As I said earlier, the panels at the Austin Alt Car expo were heavily focused on plug-in vehicles. The last discussion on Friday continued the trend and was called "Future Prospects for Plug-in Hybrids" and the participants acknowledged that their presentations were treading over some of the same ground that earlier panelists had covered. Still, Mark Duvall of EPRI and Susan Zielinski of CARSS did add a few new tidbits to the discussion and if you're a PHEV fanatic, you'll find something in the write-up and audio included after the break that'll be of interest.

Mark Duvall started things off by noting that there is already more diversity in the PHEV realm than there were in the first five years of the hybrid race. That's the good news. The bad, as Ed Kjaer also said, is that it's only with the second-generation PHEVs that the automakers will be able to make money. Duvall said that If we get to a million plug-in vehicles in eight years, which is what it took with hybrids, it would be a "great success." There is some chance that we could reach that number in five years, and it is in line with Barack Obama's plan calls for this to happen (with 150 mpge vehicles) by 2015. How will we get all those plug-ins on the road? Duval said that the public infrastructure will only come about with an investment of public money, no for-profit company will come in and solve this problem, he said.

So, what does that utility infrastructure checklist look like? This:

  • We need a single conductive connector standard (this is the only item on the checklist that has been achieved)
  • There needs to be a bi-directional communication standardized on both grid and vehicle sides
  • We need to develop and validate smart charging applications
  • There needs to be support for home infrastructure
  • We need to understand and support municipal and customers needs for public infrastructure. The buyer or lessee needs to be able to plug in the car on the day he brings the car home.

Duvall said that there has never been a successful shift to alternative fuels, but this time, the technology is here and the energy security, environmental and cost drivers are all aligned.

Susan Zielinski is the Managing Director of the SMART (the Sustainable Mobility and Accessibility Research and Transformation project at the Center for Advancing Research and Solutions for Society (CARSS). She admitted she knows very little about PHEVs, but does think a lot about transportation. Her portion of the talk focused mostly on how to rethink the role of cars. One interesting bit of information was that Ford Motor Company has been working on a public-private partnership with CARSS on "urban mobility" issues and getting transportation alterntives to fit with Ford's efforts to sell vehicles. "We have to be thinking about things differently," she said. "Ford sees that
there is an urbanized future. That they do continue to sell cars and truck, but they sell cars and trucks and urban mobility." PHEVs are a good fit here because they can serve as the "last mile" transportation option. You take the bus or rail into town and then use a car-sharing service PHEV to go the rest of the way. Realistic? Sure. Coming soon? Nope.

Listen (60 min):

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