The first commercial plug-in hybrids are on their way, and they might not be coming from General Motors or Toyota.
Hymotion this week began taking Web orders for a conversion kit, called the L5 Plug-in Conversion Module, that will enable Toyota Prius owners to recharge their hybrids at electrical outlets.
By replacing some fuel with electricity, drivers will be able to get more than 100 miles per gallon, the company says, well over the Prius’ 46 miles per gallon.
Of course, orders aren’t the same as deliveries, and Hymotion – which was bought by A123Systems in May -- hasn't said when it will produce and deliver the kits, which cost $9,995, including installation, plus an extra $400 “destination” fee.
And once customers receive the kits, they still will need to have them installed by one of a network of certified installers, the company says.
But the news is significant because it marks the first plug-in hybrids for the consumer market. And even though it’s unclear how large the production numbers will be, industry watchers say the move could have an impact beyond the number of conversions it puts on the road.
After all, taking orders – and $1,000 deposits -- is a way to test market demand, and major car manufacturers likely will keep watch to assess consumers' appetite for their own plug-in products.
Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.org and an advocate of plug-in hybrids, said the news is a landmark for the electric-car industry and that it marks the first time an aftermarket conversion company is targeting the consumer market in large volumes.
About 150 plug-in hybrids cruise U.S. roads, Kramer said, adding that most of the vehicles are owned by utilities, research institutions and a handful of early adopters.
Several companies, including GM and Toyota, have been developing plug-in hybrids, but automakers and analysts have said the batteries are still too costly for mainstream vehicles (see More Speed Bumps for Electric Cars?).
Founded in 2005, Hymotion is using an A123 lithium-ion battery, which uses its parent company’s proprietary doped-nanophosphate technology to improve power density while reducing the battery’s risk of overheating and catching fire.
The battery is designed to fit into the bottom of the trunk, in the area where the spare tire normally sits. The car's bumper also has a plug.