State Sen. Jennie M. Forehand sits in a Sparrow, an electric car that is actually classified as a motorcycle, at Wednesday’s Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Expo in Germantown.
Alternative Fuel Expo highlights green technology
Daily Record Business Writer
April 16, 2008 7:19 PM
GERMANTOWN — Imagine not having to search for the cheapest gas station for your weekly fill up, instead having to stop by less than once a month. For daily commuters, that probably seems only possible with retirement — but for hybrid car owners, that technology is just around the corner.
The “conversion car” was on display Wednesday at the Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Expo hosted by the Fitzgerald Auto Mall. A lithium-ion battery made by the Massachusetts-based company A123 Systems gives the Toyota Prius hybrid 15 times more electric storage capacity — and up to 150 miles per gallon in the city.
The battery will be on the market in July — just in time for a summer driving season in which many experts are predicting average gas prices of $4 a gallon.
“I think like with the hybrid vehicles, the demand for this is going to build slowly and then rapidly accelerate,” said Les Goldman, a representative for A123 and owner of one of the of 50 test cars made in the United States. “And with the cost of gas, the extra cost is paid back in about 2½ to three years.”
A123 estimates that the cost for the installation will be about $10,000 — in addition to the $21,100 starting price for a Prius — but Goldman said the installation cost could decrease as battery production goes up. Cars that include the battery as standard equipment will be on the market in three to five years, according to A123. General Motors is using it to develop its “Volt” SUV and is also considering it for a new Saturn model.
The conversion cars, which can travel about 40 miles on pure electric power, are ideal for daily commuters, according to those in the industry.
“Our car averages about 40 miles a day, and the last person to use it simply plugs it in [using a standard extension cord] to the garage wall outlet every night,” said Dave DuVal, a quality control superintendent at the Fairfax County, Va., Department of Vehicle Services, which converted one of its Prius hybrid fleet cars in late 2006. DuVal noted their car burned about six gallons of gas per month.
Plug-in electric cars are not new — modern ones were first developed in the 1980s in response to the oil crisis of the previous decade, but fell out of favor when gas became cheaper. Dave Goldstein, president of the Gaithersburg-based Electric Vehicle Association, brought his 1981 Electrica to the Fitzgerald expo to remind visitors that consumer demand will drive the industry.
“This car was manufactured by Jet Industries, which went out of business because gas got cheap again and nobody wanted electric cars,” Goldstein said. He predicted that price drops wouldn’t happen a second time and instead consumer demand for alternative fuels would increase production and drive down costs.
Since 2000 — when fewer than 10,000 hybrids were sold in the U.S. — hybrid car sales have nearly doubled on average each year, according to R.L. Polk & Co., a Michigan firm that collects and interprets automotive data. Maryland has more than 24,000 hybrid vehicles on the road, according to data available at the expo.
But despite the hybrid’s growing numbers, the manufacturing representatives at the expo noted they had the responsibility of preparing for any route the market could take. Of the approximately 15 cars at the expo, attended by about 50 media members and politicians — including Montgomery County Democrats Sen. Jennie M. Forehand and County Executive Isiah Leggett — most were not hybrids but offered other fuel-efficient alternatives.
Examples includes a 50 mile-per-gallon, diesel-powered Volkswagen being offered this summer, a 60 mile-per-gallon fortwo designed by the United Kingdom manufacturer smart, and flex-fuel vehicles (not yet market-ready) manufactured by Toyota and Ford that run on mostly ethanol.
“Because you don’t really know what the fuel of the future is going to be we have to be prepared for any and all — and we have to keep it affordable,” said Jay Morgan, a Ford representative. “To be competitive you have to have the technology ready for whichever path the market and federal policy is going to take.”