ALTe Promises Extended-Range Electric Conversion for Gas Guzzlers

With stricter Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules coming down the pike, an Auburn Hills, Mich. company has a head start on a product for gas guzzlers that could dovetail with mandates looming on the horizon.

The solution being developed by ALTe is a promising extended-range vehicle conversion for fleet applications that updates a V8 powertrain with a four-cylinder plus electric motor that functions like that of the Chevrolet Volt.

The conversion is said to improve fuel efficiency by 80-200 percent, and with this, ALTe has aspirations to ultimately partner with major manufacturers as an original equipment solutions provider.

In spring 2012, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will test a 2007 F-150-based conversion, gathering data for ALTe to hone its act. Plans are to begin with Ford products for now, and begin accepting fleet purchase by the end of this year.

In April this year, ALTe announced it partnered with Manheim, a large automotive remarketing company, to do the turnkey installations for fleet customers.

To learn more, we contacted ALTe’s Vice President, Marketing & Sales, Dennis Baranik, and from what he says, the company has high hopes indeed.

REEP Retrofit

ALTe’s iteration of a series electric hybrid powertrain is called a Range Extended Electric Powertrain (REEP).

The conversion fits a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated engine serving as a generator that does not mechanically drive the wheels, Remy HVH250 electric traction motor, motor controller, software, and lithium-ion battery packs.

The rear-wheel-drive F-150 to be tested by PG&E uses an engine from a late-model Focus, but ALTe has flexibility there.

“At this point, ALTe has used the Ford 2.0-liter engine in its prototype vehicles but the company has not yet signed a long-term supply agreement with an engine supplier (expected within the next 2-3 months),” Baranik said.

He would not identify the motor controllers used, but a contract with Remy for its bleeding-edge, High Voltage Hairpin motors is set, he said, as is a contract for the batteries.

“ALTe has recently signed a long-term supply agreement with one of the leading lithium-ion battery companies in North America,” Baranik said. “A press release will be issued within the next two weeks.”

The F-150, Baranik said, has a range “projected at about 25 miles in the prototype vehicle.” Horsepower from the four-cylinder plus motor is said to be on par with the supplanted V8, torque is greater, and cargo and towing capacity are unaffected.

After the 20-kWh battery assembly depletes, Baranik said PG&E can expect “between 25-30 mpg in charge-sustained mode.”

Given its new efficiency, the converted F-150’s 27-gallon tank is replaced with a relatively small 8-gallon tank, which Baranik said still offers 300 miles of range.

While the prototype is a 4X2, ALTe’s system can be made to work for four wheel drive also.

We asked whether ALTe would use larger batteries to extend all-electric range?

“ALTe will enter the market initially with a common configuration for light trucks/vans up to 14,000 GVW,” Baranik said. “Eventually, ALTe will offer a larger powertrain for trucks/vans up to 26,000 GVW and also have the ability to offer customers various options that could increase electric miles and/or range and/or other performance specifications.”

Cost for the conversion is projected at around $30,000. ALTe said payback can be as soon as 12 months, “depending primarily on the number of miles driven and the projected cost of gasoline,” another company representative said.

“The price of the ALTe powertrain is projected to decline significantly over the next several years as demand for lithium ion batteries increases and corresponding battery costs decline,” the representative said. “Furthermore, many corporate, regional and local fleet owners and operators are being forced to continue to use their current fleet as their replacement fund budgets have been drastically reduced. ALTe offers them, for the first time ever, a feasible option to extend the life of their fleet vehicles for several years where they also benefit from doubled fuel economy at an affordable incremental cost.”

We asked Baranik: What subsidies, if any, could help underwrite lease or purchase of retrofitted REEP vehicles?

“Federal tax credits are the most well known source of financial assistance. In addition, there are numerous state and local grants, credits and subsidies that vary by locale,” he said.

We asked also: Does the $7,500 federal grant for consumers apply to a retrofitted REEP vehicle?

“At this point, a federal tax credit equal to 10 percent of the cost of a retrofit with an alternative-fuel powertrain is available with a maximum amount of a $4,000 tax credit (e.g., if the retrofit cost $30,000 then the tax credit would be equal to $3,000),” Baranik said.

Measures of success

The company’s CEO and co-founder, John Thomas was recently named as one of Automotive News’ Electrifying 100, and it has garnered significant commitment from industry leaders.

“ALTe has formed a Customer Advisory Board that includes fleet directors from over a dozen of the leading brand names in North America, including PG&E, Cox Communication, Frito Lay, Duke Energy, Waste Management, Service Master, DirecTV, and Stantec among others,” Baranik said. “All of these fleet managers have driven an ALTe powered vehicle and have verified the feasibility of our business model.”

We next asked whether the company has paying customers yet and what commitments the company has from any accounts pending.

