conditions.

If I understand correctly, the Honda hybrids are all parallel, while the Prius is a series-parallel arrrangement (I had to see a schematic of the power paths before it made sense).

Engineer-Poet said at May 23, 2005 11:32 PM:

And to answer the question a bit more directly:  gears and shafts are a pretty good way to get power from an engine to wheels.  We've got lots of experience with them, we can make them relatively light and cheap, and cars are pretty much designed to accomodate those mechanical arrangements.

If you had a car with wheels that had to articulate like casters and the only suitable place for an engine wasn't near any of them, pure electric drive would compete with mechanical and probably beat it.  Or if you only have an electric powerplant (like a battery or fuel cell) and there isn't one engine shaft to start with; that gives you complete freedom, and not having drive shafts makes the rest of the design easier.  But if you've got one engine in a vehicle form that puts some wheels in a reasonably direct path from its crankshaft, a partially mechanical drive might well be lighter and cheaper than the all-electric version due to the smaller motors and lower-power elecronics required.  Who adds weight and expense for its own sake?

Jon Ravin said at May 24, 2005 6:11 AM:

E-P: Thanks for the answers.
However - I'm still mystified - my question was why does the vehicle need ANY gas engine-wheels connection. Surely electric motors are as easily regulated/controlled as a transmission/driveshaft; at one per wheel, you don't need a drive shaft. (I've seen the kludgyness of the current arrangements - my sister-in-law has a Honda hybrid (nice car) - but it seems overly complex in its drive arrangements to me.)

What I want to know is why not just use electric motors to do all the driving, and the gas engine just for electricity generation? Is there some inherent problem with this, or are the auto manufacturers still not thinking "outside the box" enough?

Thus the "hybrid" part would be only that you "never" have to plug-in (e.g., for long distance driving). You certainly could also have a "plug-in" option for where/when that would be advantageous.

john bigelow said at May 24, 2005 6:21 AM:

“LEFT: The lawnmower engine-together with all the electrical components necessary for the conversion-fit comfortably in what was the Opel's engine compartment.

ABOVE: The layout of the new drive system.

BELOW: Dave's hybrid electric automobile "drives" like a normal vehicle . . . but squeezes 75 miles from each gallon of fuel!

BELOW, INSET: The sports car's outside appearance as well as its curb weight-remains virtually unchanged.”


“Issue # 58 - July/August 1979
Electric engineer David Arthurs spent 40 hours of his time and $1,500 to come up with....


With the price of gasoline already out of sight, just about everyone is scrambling for a way to squeeze the last possible drop of energy from each precious gallon. However, David Arthurs-of Springdale, Arkan sas-probably couldn't care less ... because he has designed and built a car that can travel 75 miles or more on just four quarts of the expensive liquid!

What's his secret? Well, Dave's Opel CT is a hybrid electric vehicle. That is, the car is driven by an electric motor . . . but that powerplant's "juice" is generated with the help of an ordinary, fuel-stingy lawn-mower engine! Now the fact that the system works isn't really surprising. What's amazing is that the crossbreed hookup performs so well! According to David, the Opel has not only a virtually unlimited range (when driven prudently), but also a top speed of 90 miles per hour . . . and emits a minimum of pollutants as it tools along the highway. Better yet, the car can-if need be-run on its batteries alone for short in-town hops . . . and will never be "stranded" as long as there's fuel in the "on board" generator!

Mr. Arthurs is the first to admit that there's nothing "new" to the system he's developed . . . in fact, all the technology incorporated into his design has been available for about 35 years, just waiting for someone to put two and two together and make the whole thing work. "I began researching the idea for a hybrid electric auto about a year ago. There wasn't much information to be found on the subject, so I designed a system from scratch. In about a month's evening-and-weekend time, I had the car finished and running."

Surprisingly enough, the project didn't cost a fortune, either. Because the vehicle's components are either standard "off the shelf" hardware or available as reasonably priced military surplus, the conversion to "hybrid drive" only set Dave back about $1,500. By the same token, any necessary replacement parts are easily obtainable . . . and a good deal of the equipment can be "scrounged" rather than purchased new.

In essence, David has utilized a small gas lawn-mower engine to drive a generator, which-in turn-supplies the vehicle's drive motor with electricity. To do so, he first removed the Opel's original power-plant and installed a 400-amp DC motor/ generator (actually a jet engine's starting motor) in its place. (Since there's no need for a clutch in Dave's setup, the stock unit was pulled out and the main shaft of the drive motor was fastened directly to the input shaft of the car's transmission.) Then, to provide a consistent source of power for this motor (and to supply an energy storage bank), the engineer installed four 12-volt, heavy-duty automobile batteries-in series-which are "fed" by a 100-amp generator that's run off a 5-horsepower lawn-mower engine.

