By now a lot of people have heard about AFS Trinity's plug-in hybrid system. They say that they've modified a regular Saturn Vue Greenline Hybrid to get a 40-mile all-electric range before the internal combustion engine ever kicks in to help power the car.
If you assume that the car is plugged in at night, and a trip is about 50 miles, the car would then get about 150 mpg (or around 30 mpg for the last 10 miles).
So the question is, if AFS Trinity is doing it now, why isn't everyone else doing it? Well, I can't say anything for sure, but I spent about a half an hour talking to the CTO of AFS Trinity today, and I think there are some good reasons.
But first, let me say that I think AFS Trinity's technology is interesting...impressive even. Instead of requiring ultra-high power output from the batteries to give the car the torque it needs to accelerate from zero to seventy, the batteries actualy slowly charge ultracapacitors, which then quickly discharge to the engine. That's a smart move because, right now, cheap Li-ion batteries would explode if they had that much power being sucked from them all at once.
However, the AFS Trinity system requires several things that make it less desireable for market. First, I imagine they have a HUGE stack of batteries in the back of that Vue (they wouldn't let me peak.) But it's very likely that storage space would be significantly limited. Second, you need both batteries and ultracaps, further increasing cost, weight, and volume.
Third, the AFS system needs a very large and expensive electric motor so that it can have an EV-only mode, but it also needs a large and powerful internal combustion engine so that the car can operate in hybrid mode. Car companies have been attempting to avoid the weight, cost, and volume associated with that by having either a small electric engine (most hybrids) or small internal combustion engine (the Volt).
As it is, I would guess that this system would increase the cost of the (already more expensive) Greenline Vue more than $15,000. That is, however, a pure guess. AFS wouldn't discuss costs with me, and any numbers they've given elsewhere are too low to even quote here.
In the end the ultracap / battery mix makes good sense, but it's going to take a major (possibly overseas) auto company licensing the technology and implementing it on a large scale before we'll know for sure what all the kinks are, how much space it will require, and what the real costs are going to be. I can't help but wish them luck.
Note: GM paid for my travel to attend the Detroit Auto Show.
written by Farhad Abdolian, January 16, 2008
written by Farhad Abdolian, January 17, 2008
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