“Team Fate” – Under the Hood of a Next-Gen Plug-in Hybrid (114)

Take a tour of a plug-in electric hybrid modification of a 1996 Mercury Sable, with UC Davis graduate students Patrick Kaufman and Bryan Jungers.

Under the hood you’ll see modifications and some interesting new components. Unlike commercial hybrids — primarily combustion engines with an electric-motor assist — theirs is primarily an electric vehicle with a small combustion engine to extend its range beyond the all-electric 60-70 miles. Batteries recharge in 6-8 hours with electricity costing about 75 cents per gallon of gas equivalent (2006 prices). Don’t miss Janaia’s first-time drive of an electric vehicle. Episode 114. [PHEV engineering by Andy Frank and Team FATE]

Watch an interview with Patrick and Bryan in “Team Fate” – Designing the Next Generation Hybrid (episode 113). They work with Professor Andrew Frank, Director of UC Davis Hybrid Vehicle Research Center, who is profiled in Plug-in Hybrids Power the Grid (episode 107).

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  1. Stuart M. says:

    Yes, Charlie, the air-driven car always seems to be just around the corner, but never arrives. I subscribe to a small bicycle magazine from England called “A to B.” In their latest issue there is a small blurb with a picture of a moped that has an air-driven motor and two compressed air tanks. The bike had been tested by someone and was said to have a range of 7 miles. The magazine writer said that was pretty disappointing, given that electric bicycles had achieved ranges of 40 miles under real life conditions, but maybe 7 miles is not so bad for a first try. The writer also mentioned that compressing that air is an energy intensive process.

    Have you been following the controversy about the ZAP company? They are also always promising whiz-bang cars that they never deliver, selling dealerships to people without sending any cars and the one car they are selling, the Xebra, is really not ready for prime time. But the worst is how the company’s owner is selling stock willy-nilly to enrich himself and fleece the investors who watch their stock get more and more dilluted. Many dedicated employees have quit in disgust.

  2. Both the Indian and Australian launches of the MDI air car have been delayed, as have every launch date in the past.

    Past launch dates for production cars in showrooms include 2002 in South Africa, 2003 in Mexico City, 2003/2004 in Italy and probably several others that I haven’t noticed.

    MDI has a history of claiming great performance, taking investment money, collecting license fees, selling distributorships/franchises and then not delivering.

    MDI also has a history of making great performance claims, but never allowing independent parties such as auto magazine journalists to ever confirm performance by doing a couple simple road tests such as maximum speed and operating range.

    The only published road test result was on a prior MDI website (available via wayback machine) and it showed the car running out of air after only 7.22km (less than 5 miles). MDI has not published any other results, other than in a couple of reports done for them by the School of Mines in Paris which showed that as of June 2003 that they had not yet developed a complete engine, and the portion that they had built ran at less than 10% efficiency. This was well after MDI had been telling everyone in June 2001 that they were going to have pilot production cars homologated (certified) in NOvember 2001.

    My prediction is that a year from now, we will all still be waiting for production to start. As we will 2 and 3 years from now. 2009 is no different than 2000, 2001, 2002, etc.

  3. Hi Stuart M,

    Tata motors is coming out with their air car after the Australian one, but yes, same company, MDI. If you can raise US$10 million you too can become a car manufacturer using the MDI franchise. They also have a radical new broadband solution and the air motors are sold as household power generators.

    I did answer your question in my comment, that air compressors at service stations can be run on solar and windpower. The air cars operate on standard air compressors and also have their own onboard compressor, but it is slower. There is no danger of explosions. The airbags are flexible kevlar and if ruptured simply split and release their air. See more on:


  4. Stuart M. says:

    Hey CJ,

    I recently read that TATA motors in India is coming out with a compressed air vehicle. It certainly sounds non-polluting. Excuse my ignorant question, but are compressors at gas stations run with electricity? How much compression needs to be generated to go 94 miles? There might be some safety issues, too. Well, I’m not wedded to plug-in hybrids. They sound like a very high-tech, expensive solution. I hope the compressed air technology pans out.