Of course, other components (such as relays, charging diodes, rectifiers, and an additional motor speed regulation circuit) are necessary to keep input and output power within optimum limits-and to allow full control of the vehicle at all speeds-but these are standard electrical parts which have been available for years.

The engine-driven generator can handle the demand from the main motor up to speeds of about 50 miles per hour. The "stored" energy in the batteries comes into play at higher velocities, giving extra kick for passing and climbing hills. To guarantee that the charging system isn't overworked . . . Dave has rigged up a regenerative braking circuit which- in effect-turns the drive motor into a generator, to feed the batteries when the vehicle is decelerating. (This not only takes advantage of normally wasted energy, but also saves wear and tear on the car's conventional braking system.) Since the Opel's "stock" cooling apparatus has been removed, two small thermostatically controlled electric fans provide ventilation to the motor and generator as required ... while the gasoline engine is, of course, air-cooled by design.

Any project fresh off the drawing board has its share of problems, and the Opel hybrid was no exception. When David pressed the accelerator for the first time, he got a 300-amp surge which melted his relays. So he searched his graduate texts for the answer ... and finally found it in-of all places-an old high school physics book: A pulser was necessary to "chop" the current flow and prevent a heavy initial draw to the drive motor.
As Dave explains it, "The motor will always have full voltage and full current, but the pulser makes it 'think' the voltage and amperage are cut down to about 1/4 of what's actually available. With this gadget-which is simply a combination of a reworked car generator and an old fan motor-I can keep the draw within limits and effectively control the car's acceleration . . . without sacrificing the maximum current or voltage that's necessary for high-speed driving. I could have achieved the same results with a commercially available FCR control ... but one of those units would have cut my power slightly, and cost in the neighborhood of $800! I can build my own device for about $25, and I can fix it myself if it breaks!"

Actually "piloting" the hybrid electric isn't much different from motoring in any conventional automobile. There's a slight hum from the electric motor, but the sound is certainly no more obvious than that of an internal combustion engine at speed. And-unlike many electric vehicles-the little Opel' really has some get-up-and-go . . . due to the fact that the converted car is only about 50 pounds heavier than its original 2,100-pound weight.
Of course, some folks will question the idea of shifting without a clutch . . . but with the fully synchronized gearbox-this doesn't prove to be a problem at all (and the motor could be run through a conventional clutch with few complications).

As far as the driving range is concerned, Dave points out that-if driven carefully the car can travel unlimited distances (as long as the generator engine continues to function) . . . because of the fact that the motor has a low draw at cruising speeds: only .23 amps at 1,800 RPM. Since the Briggs & Stratton engine turns at a fixed rate and can generate 100 amps at about 28-1/2 volts, normal driving presents no problem. Hot or traveling in a very mountainous area-could, however, tax the car's charging system . . . but even these demands don't pose much of a problem, because the batteries can be brought from a 1/4 charge (the effective "dead" state, with a built-in safety factor) to a full charge in only 15 minutes.

David Arthurs' electric Opel sounds almost too good to believe . . . and best of all, its circuitry can probably be adapted to just about any vehicle on the road today! It is true that small, lightweight cars are more easily "hybridized", but this same system will also work in a heavier auto . . . it could even be upscaled to suit one of the large American models.

In short, Dave has succeeded in doing-for a lot less money-what countless government-funded researchers have failed to accomplish: building a passenger car that uses a minimum of energy. Now all he has to do is burn "homegrown" alcohol fuel in his generator engine . . . and Mr. Arthurs will have the most economical set of wheels in town!

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you're discovering that you can't keep up with the high price of gasoline-and are willing to do something about it-you'll be pleased to know that MOTHER has made some special arrangements with David Arthurs. A set of detailed, easily understood plans will soon be available that will allow the average "backyard mechanic" to convert a conventionally powered automobile to hybrid electric drive. MOTHER's plans package includes schematic drawings, a components list-complete with manufacturers' names and part numbers-and a materials list . . . all put together in a fully explained, easy-to-follow packet. just send your name and address-along with $15.00-to Mother's., Plans, Hybrid Electric Car, P.O. Box A, East, Flat Rock, North Carolina 28726.”


“Issue # 138 - June/July 1993

1993 Update: Dave Arthurs' Amazing Hybrid Electric Car
By Matt Scanlon

Alternative-energy vehicles have been motoring through the pages of MOTHER since 1970. Our response to the energy crisis at that time took the form of a number of investigations into alcohol, ethanol, gasohol, and ultra-efficient diesel engines. But in 1979, Dave Arthurs, then of Springdale, Arkansas, came upon a design combining electric and gas engine formats that made even the billion dollar development efforts in Detroit seem like a waste of time.

