Will CalCars Start a Company?

In June 2005, Silicon Valley venture capitol reporter Matt Marshall wrote an article for his paper, the San Jose Mercury News and his blog, SiliconBeat, "Cars that run on overnight charge catch valley VC’s eye." He revealed our idea for a "qualified vehicle modifier" partnership with automakers. Soon thereafter we had six months of discussions with Ford about that approach, which we disclosed in May. Now we’re at the next stage. We’re concluding that our goals can best be achieved through a for-profit company.

Meanwhile, Matt Marshall has moved on. Last week, SiliconBeat became "VentureBeat" and we were invited to post. In one of its inaugural blogs, we announced our plans. You can if you choose post a comment below where hybrid fans will see it or at VentureBeat, where the entrpreneurs hang out.

And if you’re in the Bay Area, looking for the GreenTech opportunity into which to pour all your business/technical experience (and ideally, some automotive background) to help us go from concepts to a business, accumulating valuable intellectual property and accelerating the commercialization of PHEVs — or if you’re a potential six-figure investor — please contact us.

Plug-In Hybrid Cars Enter the Fast Lane — We Hope

In 2002, I founded CalCars as a company to advance cars that get over 100 MPG of gasoline. They’re called "plug-in hybrids" (PHEVs), because you can just plug in to 120 volts at home.. Electric for commuting, gasoline-fueled for longer drives, they’re a quantum step beyond today’s hybrids.

It took us four years to make largely unknown PHEVs a recognized path for automotive development. We built awareness and enthusiasm. Our open-source-style PRIUS+ conversions proved what’s possible.

Along the way we morphed into a dot-org — a "non-profit startup." We became PHEV evangelists and helped catalyze a national movement. In a great cross-country policy stunt, our prototypes showed up at the U.S. Capitol.

Our timing has been on target. PHEVs respond to three national preoccupations: skyrocketing fuel prices, global warming and addiction to oil. When people hear about "cleaner, cheaper, domestic" PHEVs, the lightbulb goes on.

So why have car-makers remained reluctant to embrace our technology, and try to make a bundle off it? They’re reactive, work in long product cycles. and don’t believe people will pay more up-front. And they can’t see beyond resolveable technical concerns, especially on batteries.

How can we go further? Wise voices have long urged us to start a company. "Change the auto industry by proving your solution can make money." It helps to have people like top VC John Doerr tell us, "Plug-in hybrids are a really big deal. They are practical, profitable and urgently needed."

So now we want to launch an ambitious for-profit. We’re talking with other leading PHEV innovators about combining talents and acquiring funding to operate in the high-stakes world. We’re hatching plans to rapidly deliver PHEV conversions to fleets and individuals; work on original designs; license our intellectual property; and keep innovating.

We’ll make customers and partners out of car-makers, suppliers and integrators. Ford, GM and others could get a boost from PHEVs, as could emerging Chinese entrants. (Toyota could do it now, but may wait until 2010.)

Meanwhile, as an industry in a tailspin drags its heels on innovation, PHEV engineers continue to patent answers to technical challenges that car-makers haven’t yet encountered.

Washington is deciding how to make the President’s words come true when he says, "You’ve got your car, you pull in, you plug it right in the wall." (Like I do every night.) And a half-dozen states are about to put tens of millions into PHEV programs.

PHEVs help GreenTech become the next big thing. The Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) organization is getting involved. VC partners have driven our cars and talked about them as examples of innnovation.

We’ve started evaluating potential partners and markets. We’re talking with angels and VCs about borrowing an entrepreneur-in residence, helping to recruit auto industry veterans and getting seed funding. We try to involve people who’ve already made their fortunes and are looking to build useful profitable companies. We invoke the spirit of Steve Jobs’ recruitment pitch, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life — or do you want to change the world?"

We’re teeing up opportunities. Progress can be frustrating and difficult — like any startup. But we’re having the most fun of our lives!

I’m the world’s first consumer owner of a PHEV. Wherever I park, people say, "I want one. I’ll pay almost anything. Can I get one?" I answer, "Not yet," then, "How about a tax-deductible contribution or a seed investment so we can make it all happen?"

The for-profit company I want to build will have a better answer: "Yes."

