AFS Trinity Perfects Plug-in Hybrid Saturn Vue
By Bill Moore
Has AFS Trinity, a small technology company in California, solved the challenge of a 40 mile plug-in hybrid? Ed Furia, its president and CEO, believes they have.
He called me two weeks ago, urging me to keep mum until today, about his firm's forthcoming announcement on the eve of the Detroit Auto Show. He wanted to alert me to the fact that his company had perfected their plug-in hybrid drive system, which has been in development quietly for months. [See EV World's 31 January 2006 interview with Furia entitled Extreme Hybrids Ahead].
Based on a combination of ultracapacitors and lithium-ion batteries, their approach could solve the the problem of relying on a battery-only approach, while offering not only range, but exciting performance.
After evaluating eight different candidate vehicles, AFS Trinity chose the Saturn VUE, purchasing three of the micro-hybrid Sport Utility Vehicles, converting them into true 40-mile (64 km) electric range, grid-charged hybrids.
Restraining his obvious pride and excitement, he explained that a standard Saturn VUE Green Line can accelerate from zero to sixty in 12.5 seconds. Despite weighing some 1,400 lbs (635 kg) after its PHEV upgrade, the VUE demonstrated 11.6 second 0-60 performance in electric-only mode. But even more impressive, Furia told me with obvious delight, in full hybrid mode, it turned in an impressive 6.9 seconds, faster than a Porsche Cayenne.
Furia stressed that the vehicle makes use of largely off-the-shelf components and that in mass production, he estimates the weight of the plug-in drive system could reduced to the point that overall vehicle weigh could be reduced from 500-1000 pounds.
Equipped with a custom-made Ricardo Engineering transmission, the SUV has a theoretical top speed of 90 mph -- Furia said it's been test driven at Michelin's Laurens, South Carolina proving grounds to 87 mph with four adults on board. It was at the same track that it drove 41.9 miles in EV-only mode, achieving that GM is hoping to accomplish with its Volt and clearly besting Toyota's own plug-in Prius efforts.
The combination of high-power ultracapacitors, which discharge from 100-20% in seconds and are recharged in just "a couple minutes", and high-energy lithium-ion batteries, mean the trademarked "FastEnergy" system appears to address the need for both a long-life and high energy-density storage system. Furia told me that he hopes to license it to automakers who are looking for a plug-in hybrid solution that can bypass the shortcomings of battery-only approaches. [See WSJ article, Race to Make Electric Cars Stalled by Battery Problems].
He sees grid-charged hybrids as a much more practical approach to solving the nation's oil dependence than building an expensive hydrogen infrastructure, estimated by some to cost $500 billion just to meet the needs of 40% of the U.S vehicle fleet. Instead, there is enough overnight grid capacity to charge 180 million of America's 230 million motor vehicles, or nearly 80% of all the light vehicles in the country. By GM's estimate a 40-mile range plug-in will meet the transportation needs of close to 80% of all commuters in North America.
Two of the cars are in the possession of Ricardo for continued testing, while the third will be on display at the Detroit Auto Show.
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