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Argonne researchers who analyzed the potential impact of plug-in
hybrids on gas consumption nationwide found that while big bat-
teries and longer range yield bigger fuel savings, the cost is dispro-
portionately high. With a vehicle like the plug-in Prius, roughly 25
percent of miles traveled by car in the United States could be pow-
ered by electricity. For cars with a 40-mile electric range, that num-
ber jumps to 32 percent—promising about one-third more potential
fuel savings. But the batteries could cost three times as much.
All-electric vehicles like the Leaf, the researchers argue, will have
little impact on fuel consumption because relatively few of them
will be sold: consumers will want gasoline backup for longer trips.
“The all-electric vehicle has a limited niche and thus a limited abil-
ity to save fuel compared to the plug-in hybrid,” Santini says. “ The
plug-in hybrid with a 20-mile range will be a better bet than the
one with 40. A very large fraction of the United States’ population
can cost-effectively use these vehicles.”
If manufacturers can make their case to that chunk of the pub-
lic, sales of cars with limited electric range could surge, says Lew
Fulton, a senior transport energy specialist at the International
Energy Agency in Paris. Toyota, with its lead in hybrid technol-
ogy, could do especially well. “ There’s going to be a big pile of other
manufacturers who are cursing in about three years or so,” Fulton
says. “ Toyota’s going to come out smelling like roses.”
Whether his prediction proves correct will depend on a number
of things. Drivers might be willing to pay more for longer range
than researchers at Argonne assume. That would favor the Volt. The
market for all-electric cars might be bigger than it was a decade
ago—20,000 people have put down $100 deposits on the Leaf,
enough potential customers to overwhelm the sales figures for the
EV1 and the electric RAV4. Government subsidies could also shift
the balance: in the United States, a federal tax credit program gives
bigger rebates for plug-in hybrid and electric cars with larger battery
packs, shrinking the price difference consumers will see. (The cred-
its will be phased out after the 200,000th car sold by a manufac-
turer.) Finally, battery costs could come down faster than expected.
The Department of Energy is pouring billions into new U.S. battery
plants and hundreds of millions into research and development.
Yet with all the uncertainty, the best strategy could be the one
that’s the most flexible. And here is where Toyota’s approach might
really pay off. If batteries become cheaper, Toyota could expand
the battery pack in its plug-in Prius to increase the vehicle’s elec-
tric range. And it could adapt the technology to the six new hybrid
models it plans to introduce in 2012.
“They all could be plug-ins,” says Justin Ward, manager of the
advanced power train program at Toyota’s technical center in Pasa-
dena, California. “Whether that makes sense or not, the market
will decide.” And so, he might add, will the batteries.
PETER FAI R LEY IS A FR E ELANCE SCIE NCE WR ITER BASED IN VICTOR IA, B R ITISH COLU MB IA.
Superhero approved, this model was featured in
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Celestron NexStar 60GT-SA
This Nexstar GT's “quick align” feature allows
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#30824-98 Was $279.00 Now $129.00
Calabi-Yau Manifold Crystal
According to string theory, space-time is not
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are believed to be compactified or rolled up
into such a small space that they are unobserv-
able at human scales of sight. Their size and
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View the sky and celestial bodies just
as Galileo did 400 years ago. This high-
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Magnification: 25X to 50X.
RFID Experimenters Kit
This kit includes the RDID RedBee Reader, the
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Do not look at the Sun with the Galileoscope;
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