Letters for February 11 

Readers sound off on plug-in hybrids, the Oakland riots, and security contractors in Iraq.

"Who's Killing the Plug-In Hybrid?" Feature, 1/14

Warranties In Our Interest

I think the tone of your article "Who's Killing the Plug-In Hybrid," is a little unfair to the State of California. In most cases, conversion to a plug-in hybrid will void the manufacturer warranty (see for instance http://www.toyota.com/html/hybridsynergyview/2006/fall/battery.html).

It is certainly in the interest of the State of California to ensure that our state-mandated ten years/150K miles warranty is not voided by vendors selling snake oil.

While a plug-in hybrid is a good idea, taking a conservative approach to modification to an emissions system, and requiring that the state-mandated warranty be preserved by warranty-voiding procedures (like conversion to plug-in hybrid) seems like a pretty reasonable thing for a state agency to do.

Charles Shiflett, Berkeley

Coal vs. Gasoline

I think it's specious and fallacious to refer to miles-per-gallon when liquid is not the only energy source put into the vehicle.

How much coal is burned during a four-hour charge?

How does the State of California figure out how much highway tax to add to your electric bill?

Bob Marsh, Berkeley

Smells Like Greed

Another California Air Resources Board scam. Your story made my blood boil. If we are to be a model state about green jobs, and a place that will steward triple bottom line businesses, why should we hamper the inventors of a better future? 3Prong Power should be included in a green bailout package.

Isn't it enough to have one's vehicle inspected at the SMOG check? Smells like greed to me.

Janet Pomeroy, Oakland

The Electric Car Myth

This article overlooks the enduring myth behind electric/plug-in hybrid vehicles — electricity has to come from somewhere, and if everyone drives an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle it will most likely be coming from coal-fired generation plants with considerable energy loss during transmission from the distant plants (NIMBY) to your driveway. Drive less (live closer to work, work closer to home, use public transit, walk and bike more). The article offers no analysis of how many miles per year one would have to drive to make this conversion cost effective over the life of the car (total life, not the four years before it's traded up for the next shiny object to come along). The catalytic converter issue could be fixed with a thermal electric "tea cozy" approach that should reduce or eliminate "cold starts." That these vehicles can't exceed 34 mph without the gas kicking on seems easily remedied. I rarely see anyone in the Bay Area driving below 35 mph outside of Berkeley.

Kenneth J. Craik, Oakland

An Important Topic

This is a great article!

It did seem to imply that all plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), or maybe just all conversions, are limited to 34 mph and modest acceleration without the engine, which is not true; converters have even managed to drive Prius conversions electrically to 52 mph despite Toyota's limiting software.

I believe that CARB wrote their proposed rules as if the PHEV conversion industry is a huge, mature industry like auto manufacturing, which has a billion-dollar cost of entry and five-year development cycles. In contrast, all conversion manufacturers, except Hymotion once it was bought by A123, are entrepreneurial, funded largely by sales of evolving, often one-of-a-kind conversions.

The proposed CARB rules would require all design, testing, and certification efforts to be done up front before selling any conversions. Because this conversion industry is so embryonic, the market hasn't been established and suppliers — especially smaller battery manufacturers without the cash to compete for auto manufacturer contracts — have no real-world automotive experience with their components for which CARB would require proof of longevity. This means sufficient venture capital is hard to come by, so innovators must for now remain largely self-funded, making cost of entry prohibitive with such rules.

As mentioned in the article, the rules would (for good reasons, but with draconian results) require converters to include SULEV-level warranties. Worse (and not mentioned), for vehicles six years old or newer at the time of conversion, conversion would reset the vehicle's mileage and date of manufacture back to zero for the warranty!


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