# # #

Felix Kramer, founder of The California Cars Initiative, is a communications, marketing, business development and strategy executive who builds ambitious, unique and "first-ever" projects. He’s made a successful career of promoting innovative ideas, events, products and services relating to energy and technology. He’s been a Congressional speechwriter, a journalist, run a fee-for-service energy conservation nonprofit, was an early desktop publisher and wrote the first book on the business of desktop publishing. He became one of the first online marketers in 1994. In 1997, he moved to the Bay Area, secured angel financing, assembled an international staff and built the world’s largest searchable directory of web builders. In 2001, he sold eConstructors.com and became involved with Hypercar, Inc., founded by Amory Lovins. Then a change in focus to immediate solutions led to the 2002 CalCars. A graduate of Cornell University, he lives in Silicon Vallley, and blogs at HybridCars.com.

Felix is an entrepreneur with a life-long green streak. He enjoys communicating his enthusiasm about what is new, unique, and significant. He is the founder of CalCars.org, The California Cars Initiative, and has been promoting 100+ MPG plug-in hybrids full-time since 2001. He posts his own selection of significant developments for PHEVs at the CalCars News Archive. His first entry at Hybrid Cars, Car Owners Strap into the Drivers Seat, in August 2005, expressed his view that the industrial world is in the midst of a major change — hopefully, it is not too late!


  • jstack6

    Since major automakers are holding back this sounds like the right thing to do. Starting a new company can be very complex but I know they can do it. I’d invest in a car like that with no reservations. I’d invest in a company like that but can’t do 6 figures.
    Go for it calcars !

  • bobsweeneyfl

    There will certainly be lots of empty automobile factories available soon.

  • richard.t.dix

    Paul McCready pointed out that present hybrids are basically ICE vehicles with an electric assist. He said what we really need are basically electric vehicles with an (occasional) ICE assist. A Prius-like vehicle could maintain 60 mph with perhaps 15-20 hp. A series hybid with this ICE power could charge the batteries continuosly uphill or down, at stop signs or lights, and while the driver stops for food. The small ICE engine, operating unthrottled, and tuned soley for efficiency at basically one constant rpm, could give great fuel milage.
    Paul McCready would be the world’s best engineer for your project. Get him if you have to kidnap him.

  • gkalkas

    Once you drive a PHEV it’s very hard to go back. Felix was kind enough to let me drive his car in Palo Alto. There were 5 adults in the car and, granted, I was driving around at neighborhood speeds, but the car never used the gas engine!

    Upon returning home, I promptly visited my Toyota Salesman, and told him that the next car we buy WILL BE a PHEV. In fact, I can’t see ever buying a non-PHEV. I might as well drop my broadband and go back to a dial-up modem.

    By the way almost everyone I talk to about this technology, asks, “when can I buy one?”.

  • Guest

    When can I buy one? When the cost of a lithium-ion battery drops to $500.00 per KWH. Alternately, when gas hits $6.00 per gallon.

  • chris75sf

    I am a French ’04 Prius owner and I would really love to convert it to PHEV !
    I have been following calcars news posts from the beginning, and I really think this is a great idea to start moving things faster;
    Good luck to Felix and all the team !!
    And think about world wide Prius owners please

  • Guest

    I don’t quite understand why everyone feels that the battery power issue is so “unsolveable.” Increasing the capacity of batteries to the point where they can store the same energy as say…a tank of gas seems like a technically concievable concept. I know there are issues with the solvents, but I believe that can be overcome (and I am personally invested in doing just that). What surprises me is how little attention is being paid to electrical energy storage devises…which are after all the key to many of our “greenest” dreams for vehicles, houses, etc.

  • pwhiseheart

    Before I respond let me give a little background. I just spent 6 months battling cancer. It is now in remission; however, the six months I could not work I spent time studying energy issues. Let me share a little of what I found.

    The first commitment I am encouraging is:
    Complete Energy Independence Now, under the wise guidance of what I call “The Missouri Spirit”. Show Me, prove it! Do not give me theory or somewhere over the rainbow stuff. Show me practical ways that lead to be complete energy independence now.

