Mister Kramer Goes to Washington
By Bill Moore
Felix Kramer is on a mission, one that carried him and his new plug-in Toyota Prius hybrid to the steps of Capitol Hill. There he and representatives of Electro Energy, which brought along their own plug-in Prius, showcased to some of Washington's most powerful politicians, from Orrin Hatch to Hilary Clinton, technology that can help make America less dependent on petroleum: cars that can get 100 mpg.
The event -- organized by SetAmericaFree.Org -- was planned to coincide with an announced summit between the White House and Detroit's beleaguered carmakers. Although the meeting was postponed at the last minute by the Bush Administration until June 2nd, Kramer and company, along with auto industry chief executives, traveled to the U.S. capital to lobby lawmakers and testify before Congress.
Ethanol Isn't Enough
For the auto companies making the rounds in Washington, the message from GM and Ford was we're doing E85, which is a relatively cheap fix of less than $200 per car and according to Kramer, "lets them off of the hook for the next ten years." While he favors ethanol, it alone isn't enough to seriously address America's oil addiction when the nation consumes 140 billion gallons of gasoline annually, while producing just under 5 billion gallons of ethanol.
"If you fuel the local miles with electricity, then you need only 40 billion gallons," he said. "That's really an achievable goal."
He went on to explain how his small, three-person team at California Cars Initiative worked with Electro Energy, a Danbury, Connecticut firm that has developed a technology to improve NiMH batteries for use in plug-in hybrids, to create yet another plug-in Prius, bringing the total in the North America to more than half a dozen.
"The reason we did this process at time when everybody is really talking about lithium ion batteries is that we think there is still life in nickel metal hydride batteries; and we, in particular, think that it is really important to show the world and show Detroit that nickel metal hydride batteries make really good plug-in hybrids, because… the last objection that carmakers have is that… the batteries aren't ready… [and] lithium ion is unproved. There is a certain element to truth in that you don't have… a ten year track record, but that's certainly not the case with nickel metal hydride. These are batteries that carmakers have been using for about a decade in hybrids.
"And so, we wanted to show a lithium ion car, the Energy CS car that is my car, the car I drive every day, and this NiMH car from Connecticut. It was a great combination to have those two cars there."
Kramer explained that there is a slight difference in the low-speed, electric-only range of the two cars: Electro Energy's NiMH car will do about 20 miles, while the Energy CS -- equipped with Valence Saphion lithium ion batteries -- will do between 25-30 miles as long as the speed is below 35 mph, at which point Toyota's computer control system will switch on the gasoline engine.
He emphasized that he doesn't want to give the impression that people have to drive these cars slow in order to benefit from their increased performance. He explained that when driving the first 50-60 miles (presumably in urban traffic), the cars will be operating half the time in electric mode and half the time on gasoline, hence the description of the cars at 100+ mpg.
The Dongle Did It
By his calculation, some 10 U.S. Senators and more than a dozen members of the House of Representatives, as well as New York Governor Pataki and former CIA director James Woolsey, got to experience the cars, either driving, riding or viewing them.
Kramer said they were all "thrilled", noting that several days later, Senator Clinton mentioned the cars in a major policy speech on energy security at the National Press Club.
A major reason for having the plug-in hybrids on Capitol Hill was to give tangible credence to the Set America Free Fuel Choices for American Security Act, which is a bipartisan and bi-cameral bill working its way through Congress, that is designed to provide incentives for various fuel saving strategies, including flexible fuel, plug-in hybrids." Kramer said quite a few members of Congress have signed on to the bill and that its sponsors are determined to see it through to law. This is only one of a number of proposals designed to promote less dependence on imported oil, which accounts for 60 percent of U.S. oil consumption.
While the CalCar founder didn't officially testify before the Congress, he was acknowledged by Congresswoman Judy Biggert during one of the hearings. He invited the committee members to come drive the cars, noting that he'd "brought along his infrastructure" -- a well-placed barb against proponents of hydrogen. He held up a short length of electrical cord, one end wired with a conventional 110 volt plug and on the other a twist-type plug that connects to the car. He referred to it as a "dongle," a popular term around his Silicon Valley home, which often refers to a small electronic device used to protect access to computers. Photos from the event suggest that his "dongle" was popular with the politicians.
EV World's interview with Felix Kramer is just over 25 minutes in length. We encourage you listen to it in its entirety using either of the two MP3 players available on this page or by downloading it to your hard drive for playback on your favorite MP3 device. The interview will also be available on the Apple iTunes service.