CalCars/Frank Welcome Ford’s Interest in Plug-In Hybrids

May 11, 2006 by Jeff Shepard

The California Cars Initiative and University of California at Davis Professor Andy Frank today welcomed Ford Motor Co CEO Bill Ford, Jr.'s acknowledgment that the company is exploring plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology.

The non-profit group and the engineering professor/inventor of the modern plug-in hybrid disclosed that they have been in private discussions with top business and technical executives of the company since meeting in Dearborn last November. The group plans to rapidly build a small prototype/demonstration fleet of plug-in hybrids using Ford's Escape Hybrid as a platform. First customers for the conversions of several dozen SUVs would be cities, utilities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and celebrities. The vehicles would demonstrate a range of energy storage and propulsion components, flex-fuel (E85) capability and other design solutions.

Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) finally make hybrid cars live up to their name by using both gasoline and electricity as fuel. They're like today's hybrids but with larger batteries and the ability to re-charge off-peak conveniently from a 120-volt plug, so local travel is electric, and they retain the extended range of any hybrid. And compared to gasoline, electricity is cheaper (under $1/gallon equivalent), cleaner (lower greenhouse gases even on the national power grid) and comes from domestic sources (3% of US electricity comes from oil).

Prof. Andy Frank, Director of the UC Davis Future Automotive Technology and Engineering Center for Hybrid Electric Vehicles, is the recognized world leader in plug-in hybrid technologies, having built nine such vehicles since 1972, including ground-up PHEV prototypes of Ford Taurus, Sable and Explorer. The California Cars Initiative, formed in 2002, is a group of entrepreneurs, engineers, environmentalists and consumers harnessing buyer demand to bring plug-in hybrids to market by major car-makers. The non-profit focuses both on public policy and technology development.

Bill Ford issued a statement giving permission to begin independent work, "A consortium that includes (Frank and CalCars) is starting a project to demonstrrate the portential of the Ford Escape Hybrid to operate as a plug-in hybrid. There's a growing national interest in this technology, especially among fleet buyers, to further reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gasses. While Ford focuses on expanding the adoption of hybrid technology throughout our line, we applaud their choice of the Escape as a development platform, and we will support this independent, innovative effort."