    Here are a couple of quotes you are probably familiar with that staggered me if true.
    Max Boot, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations: “coming soon are hybrids that can be plugged into a 120-volt outlet. Add in ‘flexible fuel’ options and you could builds vehicles that could get, drum roll please, 500 mile per gallon of gasoline. That’s not science fiction; that’s achievable right now”. Plug-in cars capable of 50 miles per day would meet the needs of 80% of the American driving public. Source: U.S. Department of Transportation. For most people in Southwest Missouri they could literally fill up twice a year. So a flex fuel plug-in hybrid takes care of oil dependence and the ethanol supply problem.
    The technology is available now? Show me! This is what I will now try. First hybrids are on the road now: Toyota Prius , Ford Escapes, Honda Civic. Plug-in battery kits are ready: EDrive Systems (edrivesystems.com), Hymotion (hymotion.com). Flexible fuel upgrade Kits are available now and currently used in Brazil: FlexTek (flextek.com).

    These things are now common knowledge.

    So what are the major challenges to bring converted hybrids to market? When you add an additional battery to your hybrid you void the manufactures warranty. Who wants a car without any warranty? An owner will still want to sell their car someday. The solution: Professional installation of these kits and an extended after market warranty like Warranty Direct (warrantydirect.com).

    Next the biggest challenge is cost. The cost of something is what it is and any great sells person knows value and values sells products. So I drive a little Ford Aspire to get from A to B. Many others buy a Lexus for the same trip. Fact is you will never save enough in gas or fuel to make up the difference in the cost of a flex fuel plug-in hybrid. So whether your reason is green (global warming), or energy independence (mine) if the reasons/ value are big enough the market will move the product. Also cost comes down with scale, that is the more something is sold and the longer it is sold the price of the technology drops. How many of us remember 7 to 8 thousand dollar personal computers which are nothing compared to the little 300 dollar PC you can now pick up at Best Buy.

    Another way to lower cost now is used hybrids. They are much cheaper than new. Moreover, putting together reclaimed hybrids from insurance companies like AutoBeYours.com of Indiana is doing would greatly reduce the begin costs.

    My prediction is the day that that ground breaking comes on the new ethanol plant here in southwest Missouri some forward thinking business person well be sitting down and come up with the business plan to bring flex fuel plug-in hybrids to market here. The day the first ethanol (E85) pump opens here there will open a site that will convert hybrids to plug-in hybrids and gas engines to ethanol burning vehicles. Also someone will get every wholesale used hybrids or totaled hybrids they can get their hands on and convert them finding an amazingly ready market.

    You could ask me, since you believe this why don’t you do it yourself? No one with a family can afford to mortgage their home and prove the market then have a well financed business person take that market. It is great that someone can. I am writing in the hope that it will encourage this future. I do not care who does it, only that it gets done. Because complete energy independence now is doable.

    Peter Whiseheart
    Nixa, MO

  • clint

    Let us bring to light unique thought and perspective in the realm of business plans, figuring out which direction to go will inevitably bring many directions. Each option is viable, but which is the best for the business plan of success for Calcars. Look closely and notice that I mention look closely, when I describe this sight of direction I ask to have leniency towards an open mind. Many people will offer their unique ideas (thinking out side the box) with so many variables, which direction shall you follow. Step away from the programs frustration and let professionals work out the details, you the mastermind need to know your putting everything you can to make it work and yet there are still so many unanswered questions.

    Fundamental hurdles that lie with in grasp are the batteries price range, starting from scratch with a new designed car, and your future automotive sales dealers.

    Investment by a potential investment group to a capable battery manufacturer that in 2 years time be able to match the $500.00 per kw price range.

    Starting from scratch with a new designed car will take more time to overcome certification with NTSC then if you used someone else’s already certified car. Analogy is similar to racing and just entering the race car arena, you need a car, if you build your own just the way you want it, you spend almost ten times as much money. If you buy one used you get to race the next day. Finding someone’s design that is already confirmed to be on the highway, this would save you a lot of pain and frustration.

    Who are going to sell your cars across the country? I live In Pennsylvania and I want desperately to own one of your cars. Will you have an affiliation with one of the big three, they have dealerships already set up across the world to assist in getting your product out to the masses. Will you start fresh like Tucker tried and certainly would have succeeded if he had worked along side the Big 3 instead of against them.

    Peter Whiseheart makes very good sense in his descriptions of energy and the direction we are all going with removing our umbilical cord to the middle east countries who really don’t like us very much. The future is now in cellulose ethanol after this weekends good news reporting that there is now a way to convert the crystalline structure into a gelatinization for easy access by the yeast for distillation. Everything which consists of fiber from grass clippings, wood chips, to switch grass and cornstover is now convertible to ethanol. Projections are now for over 100 gallons per ton of material where 80 gallons was once the highest amount possible.

