The March Toward Plug-In Hybrids Continues

The line-up of plug-in hybrid converts is growing, with General Electric being the latest company to hop on a train that seems like its leaving the station. The train is an apt analogy since GE is trading on its locomotive diesel-electric hybrid experience as a rationale for why it will be able to help accelerate Chrysler’s late move into plug-ins. With GE as a partner, Chrysler will be joining GM, Ford and Toyota, who have all committed to rolling out plug-in hybrids during the next few years.

Chrysler and GE will be building 80 demonstration vehicles during the next three to five years to showcase a dual-battery energy storage system. Funding for the project will come in part, from a paltry $30 million the Department of Energy has committed to spend on plug-in hybrids over the next three years. The money will be parceled out $10 million each for Chrysler, GM and Ford. The same automakers had asked the government to spend $500 million to help make plug-in technology a reality in the marketplace.

The added irony to the small amount of money the government is putting into the mix is that GM and Toyota have both pledged to have commercial versions of their plug-in vehicles on the market before the federal money runs out. GM has said it would have its Volt, and Toyota said it would have a plug-in version of the Prius for sale in 2010.

In addition to the $500 million the auto companies were looking for in government battery funding, Ford and GM also chimed in that the government needed to offer some substantial incentives to make plug-ins viable in the showroom. GM had initially targeted a $30,000 retail price for the Volt, but has admitted more recently that it needed to charge more to recoup higher development costs for the vehicle. Ford’s President of the Americas, Mark Fields, reminded a recent plug-in conference that “the governments of Japan, China, Korea and India are significantly funding the research, development and deployment of plug-in hybrid vehicle technologies.”

The bottom line in all this: the U.S. government is finally putting some money into plug-in hybrid development, but it looks like industry has already sunk its own change into the program. Now the auto companies would like the government to prime the early market—as it did with conventional hybrids—to help them to hedge their bets if these technologies don’t take off, and absorb a smaller loss on the early models.

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  • Need2Change

    I was excited about this until I read:

    “Chrysler and GE will be building 80 demonstration vehicles during the next three to five years..”

    Looks like production electric vehicles are at least five years away at Chrysler.

  • Bryce

    That is dissapointing alright. : ( I would think they could come faster. GE has been making Diesel electric engines for trains for nearly 50 years. Sounds like they have the tech down already.

  • Andy

    Huray for soci… er.. I mean capitalism.
    So do the innovative companies like Tesla get any of this pie? or is it set aside for the behemoths who just sit around eating burgers and beer with congressmen while talking about how hard this all is?

  • Roger


    I can only agree with you 100%. The federal and provincial governments have commited more than that in a country with 1/10 the population and with no car manufacturers to speak of. The bulk of the money is concentrated on research in battery and accumulator advance. Even the private sector has gotten involved.

  • Roger

    In my previous comment I failed to mention I am from Canada, hence the “provincial” part of my comment.

  • Dom

    What’s GE going to build?? Plug-in trains?? Actually, I like trains, so why not??

    But I still don’t think the government should be pushing a particular technology. Either push none, or provide funding for all of them. And by all, I mean, hybrids (including plugins), clean diesel, biofuels, fuel cells, and whatever else we can come up with.

  • mdensch

    Diesel-electric locomotives are hybrids but they differ from automotive versions in that they do not carry much battery storage. The electricity generated by the diesel engine goes directly to the electric motors to propel the train.

    I’m thinking that a company like GE is attracted to plug-in hybrids because power companies are salivating at the idea of widely disseminated battery storage of electricity, provided for them by their customers. This would help even out the peaks and valleys of demand and allow for more efficient production of electricity.

    I think the most useful help that government can provide would be to re-up the tax incentives for consumers of this new technology.

  • Normothebig

    A couple things really worry me about all this talk about what people claim they are gonna do.

    A diesel-electric locomotive is a kind of serial hybrid but has no method of storing recovered enegery i.e. a battery. Open the power handle, the diesel spins up, the crankshaft mounted generator spins up, the current generated goes to the traction motors. Add a battery, downsize for cars, sounds easy. Aren’t Toyota stupid for not doing the Prius that way instead of taking ten years to make a parallel hybrid?

