July 10, 2007
Ford To Start Pluggable Hybrid Vehicle Test

At an event to announce a deal with Southern California Edison to field test some plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) Ford CEO Alan Mulally said Ford expects to start selling PHEVs in 5 to 10 years.

"Within five to 10 years we will start to see this technology in our hands," Mr Mulally said on the sidelines of a press event to announce an alliance between Ford and utility Southern California Edison to test 20 rechargeable electric vehicles.

When asked if that meant plug-in hybrids would be available on showroom floors, Mr Mulally said, "Yes. Sure."

5 years puts us in 2012 when the world's demand for oil will have so outpaced production growth that people will be clamoring for a way to escape from our liquid fuels dependency. 10 years is way too late. Why does Mulally think it will take that long to get viable batteries for PHEV use?

By contrast, General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz claimed in March 2007 that GM might manage to get its Volt PHEV into production by 2010.

"We have set an internal target of production in 2010. Whether we can make that or not, this is still kind of an unpredictable program for us," Lutz told reporters on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show.

He added: "We're sort of outside our comfort zone."

Production in 2010 might mean it is for the 2011 model year. GM says the needed lithium ion batteries might not be available till 2012. They aren't sure yet. Even once available that's only one model. But if the price of gasoline keeps going up it could be a very popular model.

GM is initially aiming for a 40 mile range on batteries. For people who have 20 mile commutes you'd have to plug the car in every night to recharge it. That would get tiresome. Depending on where you live plugging in a car at home might be problematic or even impossible. Apartment building residents with a shared lot or street parking probably couldn't plug in their car every night. Electric cars work better for people with driveways and garages.

When will we see batteries that can power cars for 120 or even 200 miles?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 July 10 11:24 PM  Energy Electric Cars

Wolf-Dog said at July 11, 2007 2:10 AM:

Randall Parker wrote:"Apartment building residents with a shared lot or street parking probably couldn't plug in their car every night. Electric cars work better for people with driveways and garages.
When will we see batteries that can power cars for 120 or even 200 miles?"

Altair Nanotechnology Lithium batteries are already used for cars with ranges 120 and 250 miles, and these batteries can be charges in 10 minutes instead of several hours. This means that you can charge such a battery at the work place or at the parking lot where they would have cables to charge the car. The life expectancy of such batteries is at least 20 years.


The only problem is that these batteries cost $75,000 for the moment until the price is lowered in the future. This is the reason the Detroit companies are starting with the cheaper rival lithium batteries that take several hours to charge, and with much shorter range. But within 10 years there should be very cheap batteries with range at least 500 miles and which can be charged in a few minutes. But it seems that before the electric cars and nuclear reactors to charge these cars are built, there will be oil wars.

Ivan said at July 11, 2007 9:58 AM:

"For people who have 20 mile commutes you'd have to plug the car in every night to recharge it. That would get tiresome."

A $200 robot can auto-doc for a recharge: the roomba. I see no reason garages can have modules installed which would doc to the car automatically for a recharge. We're talking about a $20,000 set of batteries here, and the problem is essentially solved.

Also, it would be easier to get better range in a smaller car. Motorcyles are good candidates, but they aren't safe and aren't protected by the elements. Remeber the cars in Demolition Man. That movie, which is quite under-rated, had it right with a tiny electric car. This looks like a good entry

Reality Czech said at July 11, 2007 10:57 AM:

If Canadian cities can put outlets in every parking meter for block heaters, US cities can put outlets on city streets for vehicle charging.

Wolf-Dog said at July 11, 2007 12:05 PM:

I agree that the movie "Demolition Man" was definitely a good movie and it was certainly under-rated.

But the Charlton Heston movies "Soylent Green" and "The Omega Man" were also excellent movies that were under-rated. In the movie Soylent Green, in the year 2022, New York City is suffering from the effects of the greenhouse effect, in such a way that the temperature is much higher and agriculture is wiped out, only the rich can afford a few ounces of meat per year, and people are miserable. In fact, even planktons in the oceans are dying and food is so scarce that the government is secretly recycling the dead people to make synthetic food, and this food is sold as if it were made from the planktons that are harvested in the ocean. These movies were ahead of their times, and should inspire the new generation.

Randall Parker said at July 11, 2007 6:09 PM:


Yes, we didn't develop better batteries fast enough and now we are going to spend several years paying increasing prices for gasoline.


Most people do not have garages and of those who have garages most do not use them. The robo-charger is going to have to work outside. More difficult on a driveway. Much much more difficult on the road side in front of a house. Not feasible in front of an apartment building.

Nick said at July 12, 2007 11:04 AM:

Wolf-dog, the $75K for the Altair batteries includes a great deal of one-time engineering. Their batteries are also li-ion, and there's no reason not to expect them to be competitive in cost.

Randall, you said "Most people do not have garages and of those who have garages most do not use them". IIRC when last I checked a reference, roughly 60% of people in the US lived in single family homes or townhouses, which AFAIK almost always have garages. Another several percentage points are in condos with indoor deeded parking spots which probably wouldn't be hard to provide with electric service. Very few garages that I have observed don't get used. Could you provide more info on these two points?

"When will we see batteries that can power cars for 120 or even 200 miles?"

I think this is simply a matter of cost. A123systems, and competitors, should come down pretty quickly in price with sales volume, and as costs fall battery packs can get bigger. Good quality conventional li-ion is about $400/kwh now, which is cheap enough for the Chevy Volt. Next-gen li-ion should follow behind that fairly closely, and both should drop roughly 10% per year.

