• Jun 15, 2009
When Consumer Reports tested out the Hymotion L5 plug-in Toyota Prius conversion earlier this year, they weren't overwhelmed with the results. Sure, the mileage they observed was boosted to about 67 mpg over the first 35 miles of the drive, but that didn't match the claims of 100 mpg (or more) that Hymotion and A123 Systems make about their product.
To be fair to Hymotion, their qualifies mileage talk about their plug-in Prius MPG "that can achieve up to 100 mpg for 30-40 miles" this way:
Hymotion PHEV fuel economy is based on independent testing performed at Argonne National Labs and Idaho National Labs. Actual mileage will vary based on each individual's driving style, route, traffic, climate conditions, terrain and other factors.
Unfortunately for Hymotion, there are new results of tests done at the Idaho National Laboratory now available and they might make the company a little less eager to promote the work done by INL. The lab drove two groups of Prius test vehicles (one 40-car fleet and another 75-car fleet) from early 2008 until March 2009 for almost 500,000 miles and found that the average fuel economy tallied 46 and 49 mpg, respectively. As you might expect, driving style and the battery mode (charge sustaining vs. charge depeleting) had a big impact on the figures. You can view the result data in these PDFs: 1, 2. Add it all up, and it sounds like PHEV proponents might want to take former Tesla marketing boss Darryl Siry's advice to electric vehicle manufacturers to heart.

What do you think – are plug-in hybrids the next big thing, an overhyped solution, or something in between? Drop us a line in the comments.

[Sources: Idaho National Laboratory; Hydrogen Car Revolution]


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  • 61 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      thanks to LS2LS7 for clearing up just about every single misinformation in this thread.
      There's no doubt that the Prius' performance as a converted plug-in vehicle is hampered by its drivetrain. The main electric motor is not very powerful, and the planetary gear set doesn't allow the vehicle to go very fast on electric alone anyways. All-electric driving for regular HEVs is just a perk, whereas it is the key to a PHEV's savings. The Prius' drive train was not designed to handle extensive all-electric driving.
      Series hybrid PHEV is where it's at, even if it requires carrying around a bit of dead weight if all you ever do is short trips.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I predict that Prius will lead the way as people begin to learn the truth about Toyota and revolt against them.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Paul:
        WRT to Toyota, do some research on the word "Kaizen". It doesn't really mean a process of continual improvement. In all actuality, it means "Eating round-eye children and killing busloads of nuns".

        Quite scary, if you stop to think about it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think the truth about Toyota is this.

        1. They are based in Japan
        2. Entered the US Auto Market with ZERO legacy costs which enabled them to move quickly while US companies had hundreds of giant factories to retrofit at a time of about 3 + year each (plus costs)
        3. Benefited from the USA not imposing equal trade costs tariffs and taxes on their autos.
        4. Took existing designs from Ford, GM and Chrysler and tweaked them to make them better. As would ANY AND EVERY new competitor.
        5. Took 20+ years to actually get better (only started in the 80s
        6. Promoted the hell out of their "quality"
        7. Caused US manufacturers to cut corners to match prices of imports (again caused by lack of USA imposing tariffs and taxes for equal fair trade)
        8. Ran with the perception of Godly quality.
        9. Just got a reality check when US companies shed their legacy costs and the playing field FINALLY became even. (20+ years later).
        10. Are going to be fine but know that Ford is the big game in town now! Across the board!!!

        And let me add, and I quote "The Tundra is an embarrassment to Toyota Motor Company" - Katsuaki Watanabe (President of Toyota)

        How's that for reality!
        • 5 Years Ago
        I guess small businesses and construction workers aligned better with the big three and Govt, when they imposed huge taxes on the import of pick-up trucks... No such people cared to make any moves against the imports of small economical cars (aka joke cars)... but guess what, turns out those small cars can also make a profit. And turns out EVERY japanese company, as well as the koreans, make cars in america that are suited to the local market, and not anywhere else. How many models are they importing, and how many imported cars do they sell, compared to local US and Canadian production (ok, prius comes to mind, as well as mazda 3 and 6, but a prat of corporate profits for mazda also goes to ford in the us) ?

        Oh, and advertising quality without any backing would have run them in the ground, now it is too late, even of they slip on quality and domestic cars make huge leaps. Whose fault is that they bet on the quality card while GM was betting on the SUV card? At least japanese cannot build trucks, that is a huge consolation. Coz let me tell you, this is like Ford, GM and Chrysler trying to build kei-cars and ricers to sell in japan... imagine the ridicule, even if it was possible.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Why don't you enlighten us with this "truth" about Toyota that you seem to know much about?
      • 5 Years Ago
      There is no reasonable payback for the hybrid price premium, not to mention the added complexity of the hybrid.