    Maybe not. On this website I read Toyota claim up to 30% of energy is recovered by regenerative braking. As an electronics engineer I know that the generator and the electric motor could each be around 90% efficient. So most of the rest of the losses might be (others please confirm) getting the charge into and out of the battery. The Prius battery has cooling fans and ducts in the rear seats to cool the pack so this implies big losses.

    So then a serial hybrid might not be such a great idea. The electric motor is the only form of drive to the wheels the ICE charges the battery when the charge level drops. Prius-like conversion losses point to a lousy overall efficiency from gas pump to wheel power, possibly around 15% (30% ICE efficiency x 40% battery storage efficiency).

    Sure, if the ICE drives the generator and then direct to the electric motor then the efficiency is going to be OK but not when charging the battery.

    Any battery industry experts out there have a view?

  • Skeptic

    OK, so GE doesn’t make “hybrid locomotives”.

    They make Diesel-electric locomotives. A large Diesel prime mover, usually 16 cylinders … 16 *large* cylinders … turns an alternator that makes power.

    That power is sent to traction motors on each axle.

    GE, and until recently, GM, have made most of the Diesel-electric locomotives in the USA since the 1930s (there were a few other minor players that are now gone). As GM collapses, they sold off their Electro-Motive Division to private investors.

    There *are* niche vendors out there that are selling “hybrid” locomotives that either have a large bank of batteries charged by a small generator (useful in yard service, but not out on the road) or a cluster of “gensets” that can be enabled and disabled as needed to provide traction power.

    IN NONE OF THESE CASES DO THE DIESEL PRIME MOVERS DIRECTLY MOVE THE TRAIN. Comparing them to hybrid cars like the Prius is a long stretch …

    OTOH, having a car that works this way would be cool, since you can power those traction motors (think one per wheel, maybe even unsprung) by generator or battery and you do away with the mechaniocal transmission.

  • Collin Burnell

    Is battery storage efficiency really only about 40%?

  • Paul Rivers

    “Ford’s President of the Americas, Mark Fields, reminded a recent plug-in conference that “the governments of Japan, China, Korea and India are significantly funding the research, development and deployment of plug-in hybrid vehicle technologies.””

    I keep hearing Ford and GM say this…but I never hear anyone else say it. Are foreign governments really funding this research? Or is this something the american car companies simply keep saying until everyone believes it, despite it not being true?

  • C. George

    I get infinite mileage as long as I am alive. I bike or walk where ever I go. When I was a kid I used to love seeing the footage from China showing all those people riding bikes around. Only vehicles on the road were trucks, buses and official cars.

    Now their roads are clogged with 1970’s designed Jeeps and other US cars that do not meet our emissions standards and all the US does is complain China is the polluter.

    OOPS! Forgot this was all about making better cars so they pollute less not conserving natural resources and treating the planet better.

  • TD

    If the government should not help fund R&D then we definitely need to eliminate the 10’s of billions we give to the oil and gas industry in tax breaks and leases on public lands, and we need to eliminate the 10’s of billions we spend each year in the ridiculous pursuit of fusion energy, and we need to eliminate the 10’s of billions we spend on roads every year and level the playing field for trains and mass transit.

    But we can’t spend 0.5 billion on plugin hybrids and battery technology. Puuuhlease sounds like the government is in the pocket of big energy to me. Or perhaps it is big energy is in the pockets of the taxpayers. Did I just say something to piss off the so called capitalists?

