CARB Rules May Pull Plug on Plug-in Conversions

In recent years, the State of California has become the unofficial capital of plug-in hybrid technology. But proposed certification standards from the California Air Resource Board (CARB) could create an obstacle for small companies selling plug-in hybrid conversion kits. The kits—which allow owners of today’s hybrids to boost their fuel economy to as much as 100 mpg or higher—could have unintended negative consequences, according to CARB. Tests of some plug-in hybrid conversions at the Argonne National Laboratory revealed increased levels of air pollution. Apparently, changing a hybrid’s battery control system can also alter the vehicle’s electronic emissions system.

CARB officials want to see additional testing and to require consumer warranties for the kits—regardless of the cost. The agency currently requires that all aftermarket parts affecting a vehicle’s emissions meet high standards, but no certification process has been established for plug-in hybrid conversion kits.

Consumer demand for plug-in hybrids is rapidly climbing. Major auto companies like GM, Ford, Daimler, and Toyota say their plug-ins are coming, but not for at least a couple of years. Plug-in conversions of today’s hybrids could fill the gap.

The proposed regulations (PDF) would require conversion companies to follow a test regimen similar in scale to those followed by automakers for new vehicles. They would also force manufacturers of plug-in conversion equipment to provide warranties of seven to 10 years.

The work of plug-in cheerleaders and kit manufacturers has been a key factor in inspiring—or prodding, depending on your view—major car companies to pursue plug-in hybrids. But rules designed for the big car companies to bring a vehicle to a mass market may end up preventing these small conversion companies from putting the first wave of plug-in hybrids on the road.

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  • Bryce

    Interesting. Never knew that engines were optimized so specifically that small changes could actually increase their emmissions. I guess the big automakers are doing something right. I kind of favor leaving the plug-ins to the automakers cuz after market add ons are pricey, and once you put on the installation cost, you are nearly bankrupt. Now that we see that it can actually raise emmisions…..whats the point anymore. Lets just let the big boys take care of this one. : )

  • Ed Griffith

    Yeah, let the big boys take care of it. The car companies have been so responsible on giving us what our dependency on foreign oil and global climate change demand that we should just trust them.

  • anon Imus

    Please define “increased”. How much additional pollution are we talking about? Does it belch smoke like a Peterbuilt, or are we getting worked up over nothing? Unless this increase is truly significant, we’re still better off with the current plug-ins than we are without them. If and when the big 3 are ready, they can take over, but for now, unless you can show me numbers, stop regulating things that don’t need regulation.

  • steved28

    I was thinking the same as anon. Are we missing the big picture? If ICE emissions rose 5%, but the engine ran 30% less in a typical driving cycle, perhaps they missed the point.

  • Need2Change

    In fact, 30% could be conservative for many drivers. If a plug-in can run for 20 miles on electric only, and a person typically commutes 5-8 miles each way, the engine may rarely turn on. Seems like there should be a factor applied to the emissions test — at least reduce it by 50%.

    I do like the idea of providing a warranty — but 10 years seems excessive. Maybe 3 years on basic operation and damage to the car’s existing systems (including stock battery), and 7-10 years for the new battery only.

  • Dom

    CARB strikes again! Only this time they’re picking on the hybrids, not the diesels. I guess all’s fair in love and war. I think CARB may have outlived their usefullness. Anyway, as the recent article on the new Jetta TDI pointed out, improvements beyond the current emission standards are very small. I say we need to back off emissions and focus on fuel economy goals instead, especially since emission gains have a tendancy to reduce fuel economy.

  • NCyder

    Once created, a government bureaucracy survives by validating their existence. This is usually done by showing “progress”. And progress is never measured in reductions of involvement, but in more and more meddling in the affairs of those they “regulate”.

    Disclaimer: I actually work in an automotive field that benefits from more regulation of the kind that CARB produces. I am a walking paradox …. but I always have been.

  • Anonymous

    It would be interesting to see who is paying for the test that are finding the increased levels of pollution.

  • Boom Boom

    This isn’t just about emissions, CARB is requiring that they also have a minimum charging time, which has nothing to do with emissions.

    If CARB wants to do its job, it can say, very simply, that any modification that increases the emissions beyond the required amount is banned. Each add-on manufacturer would provide a model for testing and those that pass are allowed and those that don’t aren’t allowed. They’ve got no business getting into the charging time, warranties, quality control or anything else about the batteries.

    And even if they did, it seems rather ironic that they’d be stopping a 100 mpg Prius from emitting an additional 10% of greenhouse gases when that amount is still far below 99% of the cars on the road. And isn’t the whole point behind the increased battery packs that the engine isn’t turned on as much? So you convert your Prius so you can drive 30 miles on battery only, but the last 5 miles your engine turns on and emits 50% more pollution (a rather extreme example) for those miles. You still drove 30 miles with out emitting any CO2. Shouldn’t that count for something?

    Seems pretty nuts.

  • Shines

    The proposed regulation is not that difficult to understand. When I read it, it seems to be saying lets make sure plug in kits are warranted, reliable and have been tested. I can see the risk of getting ripped off by some fly by night operation selling some shoddy conversion kit or worse ruining a good hybrid by damaging its batteries or ignition system. The way I read the proposal, is that it is a good safeguard. Sure it is an obstacle for start ups, but I’d feel better knowing my spending $20K to modify my $18 – $35K Prius/Civic/Camry is warranted and being done by a legitimate company with documented installers.

  • NMO

    CARB is simply unpredictable and often times we are left wondering what’s really going on. They never seem to support the small manufacturers, even though they are a key component of positive change. It’s political, it’s regulatory and at times it’s individuals with too much power to make decisions but it seems the big, entrenched companies always come out on top.

  • Lizard Eater

    CARB strike again indeed. The public presentation was the 16th Juky and you had to have comments in by the 22nd!! The warranty conditions they wanted are exorbitant, battery charging is none of their business – the rules are in your face outrageous, as usual, to ensure nobody ever sees an EV.

    Lizards like it hot don’t you know.

  • Yo Mama

    A prius puts out hardly any emmissions. Adding on a couple more batteries would hardly change the composition. Why doesn’t CARB go after the cancer causing diesels that are on the road that are belching black dirty smoke every day… Give me a break!

    Toyota got it right, Bob Lutz and his Chevy Volt, got it wrong.

    For many years, Lutz laughed at toyota and the prius, calling it a novelty item. The last years have made Lutz eat his words. All he cared about was producing gas guzzing muscle cars. Now his piles of junk are sitting on american showroom floors where no one is buying them. Every body has turned to fuel efficient cars. GM aka Greedy Men, is trying to catch up but it will the several years down the road. In the mean time, Toyota and other will be laughing all the way to the next technology level, and GM will be out dated. Wanna Make GM profitable? FIRE BOB LUTZ and all the WHITE HAIRED, YELLOW TOENAILED, OLD Schooled, Good ole boys, and replace them with Fresh New Toyota talent. That is the only way. GM has gone from the Big three to the Tiny three, shortly to be bye, bye…wee..wee.