PICC's 40-Mile Plug-In Prius

By Bill Moore

Posted: 22 Jul 2010

It was 1:30 AM Friday morning in Melbourne, Australia when Kim Adelman, the founder of Plug-In Conversions Corporation, called me here in Papillion today. He was just beginning a six-hour layover for the flight home to San Diego and wanted to share two pieces of news with me.

He and his chief technician, Mike Dribble, had just left Townsville, Queensland where they had completed the plug-in conversion of the city council's 2007 Toyota Priuses with a nickel metal hydride battery pack similar to the one in LIVN GRN, my wife's 2009 Prius. Prior to this, they'd completed a similar conversion for the Motor Trade Association of South Australia in Adelaide. I think this makes the fourth conversion PICC's done in Australia, but Kim was more "pumped" by the level of sustainable activity going on in Townsville. Led by ex-SAS officer Greg Bruce, Townsville, with a population of some 180,000 souls, is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the leading cities in the world in terms of sustainability.

But as exciting as his news from 'Down Under' might seem, the really exciting item was the successful development of a PICC kit for the 2010 Prius. With Adelman supplying the car and 12.5kWh Gold Peak lithium ion manganese battery pack, Andrew and Chis Ewert have successfully developed the computer interface that now enables the newest generation Prius (Generation III) to be converted to a plug-in hybrid with range of as much as 45 miles in EV mode! The current Toyota PHV Prius, with its much smaller battery pack, is capable of going 12-13 miles in EV mode.

The Ewerts got to test their conversion on the drive from Chicago up to the HybridFest in Madison, Wisconsin this past weekend. In fact, they were still tweaking the system as they rolled into the Dane County Fairgrounds, discovering a couple cliches in the system as they did, ones which would seriously impact the car's performance.

The heart of HybridFest is a 24.4 miles road rally to see who can achieve the highest mileage. The Ewert-converted Prius didn't win. That accolade went to another driver using what's called a 'forced stealth' strategy and hypermiling techniques, neither of which are practical in the real world, Chris Ewert pointed out when I asked him about it. Forced stealth relies on electrically disabling the gasoline engine so it won't run and then traveling at very slow speeds on the car's electric motors, while risking over speeding them beyond factory specifications. It's a dangerous ploy in Ewert's view.

Instead, the brothers, who have been instrumental in developing PICC's landmark conversion kits that allow Priuses to travel up to 70 mph in EV mode, traveled the course at normal highway speeds that included interstate highway, county roads and city streets, completing the rally in 30 minutes; the same time as the pace car. Other hypermilers turned in times of 50 minutes or more.

So, how did the Ewert's/PICC 2010 Prius do? 245 mpg! Chris Ewert noted that had they been more familiar with the rules, and had they had another day or so to complete testing of their software code, they could have driven the entire route in EV mode alone, producing essentially infinite fuel economy. Still 245 mpg is pretty darn good, especially when Toyota's own PHV came in somewhere around 125 mpg, Chris recalls.

With the exception of Toyota's PHV, the Ewert-engineered PICC Prius is the first conversion in the world of a 2010 model, an achievement of historic proportions, especially since Toyota engineered this generation to be even harder for "hackers" to access. Ironically, Ewert noted, Toyota's strategy to consolidating its battery control system, also enabled the brothers to more easily substitute their own 'blackbox.' The result is a Prius able to travel at freeway speeds on electric-power for up to 40 or more miles, yet one that can, when necessary, instantly restart the gasoline engine, unlike a forced stealth approach that requires the car be stopped, turned off and restarted in order to reset the car's controlling electronics so the gasoline engine again can be used.

Calling from the terminal in Melbourne, Adelman thought his company should be able to start offering their 40-mile, 12.5kWh lithium ion manganese conversion kit for the 2010-11 model Prius in 3-to-6 months. Kim also pointed out during the call that the Ewert's achievement also means that PICC can now tackle conversions of virtually the entire line of Toyota and Lexus hybrids.

No pricing has yet been set, but you can bet I'll be hoping to swap LIVN GRN's NiMH pack for the lithium one, if the price is right.

2010 Toyota Prius with PICC plug-in hybrid conversion modification

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