    Clint LeRoy
    Hershey, PA.

  • gman5541

    Though I think it’s still prudent to convince the big three to design and make these cars, in the end, they may not be much choice in the matter. With companies like Telsa, and silicon valley venture capitalists and the power companies, there’s the foundation for a “green car” economy. If the big three won’t make the super fuel efficient cars we want, then let’s get others the opportunity to. For years, we wasted and right now wasting billions of dollars on the big three and what do we get? Crap. That’s what.

  • navcdr

    Of all of the solutions to global warming, this is the best and I think the one that will do the most good. I previously thought that ethanol was the great solution but now have my eyes and heart on the electric vehicle. Two things changed my mind. First was the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” and second was the fact that an overnight charge would cost about one dollar.

  • steve

    I want to be an installer in Indiana.

  • ray.whalley2

    Being a mark 2 Prius owner for 2 years and 6 months I am also pretty desperate to convert to PHEV and squeeze out max. potential to reduce emmissions and ongoing running costs.
    I have been waiting more than a year for the guys at Amberjack projects in Grantham to come up with the conversion promised.
    I have driven 30K miles in the Prius and would never wish to own another vehicle unless it has the features that allow:
    a) engine cut off when in traffic queues.
    b) continuously variable transmission.
    c) 60mpg imperial combined cycle – hopefully more when converted.(95 Octane unleaded in the UK is £1Sterling – litre).
    e) 106 gms/kilometer CO2 emmissions – ideally lower.
    f) the performance delivered by the Prius.

    In conclusion, the Prius should be voted car of the Century and hopefully Toyota (with a little help from CalCars) will continue to develop the concept and improve the features mentioned.

    Ray.
    in the UK, Sept. 13, 2006 at 21.00 gmt.

  • Guest

    I recently read about the PML Mini QED and immediately wondered if the best way for your new company to have vehicles get to market was to make deals with some of the major auto manufacturers to convert one or more of their vehicles using technology similar to that embodied in the PML Mini QED and let the manufacturers offer these vehicles as optional electic conversions and sold as new vehicles.

    It seemed to me that adopting the idea of a very small gas/biofuel engine with sufficient batteries to operate at least a 100 mile range, would allow the price to remain affordable until such time as the battery technology is cheap enough to provide extended range needed for market acceptance of an all electric vechicle.

  • Guest

    EFFPOWER of sweden and Atraverda of england as well as firefly in the US and a past european research consortium have all done considerable work to make a cell-conectorless bipolar lightweigt lead acid battery. Calcars has already proved that non optimised lead acid batteries can be usefully used. Ron Gremban of Calcars has tested leaving the original battery in place sucessfully with a simple circuit for charging it from the extra battery, and this puts less of a highpower demand on the extra so it can be cheaper and higher capacity and longer lived. MES-DEA is converting a few hundred cars to electric for sale in Switzerland with its highly tested long life Zebra Battery. And there are indications that the next TH!NK City will have an ethanol series hybrid option. Plug in Partners has commitments for thousands of cars, and NEW YORK state is allocating money for conversions.

  • guscastanedaimm

    We live in such a forward thinking society but when we look back at technolgy, well, it’s a joke. Color television was invented in the 40′s, but it wasn’t until the 60′s that it became the norm and mass produced. The robotic vacum cleaner came out in 1964 but wasn’t mass produced until 3 years ago.
    The same for cell phones, computers, etc… And now we are in the same predicament with the hybrid and car companies planning until 2010 to start producing more of them? Give me a break, technology, what a joke! The car companies have to be in cohoots with the oil refineries to keep squeezing us at the pump is my viewpoint, so there!

  • pcope11

    I have been watching the developements of the PHEV’s for some time now. I attended the Maker Faire and watched the conversion of Ryan’s car. By observing the hands on conversion it gave me confidence in hacking into my Classic Prius. After experimenting with various strategies that are different from the 2004 and later conversions, I am now converting my Classic to a PHEV and I think I have even discovered a way to run it in electric only without having to spoof the electronics. After watching “Who Killed the Electric Car” it would appear a strategy of working at the grassroots level by committed individuals is the only way we can move the PHEV technology to a new level. Felix you have already shown us how to move mountains. I think there is a lot of pent up desire for a PHEV kit. I like the idea of converting as many of the Priuses now on the road as possible. It is a small step in a way yet the rewards for the environment could ultimately be quite large if they demonstrated to the car manufacturers how much demand there really is for PHEV’s.