      The plug-in hybrid is a bad idea because it requires the owner to supply 2 fuels - not just 1 - in order to be effective. Most people don't want to be enslaved to their cars.

      These are the reasons the plug-in Prius, and Volt, and others like them will fail.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Battery technology can not replace oil. The energy density of a lithium battery is so far below that of gasoline or diesel, that it makes no sense to use batteries to move heavy objects. Batteries are ideal for LCD displays and wall clocks. Electric transportation must make use of fuel cells or else it will never replace oil. Even then, you can not run airliners on fuel cells, jet propulsion requires combustion. Any all-electric vehicle needs to have the same range as a gas-powered car in order to be practical, regardless of what it is mostly used for. People will not spend top dollar for a product that does not perform equally well as a competing product performs. The best way to get maximum fuel economy is to create cars and trucks with small turbo charged diesel engines. They match or better any hybrid cars on the market.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The local tale of the Prius from a friend is that the fills for $26 and lasts for 2 weeks vs 25/week on a corolla.

        That is a perk... I say it works great if you do a lot of city traffic. And yes... 50/month x 60 months is not that much money considering the premium you pay for the car...
        • 5 Years Ago
        No, Diesels don't match or better hybrids. Especially not at equivalent performance, and if people want to just have crummy performance, gas cars and hybrids can be made a lot more efficient too. If you drive all highway miles, maybe a Diesel is for you. If you drive a mix, you will do better in the hybrid.

        I agree with the limitations of batteries, and this won't be fixed soon. I also agree this is a big impediment to adoption of EV cars right now. But this may not be a killer, we may be able to work around the limitations with a system like A Better Place suggests. A battery pack capable of only 80-100 miles may be enough for day-to-day use if you can charge wherever you park.

        Of course, this won't solve anything for planes.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Battery technology can not replace oil."
        What an absolute statement. What else can you see in your crystal ball? Just because something cannot be done today does not mean it will not be done in the future.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Plugin car's have no point right now. Electricity is primarily coming from bad sources (coal, nuke, oil, gas, etc etc) which is transmitted over long distance lines that loose a huge amount of the energy that was created in the first place. Any saving we might see in the car, was used in transmitting the power in the first place. Until we are creating energy from free (renewable) sources, I don't see a place for an electric car on a huge scale.

      Net energy people. It's all about net (total) energy.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Where does the nuclear waste go? Your backyard? Three Mile Island *still* scares a lot of people and I still think that distributed power sources are better than focusing the source of power in one company/place/locale/government. I'm not *against* the idea, but I don't think nuclear is a magic bullet - it has its burden.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Electric vehicles are so much more efficient per Joule that it more than makes up for the effects you mention.

        There are 37KWh in a gallon of gas. The Tesla only has a 53KWh pack, equivalent to 1.43 gallons of gas. It goes 200 miles on that energy. How far can your car go on the energy in 1.43 gallons of gas?
        • 5 Years Ago
        So Mike, do you have a count of the number of these people? Then we can compare to the number of people coal has killed. Coal has killed over 50,000 just from mining accidents! In one state! This doesn't even count those who die due to respiratory problems due to the emissions.

        Did you know a coal plant throws more radiation (due to the burning of carbon 14) into the air than a nuclear plant does?

        People love to talk about the true cost of nuclear power, but then they don't do similar diligence info about other forms of power.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The estimated number of deaths from the radiation release of Three Mile Island is 1. Do you know how many people the pollution from coal and oil plants has killed since TMI?
        • 5 Years Ago
        "The estimated number of deaths from the radiation release of Three Mile Island is 1. Do you know how many people the pollution from coal and oil plants has killed since TMI?"

        Actually you forgot the people with cancer and those that died due to complications of radioactive waste being leaked into the water supply and the impact on men and women being able to reproduce. Oh and don't forget the wildlife and plant life and and and and and. By the way, these leaks don't clean up in 100 or 200 years, it takes much much longer.

