Hybrid Hacks and Toyota Yawns?

 

solarprius1.jpg Imagine if you could eke more mileage out of your Prius. If you’re like me, you’ve already tried. What if you could get a decadent 100mpg? More? A group of Prius owners in Japan are doing just that – by hacking their Priuses.

According to this CNN report, the record holder among an underground group called “Mileage Maniacs(Japanese language only) has managed to travel 1500 miles on a single tank of gas. That’s about 116mpg; I’m green with envy! Fortunately there is a similar push in the USA and Canada to feed the demand for more efficient cars. Numerous easter eggs , and hacks are available so an enterprising Prius owner can get more mileage. There’s even a solar company and those who will modify your car into an hybrid plug-in. Some plug-ins are already on the road. Voided warranty aside, extensive green modifications require a lot of green from the owner, ranging from a $40 kit to thousands of dollars.





Could Toyota capitalize on the R&D of its loyal customers? What’s their opinion on these modifications? Daniel Terdiman from CNet asked that exact question to Bill Kwong, a Toyota spokesman. Mr. Kwong replied, “The tech is out there for technicians. But we don’t encourage consumers to do that.” Perhaps it’s understandable if Toyota prefers to control innovations to its products. Legal issues come to mind, and not the type you might think. In Europe and Asia, Priuses can come with a button that allows drivers to ride exclusively on the battery. By temporarily disabling the engine, they can increase mileage. Mr. Kwong told CNet, “Toyota doesn’t offer the switch to electric mode because of U.S. laws mandating that it offer a minimum eight-year warranty for the car’s power system. Thus,” he said, “by disabling the switch, the company is able to ensure a longer battery life.”

But if companies like EDrive, the aforementioned Hymotion or CalCars.org are jumping the gun, it’s a wonder Toyota hasn’t teamed up with them to study the performance of plug-ins already on the road. What if they could hurry the release of the Plug-in Prius with a little collaboration? These fuel-saving modifications, and a cool reception from corporations, show consumers that car companies have more than MPG on their mind. Mass-producing a car internationally is no small feat, and the caution required can keep improved technology off the market for years. Vehicle hackers are not so much discovering new possibilities; they’re simply putting them to use sooner. Assuming that these hacks are safe and actually improve mileage, they hold the potential to capitalize on niche markets. Consumers who want to pay less at the pump don’t have to wait for corporations.

Enable EV mode with thisSince few of us will be able to afford trading in an old Prius for a new plug-in, perhaps hacks are a better alternative. Depending on the hack, your driving habits, and the cost of fuel, dropping a few thousand dollars to upgrade your car could be better than buying a whole new one. You’re breathing new life in a product rather than discarding it, and you support local companies who innovate existing technologies. Auto hacks are not exclusive to Toyota; the Prius just happens to be the most popular choice for green auto geeks.

BoingBoing and Treehugger both note that shifting the energy burden from oil to coal (plug-in hybrids would no doubt draw energy from coal power plants on the grid) would also reduce net CO2 emissions.

(Special Thanks to CNet for interview quotes from Bill Kwang)

(Images courtesy of http://www.solarelectricalvehicles.com/ and http://www.coastaletech.com/04prius.htm)

(For a more in depth look at plug-in hybrids, see this article)





About the Author

is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.

  • I love car hacks! Prius conversions in the US were also mentioned in the Fields of Fuel documentary at Sundance this year, sporting 100+ mileages. It would be interesting to see how many places are doing these conversions.

  • I love car hacks! Prius conversions in the US were also mentioned in the Fields of Fuel documentary at Sundance this year, sporting 100+ mileages. It would be interesting to see how many places are doing these conversions.

  • I love car hacks! Prius conversions in the US were also mentioned in the Fields of Fuel documentary at Sundance this year, sporting 100+ mileages. It would be interesting to see how many places are doing these conversions.

  • Mathew Hudson

    What about “spoilers”? About six months ago there was an article about an engineer fitting his VW diesel bug with a spoiler to make a big differance in his mileage.

  • Mathew Hudson

    What about “spoilers”? About six months ago there was an article about an engineer fitting his VW diesel bug with a spoiler to make a big differance in his mileage.

  • Mathew Hudson

    What about “spoilers”? About six months ago there was an article about an engineer fitting his VW diesel bug with a spoiler to make a big differance in his mileage.

  • Michelle Bennett

    As far as I can tell, the major hybrid-converting players are in California and Canada. Boo hoo for us east coast folk. Of course, there could be smaller operations scattered around the country that didn’t get lots of press…

  • Pingback: Get 120 MPG Out of Your Prius (Plug It In) : Gas 2.0()

  • mogreen

    The switchable models should be available in the US. It’s ridiculous to pay $24,000 for an after-market upgrade which could be offered as a stock option for a few thousand. After-market upgrades void the warranty. Why wouldn’t Toyota take the initiative to build the extra cost of anticipated warranty repairs into the sticker price? Gas is $4 per gallon with no sign of decline. If the car had the option to run in electric only mode, consumers could buy solar panels to mount on the roof of their garage. Toyota could even offer that as an accessory purchase. Harbor Freight sells a 45w solar panel kit to charge 12vDC batteries for under $200US. Just plug the car in when it’s not being driven and let the sun do the rest.

  • mogreen

    The switchable models should be available in the US. It’s ridiculous to pay $24,000 for an after-market upgrade which could be offered as a stock option for a few thousand. After-market upgrades void the warranty. Why wouldn’t Toyota take the initiative to build the extra cost of anticipated warranty repairs into the sticker price? Gas is $4 per gallon with no sign of decline. If the car had the option to run in electric only mode, consumers could buy solar panels to mount on the roof of their garage. Toyota could even offer that as an accessory purchase. Harbor Freight sells a 45w solar panel kit to charge 12vDC batteries for under $200US. Just plug the car in when it’s not being driven and let the sun do the rest.

  • Resentful? You bet I’m resentful about the castration of the battery only mode in my 2005 Prius and subsequent models. Let’s require Americans to burn more oil than Europeans. After all, we can afford it, can’t we? As far as my little non-techie brain understands it, the plug and play option has been available from the beginning. Please someone tell me there’s a rational reason it’s not standard issue. Since 1978 I have always chosen the highest mileage vehicle available to me. Why is this taking so long?

  • Resentful? You bet I’m resentful about the castration of the battery only mode in my 2005 Prius and subsequent models. Let’s require Americans to burn more oil than Europeans. After all, we can afford it, can’t we? As far as my little non-techie brain understands it, the plug and play option has been available from the beginning. Please someone tell me there’s a rational reason it’s not standard issue. Since 1978 I have always chosen the highest mileage vehicle available to me. Why is this taking so long?

  • Resentful? You bet I’m resentful about the castration of the battery only mode in my 2005 Prius and subsequent models. Let’s require Americans to burn more oil than Europeans. After all, we can afford it, can’t we? As far as my little non-techie brain understands it, the plug and play option has been available from the beginning. Please someone tell me there’s a rational reason it’s not standard issue. Since 1978 I have always chosen the highest mileage vehicle available to me. Why is this taking so long?

  • Resentful? You bet I’m resentful about the castration of the battery only mode in my 2005 Prius and subsequent models. Let’s require Americans to burn more oil than Europeans. After all, we can afford it, can’t we? As far as my little non-techie brain understands it, the plug and play option has been available from the beginning. Please someone tell me there’s a rational reason it’s not standard issue. Since 1978 I have always chosen the highest mileage vehicle available to me. Why is this taking so long?