Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – FEV Inc. and Raser Technologies Inc. say two extended-range plug-in series hybrid-electric fullsize SUVs will be on the road by the end of the year, both capable of achieving fuel economy of 100 mpg (2.3 L/100 km).

Pacific Gas & Electric, a West Coast utility company, has agreed to purchase the two fleet SUVs and plans to deploy them this year, as well, James Spellman, vice president-business development for Raser, based in Provo, UT, says in a press conference at the SAE World Congress here.

The SUV currently is in production by one of the Detroit Three auto makers and will be adapted with a traction motor, generator and hybrid controls from Raser. FEV will integrate the technology into the production SUV and program the electronic controls.

Neither Raser nor FEV will identify their OEM partner at this time but say that information will come out at a “major auto show” as soon as the year’s third quarter.

Spellman says it is important to get the two fleet SUVs on the road to validate their capability and to lessen the auto industry’s reliance on petroleum.

“A lot of people want to promote how green they are,” Spellman says. “This will actually improve their overall fuel costs and reduce their overall drive costs in their fleets.”

The FEV-Raser PHEV is able to travel 40 miles (64 km) in all-electric mode under battery power, with near zero emissions.

The extended-range PHEV integrates Raser’s Symetron electric-vehicle technology, which includes a 100 kW continuous AC induction motor; power electronic-traction drive module; 100 kW PM synchronous generating system; and a 700-volt lithium-ion battery pack.

A conventional 2.0L 4-cyl. engine takes the place of a larger V-6 or V-8 generally used to drive a large SUV. The engine does not drive the wheels; it only runs when necessary to charge the battery.

In sequence, the engine runs the generator that charges the battery, which runs the traction motor that drives the transmission and turns the wheels. The configuration works for 2- and 4-wheel drive.

Although the system will work in smaller passenger cars, Spellman says it is important to first demonstrate its capability in fullsize SUVs, which tend to guzzle fuel. In a passenger car, the battery pack would take up about a third of available trunk space.

When the vehicle is stationary, the batteries can be charged from a conventional wall socket. Charging from a 110-volt socket takes eight to 10 hours, while charging from a 220-volt socket requires about half the time, Spellman says.

The FEV-Raser concept arrives as auto makers are testing PHEVs in anticipation of near-term production launches.

General Motors Corp. has said its Chevy Volt PHEV will begin road testing this month and should be ready for sale in 2010. The Volt also is capable of running 40 miles on pure electric power.

Toyota Motor Corp. originally planned to introduce a PHEV in 2010, but Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe has said he wants the auto maker to meet an earlier deadline.

After the first two test vehicles arrive later this year, Spellman says he expects the FEV-Raser PHEV to be available for fleet sales in two years and for consumer retail sales within three years.

Canadian battery supplier Electrovaya Inc. supplies the Li-ion batteries, “but we will evaluate other chemistries as well from other companies,” Spellman says. “We will put other products in there and see how they perform, in terms of charging times and discharging.”

Customers using the series PHEV will not have to compromise performance. Even with seven passengers and towing a boat, the PHEV will be able to tackle a 6.5% grade at 65 mph (104 km/h).

“We’ve gone through the calculations, and our acceleration times are still better than the gasoline engine,” Spellman says. “The electric motor can still provide great amounts of torque and be able to accelerate the vehicle with a boat faster than a regular vehicle with a gasoline engine.”

The fleet SUVs soon to be deployed by PG&E will receive their 2.0L 4-cyl. mills directly from the auto maker’s engine portfolio. The gasoline engine, currently in production, will be turbocharged and employ direct injection.

Spellman says the gasoline engine runs at 30% efficiency, compared with 15%-20% efficiency for most engines. The generator runs at an efficiency rating of about 70%.

In terms of retail pricing, Spellman says Raser and FEV intend to make their system cost competitive with the 2-mode hybrid-electric system that drives GM’s fullsize SUVs, assuming new government incentives are available for PHEVs.

In this first fleet application, the hybrid drivetrain connects to a conventional transmission that turns the wheels. However, future applications could integrate simpler, lighter weight 2- or 3-speed transmissions, or perhaps motors at each wheel, replacing the conventional transmission, says Jochem Wolschendorf, vice president-vehicle systems at FEV in Auburn Hills, MI.

“We see tremendous potential down the road to reduce the weight of this system,” he says, adding the hybrid drive system also could work with a continuously variable transmission.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com