Using parts that he had purchased for under $1,500, Dave designed and built an engine system for his Opel GT that could propel the car 75 miles or more on a single gallon of gas! Dave's Opel was a hybrid electric vehicle. That is, the car was driven by both an electric motor and a conventional internal combustion engine. An array of six-volt batteries provided the direct power for the electric drive, while an efficient six-horsepower (hp) lawnmower engine ran continuously to generate power for and recharge the batteries. The combination of power plants made the car amazingly versatile. The batteries alone could be used for trips of under 25 miles, but the car had an unlimited range as long as the generator engine was running and the driver didn't have a penchant for drag racing. Additionally, if the electric power plant developed a problem, the Opel could travel on the five-hp engine alone at speeds of 30 miles per hour. Dave reported that the crossbreed hookup performed so well that, initially, MOTHER'S editors were more than a bit skeptical. It was decided that the only way to effectively test the design was to build our own.

A few weeks later, we had a hybrid engine comfortably placed in a 1973 Subaru chassis. We had decided to install a slightly bigger generator engine, but our car still averaged 83.6 miles to the gallon, ran flawlessly, and emitted a minimum of pollutants as it tooled along the highway. The idea caught on like wildfire among MOTHER readers and over the course of the next year, 60,000 people asked for plans to convert their cars.

As might be imagined, technology has marched along at a pretty brisk pace since 1979, and recently we were gratified to hear that Dave has been to the drawing board again, converting the engine of a 1980 Toyota pickup into an even more efficient hybrid of electric and gas formats. The results are simply better than ever. MOTHER spoke to Dave at his Fayatteville, Arkansas, home about his designs.

MOTHER: How has the format of the hybrid vehicle changed since 1979?
Dave Arthurs: Although there have been quite a few developments in combustion engine design over the last decade, battery technology has taken the real leap. That's fortunate for the hybrid car since the electric engine provides the lion's share of the motivation.

Basically, batteries are getting lighter and more powerful. Six-volt batteries were the only types suitable for my purposes back in the '70s. Have you ever seen one of those old six-volt batteries? They're monsters. I had to use six to generate the appropriate current, and at 75 pounds apiece, a very significant amount of the batteries' energy was spent hauling itself around. The new models weigh precisely the same but produce twice as much power. As a result, cruising range has now been extended, as has as average cruising speed.

The batteries I use are deep-cycle with a cold-cranking power of 1,314 amps. I highly recommend a 36-volt circuit, so you'll need at least three of these 12-volt batteries. Most cars will draw 150-200 amps at 45 mph. When looking for a battery, compare the reserve capacity and the number of plates per battery. A high number indicates deep-cycle capability and high-current output. One battery I've found has 186 plates and a 75-amp, 12-volt output for 100 minutes.

MOTHER: But does a conventional engine still supply the batteries with power?

DA: Absolutely. That's a must if you want to travel distances of over 25 miles. The small combustion engine must operate at a constant speed if a long-range drive is in the works, supplying the batteries with power. I installed three 12-volt, heavy-duty automobile batteries—in series—"fed" by a 10-amp generator to do that job. The small engine then powers the generator.

But I decided I wanted a bit more power in the new pickup, so I decided to forgo another five-hp gasoline engine in favor of a nine-hp diesel. That's equivalent to about a 20-hp gasoline engine. It turned out to be a perfect arrangement. It has tremendous torque, will bear very heavy loads without stalling, and is incredibly reliable.

MOTHER: Can the batteries be charged at home if you want to just use them for a short trip?

DA: Sure. Either a 36-volt charger can be used to charge all three batteries at once or a 12-volt model (which is much less expensive) can be used to charge each battery individually. Either one can be plugged into a standard home outlet. The electric rate here in Arkansas is 74 per kilowatt-hour. At that rate the cost is less than a penny per mile to operate the hybrid in the electric mode. But the range is limited by the number and type of batteries that you use. If you want to be able to drive for longer distances on the electric drive alone, the battery pack must be enlarged accordingly.

MOTHER: How would I arrive at the right battery pack for my own car?

DA: A typical 2,500 pound hybrid electric car will require approximately 200 amps at 36 volts to run 45 mph. Using that kind of information you can arrive at the best kind of battery pack for your particular use. For instance, two banks of the 186-plate, 12-volt batteries (six batteries) has nine kwh available. It takes 7.2 kwh to go 45 miles on the open road. With this battery system you should have a good hour of drive time on the batteries alone.

