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Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that will Recharge America Paperback – December 1, 2006
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The book debunks several myths and misconceptions regarding these alternative fuel vehicles, and its main focus is the alleged resistance and boycott by Detroit Big Three and Big Oil to avoid any shift towards electric cars or plug-in hybrids, and explains why hybrids, such as the Prius, have been the only option tolerable to them. Several inside stories are used to support this conspiracy theory, particularly regarding the killing of the electric vehicles launched by several automakers in the late nineties as a response to California's Zero-Emission Vehicle mandate.
Even though at first this work might look as the companion book to the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, Mrs Boschert goes well beyond. Besides the fight to save the electric cars GM's EV1 from being crushed, the book also recounts the campaign led by [...] (now Plug In America) activists, and its partial success in rescuing some Ford's Th!nk, and Toyota's RAV4-EV. Along the way, the book tell the initiatives and struggles of several activists and key figures including UC Davies Professor Andrew Frank, considered the father of the plug-in hybrid; activists and enthusiasts from Calcars, the group that converted and developed the PRIUS+, able to reach up to 100 mpg when plug-in; and James Woolsey, former CIA Director, who is advocating the plug-in as a mean to free the US from its oil addiction. The final chapters recount the amazing story on how environmentalist and conservatives have joined forces to promote plug-in hybrids as a readily available solution regardless of their opposing views on global warming.
Despite the political tone and conspiracy theories, the book is worth the reading if you are interested in learning about this alternative technology. Chapter 2 presents an excellent summary about the basics and performance characteristics regarding plug-in hybrids and electric cars, and the different kinds of hybrids, including "hollow" or "mild" hybrids, and even flex-fuel hybrids (with cellulosic ethanol, as the author incorrectly dismisses all types of current bioethanol, not even sparing the sustainable and environmentally friendly Brazilian sugarcane ethanol). Chapter 3 discusses hydrogen fuel-cell cars, the preferred technology choice of several academics, environmental groups and the carmakers. This is the alternative where most of the funds and research is focused today, though it is not expected to become commercially available for several decades. She explains why this solution does not make sense, plus the hurdle imposed by the infrastructure required at a national level for hydrogen fuelling stations. For the sake of fairness, the pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle are more comprehensively presented in Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability, a book written by reputable scholars who explain in detail why hydrogen vehicles are considered by several groups the "Holy Grail" of alternative fuel vehicles.
After having read both books, Mrs. Boschert fully convinced me of the virtues of plug-in hybrids and their cousins. I also find ridiculous that environmental groups and scholars are taking sides with alternative fuel technologies, guessing negative impacts and picking a winner beforehand. For most countries it is urgent to get out of oil dependence and to clean the air, so all available options must be explored. In the long term the market will decide which new technology will prevail, if just one, because I believe they are not mutually exclusive, but rather complement each other. For example, in the case of tropical developing countries, the combination of small ethanol flexible-fuel engines with the plug-in electric hybrid drivetrain makes a lot of sense and brings quite an opportunity for a clean solution that can boost their economies, as many of them have the right conditions to produce sustainable ethanol from sugarcane and already have plenty of hydroelectric power available.
A key issue not discussed in this book, nor in most of the literature in general, is the availability of enough lithium to mass produce electric car batteries for the entire world. It just happens that half the world reserves of lithium are located in the Uyuni desert in Bolivia, which is not precisely a very reliable or stable country. Today, China, Chile, and Argentina are the main suppliers of lithium for computer batteries, but Bolivia's lithium is required to fulfill the future demand of a worldwide fleet of several hundred millions of electric and hybrid vehicles that might be expected in the mid-term. Is it realistic for any country to actually achieve energy independence, or do we need to put the eggs in several baskets?
I highly recommend this book, whether to introduce yourself to the electric and hybrid technologies or just to learn about the conspiracies that had hindered these technologies. Either way the book is worth the reading for all of us to be prepared to make educated choices when the time comes to decide whether to jump into these new technologies, which now lie in the near future. Remember that you will pay an upfront premium for driving a cleaner low-carbon car, as reducing greenhouse gases and oil independence comes at a cost, though most advocates minimize or omit this fact.
Today it seems that Mrs. Boschert's dream is becoming a reality. By early 2009 the Prius had sold more than 1.2 million vehicles worldwide, with more than half in the US; on December 2008 the Chinese automaker BYD launched into the local market the F3DM sedan, the first mass produced plug-in hybrid for around US$ 22,000; Toyota has announced the launch of the Prius plug-in hybrid for fleet use by late 2009; and if GM survives, the VOLT plug-in hybrid will be launched by the end of 2010. GM promised this plug-in hybrid will be built with an internal combustion engine adaptable to several platforms, including clean diesel (for the European market), and a flex-fuel engine capable of running with gasoline or ethanol (E85 or Brazilian E100), or any blend of both. I am looking forward for Mrs. Boschert's updated second edition after these new developments materialized.
PS: For a follow-up and complementary materials read Plug-In Electric Vehicles: What Role for Washington? published in 2009. For the latest on plug-in electric cars do not miss the following two books published in 2011: High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug In the Auto Industry and Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy. And of course, you cannot miss the 2011 documentary Revenge of the Electric Car
This book is a good primer on how plug-in hybrids work, and also explores other alternative technologies such as hydrogen and fuel cells, though for several reasons it returns to plug-in hybrids as being immediately available technology.
My husband and I strongly considering to buy a car like this.
This book helped us even more to make our decision.
Less pollution, great gas mileage and a big reduce of dependence on imported oil and the way the author described it, makes this book even more interesting.