  • ex-EV1 driver

    The government gave huge amounts of money in the ’90’s for battery and EV research. I don’t recall the exact amount but it was in the hundreds of millions. The auto companies (GM, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Nissan, Chrysler) squandered the money by crushing most of the vehicles that were produced (GM – EV1, GM – S10EV, Toyota – RAV4EV, Honda – EV+, Ford – RangerEV, Ford – Think, Nissan – Altra, Nissan – Hyper-mini, Chrysler – EPIC minivan). The government (California mainly) also paid to put up thousands of public charging stations for these vehicles. This infrastructure is now deteriorating through lack of use since the vehicles were destroyed.
    I’m with Andy; Socialism has not shown any ability to solve this problem. I’m counting more on capitalism, even if it isn’t a direct path, as simplistic, nor does it look like it will develop an affordable solution as quickly.
    Go Tesla!
    Normothebig: the 30% regenerative braking recovery means that 30% of the energy that would be lost to braking can be recovered through regenerative braking. Since battery charging can be better than 90% efficient and battery discharging can be better than 90%, we’d expect better than 91% efficiency. The reason this is only 30% is partly because of the fast speeds required of regenerative braking. Possible solutions down the road, using supercapacitors that can charge faster with less heat, could improve regenerative braking efficiency. Other impacts to braking efficiency are wire losses and rolling resistance losses. Today, I figure we should be happy with the 30% efficiency but it may improve over time.

  • max savage

    Here are my thoughts… everytime a car maker says that plug in electric hybrids are five or ten years away, then I say I wont be buying my next new car for five or ten years. I think that people are moving toward delaying the purchase of any new car because they are tired of being strung along.

  • C. George

    max savage,

    Your comment is a bit confusing.

    “I think that people are moving toward delaying the purchase of any new car because they are tired of being strung along.”

    Sounds more like people are happy to be strung along if they are waiting on something that is so far out it may never come.

  • HVA

    Chrysler and GE will be building 80 demonstration vehicles during the next three to five years to showcase a dual-battery energy storage system.
    The way sales of big vehicles is at this time and how badly big 3 are affected, it seems like there is no urgency on part of auto makers to make profit! Who knows, one of big 3 may go out of business by then.

  • get real

    The only automaker showing any kind of push to help America is Ford with the hybrid escape. GM and Chrysler seem happy to help the oil companies drain America’s pocket book. It makes me sick to see a Chevy commercial using patriotism to sell their gas guzzlers. Why don’t they really be patriotic and make an electric car. I hope they go out of business.

  • Less NOx

    Based on the demand for hybrids developed by the “big three”, maybe the 80 demonstration vehicles will be all they can sell for the next five years.

    Why base the technology on trying to downscale a diesel locomotive “hybrid” when you can take the opposite approach and add a small ICE to an EV to extend it’s range?

  • mdensch

    Since someone brought up the Tesla . . .

    The fact is that they haven’t really gotten the Tesla off the ground yet. They continue to have problems with the transmission which can’t seem to handle the torque loads from the electric motor. This stems from the decision to market the Tesla as a high-powered sports car which they would have to do in order to justify the high price.

    A smaller, less powerful motor that provided performance closer to that of an ordinary car would solve the transmission problem but wouldn’t necessarily cost that much less, so the buyers would stay away in droves.

    The Tesla is an interesting anomaly and plaything for the rich, but it doesn’t do much to solve our transportation/energy problems nor does it advance the state-of-the-art to any great degree.

  • Anonymous

    I think a good government incentive would be $7,000 if the price of the car is less than $30,000 with incentive. And the Vehicle would have to be a plug-in with an AER of at least 25 miles. And it would be available for 200,000 vehicles. So the cost would be about $1.4 billion. But will either party step up to the plate? Nope.

  • Ross Nicholson

    Political Parties don’t have money. The people of the USA have the money. Let the people make the decisions, not political parties.

    GM should help Tesla out of good will with their transmission woes.

  • Bryce

    Actually, the Democratic party just raised $72 million and the REpublican $136 million for this years campaign…… it would seem that they have a bit of a chunk of change there.

    As for GM handing over transmission tech……lol….rofl……they are competitors….maybe if GM buys them out, they will help them out. : ) Hell would sooner freeze over.

