The L.A. Times' car critic on the guerilla Prius modders:
Running on Empty
By Dan Neil
Equipped with an oversized battery, a home-built battery controller (and lots of home-built computer code) and a battery charger, it's a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV...
The idea is that owners charge up the car overnight, plugging into their garage outlet for cheap, off-peak electricity, and the stored energy covers their short-range daily driving—on average, less than 30 miles. Except that, unlike electric-only vehicles, which can range only as far as a charge allows, PHEVs can fall back on a gas engine. Within its electrically boosted range, this car can get 100 mpg...
"A lot of politicians talk about oil independence," says Luft, "and therefore we need to do nuclear, coal, solar, renewables. All of these are means to generate electricity. We don't use oil to generate electricity anymore.
"Once you start to use electricity as fuel, then all of these energy sources come back into the future of transportation," he says. "If you want all these you need to use electricity as fuel, whether as an all-electric or as a plug-in."
Nothing is simple: Using the power grid to charge automobiles strikes many as bad public policy, since coal, the dirtiest fuel, generates about 60% of America's electricity. And yet, in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, grid-charged cars are still cleaner than their gasoline-powered counterparts, and that's particularly true in California, where we rely largely on natural gas to make electricity.
The criticisms of plug-in hybrids are that the batteries they need aren't ready for prime time, and that they are just trading gasoline for electricity produced by coal. The criticisms are the same for hydrogen, which the federal government is poring a ton of money into--but PHEV is way more practical.