MOTHER: How does the conversion process happen?

DA: It can happen in many different ways. The simplest modification that you can make will give you a parallel hybrid. Add an electric motor to the existing engine of a car through drive belts, install an electric clutch (much like an air compressor), and that's basically it. The original engine and electric motor run in tandem and offer considerably improved fuel economy. The disadvantage to this method is that the large gas engine has to run all the time. It would be better if you could run on either gas or electric independently of each other.

The series hybrid accomplishes that. In that design (used in the truck), the small diesel engine indirectly provides the motive force of the car. In other words it drives a generator to provide electricity to the electric motor. This method has several advantages. The diesel engine can be run at a constant number of revolutions per minute matching its peak fuel economy, and the electricity the generator produces can be shunted directly to the drive motor or into a battery bank.

One of the greatest things about a series hybrid is its efficiency. Very little power is wasted. Every time you are going downhill and every time you stop, you have the opportunity to turn that inertia into electricity. You see, the electric motor which drives the vehicle is also a generator. A motor and a generator are virtually the same animal as long as we are speaking about direct current electricity. And when you are slowing down, you are actually "gearing down" : This over-revs the motor, turning it into a generator that produces electricity for the batteries. If you glance at the amp meter, you actually can see electricity returning to the batteries when this happens. This is not only energy efficient, but also saves a great deal of wear on the brakes because it slows the truck down.

MOTHER: Why did you choose a pickup for your new design?

DA: I just happened to have a older truck to modify. Any car can be used (although the lighter the better) for a hybrid. I needed a test vehicle capable of demonstrating different versions, both series and parallel, so I settled on a four-wheel drive pickup because there is enough room in the rear for the engine/generator package while the original engine remains up front. The rear wheels are powered by the electric motor; the front by the original gas engine. Vehicles modified at home will probably have the original engine removed, but I needed both to demonstrate efficiency, performance, etc. The truck is modified by removing the rear drive shaft altogether and mounting a short drive shaft and an electric clutch to the motor. The short drive shaft is the same as the front drive shaft in length.

MOTHER: What kind of performance are you getting?

DA: The electric motor performs and accelerates best at low speeds, as opposed to a gasoline engine which has most of its torque at the high end. So depending upon maintenance, charging, etc., you accelerate from zero to 40 mph in six to eight seconds. The engine-driven generator can handle the demand from the main motor up to speeds of about 50 mph. The "stored" energy in the batteries comes into play at higher velocities, giving extra kick for passing and climbing hills.

Gearing can be changed if higher performance is desired but the truck was never really intended to be a scorcher. I was gunning for reliability and efficiency. Let the speed enthusiasts think up a supercharger if they want one!

MOTHER: But isn't driving the truck dramatically different from driving a conventional car?

DA: It's exactly the same. There is a slight hum from the electric motor and a bit of noise from the diesel engine, but actually, noise levels in the cab are lower than those in a conventional car.

MOTHER: What kind of mileage do you get when the diesel engine is running?

DA: A 25-mile test run using the nine-hp diesel engine showed that a gallon of fuel could produce sufficient amperage at 36 volts to drive the car two hours at 45 mph. That's 90 miles to the gallon. If the terrain had been a bit less hilly, the average speed would have been closer to 55 mph. It's important to realize, however that stop-and-go traffic shortens the range and reduces efficiency because of the heavy current draws (600 amps) in taking off. That's where the surge current (cranking power) of the battery comes in. A great deal of city driving will certainly affect overall fuel economy.

MOTHER: Lead and acid batteries are still not exactly nature's best friend though. They're going to stick around those landfills long after we're gone, leaking lead and acid the whole time. How big an issue has that been in your design?

DA: If you're careful, you need never throw away the batteries in the truck. When exhausted, they can be cheaply rebuilt by the manufacturer. The problem is getting consumers to want to recycle them. Here in Arkansas, in order to make sure that as few batteries and their contaminating agents as possible end up in the landfills, a $10 fine has been imposed on any buyer of a battery who doesn't bring the old one with them. All those old batteries go back and get remanufactured.

MOTHER: The Opel conversion cost you $1,500. What has happened to the prices of equipment since 1979?

DA: The main expense was, and still is, the electric motor, which is actually the starter motor for some commercial jet engines. Often they can be obtained surplus for as little as $300—$400. A new one will run you about $800. Wiring, batteries, and relays generally cost about $400, a generator about $200. The last—and most variable big cost—is the combustion engine. A lightweight vehicle may run just fine on the 5-hp engine used in my first car. You'll be writing a check for about only $200-$300 for that one, but if additional power and bigger engine are needed, the costs will go up. My diesel engine ran me about $1,200.