  • Art the US Government commited to only $10 to each of the Big Three for 3 year period? …is that what the Bush Administration reported being commited to New Energy support? Last night (6/20) I just heard that the US Government approved a new package deal for the War in Iraq(.aka Oil War) for $165 BILLIONS!!!!!!!! and only 30millions for Alternative fuel energy? ..hummm…this just makes no sense…

  • holzwo

    I think if each country put in a tenth of what the defence budget then even Canada would have 2 billion for battery research. If the States did this it would be free ev vehicle for the country. Then we would not have to be over seas protecting our oil interests.
    But who’s in the oil business as much as exxon? Who’s coffers would be devasted if the first 60 miles of every day was from the hydro plug in over night and not from oil?
    I know this may be border line conspiracy theory but I think if people logically think about the questions around why no funding then we would understand why we are not eliminating 40% of the oil we consume.

  • nyc solar

    I believe lead acid batteries (like the ones in a normal car) are about 80% efficient. NiMH, I believe is close. LiIon, NiCD, and the others.. I’m not too sure.

  • Blastcat

    I love the idea of a plug-in car. Great, wonderful.

    Where does all this “clean” electricity come from, charcoal burning electrical plants?

  • willem

    @ Blastcat

    …from windmils in the future.

  • Bruce in Oklahoma

    There are already many electric car choices in Europe. In fact, the Tesla is a sports car that has a waiting list. It costs $100,000 and Jay Leno has reviewed it on his Jay’s Garage web site. Now Leno is not a technical reviewer, but he is a “car guy” and it is the american “car guy” is who needs to get behind the move to electric. If our government doesn’t step up (and it needs to be something more than a shot at a reward like Mc Cain has proposed) and foster research in the form of a new Manhattan Project, we will all be sending our folding green to Europe to get our cars of green.

  • Anonymous

    Check your facts about Tesla. It is one heck of a car, but is not being mass produced to drive down costs. Its already sold out of first years production. National news did a nice interview with Tesla and went for a ride in the car.

  • concerned viewer

    yes they do…


    GE engineers are working on a hybrid locomotive that could capture all that energy and store it for later use. The goal: increase power while reducing fuel use and emmissions.

  • Fang

    C George says: “I think that people are moving toward delaying the purchase of any new car because they are tired of being strung along”
    Why would anyone delay the purchase? I just sold a 300HP sportscar because GAS SUCKS! Toyota had the right idea a long time ago. So much so that Ford bought the first generation Prius power plant technology from them, and now offers it in their Escape hybrid. How else will Detroit make this “transition” other than to go to a hybrid gaselectric platform much like Toyota already seems to have perfected? – they even offer an 8 year warranty on all hybrid components. If anyone in Detroit orffered a 48/46 MPG vehicle comparable to the Prius they wouldn’t be losing their spot as the automotive king. In the meantime, as the Prius evolves into its third generation, and with it – their battery production, safety, and efficiency levels. They will continue to surpass Detroit – epecially building them in America. Toyota’s comittment to hybrid development will certainly pay off. I believe it provides an ideal model of the proper transition that Detriot needs to follow. The truth of it might be up for debate, but reports that EV1 patents were scammed away, and stolen by the very companies whose livelihood they threatened points out the idiocy that resides in Detroit. The future is now, and Detroit needs to get their act in shape if they expect to survive. News that they’re retooling for expanded small car production in place of trucks & SUV’s is a step, but consumers won’t shift their buying habits until it hurts their pocket books. Current gas prices are forcing their hand. The flood of large cars and SUV’s on the used car market and the losses that Detroit is taking on existing inventories of them prove that. America has always excelled when their back is against the wall, and gas prices & Detroit profits are a big motivator. Bring on the R&D, investment capitalists, and everyone else who wants to get on-board! – small high-torque turbo diesel hybrids, and supercharged EFI hybrids could bring mileage effciencies to Detroit that could expand Detroit’s production line, increase profits, and the opportunity for even more R&D on batteries. Screw government funding! That’s NOT the American way! – We made America what it is – NOT government funding. Where there is a will there is a way in America. But, America has so many problems right that its’ priorities need to be re-aligned. Well, I’ve had my say,… Remeber Lee Iacocca? He reportedly had a few things to say too – I VERY STRONGLY suggest reading it:
    It really says it all – Very well said Lee!

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