A plug-in hybrid kit that even a starving college student may be able to afford?

That might be a stretch, but a Middle Tennessee State University professor and a group of students are developing a PHEV kit that may ultimately cost far less than the premium some people are paying for electric-drive vehicles.

Dr. Charles Perry, a former IBM employee who's leading the effort, is working with nine students to create a plug-in hybrid kit that could cost as little as $3,000, once production is up and running. For that kind of scratch, buyers would get a lot of bang for their buck, as fuel economy could jump by as much as 100 percent.

The system, which is being tested on a 1994 Honda station wagon, involves a trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery feeding an electric motor that powers the rear wheels of the car, giving the gas engine, which powers the front wheels, a break. The group, which has been working on the project for about four years, put together a six-minute video outlining the effort and you can watch it below.

Perry and the students are pitching the idea to companies and hope to get funding to make what they hope to be a production version of the kit. In 2009, Perry won a green energy competition from the Tennessee Technology Development Corp., which came with a $50,000 grant along with a matching investment to push the projecting forward.

Perry isn't alone in trying to make plug-in hybrid kits work. Early last year, Washington-based Vista Engineering Technologies started pitching a conversion kit that would be able to give any vehicle a 30-mile electric-only range for less than $10,000.



I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 43 Comments
      PeterScott
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ugh. The kind of thing you can only sell in the unregulated aftermarket. Unlike a real hybrid it won't have regen braking (or extremely poor implementation at best). At best we are talking about 3KWh of battery, which would be maybe 8 miles of range, or in this case 16 miles of augmented range. So unless you drive 16 miles or less, it is of dubious value. If you drive say 30 miles per day. You will essentially get to play the 8 miles "free" game. After your assist gives out, you will probably get worse MPG from lugging around the dead weight.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 3 Months Ago
        @PeterScott
        Wait - how do you know that it won't have regen? Those kelly controllers ( seen clearly in the picture ) all are capable of regenerative braking. There would be no reason to now include the functionality. And the regen can be stronger than the original drum brakes that this car came with. Don't believe me - look up kelly controller on the net and read some of their programming manuals. Also, lugging dead weight? hm, brakes are dead weight, aren't they? 10-30 pounds of dead weight per side? if you replace them with a motor that is capable of being a brake as well, at a similar weight, is that really dead weight that's gonna ruin your fuel economy?
      PeterScott
      • 2 Years Ago
      @2WM: "Even if it does not have regen brakes ( which would be totally stupid! ), all you'd need to do is toggle a checkbox in the kelly controller software to get it working." What do you mean all they have to do is toggle a checkbox on the controller? You have to actually then somehow not have the friction brakes engage when they normally would. Getting regen/friction brake interplay balanced properly is a challenge even for purpose built hybrids. Here they likely don't want to mess with the brakes for liability reasons for starters.
        montoym
        • 3 Months Ago
        @PeterScott
        I would think you just wouldn't touch the brake pedal. The regen usually kicks in when you are not on the throttle, but you don't have to be on the brakes either (hence the comments about being able to drive with one foot reagarding many EV's). If you need more braking power than the regen will provide, you can still use the friction brakes as well. It's not an either/or proposition.
          PeterScott
          • 3 Months Ago
          @montoym
          Accel pedal Regen is possible, but we were specifically discussing brake regen.
      Peter
      • 2 Years Ago
      I lack the engineering background to properly respond to what portion of the efficiency of a hybrid this approach would give, but operating an ICE engine at all is a bad idea IMHO. Other than protecting the gear from the elements, I would like the proponents to actually do fair controlled tests (better have someone else independently test the efficiency with the battery on and the battery off). Still think this might be worth exploring on a GEO Metro
      EZEE
      • 2 Years Ago
      Thanks for the commentary, 2wheel. Although there are others that are well researched (Marco and PR), having practical knowledge makes reading the comments more useful than the actual story. The part about using re gen as brakes was great. On my escape, I loved the regen, but just used it to....regen (long curved ramps were the best).
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      Even if it does not have regen brakes ( which would be totally stupid! ), all you'd need to do is toggle a checkbox in the kelly controller software to get it working. So, they would be stupid to not have regen but the system is capable of regen, and capable of seeing a benefit from it as well.
      jeffwishart
      • 2 Years Ago
      @2WM, I have to disagree with the blanket characterization of idle-stop systems not getting much of a fuel economy increase. I ran a study where a vehicle was driven in high-traffic conditions twice a day, and we saw a 9.8% increase--hardly insignificant. It depends on the vehicle, it depends on the traffic conditions, it depends on whether you use your A/C (and whether the A/C compressor is electric), but you can see significant benefit. That is why idle-stop vehicles are starting to trickle in in the U.S. and they are absolutely everywhere in Europe.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sure, i agree that internal combustion engines just suck.... :) And yes, a car with a very anemic tiny engine would provide better results. But offloading the internal combustion engine's work in the city will greatly improve city efficiency of the whole rig. On the highway, a system like this won't help much, if at all.
      brotherkenny4
      • 2 Years Ago
      How will you be able to pay a CEO and shareholders with such a low priced low volume item? Seems like there is not enough money to be made on this to be of any interest to investers. I mean it seems like a decent enough idea, but who will make the money? That is all that really matters. Who makes the money?
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is a very cool idea. Two axial flux 8kW hub motors plus two kelly controllers and some lifepo4 batteries.. not exotic componentry by any stretch of the word. I like it. However, i am not sure how the hub motor would last very long without any kind of cover. In the eBike world, we have seen rusting stators, oxidizing copper, and rusting neo magnets as well. Nobody has figured out a good working solution thus far. This design would seem even more vulnerable. But it's a start, so right on, MTSU!
        Chris M
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        An even bigger worry would be the magnets picking up bits of steel and iron filings, if not carefully designed it could easily jam from such debris.
      LEONARD
      • 2 Years Ago
      Not a new ideal but it's a good way to convert ez no heavy mods
      PeterScott
      • 2 Years Ago
      @ 2wm I know I already posted, but you still seem to be missing the part where they still have the drum brakes intact and specifically say how they didn't alter any of the mechanical, including the brakes. So it is an almost dead certainty it doesn't have regen braking.
      Vlad
      • 2 Years Ago
      Let's go a step further and make it into a trailer that pushes a car. Saw one for a bicycle, made out of an electric Razor or something. I know, I know - handling will be bad. But think about ease of installation! And if you are pulling a trailer anyways, make it work for you :) Plus, you won't have to use hub motors - that's gotta help with price and reliability, and will only require 1 controller.
    • Load More Comments