Alte's Tireless Quest for Capital

Detroit start-up wants to convert taxis, limos, vans and shuttle buses to plug-in hybrids.

Published: 14-Dec-2009

At current gasoline prices, replacing the family sedan with a hybrid vehicle doesn't make a lot of economic sense for most people. Assuming that the price per gallon hovers at $3, you would have to drive 148,000 miles to make up the $6,000 more you'll pay for a Toyota ( TM - news - people ) Prius getting 45mpg versus a Toyota Corolla at 28mpg. (See "Backseat Driver")

But what about cars that drive 100,000 miles a year and get 14mpg? There exists such a market: the taxis, limos, vans and shuttle buses of America. Fleet owners spend $62 billion a year on buying new vehicles, and a young company in Detroit, called Alte, wants a cut of it.

Alte doesn't aim to make whole vehicles. It wants to retrofit existing fleets with hybrid power trains. Most hybrids, like the Prius, have two drive trains--one turned by battery power, the other by a gasoline engine. Alte's design (similar to that of the anticipated Chevy Volt) involves a single shaft spun by a computer-controlled, battery-powered electric motor charged from a wall socket; a small gasoline engine powers a generator when needed. That approach saves parts, weight and fuel, though not enough to justify the cost unless you chew up the miles. Hence the fleet-market attack.

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