It's important to remember that all of these expenses will go down considerably, though, if you are willing to do some scrounging and dealing. A careful buyer can spend as little as $2,000 for the whole thing, though I've known folks who forked out twice that much for all-new equipment and custom installation.

MOTHER: Do you consider this process very practical if the conversion's going to cost $2,000 from the start?

DA: It's actually very practical if you happen to have an old car or truck with serious engine problems that you still want to keep around. I'm not suggesting that you tear the engine out of your new '93, but an older car that still has a good chassis will run reliably for years on the hybrid drive, getting two to three times the mileage and producing a fraction of the pollutants in the process.

MOTHER: How many years will the drive run before problems begin?

DA: You might not believe this, but I'm still using the same electric motor that I installed in the Opel in 1979, and that motor was built in 1952! It has over 100,000 miles on it and the only maintenance it has ever required is $8 for parts. The only possible problem with an electric motor is overheating, so I've made a point of using a cooling fan and running it continuously.

The weakest link in the chain is obviously the combustion engine. The 5-hp lawn mower engine I used in the Opel lasted only a few years, but it was so cheap that replacing it was really no big deal. Eventually I decided that the new design merited an investment in the diesel, which I purchased new in 1980. It's still running perfectly. I think the chassis will fall apart before the engine does.

MOTHER: What's on the horizon for hybrid design?

DA: I'm in the process of experimenting with a rotary engine currently. One of its great advantages is that it can be modified to run on virtually any kind of fuel-alcohol, peanut oil, anything.

I've also developed some plans for people who want maximum battery range. My newest banks can sustain the car for well over 100 miles. That's more than enough for most commuter trips. NASA has already designed powerful batteries which can take a full charge in minutes. That technology will just get cheaper and more accessible, and in the not too distant future I expect that fuel stations will offer quick chargers for similar battery packs in addition to conventional fuel. The best experiments have really just started.

Readers' Comments
1. Chris Hebing
Hi, As your other readers have voiced in the past, this is a very interesting article. Do you have additional resources you can point me toward relating to Dave Arthur's specific project/plans? Any additional info would be greatly appreciated!
Tuesday, April 19, 2005 - 12:37:31
2. larry hunter
does mr arthurs still offer plans or where do i find them? thanks larry
Friday, May 6, 2005 - 10:05:30
3. Bob C
And so far the best counter from Detroit, Europe & Japan has been vehicles that match 1980's Volkswagen diesels in mileage but only under the "best" conditions. Sadly most of what's currently avail on the web seems to be advanced sales pamphlets with a "contact us" hook, sales pitches of how "AC is better" or extended chants of "how pure EV is the ONLY way. None of that addresses the DIY curious crowd or even the poor fools like me who can weld/program or even do body work as required but don't know any "inside" resources that seem to be required to get a good CHEAP price. I'm looking at a 3 day a week, 140 mile round trip commute at speeds over 70mph at times that ends in city traffic. I think I've just killed every pure EV except the ones that if I could afford them, I wouldn't need to work. I like the price of this conversion, I just wish I could find out MORE info. (yes, I want good, fast and cheap all at the same time)
Tuesday, May 10, 2005 - 12:43:03
4. D. Morrison
I am a student at the Evergreen State College. I have shown copies of this article to over a hundred people. Many have family members in Iraq fighting for oil. Not a single person has expressed excitement and a desire to build the car. I have posted the article at VOLTAGE FORUM.COM and it continues to get passed over-- well one person commented. As far as I am concerned, and it just a personal opinion, the article above, is the single most important information on the internet. Throughout history, society has been shaped not by ideas but by material culture-- only, now our material culture is at the point that it can destroy the planet. The material culture that could spawn as a result of David Arthurs technology is completely unimaginable. Like the wheel, the railroad, or steam engine, his design represents a phenomenal capacity to reshape society-- mobility has always produced profound affects on civilizations. Because of the information on PEAK OIL (at the website and in connection with this years info. about global warming, I adhere to the group of people that believe a Malthusian population decline is likely. I have concentrated all of my energy on being able to gather the materials and plans to follow David Arthurs example, because I believe so strongly in the capacity of his hybrid vehicle to allow a person to travel independently of the gas stations and oil companies-- with vegetable grease and acid, a person could effectively power the 6 horsepower engine independently. David Arthurs- if you ever check this website and read this post- I just want to say thank you so much for preparing the path to liberation from institutional energy dependency, I am sincerely grateful and shocked by your creation. thank you mother earth news, Mr. Morrison
Saturday, May 14, 2005 - 15:22:05"

Poster’s note:
I the first article 26 years ago. The just do it attitude is similar to amateur scientists/backyard tinkerers of a century ago and very different from today. I think I am going to hire some mechanics to put the equivalent together for me.

john bigelow said at May 24, 2005 6:49 AM:

A typo: I *read* the first article 26 years ago.

capsela said at May 24, 2005 7:19 AM:

This entry describes the effect you note, increased efficency = increased consumption.