        My favorite is the radioactive wasp nest found at Hanford recently, that's just awesome.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Chris,

        I was just using solar/wind as an example that most are aware of. Obviously we don't make very good use of it. Like you state in most of your post, it's all about efficiency in everything. I think solar has a lot of potential energy that we have not yet been able to get at. Once we improve our 'extraction' methods I think it will be a good energy to use on a global scale. If we had some way to get at the energy easier and it scaled so that maybe every household could power themselves plus store it for the night, that would be a wonderful thing. At least I think. =)
        • 5 Years Ago
        What are you talking about? I get most of my electricity from Hydroelectric. Wind power is going up nearby too, but not sure if that is going to my area or not. Not everyone gets electricity from coal/oil, and thus these PHEV do have a point.
        • 5 Years Ago
        ApexJR:

        Energy usage in this country does not match its production... if it did we'd be having serious brownouts or blackouts every summer. Go back a few decades and you can find times when the grid was outmatched, in terms of capacity versus demand.

        One thing that the commentary above didn't mention, was the energy bill signed into law in 2007. It's a dense read, but there are government-mandated efficiency improvements all over the thing - and much of the bulk of the law targets electrical efficiency.

        The major take-away would be this: incadescent light bulbs will be phased out by 2014. If we make the assumption that the average power consumption of replacement flourescent bulbs will be about 1/2 to 2/3s that of their incadescent predesessors, then that's a lot of load returned to available capacity. There's also the seasonal, secondary effect of waste heat contributing to more AC usage - minor, but significant when talking about a system on the scale of our national electricity usage.

        Aside from that, it can be effectively argued that nuclear and gas are not "bad" sources of energy. You mention renewable energy, but I don't think you understand that the yield density from solar, methane, and wind are not sufficient to make them primary sources of power for a country of any real size. If you are counting hydroelectric as a "good" source of power, then you should probably do some reading... the eco impact, plus the tectonic destabilization of dams is potentially far more dangerous than any other source of power generation.

        (I hate when the reply "feature" misplaces posts)
        • 5 Years Ago
        Nathan - The percentage of waste from nuclear fission is incredibly high and lasts for thousands of years. From the time of Christ until now, and it would still be here.

        Nuclear fission is an old hat, and a bad way to make energy. If you know anything about it you would realize that it is not the answer. Renewable clean energy is the goal. Let's all repeat that.

        On a side topic, I believe that some day we might figure out how to control Nuclear fusion on a large scale. And when we do this world will become something entirely different.

        Also I never said electric cars are a bad thing. Like camper said, they can be much more efficient (very few parts to go bad is a good thing too). The problem is that right now we generate most of our energy from dirty nonrenewable sources and plus the loss of efficiency in the power grid. If we were making all our power from say, wind and solar, then yes it would be a good technology to use for everyone. For now, I think we have the cart before the horse.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Did you really just say nuclear energy was a bad source of power? lol, might want to do some reading first. Environmentalists like you are the problem.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't think this condemns all PHEVs. It only condemns vehicles which are converted from parallel hybrids. The problem is these vehicles are not designed to have any useful all-electric range and even after conversion, they still don't. Even though A123 will list specs saying they have, apparently people don't use them in these ranges of speeds, acceleration and distances often enough.

      A serial hybrid like the Volt, which some call an ER-EV, has a chance of providing much lower fuel usage (which you can call mpg if you want, but I won't) in real use.

      For example, see the trips in the PDFs, only 33% of around-town trips were in EV-only mode. And only 9% of highway trips. Since the average trip distance around town is 3.2 mi and the average highway trip distance is 15.3, both of these figures would rise to well over 50% on an ER-EV with 40 mile all-EV mode like the Volt. Also backing this up is the average distance between charging events of 34.4 miles (40.7 in the other study).

      I do agree Darryl was right. It's important to not mislead people about EV (and EV mode) performance, unless you want to turn your customers off.
      • 5 Years Ago
      People drive this piece of **** because it's 'cool', not because is 'environmental friendly'.

      Toyota did a great job putting this horrible car on the media. Everybody on prime-time TV shows drive one, that's why people like this car. Nobody who buy a Prius give a heck for the environment.

      The Fusion Hybrid has similar mileage without this horrible future-ish design, and well, showbizz cocaine-head people didn't drive one, so isn't cool.

      Sorry for my poor english, isn't my first or second language.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I kind of like the way the Prius looks and, with my commute, a PHEV actually would be very nice for me. In fact, I'd only be using gas on the weekends if at all.

        But of course people like you (who don't even know me) would make assumptions about because you're very close minded. Oh well. Enjoy filling up your car.

        • 5 Years Ago
        You're seriously straight-up comparing the market penetration and awareness of a vehicle that has been out for 8 years to one that has been out 8 weeks?

        I don't know why GM bothered to make the new Camaro? I see the old one everywhere and haven't seen the new one at all yet. Clearly the new one isn't cool/successful/good.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I say they're the next big thing in overhyped stopgap measures.

