Will CARB Kill Plug-in Conversions?

Costly emissions testing and warranty requirements likely will kill Prius conversion business in California.

Published: 22-Jan-2009

The uncertain future of the alternative-powered and alternative-fueled vehicle is being decided by a confluence of old and new technology, big business and start-ups, marketing, vested interests, and public perception. It is no surprise, then, that when it comes to government regulation, we are bound to end up with some conflicting decisions. A company in California that converts regular hybrids to plug-in hybrids has found itself smack in the middle of one of those conflicts.

Last year, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) cut its mandated amount of electric vehicle sales in California by 70%. Some thought that might leave an exploitable opening for plug-in hybrids to gain serious market share. A number of start-ups have been established that install additional batteries into cars like the Toyota Prius, rendering them all electric below 34 mph, and allowing them to be recharged in 4 hours from a standard 3-prong outlet. The retrofit turns the 40+ mpg Prius into a 100+ mpg dromedary.

A new CARB proposal would require those start-ups to put their cars through smog tests that run about $25,000 per car, and to warranty their conversions for 10 years or 150,000 miles. The smog test issue has to do with a pollutant buildup issue in the catalytic converter and the gas vapor canister on cars that do a lot of cold starts and that might not use their internal combustion engines for more than three days. The warranty terms are the same as those mandated for any company that sells hybrids in California.


Earth Policy Institute's Lester Brown offers another way to fuel the cars of the future that doesn't require a switch to natural gas.

Despite Toyota's disapproval of the $500 deposit on future plug-in Prius, one dealer plans to continue accepting them.

Chrysler circulating plug-in hybrid prototypes to dealers more advanced than earlier models. Pictured is the Chrysler EcoVoyager, in one of a trio of electric-drive concept vehicles it debuted at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show.


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