Felix Kramer said at May 24, 2005 9:33 AM:

There's been a lot of discussion about topics related to the future of hybrids, their benefits, and, in particular, what are variously called "plug-in" or "gas-optional" hybrids (PHEVs or GO-HEVs). is the nonprofit group that converted a Prius to get 100+ MPG, and inspired to go into business providing after-market conversions with advanced lithium-ion batteries. The point on all this is to get car companies to come around to fully using hybrid technology. If most peoples' daily commute came from grid-power, and the "range extension" came from zero-carbon fuels like cellulose ethanol, then we'd have that vehicle that Fareed Zakharia called a "500-mpg hybrid."

I urge you to read our 3-page Fact Sheet, found in PDF form at and in text form at

I'm glad some of the misinformation (e.g. about the Prius NiMH battery, whose replacement cost now is under $3K and will go steadily down), and about the high conversion inefficiencies of internal combustion engines, have been clarified. For a quick response to that big issue: why an electric car is cleaner than a gasoline car even on the dirty national (50% coal) grid see section 4 of

And to keep things lively, we will add a link to this blog at

by Felix Kramer, founder, California Cars Initiative and the PRIUS+ campaign

Engineer-Poet said at May 24, 2005 12:50 PM:
my question was why does the vehicle need ANY gas engine-wheels connection.
"Need" is a funny word.  This might be clarified with an example.

Suppose that you're making a hybrid with a 60 HP sustainer engine and you have a specification of 100 HP peak for acceleration and no other constraints.  Given the specification, you can meet it in two ways:

  1. Series hybrid with a 100-HP electric motor.
  2. Parallel or series-parallel hybrid with a 40 HP electric motor.
After comparing prices on the parallel transmission vs. the cost difference between the 40 HP and 100 HP motors and their electronics, you find that one of the parallel configurations comes out $800 cheaper.  Do you "need" to go with a mechanical connection between engine and wheels?  Strictly speaking, no... but it certainly makes sense in that case.

Engineer-Poet said at May 24, 2005 12:55 PM:

John Bigelow quotes something that ought to make everyone question it:

According to David, the Opel has not only a virtually unlimited range (when driven prudently), but also a top speed of 90 miles per hour . . . and emits a minimum of pollutants as it tools along the highway.
It did?  How did they know this?  Did they measure it?

Lawnmower engines of the day were bad polluters even by old standards.  They were air-cooled (with consequent loose tolerances), had no pollution controls and often ran well rich.  A 1979 car would have had an early catalytic converter system, perhaps with air injection; the lawnmower engine had none of these things.  By 1982, cars were running closed-loop mixture controls to make the catalysts work better.  The one advantage the lawnmower engine would have is that it could run at constant speed.

... the engineer installed four 12-volt, heavy-duty automobile batteries-in series-which are "fed" by a 100-amp generator that's run off a 5-horsepower lawn-mower engine.
He's certainly not producing 100 A @ 48 volts (4.8 kW) with a 5 HP (3730 W) engine.

Nor is he cruising at even a continuous 55 MPH on a mere 5 HP.  I'd believe that "prudently" means 40-45, not the 50 claimed.  That's plenty for around town, but forget cruising the Interstates.

Hot or traveling in a very mountainous area-could, however, tax the car's charging system . . . but even these demands don't pose much of a problem, because the batteries can be brought from a 1/4 charge (the effective "dead" state, with a built-in safety factor) to a full charge in only 15 minutes.
So the battery can be charged from 25% to 100% in 15 minutes using less than 4 kW.  This means the storage is 1.3 kWh at most, which is quite a bit less than the Prius carries.  You're not going to get much range on that; any driving on Interstates better be between closely-spaced exits.  (An alternate explanation is that the claim was erroneous or the author was mis-quoted.)

My point here is to show that the Mother Earth News is not a technical journal, and its breathless praise should not be mistaken for honest and critical appraisal.  The "countless government-funded researchers" the author sneers at hold themselves to much higher standards in all respects, and it appears that the Prius+ builders at CalCars do also.

