Poway, California-based Plug In Conversions Corp. (PICC) has completed a software upgrade to its 6.1 kWh NiMH plug-in hybrid (PHEV) conversion kit that enables all-electric mode driving at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (until the battery pack is depleted) in a converted Prius. The software upgrade is based upon patented technology developed by Chicago-based Ewert Energy Systems, which has granted PICC exclusive rights for its use in Prius conversion kits.
Previous Prius PHEV conversion kits—including PICC’s earlier generations (earlier post)—have been limited by Toyota programming to a top speed of 34 mph in all-electric mode.
What we’re essentially offering is all-electric performance for about 25 miles at highway speeds. The car is no longer limited to 34 miles per hour, all-electric.—Kim Adelman, PICC founder and president
Some previous Prius plug-in conversion kits allowed motorists to go as fast as 52 miles per hour using a “forced stealth” mode. But that can force the electric motor to run above its recommended speed range, said Ewert Energy Systems co-founder and vice president Andrew Ewert. It also requires drivers to stop and restart the vehicle before its gas engine can engage, which can cause safety issues and erase emissions data recorded for smog checks.
Our system allows the gas engine to turn on instantly, when needed, and allows us to initiate a controlled engine warm-up at any time to meet strict emissions standards, thus eliminating the traditional problem of a cold start.—Andrew Ewert
The software upgrade also allows PICC-converted cars to operate in an enhanced hybrid mode at various speeds, with the vehicle heavily favoring the electric motor versus the gasoline engine in different modes, Ewert said.
|Ewert Energy Systems video (handheld) of driving a Prius PHEV conversion at highway speeds.
The upgraded PICC kit boosts mileage while reducing emissions by maximizing use of the car’s electric motor in all driving modes, according to PICC. PICC says that its system also can recoup more regenerative power from braking than a factory-installed Prius battery. When the PICC battery pack charge is depleted, the converted Prius reverts to its normal factory HEV operating mode.
PICC’s conversion kit adds about 220 pounds (100 kg) to the vehicle, but rear springs are upgraded to maintain the rear height at factory specifications. A software upgrade, retailing for $2,000 to $2,500, will be made available for sale later this month to new and existing conversion kit customers. A free trial version of the software upgrade will later be introduced.
PICC’s conversion kit, which replaces Toyota’s 1.3-kilowatt hour NiMH battery pack with the 6.1kWh pack, retails for $12,500. Conversions can be completed in about one day and the kit is covered by a three-year warranty. The batteries (which carry an expected 10-year lifetime) are manufactured by Gold Peak Industries North America, a subsidiary of GP Batteries International. Gold Peak purchased an equity stake in PICC late last year. (Earlier post.)
The conversion kit and software upgrade were tested for emissions by Argonne National Laboratories, which determined that the PICC system meets the SULEV emissions standard, according to PICC.
PICC’s existing conversion kit allows Prius owners to recharge their vehicles in six hours using a regular 120-volt outlet, or in as little as two hours with an optional high-capacity charger.
PICC will begin California Air Resources Board emissions-control certification testing later this month. The company also intends to complete crash testing of PICC-converted vehicles so that future owners can qualify for green-vehicle tax credits.
PICC also intends to develop conversion kits with lithium-ion batteries manufactured by Gold Peak. PICC has three existing dealers with seven additional sites planned nationwide by year’s end. The company plans to produce similar PHEV conversion kits and software for other hybrid electric vehicles.
A Prius equipped with PICC’s third-generation NiMH conversion kit is on display at the 2009 Advanced Automotive Battery and EC Capacitor Conference, at the Long Beach Convention Center.