Plug-In Partners, a national campaign requesting automobile manufacturers to accelerate the development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, was launched in January by nearly a dozen U.S. cities, more than one hundred utility companies, and various businesses and national policy organizations. According to its official Web site, the campaign plans to gain support via online petitions and endorsements; encourage governments and businesses to issue soft orders, or expressions of interest, in purchasing plug-ins; and call for electric companies to provide rebates to citizens and businesses in their community who purchase the first round of the vehicles.
Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle are some of the cities already involved in the movement. The City of Austin, Texas, and its community-owned electric utility company, Austin Energy, are leading the effort. Austin Mayor Will Wynn pledged $1 million in city rebates to help citizens and businesses purchase plug-ins. By the end of January, six hundred soft orders had been placed and nearly 11,000 Austin citizens had signed petitions.
“Plug-in hybrids represent a near-term solution to America’s over-reliance on foreign oil imports and energy prices that escalate the cost of everything and threaten the very economic life of our nation,” Wynn said. “The technology exists today. This campaign will demonstrate to automakers that the market is also there.”
A plug-in hybrid can be recharged through a standard wall socket, which delivers “electric” gallons of gas for about seventy-five cents a gallon at prevailing electric rates, according to the campaign. This may reduce gasoline consumption for the average driver by 5070 percent.
Plug-ins could also be partnered with existing flexible fuel technology for greater fuel efficiency. The current gas-electric hybrid technology could provide an all-electric operating range of approximately 2535 miles, resulting in even greater fuel economy when used with alternative fuels.
Although industry experts cite cost, reliability, and battery weight as obstacles to the mass production of plug-ins, the development of the technology is already ongoing. The Electric Power Research Institute has teamed with DaimlerChrysler to design and build a plug-in prototype van, which has a twenty-mile, all-electric range and can reach a speed of up to 75 mph. The van will operate on either a nickel-metal hydride battery or lithium ion battery, and it will be tested in a small sample of American cities this year.
DaimlerChrysler’s prototype plug-in hybrid electric van is undergoing trials across the United States this year. Credit: DaimlerChrysler
The van’s plug-in technology includes a flap housing the socket for connecting the battery to a power source for charging. Credit: DaimlerChrysler
Toyota Motor Company, while well known for its Prius and other hybrid technology, does not have immediate plans to develop plug-in hybrid vehicles. Toyota engineers believe a breakthrough is three years away, with additional time required to reach commercial potential, according to Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokesperson.
Plug-In Partners hopes to earn the support of the fifty largest cities in the country over the next year. More information on the campaign can be found at www.pluginpartners.org
“We ask all Americans to support this effort and to urge the automakers to put development of plug-in hybrids on the fast track,” said Wynn.