  5. Although I think it is admirable what these young men are doing and they are clearly very conversant with the plug-in hybrid technology and are inventive and articulate, to me they are still on the wrong track. Dependant upon the limited imagination of a President or state Governor at any given time, people who have never been known to be imaginative and who have a record of loyalty to the dominant energy corporations of the day, the problem of unclean electric power has not been solved and is unlikely to be. These two brilliant young men are doing something great, but are placing their faith in those controlling electric power to do the right thing at the other end. I believe that to be naive.

    For my money the answer lies in compressed air vehicles, because they are simple, 100% clean, and show levels of efficiency comparable to modern cars. The first should be going on sale in Australia later this year. Running on compressed air, alone, the car can cover 94 miles (150 km) with a top speed of 69 mph (110 km/h). But when the air is heated externally and incorporated with a fuel source, such as ethanol or diesel, it is possible to travel the 2,239 miles (3,604 km) or in other words, America coast to coast.

    The car will retail for less than Au$8,000 (US$7,073) with running costs 80% lower than comparable vehicles. It can be refueled by plugging it into a conventional compressed-air supply available at most service stations and also has its own onboard compressor. So it can refuel as you drive.

    I supposed critics might say – yeah, but what about the power that runs the air compressors – okay, got me there, but I’m pretty sure that small amount of power could be covered by solar and or wind power at the garage itself.

    To me the other big advantage is that the air motors from the car will also be sold as home power generators, thereby bringing clean green power to homes and decentralizing the grid, something every green-orientated person desires.

    Another advantage is that the exhaust is not only normal air, but also cold air, and can be usded for a car or home’s air conditioning, and could also be used to hugely assist industrial refrigeration units while at the same time running them. Think of the cost, power, and emissions savings right there.

    Although it is hard, we just have to make a clean break with the past and ditch the internal combustion motor once and for all, and get rid of huge centralized electric power stations. What I am saying now sounds radical, but once you raise the earth’s temperature by more than 3 degrees centigrade, it’s game over folks, so time to get radical.

  6. Don Duncan says:

    I expect the American car makers to go bankrupt or be bought out by their competition. They deserve it. They stopped being competitive in the ’70s. By that I mean, they stopped listening to us and stopped being innovative. I will buy an EV, not a PHEV. All the technology exists to produce a no-compromise EV. I expect a new, small U.S. company to be first in 2009, if they are not stopped by the government.

  7. Stuart M. says:

    Hey Guys!

    The demand is right here! I want one!

    Realistically, these plug-in hybrid cars will be very expensive, they have to be with all that technology in them. I am guessing the 75 cent a gallon equivalent figure doesn’t include a depreciation allowance for the batteries. That 150,000 mile range on the original NiMH battery pack of a Toyota RAV4 didn’t sound too realistic either.

    But nothing in life is free and if people want the mobility of a car without compromising their lifestyle in any way, they will have to pay more for plug-in hybrids. Bring them on!

    My jaw dropped when the young men said the big car companies told them they had to design a plug-in hybrid system for pickups and SUV’s because “that’s the direction the market is going in.” The American car companies have no one to blame for their financial mess except themselves. They have been pushing needlessly gargantuan pickups and SUV’s for much too long. Instead of seeing the Davis University boys’ efforts as a chance to save the American auto industry by giving them a competitive advantage over the imports (which they lost when Toyota came out with the Prius), they are still barking up the old SUV and pickup “tree.” This plug-in system has been working fine for ten years in that Mercury Sable. That’s ten years down the Detroit drain.

    Well, now Chevrolet says they are going to give us the Chevrolet Volt in 2010. Hoooray. The Japanese just debuted their new Prius plug-in hybrid prototype. I expect Detroit to get their doors blown off again.

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