|Ford Escape Plug-in|
|GM’s Crossover Plug-in Hybrid|
|Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid|
Chevrolet Volt—General Motors calls the Volt an “extended-range electric vehicle.” That’s essentially marketing spin for a plug-in series hybrid. The engine doesn’t drive the wheels—it only kicks in to power a generator to sustain the battery pack’s charge, providing another 300 miles of range. And that only happens once the battery is exhausted. For the first 40 miles or so, the Volt burns no gasoline, drawing energy from a 400-pound, 16 kWh Li-ion battery. Energy from that pack powers a 150-hp electric motor that provides all the propulsion.
The Volt’s price tag is a source of much debate, with recent estimates around $40,000. The company plans to build 10,000 Volts the first year, beginning in late 2010, and perhaps as many as 60,000 in 2011.
Fisker Karma—The Fisker Karma is a $87,000, 400-hp, four-seat sports car. It’s expected to be the first plug-in hybrid on the market, and the world’s first luxury plug-in hybrid. In a 2009 interview with founder Henrik Fisker, I asked who would be likely to buy the Karma. “I think our market is everybody who has a little bit of conscience,” he said, “and enough money to buy it.”
Like the Chevrolet Volt, the Fisker Karma is a plug-in series hybrid that uses electric power to turn the wheels. The 22 kWh Li-ion battery pack, designed by Canada’s Advanced Lithium Power, promises 50 miles of electric range. A 2.2-liter GM Ecotec four-cylinder engine powers a generator that makes enough energy to add 250 more miles. The company expects annual production to reach 15,000 within two years of launching in mid-2010.
Ford Escape Plug-in—Ford is claiming that the plug-in hybrid version of the Escape, a small SUV, can travel 30 to 35 miles using little or no gas—if driven in town and if the batteries are charged by being plugged in for six to eight hours. After those 30 or so miles, the vehicle reverts to being a conventional Escape Hybrid—which is the most fuel-efficient SUV in the United States, according to EPA fuel economy ratings.
The Escape Plug-in Hybrid uses a relatively small 10 kWh Li-ion battery pack and it can use either electricity, gasoline, or both, as required by the driver’s needs. The Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid is expected to hit showrooms in 2012.
GM’s Crossover Plug-in Hybrid—The vehicle was originally conceived as a Saturn Vue in 2007, became an unnamed Buick model in August 2009, and two weeks later was a technology in search of a vehicle.
GM maintains its commitment to a plug-in crossover SUV, but the details are yet to be announced. The plug-in Vue was going to utilize a modified version of GM’s two-mode hybrid system, plug-in technology, and an advanced Li-ion battery pack—to offer electric-only propulsion for more than 10 miles. The power train was to be two permanent-magnet motors and GM’s 3.6-liter V6 gasoline engine with efficient direct fuel injection.
Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid—By January 2010, Toyota was expected to have the first 500 official Prius Plug-In Hybrid prototypes on the road. The United States got 150 of the test vehicles, which use Li-ion batteries—not the NiMH packs that Toyota says are the current and long-term solution for conventional hybrids. This kicks off a three-year effort to get data on how plug-in cars fare in the real world: how they’re charged, how their batteries perform, and what sort of mileage they get.
Toyota is targeting 2012 as a release date. When the company unveiled the car at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show, it released basic stats: all-electric driving mode of 12.5 miles at speeds up to 62 mph, carbon dioxide emissions cut to less than 60 grams per kilometer, and full recharging in about 1.5 hours from a 230-volt supply. Reuters reported that Toyota plans to sell the plug-in Prius at a price close to that of the all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which is going for about $48,000 in Japan, but I expect a much lower price.