(PS:  The above was written before seeing Felix Kramer's post.)

john bigelow said at May 24, 2005 6:44 PM:

Hi Engineer-Poet,

I first read that hybrid article 26 years ago, not much progress in hybrid cars since then. I think there were many caveats to some of your selected quotations; Getting best speed on level ground, top speed achieved using generator and battery amperage output. Regards the pollution, my guess, the author refers to the scale: small gas engine not a mammoth v-8 or quantity of fuel burned. Of course all the claims could be untrue, they could be lying just to sell to a paid circulation of approximately 350,000. Naw. I will say it was a cheap shot to round out your critique by attacking the source and impugning them as lower than funded researchers. Your comments seem to indicate “countless government-funded researchers” are a sore point? I am pro scientific research.

Jon Ravin said at May 24, 2005 8:37 PM:

So you are saying the multiple-drivetrain hybrids are done because of lower cost?
Is that really so? (I plead ignorance).
What about setup like diesel-electric locomotice: electric motor at the wheels, with electronic controls...
I guess it just bugs me about the kludginess of current configurations (unless they are really cheaper...).
BTW: you don't need 100HP electric drive to outperform a 100HP gas engine, I thought.
Anyway, thanks for all the info so far.

Engineer-Poet said at May 24, 2005 8:39 PM:

I think you missed my point, John.  If the author meant that low pollution meant less fuel consumed rather than low emissions of HC and NOx (remember, this was long before popular worries about global warming) he should have said so, and the assertions were almost certainly unsupported by anything as basic as a dynamometer test.

they could be lying just to sell to a paid circulation of approximately 350,000.
They could be air-brushing the moles because they know that the readers who'll build the thing probably know them already, and the ones who won't don't want the author to tarnish their optimism.  This does not turn a puff-piece into laboratory data.  (I know from experience that such writing is typical for the magazine.  I used to read it, and I was alternately tantalized by the claims and frustrated by the lack of data to back it up.  I was younger then, too.)
I will say it was a cheap shot to round out your critique by attacking the source and impugning them as lower than funded researchers.
I'm afraid that you really missed the point; I was quoting your text from the article.

Engineer-Poet said at May 24, 2005 9:01 PM:

Jon Ravin:  I honestly couldn't tell you one way or the other.  When Toyota built the Prius, they put a series-parallel drivetrain into an Echo; when Honda build the Insight and Civic hybrids, they built more or less conventional drivetrains with motors bolted between the engine and transmission.  Why did they make the decisions they did?  You're wasting your time asking me; I'm not privy to that.  I gave you a rationale for picking one option over another given hypothetical circumstances, which is the best I can do at the moment.

Diesel-electric locomotives are another matter.  They show a clear progression from switch engines (where ease and reliability in starting loads from a dead stop is paramount) to over-the-road use; as the railroads got experience with them, they found that the reduction in maintenance of shafts and clutches was worth a small hit in efficiency.  When they went from DC to AC they took a big jump upward in sophistication but got rid of motor brushes and field coils, cutting maintenance and increasing efficiency.

I've seen an AC loco motor/axle assembly.  It's got a fat motor attached to the wheel/axle assembly by a gear case.  There is a flange on top of the motor housing to supply cooling air, and 3 fat cables ending in large terminals.  That's it.  It would be hard to get simpler or more rugged than that, and that appears to be the point.

Jon Ravin said at May 25, 2005 9:38 PM:

I agree - that IS my point as well...

Can anyone here give me a clue as to why hybrid cars are not built this way?

mj-dijkstra said at November 24, 2005 2:59 AM:

I am the owner of a 20 year old toyota starlet. Bought it will I was a student and the 'thing'keeps driving.
Because of my green hart I want to drive electric or hybrid but the facts are quite disappointing. The 20 year old starlet has an effective efficiency of 1:17 (city and highway combined) while the new prius is 1:20. Not that big difference. Of course the new prius is far more luxury, is bigger, safer, heavier and so on. If you drive in a city a lot things can be different; just think about all the stops and the waiting for traffic lights. So for city driving the difference will be more pronounced (I drive a lot at highwayspeeds)
While the hybrid is not the miracle some people believe it is, it is an improvement compared to vehicles of the same weight and level of comfort. People who can't afford a prius should just buy a second hand low weight IC-car and prevent driving in the city! That is almost the same driving an hybrid!

Now the hybrid technology is available for a decent price, what about the (fully) electric vehicle? If have made some inquiry about lithium ion battery and it turned out to cost me 14 to 15 thousend (!!!!) US dollar for a complete battery pack. Oeps!~With a cycle life time between 500 to 1000 cycles this is a real bottle neck. I have not added the cost of the car itself, the electronics and perhaps a cooling system for the battery. I am willing to pay a lot of money for an electric car IF the batteries do last a long time. I can understand the frustration of people who want to drive electric, but have to wait for decent battery technology. I am one of them.

