Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – Chrysler will explore the dynamics of transferring energy from electric vehicles to the power grid with next month’s launch of its Ram plug-in hybrid test fleet.

The 140 fullsize crew-cab pickups will be the first mass-produced vehicles from a major auto maker with reverse power-flow capability.

The project’s goal is to subject them to a wide range of ambient temperatures and driving cycles. They will be delivered to 21 U.S. locations, from Hawaii to Massachusetts.

But a key focus of the project, financed by a $48 million U.S. Department of Energy grant, will be to examine the viability of using energy stored in electric vehicles to supplement the grid as needed.

“You’ve got all this juice sitting in the car; why would you not want to use it for something else?” says Jay Iyengar, Chrysler global director and chief engineer-electrified powertrain propulsion systems.

The scenario has been proposed as a means to manage the grid as demand for power increases, as expected.

Chrysler’s experiment, which also will see the launch of some 50 plug-in minivans later this year, promises to be well-controlled because the vehicles will be easily monitored government fleets, Iyengar says.

Reverse power flow is not possible with the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, the only EVs now on the market. The current technology standard, SAE J1772, provides only for one-way flow.

The Rams also will feature electric panels, located in the truck’s trademark Rambox, to accommodate operation of things such as power tools. And when the load exceeds the charge in the PHEV’s lithium-ion battery, the trucks’ engine starts up automatically to serve as a generator.

Leveraging stored energy from EVs is among the aspects of vehicle electrification that warrant the most attention, Iyengar tells a panel here at the 2011 SAE World Congress. Another, ironically, is the performance of internal-combustion engines.

Without pointing fingers, Iyengar says IC engines that extend the range of EVs are “sub-optimized. There’s lots more you can squeeze out.”

The Volt is the only EV now on the market that supplements its electric-drive system. It features a 1.4L 4-cyl. engine that serves as generator.

But that engine adds more to the EV experience than it subtracts, says Larry Nitz, General Motors’ executive director-hybrid and electric powertrain. During a panel discussion with Iyengar, Nitz says his daughter’s Volt traveled 1,200 miles (1,900 km) before it required refueling.

Moderator Oliver Hamizeh, e-mobility director for management consultant PRTM, cautions that EVs are not a “silver bullet” for the world’s energy woes. “Electrification will be part of an overall portfolio play,” he says.

But Nitz warns the needs for EVs is genuine. “The (global) petroleum supply is going to be outpaced by demand,” he says, adding replacement of oil wells scheduled to end production, long-term, will require the discovery of “six Saudi Arabias.”

emayne@wardsauto.com