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New companies are emerging with conversions for conventional non-hybrid vehicles, but these solutions are even less proven. In a “through-the-road” conversion, available from Poulsen Hybrid in Shelton, Conn., electric motors are externally mounted on two wheels. Another startup is offering an Automotive Vehicle Pusher, a giant wheel mounted on the rear bumper to propel the vehicle under electric power.
Plug-in hybrid conversions will have to be reasonably priced to make financial sense for drivers. Assuming utilities don’t give away electricity for free, drivers of large vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban who convert their vehicles will save about $2,500 per year at today’s gas prices. Not bad, but how many consumers will accept the odd-looking external equipment? And how many problems will drivers endure as bugs get worked out of the new conversion systems?
Hybrids like the Prius have taught us—once again—that cars are about much more than economics. What a car says about us has as much impact on our buying decisions as how that car affects our wallets. So if converting a vehicle is seen as the next big “green” thing to do, it may take off. But mounting a big wheel on the back of your pickup truck is not likely to have the same caché as driving a factory-made hybrid.
However, it would be ironic if these “regular-car-to-plugin-hybrid” conversions did become popular. Just as auto companies are preparing to put more efficient products in the showroom, Americans would be hanging on to their guzzlers a bit longer.