    “After watching Who Killed the Electric Car”

  • Frank Chen

    I quickly read through most of the posts here and I couldn’t help but chime in and put in my thoughts. Standard hybrids conversions to PHEV is undoubtable going to be a profitable business model. There are currently over half a million Priuses on the road worldwide. That’s a huge market that is continuing to expand, thanks to tax incentives from the IRS, (Perhaps they should bring back the $3,150 credit?) word of mouth (Toyota Prius owners love to brag about our cars) and rising fuel costs.

    So, let me get to the point…
    I think the best analogy here that I can relate Toyota’s Prius with is the Apple Ipod.

    Apple’s had such an overwhelming success was marketing “Ipod” that there are new companies that have emerged which cater *only* to selling accessories for Ipod owners.

    With that said, I think there are more than enough *new* companies, that can form, who know how to do the hybrid conversion to perform an installation. It’ll probably start off with Calcars first teaching others *certifiable* engineers across the U.S. to do the conversions. Who knows?

    Next step, getting the funding? That’s probably the easiest part. Auction off a PHEV on Ebay; that will most certainly get the news out quick!!

    Did you know a Toyota EV RAV4 auctioned off on Ebay for $67,300?

    http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.htm?programID=06-P13-00020&segmentID=4

    Personally, I own a 2006 Prius and I love the car. I am getting 58.6miles/gallon without any modification. I drive it pretty gently and am easy on the gas pedal. I can’t wait to get my Prius modified into a PHEV when Calcars goes commercial.

    Thanks.

  • Dave Wiederrich

    There was one post that struck a chord regarding wanting to support financially, but couldn’t affort 6 figures. I invested in limited partnerships years ago. Fixed investments as little as $2500. No payment streams, but tax benefits from depreciation each year. After 5-7 years, excellent payout. Hey, you could sweeten it and include one conversion for each $25k investment. This could be the easiest source of capital since CalCars has thousands of followers. I’m just one person, but I’d be in for $5 – 10k; maybe more. If this ever happens, send me an email! Get ‘em, boys!

  • Joseph M.

    I would like to see Big Silicon Valley get on this ship. The Automobile industry needs to be revitalized, old philosophies of intentional technological stagnation, those days are over. The computer industry is the best philosophy to apply to the automobile needed today. We must always use the latest technology available for the cars of today. not have self vested interest buying up the better technology and then hiding it away forever. That is just bullshit, and it happens all to often. The automobile industry of yesterday behaved as if they were owned by BIG OLD OIL. But now know one wants to use old stinky oil. One Gallon of Burned Gasoline creates 19 Pounds of CO2. We need companies that truly want to “continuously improve” the automobile technology, not just how it looks and how many air bags it has and how safe it is. The damn things are polluting like crazy. even the newest cars sold today create out the tail pipe a poisonous gas no human can breathe and live through(and there are Two Million New Vehicles Sold In California Alone, Each Year). so why are all the cars sold in California still burning gasoline only. we don’t even have a choice to buy a new car that runs on alternative fuel today. and none of the car dealerships are selling electric vehicles, and when I ask them why, they say ” you wouldn’t want to drive one of those ”, and I always say, yes I do!. Come on Silicon Valley, start up several Car companies and put old Automobile and Big Oil out of business forever. Amen.

  • John Acheson

    I just spent an hour or so on Google Patent Search using hybrid as a search term along with typing in several automaker names. I was suprised by the range. From zero for many, to a couple for vehicle design to hundreds for Toyota.

    Does anyone know a website or source for that keeps track of the patent score on hybrids and plug-ins?

    Toyota’s winning the hybrid patent war with over 600 on the Prius I heard. Ford in 2nd with 400 or so on the Escape.

    So who’s winning the plug-in patent war? What about Lithium patents? How about transmission patents etc?

    Does Silicon Valley have any auto industry patents???

    Unfortunately, my search yielded nothing in terms of patents for Tesla, that was strange?

  • Janet Newman

    If you were to sale these cars, what would the cost be? When will some be ready for sale?

    Go for it. If your price is right, you could outsell all the other car manufactureers. And with the cost of new cars these days, it would be a welcome relief.