Hybrid Technologies: A Smart EV Future
By Bill Moore
If you think converting a gasoline car to electric is easy, you need to talk to Hybrid Technologies Richard Griffiths, the company's business development director. Sure, with time, skill, patience and some fairly affordable components, you can do the job for between $10,000 and $20,000; and some have done it for less, but when you're talking about developing an electric car you plan to sell to the public, that's another matter entirely.
The number is more like a million dollars, Griffiths hold me during our recent interview from the company's new base of operations in Mooresville -- no relation or connection that I am aware of -- North Carolina in the heart of NASCAR country, and far from its original birthplace as Whistler Investments Lithium House. That company and its related spin-offs has had a somewhat checkered past, so when Hybrid Technologies was formed, it wisely sought to physically, as well as financially distance itself.
Because of its connections to this murky past, the new company Griffiths helped found four years ago has worked hard to not only develop a competitive product but also to sharpen its own image as a producer of electric drive propulsions systems anchored around lithium battery technology. To date, it has deployed the first modern, all-electric taxi cab -- built on a Chrysler PT Cruiser platform -- in New York City and has begun demonstrating smart car conversions like the one now being used by NASA at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The company also just delivered an additional two PT Cruiser-based electric taxis -- plus an electric Town&Country minivan -- to Sacramento where they are being used by a private para-transit non-profit. Hybrid Technologies also has an EV version of the popular Mini Cooper.
Some of the confusion about who and what the company is stems from its parent company and its principal founder, Chaz Habab who very early on championed lithium ion batteries supposedly developed by Haba for use in electric vehicles. In fact, Hybrid Technologies doesn't manufacture its own batteries, but works in partnership with Korean-based Kokam, a manufacturer of lithium polymer batteries, with US operations in Lees Summit, Missouri.
According to Griffiths, Mr. Haba has no involvement in Hybrid Technologies. The company has also staked out a strategic position between carmakers and battery manufacturers, supplying what Griffiths calls the software pieces of the puzzle: the battery control and management system, as well as engineering and integrating all the various components into a complete drive package.
Being located far from what some might consider the 'heart' of the electric car revival in California isn't as much of a drawback as it might seem. Because of a strong NASCAR racing community in Mooresville, the company has been able to attract employees with strong automotive backgrounds. The community has also been very supportive. Griffiths noted that the company bought its 20,000 square feet manufacturing facility for far less than it would have had to pay for it in the Los Angeles area.
"Being in an area where people really want you makes life a lot easier," Griffiths noted. "Everybody is very proud of having an electric vehicle manufacturer in Mooresville. The town and the mayor and the Chamber of Commerce are huge flag-wavers..."
Stealing the Show
Building an electric version of the highly popular smart car was a strategically "smart" thing to do, but Griffiths acknowledged that many companies have tried to develop an electric version of the smart car and failed for various reasons. While the car seems ideal for electrification, it has proved a grave yard for some (e-Motion, Wavecrest) and nearly so for others (ZAP). To date, only Zytek and now Hybrid Technologies have managed to steer clear of the company-shattering shoals.
The potential of an electric version of the smart was demonstrated recently on the Live with Regis and Kelley show, Griffiths said, when it went up against several other big OEM models and "stole the show." Certainly ZAP's initial foray in which the company garnered more than $2 billion in purchase orders for a gasoline version of the smart, would confirm the time is right for this vehicle, which will finally make its DaimlerChrysler-sanctioned American debut sometime in 2008.
"It steals the show wherever it goes. People adore this vehicle."
But for the moment, apart from gray market models that made their way into the country, usually from Canada, the car currently isn't certified to operate in the U.S., which means that Hybrid Technologies -- for the time being -- is looking overseas to sell the car, starting with Italy this summer. Once the car is certified for operation in the U.S., presumably next year, Hybrid Technologies will refocus its efforts, but for the moment, the market outside of America is plenty big enough.
To keep the car affordable, Griffiths explained that they use just eight battery modules instead of the typical 12 or 14 required in a larger vehicle.
"We can put the car into the hands of consumers for roughly around $35,000."
While that is still fairly pricey by even American standards, Griffiths believes that for lithium battery technology, it's very reasonable compared to other offerings starting to emerge from Tesla and Tango at over $100,000, AC Propulsion at $70K , and the Phoenix SUT at $45,000.
The Mooresville plant is currently capable of turning out about 500 vehicles annually, but Griffths told EV World that they already have agreements in place to shift the integration of their electric drive system back up the production chain, and potentially to the smart assembly line itself, though Griffith was a bit opaque on who would be doing what, when. He said that they've already looked at potential manufacturing facilities in Asia, as well, once demand reaches that level.
Smart EV Certification,
The Hybrid Technologies smart EV has an estimated range of 150 miles, Griffiths maintains. Charging at 220 volts takes about 4 hours. The top speed is over 70 mph. There are two electric motors that can be used in the vehicle, one from Ballard, now Siemens VDO. The lithium polymer battery pack comes from Kokam and the BMS system is Hybrid Technologies'.
The NASA vehicle featured above as a range of 120 miles at 75 mph. It is driven by a 40kW electric motor, powered by a 30kWh battery pack.
"The vehicle has absolutely every option, every feature that a regular, production smart car has..." he responded when asked about the availability of air conditioning and heating, something not always incorporated into many a low-budget conversion. Griffiths estimates they consume the equivalent of about 5% of the vehicle's battery capacity.
The plan for now is to let Canada be responsible to certifying the vehicle there and DaimlerChrysler handle U.S. certification. Once that's done,Hybrid Technologies' intention is to then start offering an electric version for the U.S. market by 2009.
"When the time is right, we're developing and have developed a system that will seamlessly integrate into production smart cars that will allow companies such as Penske and Chrysler... to offer this to the public... in small markets by 2009 and mass markets by 2010."
To learn more about Hybrid Technologies, be sure to listen to the MP3 recording in its entirety using either of the two players at the head of this article or by downloading it to your computer hard drive for transfer and playback on your favorite MP3 device. The download URL is: http://www.evworld.com/evworld_audio/richard_griffiths.mp3.