100 mpg?

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Larger vehicles need hybridization to save fuel and cut emissions. But larger vehicles are also the strength of U.S. automakers. We’re playing to that strength here.” –David West, vice president of marketing for Raser Technologies, on the new plug-in hybrid H3 Hummer truck

It’s seems impossible – ludicrous, even – to suggest that something as big and ungainly as the H3 Hummer could be designed to get 100 miles to the gallon.

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Yet that’s exactly what Raser Technologies, in association with the Plug-in Hybrid Development Consortium, claims to have achieved: a Hummer H3 plug-in hybrid E-REV – the acronym for “Extended-Range Electric Vehicle” – that gets 100 miles per gallon in urban operation, when total daily travel doesn’t exceed 65 miles.

Get out on the highway and rack up say 200 miles in a given day, though, and the fuel economy will drop – to 33 miles per gallon, which is nearly DOUBLE what the current gasoline-only H3 model attains, according to Raser’s field test data.

Then add this bon mot in: since this hybrid H3 is propelled by a 200 kilowatt Symetron Enhanced AC induction motor and drive system, it can also be viewed as a big, fat generator, since within this system is a 100 kilowatt generator designed to recharge the lithium-ion batteries – the kind of generator a lot of businesses shell out $20,000 to $30,000 to get, then hook up to the back of pickups and drag around from job site to job site, noted David West, Raser’s vice president of marketing.

“Basically, you’re getting a ‘free generator’ when you purchase a truck like this – and that’s getting the attention of a lot of utility fleets, the very fleets we want to partner with to field test these trucks,” he told me.

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In fact, West said this plug-in truck hybrid idea got strong encouragement from commercial fleets as opposed to consumers – with utility fleets such as Pacific Gas & Electric lining up to be early adopters of these vehicles. “They readily saw how a vehicle like this could fit into a variety of applications – saving them fuel, reducing emissions, and providing a work tool for their crews all in one package,” he explained to me. By next year, West said Raser hopes to have 2,000 of these H3 hybrids on the road, mainly with utility fleets.

The key to the plug-in series hybrid drive system designed by Raser and its development partner FEV, enables larger vehicles such as SUVs and light trucks to drive up to 40 miles in all-electric mode with near zero emissions.

That 40 mile range doesn’t sound like much, said West, but it actually represents 75% of the daily driving patterns for most commercial fleets (as well as consumers) using these types of vehicle. That translates into over 100 mpg in typical local daily driving – at a cost of about 5 cents per mile versus the 20 cents per mile of the typical gasoline-powered light truck version.

Also, since it’s a hybrid system, it’s equipped with a much smaller one to 2 liter combustion engine, which is connected only to the electric generator, not connected to the drive system.

The engine is used only generate electricity and recharge the batteries when the vehicle drives beyond its 40 mile battery range –giving the vehicle a total range of 360 miles.

[More information on the details of the drive system is available by clicking here.]

The reason Raser chose to demonstrate this system on a Hummer is to knock down the preconceptions of what electric vehicles can be – especially for commercial users.

“Our goal was to demonstrate that electric vehicle technology is a viable solution for a variety of vehicle platforms,” said Gary Rogers, president and CEO of FEV. “This full-sized SUV extended-range electric vehicle shows that fuel economy in larger vehicles does not mean sacrificing power and utility.”

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“The technology in this electric-powered Hummer is a leap ahead for U.S. automakers,” added Brent Cook, Raser’s CEO. “It could make the nation’s popular light trucks and SUVs greener than a Prius.”

There’s still much work to do, of course. Raser’s West said this plug-in hybrid Hummer took 15 months to bring to reality, with a fully production ready hybrid potentially by 2011. Still, it’s an exciting development – and if it takes off, it could be just the shot in the arm U.S. automakers need right now.

“Hybrids have to be sustainable – they need to be desired by buyers and automakers must make a profit building them,” Raser’s West told me. “Trucks are perfect because the chassis does not need to be redesigned to hold the batteries and powertrain components – there’s enough space available on the frame. We shaved two years off the development process by going with a truck chassis for this hybrid. And they are already the predominant chassis built by U.S. automakers and most profitable ones as well. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

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