Nick said at July 12, 2007 11:16 AM:

BTW, I feel strongly that this move by Ford is pure PR. 5 to 10 years??? They have no clue.

Mirco said at July 12, 2007 11:23 AM:

Recharger can be built-in the parking lot of malls.
People go to the mall, they recharge the car.
Recharger can be built-in in the garages of workplaces.
Recharger can be built-in the city parking lots.
People pay for parking and recharging. Pay to park and the recharge is free!!!

Randall Parker said at July 12, 2007 7:37 PM:


Most people I know have too much stuff in their garages to use them. On the street where I live almost all the cars are parked on the street or in the driveway in front of the garage. I have never used a garage at a variety of addresses and the same could be said of the neighbors at the various locations. This is all SoCal.

On the rural road where I grew up in NJ most houses did not have garages.

In areas where the lots are smaller and more expensive the houses have 1 car garages or no garages.

Declining prices of batteries: I hope so.

I'd like to know what the watt-hours/kg are for the A123 Systems and Altair batteries.

JLK said at July 12, 2007 7:41 PM:

I think that the government has secretly put the brakes on PHEV's and is telling the automakers to hold off because it knows that the existing power grid couldn't handle the additional load, especially during peak load times such as 4-6PM on hot summer days. We need major infrastructure upgrades before PHEVs can become viable and thus be made available to the masses.

In the meantime, but a diesel car. The government is discouraging those as well because it wants most diesel reserved to keep commercial trucking going in the event of a fuel crunch, but at least you can buy one if you want one.

Zeyphod45 said at July 13, 2007 6:17 AM:

I would direct your attention to: http://www.pnl.gov/news/release.asp?id=204 Says that our current electric power grid would be sufficient to charge 220 million PHEV cars during off-peak hours. Needless to say we are a far cry away from that many PHEV cars, and in the amount of time it would take to build that many there should be more than ample time to build more power plants, etc to deal with the demand if it proved necessary.

Nick said at July 13, 2007 9:00 AM:

Randall, "Most people I know have too much stuff in their garages to use them."

Fascinating. I see this occasionally, but in the midwest this is fairly rare. I would guess that it's a symptom of very temperate weather combined with home prices much higher than average for the country that put space at a premium. I'm confident that in general, new construction single family homes have garages.

Here are some stats from http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/ahs/hsgprof.html

"PARKING: Slightly more than nine in ten American households (91 percent) have at least one car, van, or light truck at home for personal use.

Because 71 percent of homeowners and 35 percent of renters have more than one vehicle, parking space can be a real concern. Garages or carports are common for households living in single-detached unitsójust over three in four of these homes (76 percent) have a covered shelter for vehicles. Townhouses or row houses, on the other hand, include a garage or carport less than half the time (46 percent). In both mobile homes and units in multiunit buildings, the proportion is 26 percent.

At homes without a garage or carport available, vehicles may be left either on the street or in a driveway, parking lot or other off-street space. For homes without a garage or carport, some kind of off-street space is available at 87 percent of the detached units, at about 75 percent of both the single-attached units and units in multiunit structures, and at 90 percent of the mobile homes.

All this leaves about 7.8 million households who must rely on street parking. Of course, not all of those households have vehicles. Four in ten households who report no offstreet or garage parking also have no vehicles."

So, it looks like roughly half of drivers have garages or carports, and 90% of the remaining have offstreet parking.

Doesn't seem too bad - it shouldn't be that big a deal to bring power to offstreet parking spaces. Much easier, say, than creating hydrogen infrastructure.

Randall Parker said at July 13, 2007 9:28 PM:


I agree about the relative difficulty of hydrogen versus electricity. The biggest obstacle with electric vehicles is batteries.

But the shorter the range the fewer people will find pluggable hybrids worthwhile. Consider:

1) Rural dwellers have the most space to have garages to charge up cars and to have multiple cars (electric for short range and gasoline/diesel for long range).

2) Urban dwellers have the shorter commutes but the most difficulty in recharging car batteries.

3) Apartment dwellers face similar obstacles for charging up cars as they have for getting efficient appliances and good insulation: They get the benefits of the investments in charging facilities or insulation. But the landlords spend to provide the equipment.

Nick said at July 15, 2007 2:55 PM:

"the shorter the range the fewer people will find pluggable hybrids worthwhile"

True. I think the proposed 40 mile range for the Volt is enough for most people. That would be pretty inadequate for an EV (due to the relatively large consequences of running out of charge before getting home), but for a PHEV, that should work very well, as the penalty is just using a little gas.

1) I think relatively few people, rural or urban, want a short-range EV. PHEV's, IMHO, are the general solution. OTOH, in a fuel emergency a short-range EV would do just fine: it's much less convenient, but in an emergency people would live with that.

2) True, but as density, and the difficulty of charging, increases, so does mass transit.

3) True. They'll need public infrastructure: outlets in parking meters, parking garages, or gas stations.

P71 Crown Vic Pilot said at August 12, 2009 8:23 PM:

For those who can still use their garage, a reprogrammed Roomba could auto-plug the car on arrival. Or, one could devise an arrangement similar to how the military does the in-flight refuelling stunt. In the Air Force, a tanker plane has a "stinger" the fighter jock maneuvers up to and get its end to seat in the open from inside gas cap on top of the fighter jet. In the garage variation, you have a funnel shape receptacle on the back of the car and a spring-loaded stinger on the back wall. You CAREFULLY back into the garage exactly up to the stinger until a light on the dash lights up. Other variations are possible, of course. Get creative!

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