Stef Komorowski said at April 20, 2006 10:26 AM:

CONTACT: Stef Komorowski (508) 698-6810,
Nancy Hazard (413) 774-6051,

Tour de Sol Invites Hybrid and Biofuel Vehicle Drivers
to Enter New Fuel Efficiency Competition

Greenfield, MA –April 3, 2006—Participation in this year’s Tour de Sol, America’s number-one green car show and competition, is available to more people than ever before thanks to a new competition and new start sites around the country.
The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA), organizer of the Tour de Sol, invites anyone who drives a hybrid or flex-fuel ethanol vehicle, or uses biodiesel in their diesel car or truck, to join the Monte Carlo-style Rally and the new Fuel Efficiency Competition. Entrants will drive to Saratoga Spa State Park, New York to arrive by Saturday, May 13. There, as part of the 18th annual Tour de Sol and the Saratoga Automobile Museum’s Auto Show, they will join dozens of other advanced vehicle owners, students competing with one-of-a-kind vehicles, and auto companies exhibiting their latest hybrid, CNG, biofuel, and hydrogen vehicles.
The Monte Carlo-style rally rewards miles per gallon, not miles per hour. Trophies are given to those who participate in the Drive-In Rally. Cash prizes and trophies are offered to hybrid and modified hybrid drivers who participate in the 200-mile drive from the Saratoga Spa State Park to Cooperstown, NY and back on the Friday, May 12 and demonstrate the highest fuel efficiencies that are at least 40% greater than EPA estimates for their vehicle.
“Since its inception in 1989, the Tour de Sol has been promoting fuel efficient, environmentally-friendly vehicles,” said James Dunn, of the Center for Technology Commercialization, sponsor of the Monte Carlo-style Rally. “We are thrilled to offer this new competition so that hybrid and biofuel vehicle owners who understand the value of fuel efficiency can participate in the Tour de Sol.”
People wishing to participate in the Monte Carlo-style Rally and Fuel Efficiency Competition can start at one of the official start sites including:
Advanced Transportation Institute (ITAQ), Saint-Jerome, Quebec, Canada
Balcones European Motors, Austin, TX
Cherry Run Automotive, Greenfield, MA
D.A.D.’s Auto, Beresford, SD
Gebbe’s Auto Care, Lansdale, PA
Haney Tire and Auto, West Plains, MO
Harriman Auto, Harriman, NY
Mastertech Automotive, Salt Lake City, UT
Pete’s Import Garage, Atlanta, GA
Progressive Asset Management, Wellesley Hills, MA
Rad Air Complete Car Care, Cleveland, OH
Ricks’ 36 Auto Service, Stillwater, MN
Scott’s Automotive, Des Moines,
Slipstream Autocare, Boulder, CO
Stock’s Underhood Spec., Belleville, IL
Tom’s Master Mechanics, San Diego, CA
Toyota Clifton Park, Clifton Park, NY
United Auto Sales & Service, Waterbury, CT
Westboro Toyota, Westborough, MA
People who do not live within 50 miles of a start site may start from their home after registering and calling in to NESEA.
“Hybrid and biofuel vehicles are becoming increasingly popular because they can save consumers money at the gas pump and at the same time people feel good about the fact that they are helping reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil and climate change emissions, and improving the air we breathe,” said Nancy Hazard, Director of the Tour de Sol. “The outcome of the competition will be really interesting as many hybrid owners boast from 60 to over 90 miles per gallon!”
Other competitions at the Tour de Sol showcase highway-worthy one-of-a-kind vehicles, and also e-bikes, scooters and neighborhood electric vehicles that offer zero emission transportation options for travel in neighborhoods, cities and towns.
Premier sponsors of the 2006 Tour de Sol are the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Center for Technology Commercialization. Additional key sponsors include the New York Power Authority, the Saratoga Automobile Museum, Stewart’s Shops, New York State Parks, Eastern Biofuels, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Toyota, the UK Trade & Investment, American Honda, Kurkoski Solar Electric, Westboro Toyota, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CSRWire, E-The Environmental Magazine, EIN Publishing, and
The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, organizer of the Tour de Sol, is the Northeast’s leading organization of professionals and concerned citizens working in sustainable energy, and whole systems thinking. NESEA facilitates the widespread adoption and use of sustainable energy by providing support to industry professionals and by educating and motivating consumers to learn about, ask for and adopt sustainable energy and green building practices. NESEA accomplishes this through conferences, K-12 educational resources, its members and chapters, its Sustainable Yellow Pages, and public events.
For registration and further information on the Tour de Sol, please go to or or call 413-774-6051.

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