      Bring on the algae farms. Give us ethanol, butanol, and good ol' grease. Then use the biomass to fertilize the land to give food to the world.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Toyota comes out against Plug-ins and widespread adoption of hybrids and everyone falls in line. After they've worked the PR cudos to death on hybrid and are about to be outdone in practicality by the Fusion and later Technically by the Volt.

      Must be nice.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm just saying that whenever an article on this subject comes out, the lame-brained masses start spewing their "wisdom." Any valid point mixed in gets lost in the inane ramblings about evil eco-liberals and Toyota and y'all just can't wait to broadcast stupidity. When someone claims that hybrids are worse for the environment than a fleet of Hummers, I picture that line coming out of some barefoot, bucktoothed moron and I'm probably not far off.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "What do you think – are plug-in hybrids the next big thing, an overhyped solution, or something in between?"

      It is a scam.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Look, Hybrid cars are a nice thing for folks with simple low cargo, low passenger space requirements. They make people who care feel good about helping the environment, but once government incentives are taken out of the equation, most users do not drive enough (especially if they only do 35 mile trips) to make back the $5000-10000 premium. If driving a hybrid makes you feel good, by all means keep on driving, but in the long run hybrids, and electric vehicles are only practical for a small portion of the world, and even those people would probably be better off both financially and ecologically by taking public transport. While generally speaking, I am not a fan of government intervention. I would prefer to see the tax credits, and development money moved away from hybrids and EVs, and put towards mandating that every gas station in the country be required to have at least 1 liquid hydrogen pump by 2015. Hydrogen is the only solution to automotive transport that makes sense. Ecologically speaking, hydrogen motors only produce pure water (a resource that is getting very scarce in some if not most places in the world.). They can be filled up by a pump just like traditional cars. They allow us to immediately extend the range of a car without mandating a standard battery pack. They do not produce toxic materials as both lithium, and nickel-metal hydride batteries do. Hydrogen power is not only the cleanest, but also the most useful, and abundant method of transport. The major obstacle of hydrogen power is purely logistical. Currently, hydrogen costs about the same per mile traveled as Gas, a cost that is sure to go down with production increases. Likewise, a similar car in hydrogen would cost about the same as its gas equivalent (no dual power trains) the real cost is the investment in infrastructure required by filling stations. If government essentially forced, and helped pay for, the hydrogen infrastructure most people would have no issues switching to hydrogen, because it would not require a lifestyle change. This would in effect help, if not solve the carbon problems produced by cars. To keep this discussion on point, I will not offer any thoughts on how to fix non motive power.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The premium on hybrids is not $5000-$10000. On the Fusion Hybrid it is about $2200. And it pays itself back in a few years for normal people, but of course not everyone. At $3 (the current price of gas), it costs about $6000 in gas to go 50,000 miles (5 years driving) in a Ford Fusion 4-cyl. In a Fusion hybrid, it would cost $3846. You've already made your money back (or close to it, depending on the time value of money). And do you think gas will be only $3/gal in 5 years?

        I have no idea where you say hydrogen is less disruptive. First of all, if you just try to burn hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, you get more than just water out, you get NOxes (smog forming emissions) too. Second of all, trying to find a large enough space to carry enough hydrogen to get you are going with an ICE is going to take a lot more space out of your car than the batteries in a hybrid.

        I don't think liquid hydrogen, as mentioned in your post, is very realistic. Have you looked up the characteristics of hydrogen?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Do you realize where the hydrogen would have to come from at this point? Right now, the only economical way to get the hydrogen out of water is through electrolysis. This takes massive amounts of power that can be done with hydroelectric dams. Currently, most hydroelectric dams are used in the refinement of Aluminum ore. So yeah, you either use the damns to make Aluminum, or hydrogen. Which would you choose?

        Currently hydrogen is produced by burning fossil fuels which is just as dirty (if not more because it is inefficient) than the cars just burning gasoline or Diesel.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The premium is higher than $2200. Ford is sacrificing the large profit that normally comes with a higher end package to bring it in line.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I don't give a crap. If you are arguing that the price differential is an impediment to adoption, then you only have to care about the price differential, not whether parts are hidden or not.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Ford Fusion is a dual-mode, and it increases the mpg of the vehicle from 25mpg to 39mpg accordingly.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Bob,
        Hydrogen is not a source of energy. It's a means of transporting energy. A very clumsy means of transporting energy. How is a gallon of H2 created?

        Please remember that a fuel cell car is just an electric car with a 'battery' that can be re-charged more quickly by re-filling the tank with H2.
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