“ALTe will begin accepting purchase orders at the end of 2011 to support its summer 2012 product launch. In the meantime, ALTe has contracted on pilot projects with PG&E and other companies (names not yet released publicly) where one of their vehicles will be retrofit with an ALTe powertrain. The companies will be able to evaluate the performance and provide feedback to ALTe and presumably lead to purchase orders for 2012.”

We asked: When does your business plan call for you to be in the black, or are you self-funded?

“At this point, ALTe is not generating revenue but intends to be self funded and profitable from Job #1 forward,” Baranik said.

ALTe2010-F150Red

While aimed at fleet customers, retail orders will also be accepted.

If it can be profitable out of the gate, that would be exceptional indeed, so next we asked, what are the company’s long-term goals?

“[To] include ALTe powertrains in new vehicle platforms, transition our business model internationally, and expand our product line to include other EV components,” Baranik said.

If this pans out, it could prove lucrative if present deals Tesla has with Toyota are any indicator. Tesla recently disclosed a $100 million contract with Toyota for plug-in solutions, and talk has been reported also of a deal as high as $1 billion.

Lastly, we asked: how do the new CAFE rules affect your future plans?

“As indicated in the recently released CAFE proposal, the federal government has established a 54.5 mpg fuel economy target [equal to about 40 mpg on the window sticker] by the 2025 model year. Importantly for ALTe, the proposal would exempt full size pickup trucks from any fuel economy increases from the 2017-2019 model years,” Baranik said. “This confirms what ALTe has learned through various industry sources – that the OEMs do not have any meaningful powertrain improvements planned for the light truck industry for the next several years.”

ALTe says it has meaningful powertrain improvements being finalized, and will begin taking orders in 2011 putting it in position to help automakers with another solution for gas guzzlers.

GM-Volt


  • FamilyGuy

    Great idea, I hope that it works out for them. If the auto makers aren’t going to make the plugin that you want, then someone else will for you. I wish that it didn’t cost so much and that they could do it to any vehicle.

    Imagine, not waiting for Honda to come out with it’s plugin model or not waiting for Mazda to put a plugin system into say the Mazda5 or not waiting for Toyota to come out with a plugin minivan or not waiting for Subaru to develop a plugin Outback. Purchase any vehicle that you want and this company will make it a plugin for you.

    If you’re the type of driver that holds on to a car for 10-12 years or 150k-200k miles, then the cost of $10k-$15k might be worth it. Obviously, you’d have to run some numbers and use your best guess for the cost of gas over time, so it’s a gamble. And you’d probably void your vehicle’s warranty….

    Interesting. Like I typed earlier, I hope that it works out for them.

  • David

    This is a very good and logical idea to provide Fleet Users with an Electric (Series Hybrid) Vehicle which will reduce their operating expenses. However, there is a disconnect between the Cost-Benefit Analysis presented in the article and the real world.
    First, any truck that only runs 20,000 miles per year in a fleet will last 6 to 8 years before the engine and/or vehicle needs to be replaced or rebuilt (not 3 as in the example above). Next, a 6 to 8 year old “Fleet” vehicle is going to be torn up! Things are going to fail that will keep it in the shop more often than a newer vehicle, i.e.: electrical system problems; turn signal switches, ignition switches, all the accessories will constantly need repairs; the seats and interior will be worn out/torn up and will need to be repaired/replaced; the Air conditioning will need to be repaired more often, etc. Also, after 8 years parts availability becomes an issue (Just imagine the parts issues a 15 year old vehicle will have [8yrs on new veh + 7 on Electric drive train]. All of these additional repairs will add up to higher costs of operation, lower availability and lost productivity for the company. A more realistic basis for analysis would be a Fleet vehicle that operates 40,000 + miles per year. Based on 40k miles you would need to replace/rebuild the vehicle after 3 years (more or less) and the electric conversion would last for 3 to 4 years (based on the 7 year 20k example). The problem for this (more realistic) example is that you are still running the truck on Gas 85% of the time and only getting 26mpg. The 12mpg increase over the original (New) truck is not enough of an increase to justify spending $26,500 to convert the vehicle. Let’s face it 12mpg at $3.83 per gallon times 34.000 miles barely makes a break-even proposition for the company and you haven’t included the increased cost of repairs or lost productivity of a 4 ++ year old Fleet vehicle as mentioned above. Bottom Line, The Series Hybrid is a winning energy saving/MPG increasing technoligy which has been proven to work. However, this company needs to engineer an Engine/Battery combination that increases the all electric range and improves the Gas MPG beyond the 12 mpg of the original truck. I would strongly suggest they consider a small european Diesel Engine to improve the MPG after the All Electric range is reached.

  • Mark B

    This is stupid. A CNG or LNG conversion is much less costly and NG prices are dropping as we’ve discovered a 100 years worth of the fuel within the US. CNG/LNG burns clean, doesn’t require massive changes to vehicles, and has the backing of several very large investors including Shell, Pickens, Chesapeake and others. We don’t need toxic batteries, complicated controllers, and so on. We could virtually solve this problem tomorrow.